The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Tracking Your Progress or Just Gaming?

It’s been a while since I’ve considered other task management tools than 2Do. Well, except for Basecamp at work. And well, it’s been less than a year since I switched from OmniFocus to 2Do

Hey, that is a long time for some of us, ok?


Anyway, over the past year I’ve had coworkers singing the praises of Todoist. But it was never of interest to me. 2Do is far more visually appealing and I tend to dislike apps that are cross platform.

But there was one feature that kept me coming back and reviewing the app every 3,4 weeks. Karma. That’s right, a scoreboard. I’d keep checking out the service to see how it was progressing, would compare the UI with 2Do, then walk away. But I finally decided to give it a test run.

Keeping Score

Jokes aside, I’m a big believer of one of the pillars of 4DX. Keep a compelling scoreboard. The premise is that people play differently when they’re keeping score. And while that may seem childish when it comes to our own productivity, I believe the concept has merit.

But how does the feature pan out? Is it a gimmick, or can it improve one’s focus? I wanted to find out.

How It Works

Overall, the app is well designed. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing, but that is likely intentional and it appears to be focused on providing a similar experience on the multiple available platforms. But for getting tasks into Todoist, then actually doing them, it’s a good tool.

My intention here is not to write a full review of all the features. I’m focused solely on the Karma feature. How does the karma in Todoist work? Details are available on their support site.

You gain or lose points in the following way:

Gain points

  • adding and completing tasks
  • completing tasks on time
  • using labels, recurring due dates, and reminders
  • achieve your daily and weekly goals
  • keep a streak of meeting daily and weekly goals

Lose points

  • have tasks that are greater than 2 days overdue

Simply put, completing tasks and projects contribute the most to your score. And you are able to set goals for your weeks and days: I want to complete 5 tasks per day and 30 per week. Doing so gains you points, and so does keeping a streak of days and weeks going. You can see this in the screenshot above.

Using Todoist IRL

It’s clever in many ways. Here are my observations in a month of usage.

  • Let me start with my biggest complaint, a very obvious one. It would be good to be able to differentiate between busy work and tasks that actually move your most important work forward. Unfortunately, a reminder to take some meat out of the freezer for dinner carries the same weight as writing a new draft of an onboarding email for the product I’m working on … this makes the statistics of far less value.
  • Tracking progress is important though. Perhaps for some people, certain methods are more useful than others. You can use use a journal (pen and paper even), a spreadsheet, or a wall or desk calendar to achieve the same purpose. But having this done automatically for you by your task management app is valuable.
  • Back to my first point, if you were to manually track your successes, you would not write down the fact that you took out meat for your dinner. It would be great if the app could recognize the difference. I want a tool where I can remind myself of items like prepping dinner, but also track the things most important to my life goals. With 2Do, I used it to track the latter, and set reminders for myself with Fantastical and Reminders on macOS.
  • Karma is not a great measure of your true success (or lack thereof). Since feature usage is included in gaining karma, it’s also fundamentally more about Todoist’s success than yours. Why should using labels increase my score?

All said, it is a good way to measure your cumulative activities. The streaks feature is fantastic. There is power in the habit of tracking your habits (see James Clear for more on that). So an app that keeps this in the foremost of your mind is a good thing.

You have to work hard to force yourself not to game it. Go ahead and add the little administrative tasks that are a part of your day. That's a part of life as well.

But more importantly, it helps you to really take your most valuable work, break it into discrete, concrete tasks, then work on those. Every day. This helps you to build confidence that you're making real progress and not just busy work. And it adds incentive to keep those streaks alive.

It’s clever overall. I’m not sure I’ll stick with it, but I appreciate this feature. If it was included in 2Do, I’d be a very happy man.


What Is The Perfect Structure For A Work Week?

This has been talked about a lot in the last 5–10 years. As the internet enabled the rise of remote work and distributed teams, we started to ask questions about our typical, expected, current ways of working. One specific question has been whether the amount of time for a week should remain as it has for the past century.

As companies in the SaaS and design world asked these questions, some have come to the realization that the maximum amount of time possible does not necessarily equate to the best end results. Sadly, others are still firmly buying into the idea of hustle, of working as many hours as physically possible each week. Simply because investors require a return on their investment and the clock is running (and the investors are not afraid to back teams making competing products).

So what is the best way for a team (small or large) to structure their week?

The answer is it depends.

Dave Martin from Help Scout makes a case for simply keeping things to their 40 hours. And he gives tips for doing just that. And for people in our industry, especially start ups, that’s an important message.

There are too many places putting the pressure on to work up in the range of 60 hours per week. There’s enough research out there now to make a strong argument that this is actually a detrimental approach — you’ll produce worse results rather accomplishing more. Even if some teams achieve success over the short term, our businesses should support us living a successful life, so we must measure the different approaches over the long term.

Mikael Cho from Crew takes it further and says that it’s time to get rid of the 40 hour work week. The de facto norm is a holdover from another time, when work was structured in different ways with people doing vastly different things. And while I agree with him in a sense, this is not the reality for some industries. For knowledge workers, that’s great. For tradespeople, not as much.

