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.