Vitamin-R for Results

When you think about it, we can’t really manage time so “Time Management” is a misnomer. What we can really manage is our attention and how much time we allocate to paying attention to a chosen task. There are new tools becoming available to help us do that.

Getting Bigger Things Done

Vitamin-R is a Mac application to help you get things done (GTD) by helping you focus your attention on the ever so critical doing part. There are many other applications, most notably OmniFocus, that help with planning, organizing, and tracking completion of tasks but remarkably few that help with directing sustained attention on the longer tasks that typically are more challenging and often are the most important. David Allen, the original GTD guru, suggests that if you have an item that take less than 2 minutes to complete then “just do it”. Projects that take longer to complete need to be broken down into smaller tasks but some of these tasks, often the most worthwhile, need prolonged concentration from 15 to 30 minutes or more to make significant progress. Unitasking flow has become a rallying concept for improvement as more information has become available about the detrimental productivity effects of multitasking.

Traditionally the prescription for completing these most important and challenging tasks is just to “buckle down” and be disciplined. That can still work but why not go into battle with some ammunition and tools to fight back against all the distractions that can sabotage your best intentions. In recent times more information is becoming available from brain research which provides clues on how to more effectively manage attention in support of your better self and GTD ambitions.

Pomodoro Technique

The pomodoro technique is one approach that is becoming popular for getting done those longer tasks that require sustained concentration. Pomodoro is “tomato” in Italian and the technique is named after a simple timer shaped like a tomato that was used by the originator (Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s) to time his sprints of concentration on an important task. The technique consists in setting a timer for a short interval like 25 minutes and focussing your attention on just one important task for that interval. Afterwards reward yourself by taking a short optionally timed or untimed break.

Your computer, which is itself the source of many of the distractions, can also be put to use to help you concentrate your attention and that is what Vitamin-R supports by several functions in addition to the pomodoro timer.

Vitamin-R Features

Vitamin-R provides the following items:

  • Removal of distractions by quitting or hiding other applications and muting sound
  • Linking with OmniFocus tasks
  • Timer start, pause, resume, stop.
  • Task documentation editor for task objective, now, later, and scratch
  • Insertion of text templates
  • Reading objectives aloud
  • Log book for results

Pomodoro Steps with Vitamin-R

When you have identified a “pomodoro” task you would like to complete the steps with Vitamin-R support would be as follows:

  1. Removal of computer distractions by quitting or hiding and muting applications that are not needed for the task.
  2. Link to an existing OmniFocus task or define a new one
  3. Set the timer
  4. Use the notes capability to identify now, later, or miscellaneous scratch items you want to remember but not distract you
  5. Log results and track completion in your task manager such as OmniFocus

Benefits

Use of a timer for these important “pomodoro” tasks has the benefit of recording task times which can help in future task estimates. If the task wasn’t completed another pomodoro session can be timed after the break.

I like how keyboard control, shortcuts, and templates are provided in a rich text editor which help keep the focus on the task. Links to OmniFocus make for a more elegant workflow since productivity aficionados are almost certainly going to be using this or a similar application (support for Things is coming soon) for task management. I like the markup shortcuts provided with FastType magic which allows you to create action items, bulleted lists and checklists with a minimum of fuss by automatically translating certain characters into those formats. An enhancement that would be welcome is to have more integration of vitamin-R notes with OmniFocus so the complete record of a task is in one place.

The application also comes with pdf documentation which explains some background about the application, relevant brain research, future plans, and some suggested references. I like the tone of the documentation that recognizes that it is early days for this type of tool and that many changes are sure to come. It is mentioned up front that the software isn’t written by brain scientists but the important thing is whether the technique supported helps you get important things done. I found the free trial timed out before I was finished evaluating the product but it does offer a way to test the full functionality before purchasing.

Conclusion

A person could argue that there are alternatives to getting things done without Vitamin-R with separate timers, notepads, and utilities but if you believe as I do that removing as much friction and distraction as possible will improve your ability to get the more important things done then vitamin-R is well worth a try. I look forward to doing more pomodoros using vitamin-R.

Full disclosure:

Publicspace.net is offering a free license worth €14.95 Euros (currently $19.16 Canadian) for blog posts about their product. The content of this blog post has not been affected by this offer.

Task Priorities: Finish What You Start

Despite the flexibility of the OmniFocus todo list manager, one feature that is lamented by some as being missing is setting explicit priorities. I haven’t found this to be an issue because there are so many attributes available to assign to todo list items (tasks). Two I have found to be very useful are flags and start dates.

Flags

Flags can be assigned to highlight tasks for special treatment. This can be a binary assignment to identify priority items if you like. One essential attribute of prioritization is setting limits. For example, identifying your current 3 Most Important Tasks (MIT’s). By limiting yourself to just 3 MIT’s you are forced to decide what are your must do items because you don’t allow yourself to flag anything else until these items are completed.

Start Dates

Assigning a start date for a task in addition to or instead of assigning a due date is one way I prioritize items. Some tasks might not have an established due date but you want to get started with them and make them a priority for current activities right behind your MIT’s. By establishing a start date you can have a perspective on tasks you have started sorted by how long ago you started them (Perspective – Project Filter:Remaining; Grouping:Start; Sorting:Project; Status Filter:Remaining;). This perspective allows you to prioritize by focussing on finishing what you have started before starting new tasks. This is really helpful so you don’t start too many items in parallel. Sorting by how long ago you started also encourages reviewing old items that you should either finish or recognize should be closed or perhaps put back on the some day list.