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I Built an App for Tracking all My Important Things

I'm sure you have some important things too
April 17, 2019

I just finished up my third month of working as a solo dev this week, which means it's time to roll out another product! This month I built a web tool for organizing and tracking your priorities and you can find it at myimportantthings.com.

The idea for My Important Things was born out of a pain point I think a lot of people run into and which I've been feeling acutely since trading in the 9-5 lifestyle for the unlimited unstructured free time of a solo dev. Namely, how to make sure you're working on the right thing at the right time.

When I was planning my transition into working for myself the perk I found most exciting was all the free time I'd have. With an extra ten or so hours every single day it felt like I'd have time to accomplish just about anything! I made dozens of plans to start new projects and dive into new hobbies and learn new skills. Don't get me wrong, I'm still very happy to have control of my day, but what I quickly learned was that managing all that free time is a challenge in and of itself, one I found myself wishing I had a specific sort of tool for tackling.

Firehose Me enjoying a refreshing sip of sweet sweet time

The most obvious candidate is the humble To Do list. To Do lists are great. You get all your tasks down on paper and then you get to enjoy the visceral satisfaction of checking them off one by one. What more could you ask for? For those who need more structure (and with more patience) there's KanBan or Trello. The problem I found is that while solutions centered around checklists or tasks are great for discrete units of work, they're not so great for tracking or prioritizing high level goals that aren't so easily broken down or checked off. For example, a goal like 'Read more books' or 'Learn the basics of Spring MVC'.

A todo list

After a few weeks of working off of To Do lists I noticed a trend of looking back on a week in which I'd felt productive and realizing I'd neglected some of the things I'd originally planned to do. I hadn't at any point made the decision not to take on those tasks, I'd simply become bogged down in one of several pseudo-endless tasks higher up on the list and never worked my way down through to the bottom. My process was great at providing the 'what', but failing to provide the 'when' and the 'how much'. This led to another problem, the creeping anxiety that even while working on something important, there might be a different more important task I should actually be addressing instead that was slipping away.

And so I spent some time building the type of tool I imagined would be more helpful for me and ended up with My Important Things. It's simple to use (admittedly not quite as simple as the trusty to do list) and centers around three processes.

The first is the 'what' phase and works a lot like a structured to do list. It amounts to creating lists of tasks sorted into projects, which are in turn sorted into higher level values. For example you might specify as a value "Chores", which might contain the project "Tidying", which might contain the tasks "disinfect the countertops" and "sweep the floors".

The next phase is the 'how much' phase. In this phase you create a list of conditions that specify what it would take for you to feel like you're sufficiently on top of a certain project or value. For example, you might decide you'd like to spend time reading two nights a week, or that you'd like to go someplace new once a month.

Lastly is the 'when' phase. In this phase you drag and drop the tasks you've created for yourself onto a calendar, assigning each one to a date.

Once you've finished, what you're left with is a to do list for each day of your week, along with a dashboard displaying all the values you've specified as important to you, each marked either red or green to indicate whether or not you've reserved a specific time slot for each task you've flagged as necessary to feel like you're on track with your goals.

A man with plenty of time I missed the end of this episode, he gets to read all those books right?

I just finished building the tool this past weekend, so I've only had a few days to experiment with it, but my hope is that it will help me avoid the pitfall of bogging down on specific long terms tasks to the detriment of others, and also provide peace of mind at a glance in the form of a green dashboard. Time will tell, and I'm sure I'll iterate on the design in the coming months (I'm already working on a feature to check off daily tasks and track habits) so if you're interested check back in later for more or enter your email below for future updates!

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