Stepping Away From My Task Manager

Stepping Away From My Task Manager

Stepping Away From My Task Manager


As much as I love my task manager, I have arrived at the realization that the less time I spend in it, the better I feel. I get anxiety when I look at all of these checklists and projects. My bucket list of things to do keeps growing and I can’t stop to stop it from growing! I have these great intentions of fixing things up, taking on more responsibilities, and handling more than I could ever reasonably handle. But all of my projects and checklists were giving me a lot of stress with its overwhelming content. Perhaps it’s time to step back?

I started to do a lot of procrastinating and pretended I was doing productive work by visiting my task manager and staying there. I would obsessively stare at my projects and checklists to make sure I’m up-to-date. I would tweak a couple of projects here and there. I dreamt of what “finished” looked like when I checked off the last action item but I wouldn’t take the next step of starting the project. I was stalling for time by starting at my task manager. I would nod approvingly when my MacOS Screen Time stats showed that I spent a lot of time in my task manager. But I actually got nothing done.

I started to analyze where I was spending my time in my task manager. I wanted to eliminate any time that was spent wandering in my task manager.

How To Reduce Screen Time In My Task Manager


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Maintain a simple folder and project structure

It is easier to review my projects and checklists when my folder structure is simple. I grouped my project according to my Areas of Responsibilities.


Keep relevant projects and checklists

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It’s easy to start adding projects and checklists. It’s time to start clearing some old cruft out of our task manager. Delete projects that no longer have any meaning or purpose to our lives. Delete or consolidate our checklists. If a checklist has not been used in the past 3 months, consider it as a candidate for deletion. Why have a checklist if we’re not going to visit it and use it?

Each folder has a group of projects related to an Area of Responsibility. All of my Home projects goes into the Home folder. My Work folder holds all of my work-related projects. I have a Maybe folder that holds a variety of ideas or projects that are still in the planning stages.

I keep my folder and project structure as flat as possible. I never like to have sub-projects. If I have a large project, I’ll create a folder and populate it with projects that represent a project stage.


Sub-projects can group similar tasks together but it just makes my main project longer. It is easier for me to see a large project as a series of smaller projects inside a folder. A huge project with an endless series of sub-projects makes me dizzy when I have to scroll endlessly through it. I can select a project inside a project folder to focus on a particular project stage.

Keep relevant smart lists or custom perspectives

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Many task managers such as OmniFocus, 2Do, and Todoist have the ability to create a smart list. It is a saved search that can be easily accessed with the click of a button or a shortcut key. The smart list allows us to quickly create a view that shows the desired tasks at the right time. I don’t need to wade into the deep waters of my Projects view or Tags view to find a group of tasks. I can just jump into the desired smart list and see what I need.

Delete any smart lists that are no longer used. I often take a screenshot of my smart list settings and save it into a folder holding these screenshots. It’s easier to access your smart lists when you have a small handful to choose from. Friction occurs when I have to skip past smart lists that are no longer relevant.

Once a month, I like to update my smart lists. If I haven’t used a smart list in the last 3 months, it might be time to archive it and remove it from my task manager. There are some smart lists that I keep for the summer. When summer season finishes, I archive that smart list. I don’t need it for the rest of year and I don’t want to add more noise to my task manager by keeping it when it’s no longer needed.

Keep My Tags structure simple

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Once every three months, I like to go through my tags and consolidate or delete tags when needed. I used to have several tags (contexts) such as:

  • Mac

  • Mac: Online

  • Mac: Offline

  • Mac: Excel

  • Mac: Ulysses

  • Home

  • Home: Desk

  • Home: Backyard

In my Mac tags, I had multiple tags for the various apps that I was using. But I’ve consolidated everything under a single Mac tag. I don’t worry about a specific app or condition when I’m using my Mac. The only time I’ll consider a sub-context such as a specific app or online status is if I need to break down a long Mac list into smaller groups.

In this example, I don’t frequently use Excel a lot. I can delete the Excel context and assign those tasks to my Mac tag. I do use the Ulysses app a lot and have many writing ideas captured in OmniFocus. I’ll assign the Ulysses tag to any tasks that I want to send to Ulysses.

