Invention, mother of necessity

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Write Ahead Tasking
Mar 23, 2017

These days I live off a todo list. A recent hack has effected a noticeable reduction in the number of tasks that get dropped on the floor: even if a task is small, almost tiny, and I’m about to perform it immediately, I get it on the todo list first.

For example, if my neighbor at work turns and asks if could send a link to that report we were discussing, rather than send the link immediately I will instead enter “send report link to x” on my list, and then go send the actual link.

Nine times out of ten, this is ridiculous behavior, and I’ve simply inserted a (short) extra step before something I’m just going to do immediately anyway. One time out of ten, I get interrupted while I’m attempting to finish the simple, immediate task—I see a fire in my inbox, or someone else walks up with a question, or (sad but true) I get distracted while I’m looking up the link—and instead of dropping the task on the floor, I’ll just email the link the next time I return to my list.

I think of it like write ahead logging in a database. Writing a todo is so short that I generally can make it atomic (unlike even such a trivial task as finding and mailing out a link). As my days have become more interrupt driven, the extra few seconds that it takes to do write ahead tasking is a small price to pay for rescuing a few short but important todos a week.

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