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Author Topic: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List  (Read 1702 times)

mouser

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This is a really trivial thing, but as I have found it so useful in a recent project I felt the need to post about it and give it a fancy name.

Essentially I am just reporting that one thing I have found particularly helpful in avoid procrastination on a project is to keep a list (in a google doc in this case) of tons of random unordered "mini-tasks" that need to be done for the project.

So it's just a to-do list that we all know about.

But the point is to have a list you can add to and delete from at any time in any order.

I have found this so useful in avoiding procrastination because I can always find SOME SMALL ITEM that I can perform and delete from this list.

And I wanted to argue for the psychological benefits of this over having a much more structured ORDERED plan where you have to do A then B then C.

While such ordered plans are more logical and efficient, I have found that they lead to real psychological roadblocks when you get to some point your mind doesn't want to work on.

Having a list of lots of items big and small, in all different areas, is a great way to help get yourself to mentally just start on something.

And you can always switch gears and be productive by ADDING ITEMS to the list, which can be useful when your brain otherwise is refusing to be productive.

Anyone else have any tricks they use to avoid procrastinating?

wraith808

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2017, 09:01 AM »
I got in on a kickstarter for OnTask.  It's a very simple concept, but it works.  It's a three sided white board basically.  Every day I put the three tasks I want to get done, and sit it in front of me.  I work on the first until it's done, then erase it.  Then the second and do the same.  Then the third.  If my day isn't over, I do it again.  It keeps me from multi-tasking, which in turn, stops me from procrastinating, since I think that my major reason for procrastinating is multi-tasking.

Deozaan

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2017, 08:26 PM »
Essentially I am just reporting that one thing I have found particularly helpful in avoid procrastination on a project is to keep a list (in a google doc in this case) of tons of random unordered "mini-tasks" that need to be done for the project.

So it's just a to-do list that we all know about.

But the point is to have a list you can add to and delete from at any time in any order.

Sounds like a basic Trello board to me. Which I believe is based on the scrum agile development philosophy's taskboard.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 11:43 PM by Deozaan »

wraith808

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #3 on: June 30, 2017, 11:11 PM »
Sounds like a basic Trello board to me. Which I believe is based on the scrum agile development philosophy's taskboard.

No, it's a bit different than agile- we use that at work (and have tried trello) and those are for different concerns. The purpose of an agile board (and trello) is not in the implementation, but the backlog.  You groom stories in order to have a backlog of things to work on.  So you always keep the backlog full ideally, and groom continuously to have quality stories to bring in during the next sprint.  There is also the iterative nature of the sprint that is not there with ontask, and the concept of increasing velocity as you sprint along.  You also don't necessarily work on one thing- switching stories is a very real thing to do in Agile.  Kanban is a bit closer, but then again, you have the ability to shift priorities in Kanban also.

With OnTask (at least the way that I use it) I consider my day, and just put down the three things I want to get accomplished, whatever they might be. And I work on one at a time.  I don't have to think about priorities or competing concerns once I put down my three things to complete.  They might not even be the highest priorities - just stuff I want to get off my plate.  And I just work the one thing until it's done.

Deozaan

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #4 on: June 30, 2017, 11:42 PM »
Sorry, I meant to specify that I was responding to mouser's idea. Not your 3-item todo list. :) I'll update the message to reflect that.

dr_andus

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2017, 05:36 AM »
Anyone else have any tricks they use to avoid procrastinating?

Check out WorkFlowy or Dynalist, as it sounds like what you're describing is what those two services make their key feature (besides having some other goodies that enhance the experience, such as having a dark theme or being able to zoom in on one task at a time, add notes to an item, tags etc.).

One downside of an ever-expanding list is that while it may help you get ideas out of your head (and thus not forget them), it may also compel you to complete tasks that maybe should have never been done.

Also, an ever-expending list can become a source of anxiety, as it may suggest that there are more tasks than time etc.

