I just cleared, swept and washed the floors in the living room, the two corridors, the bathroom and the kitchen. That may sound mundane, but seriously… The floors have not been properly washed in the one and a half years we have lived in the house, apart from the occasional spot-wash to remove specific spills. That is right. Now the floor cleaning tasks are set up in Todoist to be done every 2 weeks (let’s see if that is a realistic interval), starting today. And I did it.

Actually I had only the living room floor coming up in my agenda today, but once I’d started I decided to go on with the other floors and set them up as recurring tasks as well, starting today so they’ll always tend to come up together.

This is what my karma trend looks like: the top line, under 21 September, is full of green colour. All the green colour is the floors being cleaned today.

 
Karma 21 Sep 2013

 
Besides the green colour (=housework), there is pale purple (=ADLs), maroonish red (=pet care – that’s the daily dog walkie) and black (=paid work) in today’s Karma trend line.

The black colour is 3 household visits I made early this afternoon, which included five interviews, one unsuccessful visit, and a revisit to a previously interviewed household to clarify something. It is a bit unsatisfying that all that looks so short in the trendline compared to the other areas. After all, visiting people and undertaking interviews is much harder than housework, and I also think it took longer (I didn’t time the housework… I always time my paid work, of course).

I may suggest an option to weight tasks and have their Karma trend length adjusted accordingly to the feature suggestion forum.

Still, this is awesome. I got the work done! I didn’t get distracted! (too much…;-) I have been amazingly productive today, and while I’m tired, I am not more tired than usual. I just got more done. And now the rest of the day is totally and freely mine with no guilt about things I ought to do whatsoever.

 
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30 Thoughts on “I Did All The Work! Executive Function Win.

  1. I really like how you say you’re tired but not more tired, even though you were more productive. The frustration of not getting anything done definitely makes me feel tired as well, so that would make sense.

    • I agree. The stress about being confused about how to prioritise work and chores, where to begin, how much is enough, when a task is completed, and about failing to get anything done is in itself very energy consuming. It is like keeping lots of balls in the air all the time and not be able to keep proper track of any of them:-)

      I spend heaps of energy every day no matter what… So the difference is just that I spent the energy strategically on actually completing tasks I had decided to do, rather than on letting my brain cruise around and give itself work on the go, and at the end of the day feel I haven’t achieved much…

      A task is now completed when I decide it is completed and tick it off on the list. It is not suddenly incomplete if I realise that something else needs cleaning or ought to be done… So “wash kitchen floor” doesn’t mean “wash the table too now when you realised that it is dirty”… I like that very much. The sense of having a controlled, finite amount of work and a clear decision for when a task is done and when a day’s work load is completed.

      • This is awesome! Take that, executive function deficit! I really need to try to find something similar that works for me, but it’s difficult to find a tool that matches the way I visualize tasks and plans because it’s not a static picture: I might have to write my own tool for it — if I can find the time :)

        • That sounds like an awesome idea:-) I would love to see what that would be like. I’m curious as to how you visualise tasks and plans:-)

          • I find that I see tasks as processes: I need some way to capture and represent that flow rather than a Gantt chart or similar static picture. I find it hard to translate my mental images into words accurately.

            What I have is more like a model, a visual algorithm, that takes a cloud of individual tasks and the relationships between them: priority, prerequisites, deadlines, various dependencies including location and time of day… So it becomes this kind of path through space and time, passing through some events fixed in place while others circle in a swarm, waiting for a suitable opening.

            It’s complex and to be honest as a mental model it doesn’t work very well. That’s partly because it’s too detailed for me to keep track of, and partly because it’s very sensitive to external influences.

            There are practical problems I have using software tools for planning. I start with good intentions and then fail to either keep them up to date or remember to refer to them.

            That’s after I manage to get past the procrastination while I labor to analyze the seemingly immense and overwhelmingly long list of pending jobs. I over analyze. I break things down to a huge number of trivial steps and then baulk at the apparent magnitude of what is before me. It’s a numbers problem: each part is tiny but there are many more of them than I can consider at once.

            I need to build my scheduling rules into a model, in software, dump the task data from my mind into it and just let it work it all out. Feels like a complex job.

          • THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I USED TO DO! The interconnectedness of so many tasks, all the details, all the steps. And putting a huge amount of effort in making a list or a system, and then forgetting to check it.

          • Perhaps it is time I researched what is out there again — being realistic I know I’d not have the time to develop my own solution and why reinvent the wheel?

            I did think about using a big wall chart or whiteboard with post-it notes in a prominent place, but my wife wasn’t keen on something like that as it would “look messy” :(

            Got to find something that gives me visibility and reminders without overloading me by showing everything at once. It would also have to be accessible via different PCs and my phone. And as you said in your other reply, it’s got to be a “pretty” interface — one that’s compatible with my preferences. As simple and clean as possible but not so simple that it obstructs what I want to do.

            How hard can that be?

          • How hard can that be?

            Like Autisticook said, there are actually lots of options available, and some can do what you want it to do, but I think they all require you to put the projects’ task regimes down into words.
            I guess what a pretty interface is, depends on one’s personal taste to some extend:-)

            I like your whiteboard or wall chart idea too. There is nothing wrong with old fashioned methods… (except copy-paste is not so easy…. ) It is a pity your wife isn’t keen on it. I guess it matters how much living space is available, I can understand her if it would be “in her face” all the time in her living space and she has requirements to her surroundings being neat. (although personally I don’t think I would mind if my husband did that)

          • We have a big whiteboard in our library for our son. My hubby and I are pretty fussy about maintaining a minimalist environment, so a sleek black frame works wonderfully! I’m too fritter-jittery to use it myself. I use notebooks. Unfortunately, I have about thirty notebooks floating around so I get lost easily. An app/email reminder is perfect. I love statistics: rows, and columns and charts–hooray! So the productivity charts look heavenly to me! Thanks for sharing, Mados!

          • I’m getting used to Todoist now, and upgrading to Premium gave it a boost because it added reminders (Yay!! Free 30 day trial!). Rather than spend ages setting it up initially I took the approach of adding things as and when they come to mind. Having it available via the web as well as on Android helps a *lot*, and it’s already meant I got two things done! So cautiously optimistic right now. Might not need to go down the whiteboard route after all.

          • Thank you very much for your update!

            Rather than spend ages setting it up initially I took the approach of adding things as and when they come to mind.

            That sounds like a good, gradual approach slowly expanding while learning to use the system and evolving the structure.

            I started with the baseline tasks and then expanded systematically folder by folder, starting with the most critical areas. Housework is still fairly sporadic and most of the tasks don’t have due dates set up, or only very unambitious due dates (like 1-2 years from now:-) yet. I think it is important for success to avoid overload, just gradually practising and evolving the system while getting the basic necessities done (which is in itself a great improvement/success compared to my usual standard!) and working on calibrating a workload that has the right balance between productivity and sustainability… and between structure and flexibility.

            Having it available via the web as well as on Android helps a *lot*, and it’s already meant I got two things done!

            Well done!

          • You are welcome and thanks for commenting!
            Is your son’s days planned on the whiteboard? Sounds like a good idea.

            I have one right behind me as well:-) it has been my day planner tool for a while, and somewhat useful except I failed to use it consistently. The app works better for me – it is also more “in my face”, because I am more likely to look on my computer screen than on my wall:-) so I have abandoned the white board system. Now the white board is available to draw on if a conversation requires a visual overview.

            I write in notebooks too:-) Actually I have systematised how I do that recently as well, just because I had, not 30, but on average 3-4 notes books lying around all the time and I when I wanted to come back to something I had written and evolve it, then it was like looking for a needle in a haystack:-) and I definitely can not use notebooks for task management, that gets way too messy!

            This post is already becoming a bit outmoded … I have improved my folder structure and its colour system, and now have fewer folders but more nested tasks inside. Some of the features I now use all the time, I was barely aware of when I wrote the post, and my usage routines have evolved beyond what I wrote about. Anyway, it works even better for me now so the usefulness is not outmoded.

            Ps. I love visual stats too… and have to work on controlling myself as to not become too addicted to checking all the fancy coloured “Karma” lines that shows what I have done during the last week. It is even more addictive than blog stats. I guess that is a downside of the app:-)

          • This is a reply to the comment @ 21 September, 2013 at 11:20 pm.

