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.
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:
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
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.
Related to my focus last week, Shawn Blanc and his team are experimenting with how they structure their work time in 2017. Taking cues from the Basecamp team, they’re trying an 8 week cycle, where focused work happens in weeks 1–6, followed by a buffer week, then finishes up with a week off.
It’s an interesting concept with a couple of benefits. One, the team members will take time off. That sounds a bit pedantic, but in environments like Shawn’s, with basically an open vacation policy, people end up taking far less time off than they should. As Shawn alludes to:
During those 20 months, I took roughly 3 weeks of vacation time, and that includes holidays. I was so locked in on a few huge projects I was working on that I kept pushing forward and took very little time off.
Second, the 6 week period of work should be very focused and productive. Since they know they have a buffer week to take care of all the little details, plus a week of rest, those first 6 weeks should be free from some of the regular concerns that take up a lot of our time.
Is this something everyone should do? I would not go so far as to say that. There are a couple of aspects of this schedule that would not sit well with me. First, the extreme focus of the 6 weeks of focus work may get boring. I like some variety, so I want to work on a couple of major initiatives at the same time. Second, I’d be curious to see if that one week of buffer is enough.
If you focus so hard for 6 weeks that some of the administrative responsibilities of your job are put aside that entire time, I’m not sure 1 week would be enough. On top of that, Shawn mentioned that buffer week is also intended as a time of review of the past 6 weeks, plus planning for the next 6 week cycle. That all sounds like a bit more than can be handled within 5 business days.
Concerns aside, it’s a curious approach. I’ll be interested to hear their results.
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.
Tim Harford takes a good look at what makes for the best productive work environment. Surprise — pristine, design focused spaces are not the answer.
He covers some history in this post, including the details of M.I.T.’s infamous Building 20 (also covered in detail in Deep Work) and the Pixar offices under Steve Jobs. Through the piece, Harford is making the case that so many great innovations come from spaces where the worker is in control of the environment. He refers to studies that prove just that:
Haslam and Knight have confirmed what other researchers have long suspected – that lack of control over one’s physical environment is stressful and distracting. But this perspective is in stark contrast to those who see office design as too important to be left to the people who work in offices.
So why has the trend of building elaborate buildings loaded with all the bells and whistles and free beer become a fixture in the Valley? Harford claims we put the emphasis in the incorrect order.
But we’re often guilty of confusing causation here, believing that great architecture underpins the success of great universities, or that Google flourishes because of the vibrancy of the helter skelters and ping pong tables in the Googleplex. A moment’s reflection reminds us that the innovation comes first, and the stunt architecture comes later.
For those of us who work from home, this is a good reminder. We’re in control. We do not have the budget to build a Googleplex, but we do have the ability to shape our space as see best fit. And that is something to be embraced.
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!
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.
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.
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’”
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.
That is how I want the thread of my days to look and feel!
Jesse Day shared this interesting piece on the value of writing things down.
The purpose of writing is not to store facts for later. Well, it can be, if you’re writing down an address or phone number. But the purpose of writing down ideas is to document a thought process. When you go back and read what you wrote before, you are transported back to that experience of thought. You are able to pick up where you left off, and continue whatever journey you had embarked upon.
He makes his case by defining the difference between experience and information and how the latter can help us recall the former. I love this concept, but golly gee, thanks for the added pressure, Jesse!
One of my maybe goals for the year has been journalling. It’s habit that feel by the wayside several years back for me. Sure, I journal my Bible reading. And I have several different types of content piped into my journal. But plain old fashioned writing down the events of my life and how they affect me? Not happening (unless you count this newsletter, which could be considered a journal of a sort — it requires almost daily writing and includes many things that are top of mind for me … but I digress).
I believe in the power and value of keeping a journal. But I struggle to find the time. This post was a good reminder of the value and caused me to consider once again a change here.