Saturday, May 24, 2008

Scrial Consistency

scrial consistency logoAbout a decade ago, I worked with a colleague (named Terry) who was obsessed with finding the right way to organize his day. He and I had long digressive conversations about how best to manage tasks, calendars, email, etc. During that time, I studied things like the Covey method heavily. One of the enduring things I took from the Covey stuff was the distinction between the urgent and important. Lots of things are both, but there are some things in life that are urgent but not important and others that are important but not urgent. Terry and I discussed this category a lot, because busy people tend to ignore that quadrant the most.

Fast forward to today. I don't use the Covey system any more because it does not match my work habits well. I've struggled for a while putting together an effective way to handle my increasingly complex ToDo lists. I keep finding some applications that handle parts of what I need well, but fall down on other parts. For example, I've been using TaskPaper for a while, which I like because it's very simple, text based, and lightweight. But the thing that TaskPaper doesn't do well is handle the semi-recurring stuff, like haircut or dentist appointments: recurring appointments that fall into the "I need to do this 6 weeks after the last time I completed it" category. For that, I've been using a special purpose tool called Sciral Consistency (commercial, with a "try before you buy" option). It's not really a ToDo list manager so much as way to handle that specialized relationship between semi-recurring tasks and calendars. The Sciral Consistency site says that it handles the following types of conditions:

  • They don't have deadlines or rigid time intervals associated with them.

  • In order to gain and retain their benefits, you must perform them on a regular basis over a long period of time.

  • The ideal amount of time that elapses between completions of a particular task are unique to that task. To gain the maximum benefit you shouldn't do them too frequently or infrequently.

  • They can be carried out by you with minimal or no coordination with other people.

  • They are often “routine” tasks for which you have not firmly established a habit of carrying them out as second nature.

  • They are (in the words of Stephen Covey) “important, but not urgent.”

Sciral Consistency handles these things using a unique calendar view, which looks like this (also from their site):

sciral consistency screen shot

You create tasks with threshold values: after I finish this task, I need to do it again between 10 and 14 days from the finish date. You can have a bunch of these calendars. Like the last bullet point says, it is great for handling recurring "important but not urgent" tasks. I've been using Sciral Consistency for a while, and it serves me well.

I'm still on the lookout for a comprehensive solution. Recently, I've become mostly addicted to OmniFocus, a great GTD inspired task manager, which somewhat handles this special case. I haven't succumbed to the GTD religion, but like the Covey stuff before, I've assimilatedwhat I consider the good parts and made them part of my routine. I'll say more about OmniFocus once it has sunk into my work habit.


John Russell said...

Have you tried RememberTheMilk? While jumping between 3 computers I like the online nature of it and google gears makes it work offline too. Keyboard shortcuts, sms messages for tasks, gmail and google calendar plugins... its really very good. No semi-recurring tasks like this post but for everything else it works really well.

goobert said...

I am also a big fan of OmniFocus at work. The thick-client integration is especially useful and makes me quite productive.

However, if anyone has any thoughts on RTM vs. OmniFocus, especially as it relates to the iPhone, I'd love to hear about it.

Dana said...

You should check Things by Cultured Code. I used RTM for a long time, but was increasingly frustrated at the lack of hierarchical tasks, and things like "I need to do this again 5 days after I did it last."

Things handles those very nicely. You have lots of options, and it is very flexible. It seems to me to be the first task app that doesn't try to hammer you into its way of thinking; they give you projects, contexts, tags, and search. Set up your system the way you want.

It is currently in Beta and will be a commercial application once launched, but I have loved it since day one.

Oh, and if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch (lucky devil, you), they have an application that will sync with the desktop app.