            I need to build my scheduling rules into a model, in software, dump the task data from my mind into it and just let it work it all out.

            That is what executive function apps/programmes are all about:-) Take the tasks out of the head and fill them into a technological space, until each need to be done, and then only import the timewise relevant tasks back into one’s mental “to-do” space. Get rid of the clutter… Create a clear hierarchy

            What I have is more like a model, a visual algorithm, that takes a cloud of individual tasks and the relationships between them: priority, prerequisites, deadlines, various dependencies including location and time of day… So it becomes this kind of path through space and time, passing through some events fixed in place while others circle in a swarm, waiting for a suitable opening.

            That sounds like the perfect system if it was an app. What would be important is that you only see the complexities when needed, not all the time… so the relationships and dependencies and sub-priorities et.c. should be nested visually under each other, so you click on it and then expand it, and can then “hide” it again easily… Like hidden complexity with a simple overview. You wouldn’t need to look at the details all the time because you would soon remember the relations; but you would be able to look into the details when needed.

            However, it sounds more like the ultimate system than a prerequisite… Like “I can’t work on my project until I have created the perfect project management system”… because then it just becomes procrastination.

            Also, trying to use other systems in he meanwhile – even if they aren’t visual enough for your taste … would assist you with inspiration for development of the perfect (visual) task management system, to work on when you have time.

        • I used to have the same idea, that no program or tool exactly matched my needs. There’s a LOT out there, though. And writing my own program is just an excuse to procrastinate. :P

          It helped me to write down a list of the actual things I need in a to-do app. I need to have visual reminders (or push notifications on my phone), but they need to be not too strident (because that makes me overload), and they need to be recurring if I decide I don’t want to do them right away. Regularly fits that bill for me, because it has an algorithm that determines the reminder interval based on how often I want to do a task (so daily task gets daily reminder, weekly task gets a reminder every 3 days, and so on). I also can’t enter “due dates” because that usually means I enter everything for today or tomorrow, and another overload occurs. Regularly again fits that bill for me because I only need to enter the last time I’ve done a task. I also need PRETTY INTERFACE! (Yeah I know). I need to have easy access to checking off a task, and preferably not see an entire list of future tasks when I do that. And I need all of that both for recurring tasks and one-off tasks. The latter is where Regularly fails me. :(

          I have to see if Todoist would be better for me, I have to admit it doesn’t look as pretty as Regularly, but I’m definitely running late on a lot of one-off tasks by now.

          • I tried out Regularly out on my Android after you mentioned it a while ago, a bit half hearted, because I actually did not really like the interface. I felt it did not give me an overview and didn’t have enough features to be flexible and also, I don’t like white text on a black background, I feel it is too hard on the eyes.

            Todoist’s tablet interface is not pretty either (for Android at least)… I much prefer the web version and its neat minimalist look. However, the tablet version is fully as functional and ticking tasks off is easy (or postponing, searching et.c.). It has the functions you mention above … So you can set tasks as recurring with notifications (I think notifications are premium though), after x days, or every x days, or on a specific due date, or today, or tomorrow.

            What I like most about Todoist is probably the nesting options … folders can be nested under each other, and so can tasks (subsubsub et.c) … and the advanced search/filtering/grouping features, which means that tasks can be listed in whatever way is most useful in the situation (the boolean operators). And I love the reports: like the Karma trend lines and lists of completed tasks. I hate to do work and then feel like the achievements just evaporate and it is as if I haven’t done anything (that is why I tend to dislike housework).

            It takes a very long time to set up ALL the relevant tasks & times in Todoist… it is naturally a big puzzle, but it is possible to calibrate the regular tasks to a good balance between productivity & avoiding overload. Like setting the right intervals so tasks that fit well together tend to be scheduled together, even when their frequencies differ, and find the right recurring frequency (I think unambition is the key here)… it is just simple math. It is a dynamic puzzle, basically. But that is how it is anyway, here it is just made explicit and visible.

