As lawyers we have tons of tasks and deadlines to keep tabs on. We have to do something today for Client A, be sure we don’t miss Client B’s hearing tomorrow, and remember that Client C still hasn’t returned a call. Fortunately, Remember the Milk can track everything for us.
I’ve developed a pretty solid way of using Remember the Milk (RTM) to track all of my tasks. My system has been working great for several months, and I’m pretty happy with it. Here’s my attempt to illustrate the system I use to be productive.
A list for everything
At the most basic level, RTM is a series of lists. You can create as many lists as you want.
In my system, I have a list for each client. This lets me keep all a client’s tasks and ticklers together. When Bob calls to ask about his case, I can easily click on his list and see exactly what’s going on.
I have another catch-all list for other to do and tickler items that aren’t associated with a client. This is where I put tasks such as “update template for fee agreement.” My personal tasks also go in the catch-all list.
Two other main lists form the heart of my productivity system. I use Google Calendar for my main calendar needs, but I also put important dates (mainly court hearings) in RTM as a backup. Thus, I have a “Calendar” list.
I also send out birthday cards for all my current and former clients. It’s a to do, so the birthdays go in a “Birthdays” list.
RTM sorts lists alphabetically with symbols first. I like to have my catch-all list first, so I just named it “.” (that’s a period). My client lists are next. They are all named like this “_Smith” (underscore, followed by client name). The underscore quickly shows that they are client lists. Finally, miscellaneous lists are just named like “Calendar” or “Birthdays.” I also have a “Someday” list, and other lists for things I want to remember or do at some point in the future.
Dates, priorities, and tags
Each RTM list entry can have lots of things attached to it. The most basic attribute is the name, like “send fee agreement to Bob.” But RTM is much more powerful than that. This is where my system gets a little complicated.
Items in my “Calendar” list are entered with the name and date. They’re pretty simple:
Then there’s the “Birthdays” list. These items are relatively simple as well. I enter the client’s name, then set the due date as the birthday. Since birthdays come every year, I set the RTM repeat option to “yearly.”
Client lists are the most complicated. Items in a client list are first named, such as “research cause of action.” I usually have several items in each client list. In accordance with GTD (getting things done – a productivity system), I use a RTM tag to denote the items that are next in line. Also, if I am waiting on something or someone, I tag that item as “wait.” (I can’t do anything with it right now, but that makes sure it doesn’t fall through the cracks.) I sometimes use priorities with client “next” items. If something is really important, I’ll assign it a RTM “1″ priority. Client items that aren’t tagged with anything are things that must be done, but that aren’t next in line. During my daily and weekly reviews, I see those items; then I can determine if they are ready to be tagged “next” for action.
Magical smart list
Now you may be thinking, “How the heck does this nut keep track of so many freaking lists?!” It’s easy. Smart lists.
RTM has a powerful search function. You can search based on keyword, due date, tag, priority, list, and more. But the cool thing is that you can save any search as a “smart list.”
I have created a “Today” smart list that aggregates the important items from all my other lists (catch-all, clients, Birthdays, Calendar). Here’s what the search looks like:
This is my magical “Today” search string:
tag:next or dueWithin:”2 days of today” or dueBefore:today or (list:. and due:never and NOT tag:wait) or (list:Birthdays and dueWithin:”6 days of today”)
Let’s dissect the search and see exactly what items go into my “Today” list. These items are all included:
1. tag:next – Any item from any list that is tagged “next.” So “Today” includes all next actions.
2. dueWithin:”2 days of today” – Any item from any list that is due in the next 2 days. This makes sure I’m aware of all upcoming deadlines, court appearances, etc.
3. dueBefore:today – Any item from any list that is overdue. Without this element, overdue items can disappear from “Today.”
4. list:. and due:never and NOT tag:wait – This element grabs items from the catch-all list (“.”). But it only pulls items that don’t have a due date and aren’t tagged as “wait.” Thus, it’s just pulling actionable items.
5. list:Birthdays and dueWithin:”6 days of today” – This element grabs upcoming client birthdays. Since I like to send cards in the mail, I pull the birthday six days ahead of time.
That’s it. With those 5 elements in my smart list, “Today” includes all actionable items from every other RTM list. This is how I can have dozens of lists with hundreds of items, but only have 20 items in my immediate view.
Whew! That’s a lot of info, but I built this system over several weeks. It took quite a bit of tweaking to get it where it works well. And I’ll probably keep improving it as time goes on.
If you have any questions about RTM or my specific system, drop a comment below.
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