Keeping track of tasks when you’re overwhelmed

Charlie Gilkey may just be my favorite person on the Internet. Among many other wonderful things he has done, Charlie created a set of task management tools that actually makes sense to me.

PF PlannerI have tried so many things to keep track of all the projects, requests, random tasks and various things-to-do that are on my plate. I’ve made lists, created spreadsheets, added tasks to Outlook, just given up, and then tried them all again.

What I like about Charlie’s tools (including the original, revised, and newly revised versions) is that they guide me from the big picture to the minutia, in a logical, step by step manner, and they can be used independent of one another, in case I don’t know the big picture, or can’t face the minutia.

Let’s pause a moment to properly introduce Charlie. He runs a business, website and blog called Productive Flourishing. I found it a couple years ago, and have been a loyal follower ever since. I enjoy reading his blog, and find his advice easy to understand, though hard to follow (mostly because change is hard). My favorite thing about Charlie has to be the fact that he’s his own BS meter, and he calls himself out on occasion. I appreciate that in anyone doling out advice.

Anyway, Charlie has said that he initially developed these task management tools – he calls them planners – to help himself, and he tested them and refined them before putting them out there for others to use. He’s continued to refine them over the years, and the latest iteration is quite nice.

There are a number of versions of the planners – action planners, freelancer workweek planners, and blog post planners. There are also supporting documents like the individual project planner, the productivity jumpstarter, and the heatmap (this is an interesting tool that I tried to use, but I’m really not self-aware enough to get much out of it yet).

I’ve used both the action planners and the freelancer workweek planners, and now that I’m blogging again, I’m using the blog post planners. At work, I find that the monthly action planner coupled with the freelancer workweek planners are the best fit for me. I can give myself a plan for each week using the monthly view, and then flesh that plan out a bit more in the weekly view. I don’t get down to the daily view much anymore, as my days are not really my own (that’s just not the culture where I work).

I used to try to get to the daily level, but I was driving myself crazy with having to re-write half (or more than half) of my tasks onto the next day’s list. I was giving myself too many things to do each day, and it was only when I backed out to the weekly view that I started to give myself a bit of grace for things left undone on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, since I could see at a glance that I could get them done on Thursday or Friday…

In any case, I love these planners, and if you’re struggling with overwhelm, these are a really nice way to start to manage it. Plus, if you poke around on Productive Flourishing, there’s some great advice there, too.

How do you track all of your tasks, projects and various to-dos?