          • I just installed Todoist — from what autisticook said about weakness with one-off tasks I decided to start with it rather than Regularly. (Plus it’s got a Firefox plugin.) Now if I can find a way to remind myself to check my reminders… ;)

            To quote Fred Brooks out of context (but relevant generally), “There are no silver bullets.” I will give it a try and hopefully it will help — I guess my reluctance has been down to poor experiences with task list apps in the past coloring my judgment. But I’ve realized these were years ago and things have moved on a lot. So it’s fingers crossed and here goes…

          • Just ask me any questions if there is something you would like it to do and you think it can’t. I have spent a lot of time recently looking into it and found it could do a lot more than I thought.

            Or alternatively, you can visit the support forum. My experience with it so far is that their staff is very responsive.

          • That’s much appreciated. I’ve decided to give it a week or so, and if I feel I’m getting somewhere I’ll upgrade to premium for the extra features. No sense in jumping straight in the deep end and I can get a good feel for it in that time.

          • That sounds like a sensible strategy.

          • It does doesn’t it. First time for everything I guess ;)

          • That is right :-)

  2. Not being facetious or anything, but this pretty much demotivated me on cleaning my floorspace at recurring intervals or tackling the bathtub black mold edifice on any particular calendar day. You make it sound too easy, I sense a capabilities deficit on my part in comparison. Executive function apps probably aren’t going to close the gap, but comparison shopping non-lead pencil versions of the to-do list does make it easier to see what people are doing when they shop for apps generally. I still haven’t tried “angry birds” yet.
    “(I didn’t time the housework… I always time my paid work, of course).”
    I’ve started reading “Cognitive Surplus” and I can see how Clay Shirky’s arguments about motivation fit this picture. Easy to remember that getting more than one chore out of the way at a stretch could pay off (especially if it still looks clean enough the next time you check your calendar and spot it on the to do list for the same day of the week later in the month), but if you were clocking your hours you’d get fussy about microtasking details that set you up to get through a day of productive work, but take so little time you’d regret trying to add up the minutes here and there that make a few hours of work at a stretch easier to pull off productively than if you tried to block your work day out in longer intervals without interruptions. And if you got a per diem, but were accustomed to other wage rates, you’d probably be at loose ends or running up a hotel bill while sleeping off jet lag instead of getting anything out of the financial support (that’s my story on professional travel at least).

    • Not being facetious or anything, but this pretty much demotivated me on cleaning my floorspace at recurring intervals or tackling the bathtub black mold edifice on any particular calendar day. You make it sound too easy, I sense a capabilities deficit on my part in comparison.

      Aw sorry, it was not my intention to make it sound like it is super easy for me! For me, how the app really helps me is by setting boundaries, so “ought to do” consists of discrete tasks that can be grouped and done and not done as a conscious decision, not a mountain of unspecified duties I haven’t done…
      As I said, I have never washed the floors before in the one and a half year we have lived in this house, but now I did it. There are plenty of other things I haven’t done, … I am in no way on top of the housework, and it will take a long time to get the standard up to “Normal”, if it ever happens. But perfect housework management was not the point. The point was to organise my mind and as a side effect of organising the tasks different in my mind (via the app), I was able to get some tasks done! Which is a great improvement and reason for celebration even if the rest of the house and yard is still like a dump!

      Easy to remember that getting more than one chore out of the way at a stretch could pay off (especially if it still looks clean enough the next time you check your calendar and spot it on the to do list for the same day of the week later in the month), but if you were clocking your hours you’d get fussy about microtasking details that set you up to get through a day of productive work, but take so little time you’d regret trying to add up the minutes here and there that make a few hours of work at a stretch easier to pull off productively than if you tried to block your work day out in longer intervals without interruptions.

      I am not sure I understand your sentence, but if you mean that it is more rational to do tasks in blocks than trying to micro-specify each step, then I agree. There is a balance point somewhere where it becomes so detailed than it becomes overwhelming and just extra work to use a to-do list.

      For example, I have elaborate morning- and evening routines, and initially each step in them was a task, but that made my agenda look overwhelming. So instead I have 1 task for my morning routines and 1 for my evening routines, and each has a comment with the list of steps (that way is also more flexible). I also tick of my evening routine task before it is done: it marks the end of my active day, and I know the rest is just my exercises and routines and reading until bed time. It helps me to wind down.