What I have learnt from capturing all my todos in WorkFlowy for years is that now I have thousands of items that I know will never get done. It just brought home to me the fact that the name of the game is not "what to do" but "what not to do."

So the main problem is the quality of the judgement involved in prioritising. It's all too well to capture, list and order all tasks. But the main issue is to decide what to do now, today, by making very painful decisions about what not to do, temporarily, and most likely permanently.

The pain comes from the fact that maybe your superiors are forcing you to do the things you prioritised not to do, or you have to delegate them to others, who will in turn resist or cause grief in other ways.

Any tendency towards perfectionism adds another layer of pain. Part of the judgement is also about how well does the task really needs to be accomplished, as any improvement towards perfection costs time and energy. I think the solution is called satisficing.

I guess what I'm getting at is that while tools for listing and organising and managing are important, ultimately the capability to make good judgements about prioritising is what separates super successful people from those less so. It's quite possible that those possessing such superior judgement skills might get by with a pen and paper notebook.

And of course if one is lacking in the judgement department (like yours truly), then that person might be particularly susceptible to getting carried away with various software tools for to-do lists, instead of honing the judgement skills.

With that, I'm placing an order for OnTask. Many thanks for the tip, @wraith808.

P.S. Actually I tried to create software versions of OnTask in the past, by combining Samurize and Desktop Coral to create a strip on the top of my screen with the todo tasks, as well as a list that shows up as my wallpaper. But it was too tedious to keep them updated, and they either cut into the screen real estate or got covered up by other windows, so eventually my eyes just glossed over them.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2017, 05:45 AM by dr_andus »

IainB

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2017, 08:00 AM »
...It just brought home to me the fact that the name of the game is not "what to do" but "what not to do."
So the main problem is the quality of the judgement involved in prioritising. It's all too well to capture, list and order all tasks. But the main issue is to decide what to do now, today, by making very painful decisions about what not to do, temporarily, and most likely permanently. ...
_________________________________
Yes, an elementary truth that is not always easy to perceive.

The solution that I learned from a book on time management (I forget its title - I had borrowed it from a friend and returned it), some years ago, was to categorise/prioritise tasks into permutations of Urgency (criticality) and Importance:
A - Urgent and Important.
B - Not Urgent, but Important.
C - Neither Urgent nor Important.

A, B and C are mutually exclusive. Cs may become Bs and Bs may become As. Misjudged As can be demoted to Bs, but it seems unlikely that Bs will become Cs, unless one is working in total chaos.
This scheme disregards the logical 4th permutation: Urgent, but Not Important as it is a nonsense.
This scheme seems to have been based on The Eisenhower Method, which uses the concept of Immediacy (to express Urgency).

The way to work the ABC prioritisation is to concentrate on what is Urgent or likely to become Urgent - actioning the As first, maybe picking up some Bs as one goes along (if a B synchronises with the As and is likely to become Urgent and is not a diversion), but otherwise leave the Bs till you have some slack/delay time whilst/after doing the As (remember, Bs are Not Urgent - right?).

The Cs are just ignored until they become Important, and, if they never become Important, then they never need to be actioned and can safely be deleted after a while.

I have coached others in the use of this ABC scheme, and it has saved my sanity and that of those I have coached. I recall one particular incident where I coached one of the systems engineers who reported to me - a really able and intelligent guy who was in his first job. I noticed that he was having great difficulty doing all his work and was rushing around like a mad thing. After having a chat with him, I saw the problem immediately. After my coaching him on the ABC method (he picked it up in a flash), he went away and started to rigorously apply it. I had asked him to report back to me on progress after 2 days, and he did. He was overjoyed, being now on top of his work and he knew exactly what his priorities were. He thanked me profusely and said that, though he liked his job, he had been on the point of resigning as he felt like he was just being overworked beyond his coping limit. He was amazed how that simple method had changed his whole outlook on work and made his life bearable and more enjoyable.
He was able to gain a sense of achievement from the knowledge that he had the power to control his workflow and focus on doing a good job by addressing the priorities.

