True North

I’ve lately had a few days where it literally does seem like a fire hose is being pointed directly into my mouth with the water turned full blast. With technology and the ways that people generally communicate with us – there are so many “channels” of demands/requests/communication flying at you sometimes. These can include, but probably not be limited by the following: your inbox, instant messenger, Lync, people dropping by in your office, voicemail, and phone calls. It’s amazing that we get anything done ever – on days like this. For me, this is the source of that dirty feeling at the end of the day: “It doesn’t feel like I did anything, but I know I was busy.”

A practice that I have really stuck to over the past few years, has been to keep a prioritized task list and consult with it constantly. I refer to this task list as my “true north” that whenever I’m not sure what I’m doing or if I should be doing it – go back to true north and get my bearings again. The problem with these things and adopting this practice is convenience and forcing you to get the habit adopted. This is what has worked with me:

  • Outlook Tasks is my True North – It has a due date and importance flag – both of which I use as my prioritization schedule. Also – Outlook is somewhere that I’m already using throughout the day. I don’t have to anything special or unnatural to get to my True North, and I think that’s important.
  • Keyboard Shortcut for Add items to the list – Outlook has a bunch built in for tasks as it is already.
  • Keyboard Shortcut for Consulting Truth North – I had to bind a special keyboard mapping to get this to work really well.


Details for this practice for me – in Outlook terms.

  1. Adding Items Easily:
    1. Outlook has the built in keyboard shortcut for “Add Task” as CTRL-SHIFT-K. I recommend getting familiar with all the other CTRL-SHIFT-<key> combinations within Outlook at the sme time.
    2. Quick Steps: Create one for “Create a task with the text of a message” – this lets me move an email directly into my task list. This is useful when I need to move things from inbox over to task list – so that my True North is accurate. Mine is CTRL-SHIFT-1.

  1. Consulting True North:
    1. I use Outlook Today as my view of my tasks. Any command that you add to the quick list at the very top: can be reached by ALT-# (where # is the item’s order in that list from 1 through n). Go bind “Outlook Today” to that list.


Now whenever I’m feeling like I need to refocus, I have a quick way to get back to True North. By making this easy, you make this far far easier to force it to be habit forming. I’m open to using things like TFS’s backlog management/etc., or some other pure task list management apps, and I have tried them out from time to time. Where I fail is that I’m not already in that tool. You can make it habit forming, but at least as far as I’m concerned, it was a hump that I haven’t jumped over successfully yet.