The Gestalt's Garden

Separate task and project management

| 4 min (854 words)
#productivity #task-management #project-management #getting-things-done

Thanks to Getting Things Done1 (GTD) and Taskwarrior I could keep track of more than 300 to-dos and several active projects at the same time.

However, this system was costly to maintain.

Every day, when I started working, the first thing I did was to review my tasks and projects. But I didn’t do this because it was the most efficient thing to do: I did it because it was the only option.

This system managed so much complexity that I needed to use my best mental clarity (the one I had in the mornings) to prioritise each day’s work correctly.

This workflow was fragile.

When I had enough time and mental clarity, everything was fine.

However, when I didn’t, the situation could quickly deteriorate. Due to the day-to-day rush, I would stop reviewing in the mornings and start «managing mentally» my tasks and projects to “save time”. The result was that I started to prioritize my work poorly, leading to more emergencies in my daily life.

A vicious circle.

The solution to this growing spiral of chaos was to take a break from my work and regain time and mental clarity to sort out my tasks and projects.

Projects bring in too much complexity

Where was the problem?

I was managing too much complexity: I was managing projects with my task manager.

In Getting Things Done there is the idea that anything that involves two or more tasks is a project. However, it is easy to end up misinterpreting this idea and thinking that:

  1. A project is just a list of tasks.
  2. Therefore, I can use Getting Things Done to manage my projects.

This is the root of the problem: Getting Things Done is a method for managing tasks, not for managing projects. Moreover, this misunderstanding is reinforced because many modern task managers have so many features—beyond task management—that they invite us to manage projects with them.

The result is that we stifle our task management with projects.

Separate task and project management

A task manager is a tool that allows you to manage lists of tasks efficiently. However, a project is more than a list of tasks.

A project consists of:

It is not possible to efficiently manage all the information in a project using a task manager. For example, many task managers allow you to create “projects” to group related tasks. They even allow you to add notes to these “projects”. But… does it make sense to manage project notes this way? Wouldn’t it be better to use a note editor for this?

This situation is like using a Swiss army knife to cut down a tree. A Swiss army knife can have a mini saw functionality. But… does this make it a suitable tool? What you need, in this case, is a chainsaw!

So, the solution is simple2:

What is a project manager?

Regarding methodologies, it is true that Getting Things Done gives some advice on project management. But, in my opinion, Building a Second Brain3 is a more complete project manager.

Regarding tools, my recommendation is that you use the right tool for each type of information in a project:

Conclusion: Solve the root of your problems

Since I separated tasks and projects, my task management has simplified. Remember when I had more than 300 tasks to do? Now, there are barely 30: most of the complexity of my task manager is now being handled by better tools.

The result is that the review of my tasks is less costly and therefore more robust.

Another advantage of this separation is that you reduce dependency on your tools. Initially, I needed to use Taskwarrior because its functionality allowed me to manage all that unnecessary complexity. Now, my task manager can be something really simple: a list where I can write and cross off tasks.

And, thanks to this reduction in my dependence on technology, I’ve been able to make the leap to using the Bullet Journal method, which consists of using a physical notebook to manage your tasks.

In general, we tend to solve our problems using more advanced tools. However, it is necessary to dig deeper, understand what is wrong, and apply a solution at the root of the problem.

Otherwise, we will be using Swiss Army knives to cut down trees.

Do you use a mini saw or a chainsaw for your projects? ;-)


  1. “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen. ↩︎

  2. I first came across the advice to separate task and project management in “Separating Task Management and Project Management”. I then continued to dig deeper and ended up finding the following resources “Stop Using Your Task Manager As A Project Manager!” and “Is It Really A Project?”↩︎

  3. “Building a Second Brain” by Tiago Forte. ↩︎

Referenced or related posts:

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