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Ways to work with very long capture or backlog task lists? Edited

I have a question about whether there are good ways in Trello to work with many dozens of tasks.

I'm a new Trello user experimenting to see if it can help me be more productive in my  personal life.

Over the years, I've created a list of dozens of "capture" tasks. They are important tasks I think of as time goes on. I "capture" them so I don't forget them. Some are more important than others. They fit in a variety of categories (e.g., house, yard, family, vehicles). Some have deadlines, others don't. Some are repeating, others aren't.  Some have higher priorities than others.

I've played enough with Trello to know that working with less than ~10 tasks is pretty easy (e.g., Backlog, Priority, Today, Waiting, Done). However, I can't see how I could efficiently work with a list of 20-30 or many more tasks. Only about 10-12 tasks appear in view. Scrolling to see all the tasks is challenging. It feels overwhelming to me.

The bottom line is that I don't have a good way of managing my super long to-do list. I avoid it. I don't like it. I act on what I "must" do and struggle to manage the rest. It feels bad.

My question: Do you have suggestions for working with very long lists of tasks? Whether in Trello or somewhere else?

Thanks in advance!

1 comment

Iain Dooley Community Leader Jul 07, 2019

@Abbo Peterson I have hundreds of tasks across dozens of boards. I use some of those boards for planning, then I add myself to things I will take action on and a copy comes into my central board. I then also create hundreds of different ad-hoc tasks on this board, which also synchs with all my emails. I use a process I call "task shortlisting" to prioritise everything from this one board. I wrote an article about it here:

https://community.atlassian.com/t5/Trello-articles/Task-shortlisting-with-Trello/ba-p/988117

Thanks @Iain Dooley. I looked at your board and read your article. Some of the key concepts are sounding very good for me. You've given me hope. I have three follow-up questions:

1. I want to know more about the question(s) to ask when creating each shortlist. I've stumbled with that in the past. Do I need/want to do this thing sooner or later? Is this more important or less important? Will this take more time or less time?

What questions do you find most effective?

2. I'm sensing your process is a kind of repeated filtering. From 1000 items, get to a shortlist of 100. Do it again to get to a shortlist of 10-20. If that's still too many to quickly pick from for "Now", do it again until you feel comfortable with that number of items to pick from.

Is that a good way to look at this?

3. With respect to the set of Lists, I think that's base on time. How soon you plan to do these items. Is that right? However, your List names don't quite follow that. You have "Now" and "Never", but you also have "Maybe" and "Unlikely".

Can you please clarify the purpose of the List names so I can name them effectively for me?

Given how long I've been challenged by to-do list overwhelm, I feel hopeful but uneasy. I've tried many different methods and I always end in the same place.

I look forward to your reply. Thanks in advance!

@Abbo Peterson hey, glad you liked it. To answer your questions:

"1. I want to know more about the question(s) to ask when creating each shortlist. I've stumbled with that in the past. Do I need/want to do this thing sooner or later? Is this more important or less important? Will this take more time or less time?"

The way I teach it to my clients is this:

On the first pass, focus on a sense of importance regardless of timeframe

On the second pass, focus on a sense of urgency

This basically allows you to sort things according to the "urgent vs important" matrix in a 2 step process.

Of course depending on the size of your task list, you might find that you have to do more than 2 passes, in that case just alternate between a sense of importance and urgency.

"2. I'm sensing your process is a kind of repeated filtering. From 1000 items, get to a shortlist of 100. Do it again to get to a shortlist of 10-20. If that's still too many to quickly pick from for "Now", do it again until you feel comfortable with that number of items to pick from."

Yep, it's a multi stage filtering or shortlisting process.

"3. With respect to the set of Lists, I think that's base on time. How soon you plan to do these items. Is that right? However, your List names don't quite follow that. You have "Now" and "Never", but you also have "Maybe" and "Unlikely"."

The further away things get from you, the less important they are and therefore the less likely they are to get done.

As you clear out the shorter term lists on the left, you can repeat the left/right swiping process further and further out to the right, pulling tasks in and pushing them further away until ultimately you have looked at a task 5 or 6 times without taking action on it, which means you'll probably never do it.

What you're looking at is a "manual" version of Hooked on Zero done in a board with no automation. When I train people in my Hooked on Zero programme that are using Benko Board, there is automation that pushes cards back towards them. In that version I have 2 variants of list names: one with Priority, If I have time today, tomorrow, this week, next week, this month, next month, later and one with list names being a number of days (this is more like a "snooze" function where the card will come back to your inbox X days from when it's added in).

Each variant works for different people, and each has advantages and disadvantages, but basically I don't bother with a time based frame for the lists in the manual version because time is implicit and there's no schedule on which they are moved back towards you automatically anyway.

@Iain Dooley  Thank you very much. I appreciate the details you provided. Now it's time for me to jump in, experiment, get confused, play around, feel cumbersome and see how it goes.

Like Iain Dooley likes this

@Iain Dooley  It's been almost a month since I started trying your shortlisting process in Trello and it's helping me. I'm not doing great at it, but there's hope.

I have a follow-up question. When processing a list and doing the left/right swiping, do you recommend always having a blank list column on both sides of the one you're processing? Or, do you just add the items you're swiping to the lists on either side?

I like the clarity of having blank lists on both sides because it doesn't add items to other lists -- that I may have processed already. On the other hand, that may be me overreacting to my need for simplicity or lack of practice. I think keep them separate; don't dump the tasks into another task bucket (list). It'll make that list bigger and more difficult to process later. On the other hand, if I do in the other way, I'll have tons of lists.

Iain Dooley Community Leader Aug 03, 2019

@Abbo Peterson typically I will sort into empty lists, that is, when you have too much stuff in the near term you will need to shunt everything across before sorting through it. Once you hollow out the left side, you can pull in things from further afield, but the specific way you do that is up to you:

 

1) Do you move everything from a further right list into your "inbox" and swipe from there, giving everything a chance to get done in the near term or;

 

2) Do you swipe left/right from a populated list into a populated list on the right and an unpopulated list on the left, then move all those you picked off into your "inbox" for immediate consideration or;

3) Do you *always* shunt everything across whenever you left/right swipe and then periodically move your "Later" list into consideration or;

4) Do you just dump everything back into one big list every few months and start all over again or

5) Some combination of the above

Personally, I use Benko Board which uses this model but has automation that moves cards back to the Inbox every X days so I push things out to the right but Benko Board periodically automatically pushes them back to me at which point I sometimes just archive them and sometimes take action on them.

What I was presenting in that article is a sort of "generic" version of the concept that can be used in the absence of any automation.

Really, the way I think about this system is that it models as closely as possible how you might sort through post it notes or system cards that you had physically stacked up on your desk, and if you were doing that you might use one tactic one day, another tactic another day, depending on your workload, energy levels and frequency of sorting.

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