I originally had a simple paper-based system for the prioritised tasklists, but I later made it computer-based on a nifty relational database PIM for managing text records (Lotus Agenda). I could look at (say) all the As together, and make progress notes about them and flag them as "Done" when they had been completed (the date of setting the "Done" flag was automatically recorded), and then review the Bs to see if any warranted action or upgrading to As, and make notes about them also. I would ignore the Cs unless some event had raised the priority of one of them.

This system was easily replicated to a greater extent using the PIM InfoSelect v8, but that has become legacy software (does not run perfectly on Win10-64bit PCs) and I have now replicated it to a lesser extent by using @mouser's CHS (ClipboardHelp&Spell), which is quite versatile. I found I could extend its versatility by using the CHS Virtual Folders functionality and making fuller notes (where necessary) in MS Office OneNote - with CHS as a kind of front-end to that. It's a bit kludgy, but it works.
If the NoteFrog beta had not been prematurely pulled, I would probably have migrated from CHS to that by now, because NoteFrog was designed as a PIM, whereas CHS is not (though it originally was).

This does not mean that using CHS for the ABC scheme is not a good, workable idea - as I have proven for myself. It got even better for this purpose when the automatic SQL generator was built-in (and especially when that later had its bugs fixed). That made the CHS Virtual Folders functionality much more effective.    :Thmbsup:
« Last Edit: July 15, 2017, 10:16 PM by IainB »

mouser

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2017, 08:04 AM »
This discussion makes me think that a nice clean todo list interface which allowed for flexible fast filtering might be nice.. So you just have a list of todo items which you can tag in various ways and set different priority numbers to etc, and then a very quick easy way to set the filter to show ALL items, or only items with certain tags, or only items above a certain priority, or after a certain date, etc.

The main idea would be to be able to really quickly hide most items so you felt like you were working with a small list, while still preserving the ability to show all the items when you need to.

IainB

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #8 on: July 02, 2017, 08:40 AM »
^^ Yes, well, that's kinda what I was suggesting.
The thing is, to all intents and purposes that functionality seems to be already included in CHS, so reinvention of the wheel is probably not required.

The discrete lists of tasks (e.g., As, Bs, Cs) could be displayed as virtual folders using (say) the "Keywords" field, or something with just a single letter - A, B, C. and the same or some other field to flag "Done", etc.
I can't believe I am suggesting anything new to you here.

wraith808

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #9 on: July 02, 2017, 08:49 AM »
P.S. Actually I tried to create software versions of OnTask in the past, by combining Samurize and Desktop Coral to create a strip on the top of my screen with the todo tasks, as well as a list that shows up as my wallpaper. But it was too tedious to keep them updated, and they either cut into the screen real estate or got covered up by other windows, so eventually my eyes just glossed over them.

I think there's a problem intrinsic to trying to make OnTask digital.  Some things need to be touched, and felt, and simple in order to succeed. What I've found using OnTask is that I'm bad at prioritizing large amounts of anything, and estimating how long something does take or should take, and easily distracted.  Backlogs, after working with Agile for 4+ years don't really work, as you're never really trying to clear them, so they become built up with a lot of detritus that distract.  There's a whole lot of that on our backlog at work, and we're never going to prioritize them, even if we have nothing to do.  They just don't matter.  And so the stack rank becomes meaningless. 

Distraction is the human condition now, I think, to our detriment.  And I think the best weapon against distraction is simplification.  I was skeptical about OnTask when I got into the kickstarter.  I'd tried several different ways to keep up with a todo list, and in the end they all fail.  Too much stuff in too many buckets.  Too much information, which instead of informing, lead to distraction.  Now I wish that I'd gotten another so I'd have one for home and one for work, because it works.  I've always thought that people were wrong when they said multitasking didn't work.  But it's true - there's a cost to switching tasks, and it's not always evident.  One task at a time and my full attention to that is my new work philosophy.

