How I Use Org Mode to Keep Track of Projects and Tasks

November 14, 2022

Using Org mode for projects and tasks

Below is a brief description of a workflow I like to use to organize the tasks for a project. This workflow works well for larger projects which span over a period of say a month to several years. It can be a full-time project or a project that runs in parallel with other major projects (handled in other separate org-files).

Here is a run-down of the steps. The order is not always exact and it is an iterative process:

  • Write down all currently known tasks. A task in this sense should typically be something that takes from 30 minutes to a couple of days to do.

  • Prioritize. Give them a priority between A to D where A is most important. Do not give A to most of them. The A's have to be really important.

  • Add a detailed description what the task is about, ideas for how to solve it, any steps that need to be taken, references, facts and details etc. Everything needed to get started. If the task is fairly large then you can break them down into itemized subtasks with [] checkboxes if that makes sense. You do not have to add all details at once of course, you can add to it over time.

  • For tricky problems, write down your different alternative proposed solutions.

  • Assign a tag to the Todo if it makes sense, which it usually does. Try to limit the number of total tags in the file/project to max 10-15 otherwise they stop serving a purpose. You can assign several tags to one Todo.

  • Every Monday (or Sunday evening), review by using the Calendar view and Agenda view and select what to work on each day of that week by assigning a SCHEDULED date for when you plan to do them. You will find the most important stuff higher up in the agenda. You are free to schedule less important stuff in case something is urgent or time critical. Don't pick to many things for each day as each task usually takes longer than you expect.

  • Every morning (or the evening before) check the Calendar, make any small adjustments and re-schedulings if needed and then start on the first task for that day.

  • If you have to go away from the task due to a lunch break, end of the day or another pressing task, then take a note in the Todo about where you left off, what has been done, and what needs to be done when you come back. Write it at the bottom of the Todo and prefix it with '- STATUS' to easily see those status updates. E.g. - STATUS: Here is my left off note.

  • If the task is complete, mark it as DONE and write down a closing note with comments about how you solved it, specific issues encountered etc. A CLOSED timestamp will automatically be added. A Closing Note modal will popup automatically if you have enabled it in the settings.

  • If the task is partly completed or you have investigated some solutions then it's good to add a status comment like we did before by using the '- STATUS:' prefix. Sometimes it makes sense to add a passive timestamp to this status prefis. E.g. - STATUS [2022-11-14]: My note here.. You can add many such STATUS notes as time goes by.

  • When you get ideas around the project when you are not at your computer, take a note in your phone's calendar app and set a reminder alarm for when you expect to be at the computer. Once back at the computer you can copy or write it down in your org document, clean it up and expand on it. The benefit of using an existing Calendar app is that most likely you already have one on your phone, and these apps typically sync reliably with a desktop email/calendar app. You probably also have some kind of calendar notification reminding you.

  • For tasks that you can finish in 15-30 minutes without big effort and lots of thinking, but which are not important, assign them an Effort value and they will show up in the quick picks section of the agenda. When you feel tired you can then check there and do some easy, mindless task. The quick pick might also be a good way to start your day as it quickly gets you going without resistance.

  • Regularly review the full list and re-prioritize as needed. Depending on the size of the project you can review once a month or for smaller projects during the weekly planning.

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