Zim - A Desktop Wiki
One thing Zim notebooks are often used for is to keep track of ongoing activities, including open tasks and "To-Do" lists. There is a Task List plugin included with Zim to help with organizing tasks. However, you have a lot of freedom in how to use it, and you can also can maintain task list in Zim without using this plugin.
Whatever you do: Keep it simple, there is no "silver bullet" for task management. Somehow To-Do lists are always messy and they imply work. The only way to keep them under control is to review and update them often.
You can use regular bullets lists or checkbox lists to define tasks. When using the plugin also lines that start with "TODO" or "FIXME" are supported as tasks. The latter form is often used to track places in a note where more edits are needed, e.g. because you want to update a note or need to add more documentation. For tasks outside the notebook, checkboxes are a more logical choice.
The plugin also supports syntax to add priority, tags or labels and due dates to tasks.
Of course you can put tasks in any page of your notebook. In general you see two schools of thought: either you put all tasks in a daily or weekly page, or you put tasks on separate pages, e.g. by project or topic, or by context. In fact, most people use both. A daily to-do list that you see often in offices is a clear example of a daily list. A shopping list is a clear example of a context list, as it is only useful when you are actually in the shop.
- A specific way of working that advises topic or context based lists is the Getting Things Done method.
- A specific way of working that focus on daily lists is the Bullet Journal method.
- See also Daily Journal
In the Getting Things Done method it is advised not to organize tasks by due date, instead it is advised to put everything that is time bound in your calendar or agenda instead. If something has a deadline, you better block the time to work on it.
However a due date may also serve as a way of prioritizing work. This works if you have sufficient open time in your agenda to work on whatever is on your list or when deadlines or more soft. In this way, the dates show what is most urgent. But don't just rely on your to-do list to make these deadlines.
The Bullet Journal method uses a different approach by keeping track of tasks on daily or weekly pages or put them in a "future log". Here the date they are assigned to is not so much a due date as a plan when you are going to do them. So the log doubles more or less as an agenda.
Another axis of organization is by setting priorities. The idea with priority is that some things are more important than others. However in the end, everything in your list is important - or at least should be - else why is it on your list in the first place? And even the less important things still need to be done. So if you work with priority, it is smart to think about what "priority" actually means to your.
One common way of thinking about what tasks to pick up and what tasks to drop is the so called "Eisenhow matrix" (see the many online articles for more background). In this method tasks are classified as either:
- Urgent and important (*) - do as soon as possible
- Important but not urgent - make time for these
- Urgent but not important - the should either be planned, or even better, delegated if you are in the position to do so
- Not urgent and also not important - why are these on your list ?
(*) "important" typically means, "important for me", or "important that I do this and not someone else"
One way to organize tasks by priority is to use to question each items importance and urgency.
- Assign urgent and important tasks the highest priority ("!!!" in the plugin syntax) and possibly a due date.
- Assign important but not urgent tasks the next priority ("!!") and work on these if there are no urgent items - or block time if you always have urgent items
- Assign urgent but not important task the next priority ("!") and make sure to either plan or delegate these, else they never happen
All tasks without priority are now considered not urgent and not important and should be removed from the list. Also when new tasks are entered, you can enter them without priority and use this classification as the "inbox" that on the next review of the list either gets assigned a higher priority or gets deleted again.
The GTD method advertises to organize tasks by context. The idea is that most tasks can only be acted upon in a specific setting. E.g. you might need to be on your desk for some and at home for other tasks. These could be labeled with tags like @work and @home. Or you might keep separate lists of things you want to do in the weekend and things to do in the evening after work based on how big the tasks are and how much energy they require. Here you could use labels @weekend and @evening and select your next task from those selections.
Not all context based organization needs to go through task lists and tags. For example if you are in a work setting where you have regular meetings with certain people, you can keep a list of topics to discuss in your next meeting with that person. This can be a page per person or customer and contain a bullet list. No need to use tasks with specific tags. But you can if you want to off course.
See What is a "Project" ? in the page describing the GTD method. In general, organizing by project makes sense if you have dedicated blocks of time, or meetings, to work on a project - the project then acts as a context - or when you want to have an overview of a project in one page.
It is good to remember that not every item in your notebook needs to be a task. Tasks should be actionable and specific. If you have a list of 10 items you would like to brainstorm, instead of having 10 tasks that say "Brainstorm idea xyz" maybe it is better to have a separate note with a list of brainstorm ideas and block some time in your agenda for the brainstorm.
Another example are lists of things you want to remember for later review, that might generate tasks. You should definitely capture those in your notebook, but not necessarily as a task on your to-do list