The Symmetry of a Day

Lately, I’ve been working on improving the things I pay attention to and focus on during the day. Of course, one aspect of this is a to-do list for each day. I spend most of my time in front of a computer, so an online to-do tool makes sense. I’ve been searching for one that works for me but I’m frustrated with most of the tools I’ve found — they all seem to manage a wide variety of lists, but don’t focus on the symmetry of a day.

There is symmetry in the way we spend our time — the regular rhythm of our lives. Each day follows a similar pattern as the next day. We wake, we eat three meals, we sleep, we do stuff in between. At a broader level, each day of the week resembles the same day in other weeks. Many Mondays are alike.  So the two most regularly repeated patterns surround our days and our weeks. There is no smaller pattern of symmetry than a day: one hour is not like the next hour. This makes days the atom of human experience.

In spite of this, I’m surprised that the tools don’t structure things around this experience. Sometimes they allow you to assign due dates to items on a list so you can simulate a list for today. The reality is that tasks I want to do today usually aren’t “due” today. They may just be what I’m planning. When I’m planning the next day, the things which I didn’t get done yesterday are not overdue and I don’t want it treating them like they are. At the same time, having just one list doesn’t let me plan a week nor does it easily show me what things I got done on various days to reflect on them. The only simple to-do list solution that I have found so far that understands this symmetry is TeuxDeux.

I realize I’m not the first to suggest using days and weeks for planning. I have come to realize how important these symmetries are to managing and reflecting on where we spend our time. On this quest for improving my attention management, I’ve found a lot of benefit in the Pilot Fire system. It understands the symmetry of planning and is a great system for thinking through the symmetries of life.






6 responses to “The Symmetry of a Day”

  1. sam Avatar

    Hey Matt,
    I think the link may be wrong.

    Otherwise enjoyed your post, as always.

  2. Matthew Avatar

    You’re right! Thanks for the pointer Sam! I fixed the post and the link is now correct. Doh!

  3. Chris Rusho Avatar
    Chris Rusho

    I’m wondering if the GTD methodology was something you considered and how you thought it would or would not work for you. I’ve been using it since I read the book about ten years ago. It incorporates concepts like tasks not being “overdue” just because you didn’t get to them on a given day; it actually relegates due dates to just the small subset of tasks that truly require one.

    “Things” on the iPhone/Mac was great… when I switched to Android, I also switched to Remember the Milk, which is cloud-based.

  4. Matthew Avatar

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the comment. I’ve read both GTD and “Making It All Work” and tried using the system as well (though admittedly not as thoroughly as others). I found a lot of the ideas very useful, but find most of his system creates too many lists. I wrote a little on this in a previous post. You’re right though that his system doesn’t require things be done on a particular day. I really like a lot of the things in his system. Are you able to implement his whole system or do you have certain things that you use most from it?

    Thanks for the references and thoughts. I really appreciate it.

  5. David Delp Avatar

    Thanks for the link, and the endorsement. I’ve been trying (for about 15 minutes) to come up with a palindrome that captures the beauty hidden in your message:
    Oh, to do! No ton o’ dot. Ho!

  6. Daniel Solorio Avatar

    Hey Matt,

    In my quest for the perfect to do list, I as well stumble upon a few managers, I used things for while, but it killed me the syncing with mobile devices, lately I’ve been using it’s free, cross-platform, and web based, is still being developed but they have some interesting approach to stuff, so far it has what you expect, due dates starred items, lists, reminders, shared lists, etc. But I guess in the end it wouldn’t approach a day with symmetry.

    The best tool-technique I’ve found that is doing wonders for me is the specially useful for creatives which in my case tend to be hyperactive and ADD and usually procrastinate a lot, it simply focus on getting things done, not the ones you would prefer doing but the ones that need to get done, even if they’re not fun or pleasant as Tax work would be probably. This technique has been a life saver to me, I don’t use it everyday, but I use it when I seriously need to finish something on a deadline.

    Enjoyed the post as always, and I’ll take a look of those links. Thanks for sharing.

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