Contro

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2017, 04:46 PM »
This is a really trivial thing, but as I have found it so useful in a recent project I felt the need to post about it and give it a fancy name.

Essentially I am just reporting that one thing I have found particularly helpful in avoid procrastination on a project is to keep a list (in a google doc in this case) of tons of random unordered "mini-tasks" that need to be done for the project.

So it's just a to-do list that we all know about.

But the point is to have a list you can add to and delete from at any time in any order.

I have found this so useful in avoiding procrastination because I can always find SOME SMALL ITEM that I can perform and delete from this list.

And I wanted to argue for the psychological benefits of this over having a much more structured ORDERED plan where you have to do A then B then C.

While such ordered plans are more logical and efficient, I have found that they lead to real psychological roadblocks when you get to some point your mind doesn't want to work on.

Having a list of lots of items big and small, in all different areas, is a great way to help get yourself to mentally just start on something.

And you can always switch gears and be productive by ADDING ITEMS to the list, which can be useful when your brain otherwise is refusing to be productive.

Anyone else have any tricks they use to avoid procrastinating?
I agree.

The reason of procrastination may be simply tired.

I am using a sort of alternating method with the pomodoro technique to assure I make sport and move from the office.

But the most useful thing for me, besides the software, are simple physical cards with usual tasks (similar to mouser's basic tasks) . I revised often and this work faster than alarms in the pc.

I feel better (in physical form and mental form simply varying the tasks)

When we have procrastination is just because ( in some cases) we don't respect the body, the mind, the rest, the ocium , the sport.

I have a word

DADO

Descanso - Rest
Alimentación - Food
Deporte - Sport
Ocio - Ocium

RFSO

 :-*

And sometimes the best is close the pc and take a good walk


note : I have tried and revised the above answers.
I have read a lot of procrastination and its causes.

the main point for me is rispect DADO

IN you are not in good condition is impossible to get it.
Many good words will not give you a good rest, good food, good sport, good feelings to make a happy life.
So....... Tomorrow I will go to the mountain to enjoy for a while.

 :P

Refresh your mind !!!!!!!!!

Think on green !!!!!!

« Last Edit: August 19, 2017, 02:04 AM by Contro »

Contro

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2017, 02:19 AM »
...It just brought home to me the fact that the name of the game is not "what to do" but "what not to do."
So the main problem is the quality of the judgement involved in prioritising. It's all too well to capture, list and order all tasks. But the main issue is to decide what to do now, today, by making very painful decisions about what not to do, temporarily, and most likely permanently. ...
_________________________________
Yes, an elementary truth that is not always easy to perceive.

The solution that I learned from a book on time management (I forget its title - I had borrowed it from a friend and returned it), some years ago, was to categorise/prioritise tasks into permutations of Urgency (criticality) and Importance:
A - Urgent and Important.
B - Not Urgent, but Important.
C - Neither Urgent nor Important.

A, B and C are mutually exclusive. Cs may become Bs and Bs may become As. Misjudged As can be demoted to Bs, but it seems unlikely that Bs will become Cs, unless one is working in total chaos.
This scheme disregards the logical 4th permutation: Urgent, but Not Important as it is a nonsense.
This scheme seems to have been based on The Eisenhower Method, which uses the concept of Immediacy (to express Urgency).

The way to work the ABC prioritisation is to concentrate on what is Urgent or likely to become Urgent - actioning the As first, maybe picking up some Bs as one goes along (if a B synchronises with the As and is likely to become Urgent and is not a diversion), but otherwise leave the Bs till you have some slack/delay time whilst/after doing the As (remember, Bs are Not Urgent - right?).

The Cs are just ignored until they become Important, and, if they never become Important, then they never need to be actioned and can safely be deleted after a while.

