Q&A: TRO - Project Planning?

Comment/Question: After completing online training last week, I've been enjoying the TRO system.  I am starting to see the value of only listing the "next" step as a task, rather than several steps: it's a lot easier to get started and make incremental progress.  And the task list seems less daunting, so there's less procrastination.

I do have some feedback on the training, and on the system itself, but I'll save that for another time:  I made some tweaks to the recommended saved searches to fit my personal needs, and to cover some concerns I have about overdue items getting overlooked.  I captured these tweaks/concerns and will share them another time. They haven't caused any distraction thus far.  I'll see how it goes in the first few weeks.

I'm writing today about something I had hoped to get from TRO and still find lacking:  I have no visibility into my capacity.  There's no way for me to predict how long an entire project will take, if I have room this quarter to take on another project.  I keep working on the treadmill of tasks, but there's no visibility into the big picture.

I understand this is a task management system, not a project management system - so maybe this isn't a "flaw" in TRO but rather just one element which TRO doesn't deliver.  I would be interested to hear if there is anything in TRO to address this.

Answer: Great thoughts. Thanks for reaching out!

Slipping through the cracks. Keep in mind:
•Daily reviews show you what you MUST DO that day.
•Weekly reviews ensure nothing is slipping through the cracks on our MAY DOs.
•Monthly reviews elevate WANT TO DOs onto your task list

Overdue items will appear on your Hotlist just like upcoming items with hard dates.
Don't work off your Hotlist--that's like eating from the buffet line.
Put it on your plate and eat from there (the Do Today list, during daily review).

Projects and capacity:
TRO is for personal task management.
Project management tools manage team and complex projects.
In PM software you can see the amount of time you've allocated for a project. Or you can if it's effective.
Make sure you budget that much time into your personal calendar, and use it only for the project tasks. Time boxing.

Part of TRO is building an intuitive feel for how much will fit and how much won't, and getting better on spending less time on the trivial many and focusing on the crucial few.


  • Comment/Question:

    • Daily reviews show you what you MUST DO that day.
    Limitation of TRO Hotlist not showing soft dates:  Imagine a task comes in on Tuesday, and I process it with a soft date of Wednesday.  The current daily review (looking at hotlist) doesn't show me anything with soft dates.  Therefore, I wouldn't see this item until the following Monday's Weekly Review when I'd discover that I was 4 days past my soft date.  So you might say that during processing I should have assigned a hard date of Wednesday, but it's possible the item didn't qualify for a hard date yesterday but today has become a "hot item".  This is why for me it's nice to have the hotlist show overdue soft date items too, even though they don't have hard-dates -- so I can see them during my daily review and decide if they are heating up and need a hard date. 

    • Don't work off your Hotlist--that's like eating from the buffet line.  Put it on your plate and eat from there (the Do Today list, during daily review).
    This is a great point and a great analogy.  So I created my own "Today" search which shows both starred items AND items with hard dates <= today.  I suppose your point is that overdue items will show on the hotlist, and during my daily review I can choose to star them (or they are already starred from yesterday) in order for them to show up on "today", so my custom search is redundant.  The one benefit it gives me though is it perhaps let's me distinguish "truly today" items (starred) from "hopefully today"  (overdue but unstarred).  I realize this is not how the system is intended to work.

    Projects and capacity:
    TRO is for personal task management.
    Project management tools manage team and complex projects.

    OK so I won't consider this a limitation of the system, but it still leave a gap for me.  The projects I work on are mostly not team projects, just me, but they are long running and complex.
    Part of TRO is building an intuitive feel for how much will fit and how much won't, and getting better on spending less time on the trivial many and focusing on the crucial few.

    This part is true and helpful.  I do see how it helps me focus and will hopefully give me a better idea of my capacity - certainly I can already see that I don't have time for all my current tasks if they keep rolling over and becoming overdue, so how could I possibly accept more.

    Answer: I definitely understand the thought process, but you are misusing the soft dates and hard dates and missing some key information about the order in which you do things.
    The way you do it is important. It’s a focus thing, and reduction of stress thing.

    You only assign hard dates two things you MUST do or bad things will happen. Those tasks get both soft dates and hard dates. Never assign hard dates to “may do” items that you decide you want to do on a certain day. Never. Instead, you may Star them (or add a DO Today tag, whatever the system is for identifying “do today“ tasks in your task manager).

    All the MAY DO items just get soft dates. That deliberately excludes them from the Hotlist. This is not on accident, it is essential.

    The only things you are supposed to see during a daily review are the MUST do items, calendared appointments, and 30+ minute blocks of time scheduled for any kind of tasks.

    So the burning question in your mind at this point should be: “Then when will I see my MAY DO items? They’re just going to slip by!”

    Before I answer that question, you need to think through a series of logical steps.

    Which is more important?
    - A MUST do item or a MAY do item?
    - An item where bad things will happen if you don’t start it on a certain date (hard date), or a task that you just thought you MIGHT want to do on a certain date (soft date)?

    Obviously, if you skip MUST do items and don’t get them all done in favor of MAY do items, then bad things are going to happen. We want to avoid bad things.

    And what if you have 10 things that NEED to be done (or bad things will happen) on a certain day? Do you really want to burden your mind with all the other MAY DO items at the same time? That’s a recipe for stress and loss of focus.

    First hand of the must do items. Then handle the may do items.

    The secret to the whole thing is the order in which you do things. The objective of TRO is not to have one, single list of things that you will do that day. Life is too fluid, it doesn’t work that way. Instead, there is a list of lists, where you do things in THIS ORDER, from these lists:

    1. Calendared appointments. You must always honor your appointments first (keep, change, cancel, or connect).

    2. Do Today list. In Toodledo this is the starred list, it varies by task manager.

    3. (As they occur) Tag lists for group meetings (+Staff), people (1Joe), and situations you encounter (Errands). Things like staff meetings or when Joel calls you on the telephone. Pull up that list and work all of those tasks in order. This shows you BOTH hard dated AND soft dated tasks in one list. And they are auto-prioritized by hard date and then by soft date. Work roughly from the top down.

    4. (When your Do Today list is completed) Major context lists like (Work) or (Family) for the current life area for the current block of time you’re in: work, personal, family, home maintenance. Once again, this list shows you ALL of your tasks in that life area, including soft dated only. BUT it shows them auto-prioritized according to the soft dates if they have no hard dates.

    5. Someday Maybe. Almost nobody ever works off this list. That’s why we put in the monthly review.

    This puts only the tasks and appointments in front of your eyes at any given moment that you need to be looking at. Everything else is out of your face until the right time.

    The instructions above, for what order you work things in, should be added to your notes for the daily review appointment that we tell you to set up in your calendar. Put it at the bottom after the daily review steps, as a reminder of what lists you work off of and what order during the day.

    Now, if this still bothers you, you may be facing an entirely different situation. You may simply have too much work to do, regardless of the order in which you do it. But trying to do everything at once won’t make you more effective, it will make you less effective. This approach will let you see, probably for the first time, exactly how much you are committing to. Exactly how much “must do“ things your face in your life. And then it will force you to start making the hard decisions you need to make.

    “When everything is important, nothing can be important.“ Choose what you’re going to focus on now, and master them.

    P.S. Another possibility is that you may be over-using hard dates. Assigning hard dates to things that don’t really have a “bad things will happen“ date. We just feel anxious about them so we want to give them a hard date. Resist the temptation, it will force you back into the old-fashioned time management methods that put all the wrong things in front of your eyes at the wrong times. That leads to fear, and fear leads to stress and stress leads to the Dark Side… :)
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