Designing My Own To-Do App
For years, I've searched for the perfect task management system. But after countless experiments and iterations, I've decided to take matters into my own hands. Introducing my dream app: Otterdone.
Since I can remember, I've been fascinated with finding ways to organize my life. From task management to goal setting to periodic reviews, I've tried many things that promised to bring some order to the chaos. While I've discovered a few methodologies that work well for me, they often feel like pieces of a puzzle rather than a holistic view of my life and what I want to achieve.
In this blog post, I'll be discussing what my perfect task management app would look like.
The app aims to provide users with a comprehensive solution for managing their lives. It features a module to define and prioritize personal values, an OKR-based goal setting and tracking system, a task management module, and a Pomodoro-like timer with end-of-slice prompts to track focus, mood, and interruptions. Additionally, the app includes a dashboard for periodic reviews, allowing users to reflect on their progress and make adjustments as needed.
The app's core idea is to combine various methodologies and ideas to create a holistic view of one's life. It takes a top-down approach, starting with high-level goals and values and breaking them down into everyday tasks.
The app aims to consolidate all aspects of planning that are currently siloed into various physical notebooks and apps. This includes yearly reflections to reaffirm values and long-term goals, quarterly planning for mid-term accountability, and finally, task management for day-to-day activities. By connecting daily tasks to higher level goals and values, the app aims to enhance motivation and focus.
Moreover, the app utilizes data gathered daily to guide planning. Users can track their focus and mood during each task, the type of distractions that interrupt them, and how long each task takes to complete. This establishes a baseline against which users can compare any changes made to their process. It can also reveal any areas where they may not be making progress at all.
In order to achieve its core objective of creating a comprehensive system for planning, the app is designed to offer a variety of features that cater to different aspects of the user's life. These features are organized into six different modules, each with its own unique functionality. In this section, we will explore each module in detail, discussing how it works and how it contributes to the overall effectiveness of the app. By the end of this section, you should have a clear understanding of how the app can help you organize and manage your tasks, goals, and overall productivity.
At the highest level of the app are the user's values. These are fundamental beliefs that shape who they are and who they want to be, and every task they perform is in some way related to or motivated by these values. To help users develop their values, the app offers different techniques, which are still under research.
For periodic reviews, the app utilizes the Wheel of Life. This tool visualizes various areas of the user's life that they've identified as important, along with their satisfaction level with each on a scale from 1-10. The Wheel of Life helps users maintain a healthy balance in their lives, ensuring they don't sacrifice important areas such as family and friends for their career or other goals.
After clarifying their values and identifying important areas in their life, the user can set specific goals that align with their values. Goals are specific results that they want to achieve in each area.
For setting goals, the app incorporates OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), which involve defining a qualitative Objective and a few quantitative Key Results. These OKRs are time-boxed, often for each quarter, making the deadline more tangible and motivating the user to be ambitious in achieving their objectives.
What makes OKRs a powerful tool is that they can be integrated into weekly reviews. Users can update the metrics of their key results and track progress towards their objectives, helping them stay focused and motivated.
Goals and projects are key components of achieving our values and long-term aspirations. Goals are specific results we aim to achieve, while projects are a set of tasks or activities that help us realize those goals.
Sometimes, goals can be achieved without breaking them down into smaller projects. For example, a goal of reading a certain number of books in a year might not require any additional planning beyond setting a reading target. However, for more complex goals, breaking them down into smaller, manageable projects can help us stay on track and make progress.
On the other hand, projects can also exist independently of goals, or might span across multiple goals. For instance, completing a software development project might take longer than a quarter, and might be part of multiple successive goals.
The next module in the app is tasks. Tasks are specific activities that need to be done, such as writing a blog post about the to-do app. They can be related to a goal or a project, or simply stand alone.
I personally find the Getting Things Done framework helpful for managing tasks, although I haven't fully mastered it yet. One of the key ideas that has stuck with me is the importance of putting every thought into a trusted system, so that nothing slips through the cracks. Another key idea is making it easy to find the next actionable item. For example, when I'm on a train without internet access, I want to be able to quickly find all tasks that I can do offline. This helps me stay productive even when I don't have access to all my tools.
Another tool that has helped me in the past are Kanban boards, which visualize the work in progress. They have prevented me from starting too many things at once and have forced me to finish a task before starting something new. Kanban boards also work well with projects by giving a visual overview of the state of all tasks.
Tasks are an area of the app with many possibilities. There's a lot that can be done to make it easier to create, manage, find, and execute them.
The focus module is focused on the actual work of completing tasks. A popular technique to help with this is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves setting a time limit to work on a task with focused attention. Some people find it helpful to use a ticking timer to add an auditory cue to help switch the brain into focus mode.
Another tool for productivity is Vitamin-R, an app that offers a timer with an end-of-slice prompt. After each slice, it asks the user to track their focus level. My app additionally tracks the user's mood and any interruptions that may have occurred. Tracking these metrics can provide helpful insights into productivity trends and help with periodic reviews.
For the review module, there are different options to consider.
One approach is to use the data collected during the execution phase to provide insights and trends. A dashboard could display progress on goals, focus levels, and mood over time.
Another option is to integrate reviews into the app, starting with weekly reviews to check on projects, define tasks, and increase accountability. The OKRs could be graded and reviewed within the app as well. A yearly review could also be useful to reflect on values and set high-level goals for the next year.
However, it's important to keep in mind that review processes vary, and it may not be ideal to have a rigid or inflexible system in the app.
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about project planning in general and specifically about an app that can help me with it. I might be overdoing things, which has inspired the name for the app – Otterdone.
It's just an idea in my head at the moment, and I'm not sure if I'll ever build it. There are many reasons not to do it, including the fact that the app's scope is massive, and the task management tool market is highly competitive. There are probably already two or three apps out there that do everything I've described above.
But building apps is fun, and I'm always looking for excuses to work on one. I've also realized that I need a tool that goes beyond a simple to-do list and helps me think about my life holistically.
If I were to build the app, I would want to start small and add features over time. The first thing I'd want to have is a timer to help me track my focus, mood, and interruptions afterward. It sounds like a simple enough feature to start with.
Stay tuned for more...