I have coached others in the use of this ABC scheme, and it has saved my sanity and that of those I have coached. I recall one particular incident where I coached one of the systems engineers who reported to me - a really able and intelligent guy who was in his first job. I noticed that he was having great difficulty doing all his work and was rushing around like a mad thing. After having a chat with him, I saw the problem immediately. After my coaching him on the ABC method (he picked it up in a flash), he went away and started to rigorously apply it. I had asked him to report back to me on progress after 2 days, and he did. He was overjoyed, being now on top of his work and he knew exactly what his priorities were. He thanked me profusely and said that, though he liked his job, he had been on the point of resigning as he felt like he was just being overworked beyond his coping limit. He was amazed how that simple method had changed his whole outlook on work and made his life bearable and more enjoyable.
He was able to gain a sense of achievement from the knowledge that he had the power to control his workflow and focus on doing a good job by addressing the priorities.

I originally had a simple paper-based system for the prioritised tasklists, but I later made it computer-based on a nifty relational database PIM for managing text records (Lotus Agenda). I could look at (say) all the As together, and make progress notes about them and flag them as "Done" when they had been completed (the date of setting the "Done" flag was automatically recorded), and then review the Bs to see if any warranted action or upgrading to As, and make notes about them also. I would ignore the Cs unless some event had raised the priority of one of them.

This system was easily replicated to a greater extent using the PIM InfoSelect v8, but that has become legacy software (does not run perfectly on Win10-64bit PCs) and I have now replicated it to a lesser extent by using @mouser's CHS (ClipboardHelp&Spell), which is quite versatile. I found I could extend its versatility by using the CHS Virtual Folders functionality and making fuller notes (where necessary) in MS Office OneNote - with CHS as a kind of front-end to that. It's a bit kludgy, but it works.
If the NoteFrog beta had not been prematurely pulled, I would probably have migrated from CHS to that by now, because NoteFrog was designed as a PIM, whereas CHS is not (though it originally was).

This does not mean that using CHS for the ABC scheme is not a good, workable idea - as I have proven for myself. It got even better for this purpose when the automatic SQL generator was built-in (and especially when that later had its bugs fixed). That made the CHS Virtual Folders functionality much more effective.    :Thmbsup:
I have applied and apply.

But for me is more important the alternation or change with apps like workrave.

In general we are very exigent with ourselves and forget the basic.

The basic is not the efficiency, the basic is not the work. The basis is rispect your body and mind just because we only have one.

Be clean and organized. Be responsible. But above all apply "DADO". After apply DADO then work .

 :-*

Contro

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2017, 02:32 AM »
BTW I have write down all the foods that cause me addiction and treats the list exactly alike that the tobacco , alcohol, drugs.

So I have my list near my sight every day.

it's simply now forbidden the yellow cheese, the sugar drinks, "salchichón", "chorizo cantimpalo", etc.

They steal your discipline.

 :-*

Contro

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2017, 02:36 AM »
I resume the Mouser Method as Enjoy, alternate and Treat flexible

Ejem . I  the MM EAT

Mouser Method Enjoying the flexible alternation.

IainB

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2017, 05:45 AM »
@Contro: What are you smoking? I think I'd like some, please.    ;)

Attronarch

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #15 on: August 21, 2017, 03:43 PM »

I think there's a problem intrinsic to trying to make OnTask digital.  Some things need to be touched, and felt, and simple in order to succeed. What I've found using OnTask is that I'm bad at prioritizing large amounts of anything, and estimating how long something does take or should take, and easily distracted.  Backlogs, after working with Agile for 4+ years don't really work, as you're never really trying to clear them, so they become built up with a lot of detritus that distract.  There's a whole lot of that on our backlog at work, and we're never going to prioritize them, even if we have nothing to do.  They just don't matter.  And so the stack rank becomes meaningless. 


Don't get me wrong, but it seems that your team needs some help with getting their scrum or kanban game to next level.

Your backlog piling up is not necessarily a bad sign. That is, if you stop to reflect on it and dig into the root cause of it.

There are no agile boards. There is a scrum board (or sprint board) and kanban board. I prefer kanban approach.

