I didn’t get round to writing anything in September, not least because I was working on a new web site. It came about by coincidence, but since I started working on the first day of September I decided to give myself just a month to do it, from zero to usable product. Given my time budget for side projects, this is about 16 hours of work in total, so I’m quite pleased that I managed to get the project completed to a reasonable standard. Though I’m writing this in mid-October, I finished the project to schedule and then failed to write about it for a couple of weeks.
The site is called TaskMaster, and it’s a simple to-do list app. Unfortunately one of the things I didn’t fit into the month was work on documentation and usability, so it’s pretty much undocumented at the moment. One of the things I noticed in doing Anonymarks was how long the help text took to write: 2 hours wouldn’t be unreasonable for writing the copy, doing screenshots and basic layout work, and this is a substantial fraction of the time budget for the project as a whole. I don’t know whether this means I’m a good web developer or a poor copywriter, but it’s a lesson I’m going to take forward to the next project I do.
The TaskMaster concept is something I’ve used for some time, and I even had a web app that worked in much the same way a couple of years ago, written in Ruby on Rails. I had to ditch the web app when there was a Rails security scare and I couldn’t remember enough to make the dormant project safe. I’ve recreated it in Django, using Bootstrap to make the design less time-consuming.
The to-do list concept is something I’ve been refining for a while, very loosely inspired by ideas from Agile software development. It’s unusual in that every task on the list has to have a deadline, and once you’ve set it you can’t alter it in any way (except for a 1-hour cooling-off period). Tasks have importance weights added, which is intended to measure importance (impact of not doing the task) rather than urgency. Most unusually, the target isn’t to get every task completed by its deadline, but to get 90% (weighted by importance). The idea is that if you’re hitting 100% then you aren’t being ambitious enough with your goals, so 100% is regarded as a failure.
This isn’t an approach I’ve tested on anyone other than myself, but for me it works well. I like that it takes the pressure off having an enormous list of tasks to do and keeps the focus on honestly predicting what you’re going to achieve. The system rewards people who honestly appraise what they’re capable of and punishes people who load up the list with every conceivable task and then fail to complete many of them. It seems to me that people use to-do lists as if forgetting tasks was their biggest risk, when in fact I think that truly forgetting a task is rare. The real problem is that people procrastinate and use busywork to avoid unpleasant tasks, and traditional long to-do lists make this worse, not better.