Some careers are seasonal; you’ll work more than 40 hours a week in some months, then no work at all for others. And some trades provide services in emergency situations and, as a result, some weeks will end up being longer. As long as it’s not the norm and workers are compensated, this is not necessarily an evil. There is no “one right way” to how we should work.

But for many of us, is the century old practice of putting in a solid 40 hours a good one? The team at Basecamp has experimented in this area and settled into the rhythm of 40 hour work weeks for most of the year, then switch to 4 day work weeks over the summer months (32 hour work week). Other teams have since followed suit and seem to do all right.

In his post, Mikael addresses a few more related points; this discussion is not merely about the total number of hours. If we’re going to consider changes, then we should also answer the question of what hours of each day make the sense. Is 8–4 or 9–5 the best time for everyone? And do they have to be consecutive hours, or does it ok to break your hours into chunks?

My opinion? Well, I certainly value that we’re blessed in this day and age to ask these questions. In most cases, our parents and grandparents were not having this type of discussion.

Overall, I also enjoy the flexibility and freedom provided by my employer, Wildbit. We’re firm on no more than 40 hours, but if you get your best work done in 32 hours and the remaining 8 would just be filler, no one will complain. In fact, I feel more driven to do my best because of the grace I’ve been given to guide my own efforts.

And in my own life, I’ve watched my habits and tendencies as my overall life changed. When our children were 5 and under, our days felt very different than what they feel like today (our youngest is 6). And so having a role that can shift with those needs feels like the best possible option. Exactly what hours of the day I do my best work will change over the season of life.

Hopefully, the nature of work is changing enough that we can adapt.


Seeking His Presence

Last month, I shared my thoughts on what I see as the primary paradox of the Christian faith. Our faith is a gift, it is God’s work. First and foremost, he seeks us out. He did this with Adam and Eve in the garden and he hasn’t stopped since. And when he seeks us out and calls us, he works in us “to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

But in the Bible we find there’s also a focus on our work. What A.W. Tozer refers to as our “exercising of the gift” in order for it to achieve its purpose. This month, I’d like to focus on defining the end goal of exercising that gift.

I believe that is our seeking of his presence.

From the scriptures

It’s a marvellous truth that the Spirit of God uses different verses to speak to different people in different ways. The following have been pillar verses for me over the years, especially the first two.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 ESV

What a wonderful truth. Not only does faith involve our belief in his existence, but our belief in the idea that God rewards us when we seek him. I’m not preaching the prosperity Gospel here; the reward is not material or monetary. Rather, it’s being able to enter into his presence, to enjoy sweet communion with our Saviour and our Father.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

Psalm 14:2 We see this exact theme repeated in Psalm 53:2 as well.

Interesting point made in the note from the NET on this verse:

Anyone who is wise and seeks God refers to the person who seeks to have a relationship with God by obeying and worshiping him.

Again, the focus of the seeking is relationship. The Psalmist(s) understand this and echo the call often.

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Psalm 105:4

And Jesus spoke often of God’s kingdom and encouraged his audience that seeking it was more important than all our needs in this life, in this fallen world.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

God will take care of our material and physical needs, but our focus should be on him and his ways.

Seek and you will find

The good news in this truth is that if you seek his presence, you will find it. Indeed, the verses above show God’s attitude towards his creation; he keeps a watchful eye out for those who are searching. For something …

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Matt 7:7,8

And when Paul addressed the Areopagus in Athens, he alluded to this truth as well:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’”

Acts 17:24–28

This is another marvellous truth. Although we cannot come into the presence of God’s glory without the redeeming work of Christ, God himself is not far off. He is not hidden in some secret place, only available once a person solves the right mystery. He is here, manifest in creation all around us.

Everything hinges on this

My goal here is to share the purpose of this newsletter for 2017. Based on comments of so many of you, this is a struggle. So many of us have a desire to seek his presence, but it gets drowned out in the noise. Or we recognize intellectually that we should desire his presence, but when the opportunity presents itself, we choose to fill our time with other things.

Here are some of the comments shared with me:

  • When I don't schedule then the spiritual side of things always loses out
  • Busy-ness … makes the spiritual aspects of life hard
  • The world constantly battles for my attention and I too easily choose it over the sweetness of my Savior
  • I struggle taking the time out of my super busy schedule to make room (for spiritual things), when it should be the opposite, that it empowers me and the rest of my life
  • The cares of life always are ready to crowd out what really matters

All the disciplines of the Christian faith, all the tips & tricks, are for this purpose. At the end of the day, we should want him … the exercise and disciplines are used to increase that desire. And that is the purpose of this newsletter (in 2017 and beyond). And, like knowledge workers who need to make small changes to their daily habits, so too do we children of God.

That will be a big focus for me and my writing in 2017. But before you get to the practical, I find it vital to focus on the end goal first.

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

Psalm 42:1,2

That is how I want the thread of my days to look and feel!