The OnTask thingy you mention is very minimal kanban system - prioritize 3 tasks, limit WIP to 1.

wraith808

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #16 on: August 21, 2017, 07:55 PM »

I think there's a problem intrinsic to trying to make OnTask digital.  Some things need to be touched, and felt, and simple in order to succeed. What I've found using OnTask is that I'm bad at prioritizing large amounts of anything, and estimating how long something does take or should take, and easily distracted.  Backlogs, after working with Agile for 4+ years don't really work, as you're never really trying to clear them, so they become built up with a lot of detritus that distract.  There's a whole lot of that on our backlog at work, and we're never going to prioritize them, even if we have nothing to do.  They just don't matter.  And so the stack rank becomes meaningless. 


Don't get me wrong, but it seems that your team needs some help with getting their scrum or kanban game to next level.

Your backlog piling up is not necessarily a bad sign. That is, if you stop to reflect on it and dig into the root cause of it.

There are no agile boards. There is a scrum board (or sprint board) and kanban board. I prefer kanban approach.

The OnTask thingy you mention is very minimal kanban system - prioritize 3 tasks, limit WIP to 1.

I never said anything about Agile boards looking at that statement.  I talked about backlogs.  The backlogs are of things that have been prioritized and stack ranked, but their ranking never changes because we have more higher priority things.  We know this.  But the stuff at the bottom, we never get to, because there's so much work on higher priority work to be done.  And yes, that's what the on task thing is; I know about scrum and kanban, and know that our scrum process isn't necessarily the best.  But the powers that be don't want it to be the best.  They want to say that they're using agile, but maintain control.  They want to know everything about how things are going to turn out from the beginning.  So we're constrained by that mindset, and they make the rules and pay the checks, so I just shrug.

But that's not my primary desire to use it.  It's the fact that it's physical.  And it's to get around my own problems in prioritizing a large amount of tasks.

Attronarch

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #17 on: August 22, 2017, 06:53 AM »
I never said anything about Agile boards looking at that statement.  I talked about backlogs. 

True, it was in another that I haven't quoted. This one:

... The purpose of an agile board (and trello) is not in the implementation, but the backlog. ...

Anyway, it sounds like organisation you are in is more involved in pretending to be agile rather than trying to become more agile and your team is adapting. Just make sure you don't carry-over any bad practices once you switch organisations. :)

I'd recommend joining local meetups, if you haven' already. Those can be good places for intellectual sparring and building competence outside your organisation.

wraith808

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #18 on: August 22, 2017, 12:34 PM »
I never said anything about Agile boards looking at that statement.  I talked about backlogs. 

True, it was in another that I haven't quoted. This one:

... The purpose of an agile board (and trello) is not in the implementation, but the backlog. ...

Anyway, it sounds like organisation you are in is more involved in pretending to be agile rather than trying to become more agile and your team is adapting. Just make sure you don't carry-over any bad practices once you switch organisations. :)

I'd recommend joining local meetups, if you haven' already. Those can be good places for intellectual sparring and building competence outside your organisation.

I said Agile to mean scrum/kanban rather than writing it every time; I thought that people would get the intent.  Sorry if there was any confusion.  Onward!  :Thmbsup:

kilele

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Re: Anti-procrastination Hacks: Dynamic Unordered Todo List
« Reply #19 on: August 23, 2017, 09:17 AM »
It has occurred to me an experiment based on the pomodoro technique.
There would be a task list, the app would choose one random task for you, the user would work on it for as much as wanted, over time the app would give the user three tasks with the most time spent on so far followed by one which he's barely worked on.
The more you procrastinated on certain tasks the less they would be assigned to work on them. It may sound like a procrastination-reinforcer but who knows if you'd end up working more on undesired tasks so that you could see them appear more on the active task. So the idea is: work as much as wanted on the tasks that the app gives to you, don't worry, the app decides for you and wants you to procrastinate, hopefully you'll stop procrastinating by fighting the bitchy app which tends to hide the most procrastinated tasks.