      • “For example, I have elaborate morning- and evening routines, and initially each step in them was a task, but that made my agenda look overwhelming”
        That’s what I imagine doing wrong if I try using an app for to-do lists. Keeping non-calendar to-do lists seems to work better for me, because it makes it easier to remember to limit the list to things other than daily routines, and that keeps the list shorter. Plus it means not setting deadlines for myself unless absolutely necessary, to keep the pressure to get something done on any given day from being too high.

        • I want everything on a list because the things I don’t put on will just be circling my mind, even if I don’t need to do them until maybe two months from now (because otherwise I will forget to do them). I also very much want the daily routines on the list, it isn’t given that I remember them otherwise. All the daily routines are of course set up as recurring tasks and non-daily recurring tasks as “after” or “every” x number of days.

          The advantage with todoist is that it keeps track of both short term and long term tasks, but they don’t show up on my agenda / to do list until they are due. It is however important to find the right balance… get detailed enough but not so detailed that the list itself becomes a burden to maintain and look at… I think the appropriate level of details varies from person to person, for example Nattily’s whose post inspired me to try Todoist, appears to have a deeper level of detail than what works for me.

          An important feature I hadn’t fully noticed when I wrote the post is that tasks can be nested… so a task can have subtasks to do at different times, and then when all the subtasks are done the top-level task can be ticked off.

          I agree with deadlines… I do put times on all my tasks, but that is to have them show up in the most workable order and schedule in certain parts of the day, e.g. morning or afternoon. So the times are not deadlines but merely the time I start on a task. That is useful for me because getting started with tasks is a barrier for me; I usually carry on till the end once I’m over that hurdle. So for me the red text that is supposed to mean “overdue” in Todoist just means “time to start”:-)

    • And if you got a per diem, but were accustomed to other wage rates, you’d probably be at loose ends or running up a hotel bill while sleeping off jet lag instead of getting anything out of the financial support (that’s my story on professional travel at least).

      Sorry, but unfortunately I don’t understand this sentence. Hotel, jet lag, financial support?

      • I guess that was a sentence fragment, from trying to end the previous run-on sentence faster than I could finish the thought. I had to use time sheets at one time for a student job and found it extremely frustrating to watch the clock whenever trying to give myself credit for getting work done, when I otherwise had the benefit of flex work with that job not being done in an office. So I only guessed at the amount of time I had spent each week at the end of the pay period to fill out the time sheet, and when you do that you can tell your self-serving bias is giving you tips on how to round up your hours, which is annoying when you’d rather just get paid for what you really did, but your memory isn’t impartial.
        The on-line microtasking jobs that allow your software use for job activities to be automatically logged for you sound like something that might work better for me, but I haven’t tried anything like that yet. For me, working on technical documents in office space is even harder.
        But that last sentence was even more confusing than the rest because I was thinking of a parallel in professional reimbursement for conference travel, which can be called a “flat rate per diem” or can be a matter of keeping receipts for hotel bills, taxi fares, meals and other travel expenses for participating in a professional conference. The WHO had to stop offering paid travel for most of its conferences recently because they made a tradition out of generous flat rate per diems and resort hotel bookings, and the two times they reimbursed my travel before they tried switching to covering the hotel bills directly and only the hotel, there was almost more money left over than I had spent on the travel for the conference. Hard to imagine how you’re supposed to spend it all, but having that kind of cash leftover makes you self conscious when jet lag is your excuse for not “hobnobbing” with the other scientists every evening on a short overseas trip.

        • That sounds like a very nice arrangement:-) but I can see why you would get self-conscious about it.

          As for clocking time, I use apps for that too:-) I have tried a whole array of time tracker apps on my Android tablet. The one I’m currently using is “Time Sheet” (there are several with that name… This one has a boring quadratic orange icon with a white clock). It has a nice huge green start/red stop button and is super simple to use, plus there are a few handy features to keep track which types of tasks the time is spent on (like tags and description fields and project pie graphs etc). I set each assignment for my employer up as a project, and when I complete it then I mark it “closed” which archives it. My tablet is always standing nearby, so I have made it a habit to just reach out and touch the “start” button every time I do any paid admin work at home, and then if I want to do it super simple then when I fill out my paysheet I just click on the assignment and it shows me the total admin time spent on that project, and to make it easy I often just log it all as if I did it at once. However, if I want to I can see the list of workdays on that project and log the time of each log on the correct day.

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