If you haven’t used a tag in a long time, consider deleting it for now. You can always add a tag back in the future when you will be frequently using it more.

Go Analog when I am in “Action Mode”

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Action Mode is the time I spend throughout the day getting actual work done. I’m not staring at my task manager during this time. I transferred a handful of tasks from my task manager to the BuJo and work from that list. The only time I actively engage in my task manager is at the end of the day when I do my end of day daily review and plan for the next day. I call this time block my Planning Mode. This is the only time I actively engage in my task manager. I check off completed items, process new inbox items, and update any projects or checklists. When I finish with my Planning Mode, I am confident that I no longer have to look at my task manager until the next Planning Mode time block.

For more discussion about using a BuJo with a task manager, here is a post about that discussion:

Keep It Super Simple (KISS)

My task manager is easier to browse when I do the following things:

  1. Keep a simple project and folder structure.

  2. Maintain a simple tag structure with as many tags as needed and with as few tags as needed.

  3. Update my smart lists (saved searches) by eliminating unused smart lists and keeping the smart lists I will frequently use in the next month or so.

  4. Use my task manager only during my Planning Mode phase when I am performing a daily review at the end of the day.

  5. Use my BuJo as a way to stay out of my digital task manager.

I feel so much better when I’m not spending so much time in it. It means I’m actually working on something instead of planning. My task manager is a planning tool. I understand that there are many users who need to refer to their task manager on their smartphone, tablet, or Mac. But it’s too much of a distraction when I am chasing shiny squirrels in my task manager. Keeping my task manager database super simple allows me to browse effortlessly through.

What makes you stay in your task manager? What do you do to keep you task manager simple? Do you have it open on your desktop all day long? Can you get your work done with all the distractions that a task manager gives you? I’d like to hear about how and when you are using your task manager!!


I’m a bit surprised this article hasn’t gotten any replies yet - it’s stuff the procrastinators amongst us should read (I’m not one of them, really :wink: )

Simplification in architecting -as flat & concise as possible - your thoughts, projects, tags AND Perspectives is KEY - I’ve been working quite similarly over the past few years (except for the Saved Searches, I only consider them as “in-the-moment-temporary-configurations-to-be-discarded-ASAP”)

these quote however, I do not get:

I get anxiety when I look at all of these checklists and projects.


If a checklist has not been used in the past 3 months, consider it as a candidate for deletion. Why have a checklist if we’re not going to visit it and use it?

…for me it’s the reverse. Out of the back of my mind = liberation. Maybe you’re treating some of your lists too much as reference points? That’s one of my last “friction zones” with GTD - having a digital reference system that is distinctly different from my todo’s - but hooks into it in an elegant way. I haven’t been able to decisively create 100% clarity in separating them. I use OmniOutliner to detail some todo’s in a more elaborate way & that helps to reduce my todo-list-sizes. Apple Notes = fantastic as a Digital Reference.

Paper I use for mindmapping / doodling > after a while of letting my thoughts “percolate” I get into a relatively structured flow of thoughts that I subsequently either put into OF or OO.


  • NONE of my contexts are devices.
  • Performing my Reviews are not too strict, quite a few I only review every 4 to 8 weeks
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Yes, the only time I see my lists is often during the planning/reviewing stage. I look at my list (Due, Big Rocks, and Single Actions/Routine tasks) and choose 3-5 tasks from this list. Then I get to work. I’ve never needed to go back to my task manager because I already have my game plan for the day.

My task manager holds my projects and various checklists (repeating tasks, one-offs). I transfer some of the tasks to my BuJo. Then I work from the BuJo.

Thankfully, I do this as well. Most of my Someday projects are set to be reviewed once a month (or longer such as every quarter). Currently active Big Rock projects are set to be reviewed once a week. Some checklists like my Office Work Single Actions are set to be reviewed every one to three days.

This is how I’ve been staying out of my task manager and focusing more on real work.

When my task manager starting getting out of control, I just started to see endless lists and felt like I would never get to the end of a project. I had twenty saved searches to try to handle everything. But now I just consult a small number of lists, tags, and projects to get to work.

I love this quote… The key to simplicity…:slight_smile:

Thanks for your thoughts!

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