How I Use a Task Manager to Organize My Dev Work

An Approach to Breaking Down Programming Projects to Increase Productivity

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As a super Type-A person dealing with the recent increase in remote work, it's been critical for me to structure my dev work in a way that allows me to get up and running quickly. Up until last year, I mostly used a pen and paper to-do list approach. I'm still a fan of the tactile nature of that approach, but I wanted to see if there was a way that I could automate my workflow in some capacity. It took some time and tweaking to get there, but I finally have a template that I am happy with.

In this article, I will show you what that template looks like and walk through my thought process of how I use it regularly. I hope that this article will give you some ideas of how you can break up your dev work to increase your productivity.

The Template

Things 3 is my task manager of choice, but feel free to use whatever works best for you. I'll go into more details in the following sections and provide an example that demonstrates how I would go about using the template as a guide to breaking down my work into atomic units.

  1. Research
  2. Scaffolding/Styles
  3. Implementation/Logic
  4. Testing
  5. Miscellaneous
  6. Bugs
  7. Cleanup
  8. PR TODO

1) Research

image.png

This section houses tasks for topics or library documentation that I know I need to spend time sifting through. Simply put, this section is mostly for upfront research that you may need to do.

When I'm working on a particularly complex task or know that I will be looking at code that uses some third-party library that I'm not super familiar with, I will add a few tasks in here to set aside some time to watch tutorials or read through the documentation.

2) Scaffolding/Styles

image.png

This is predominantly a UI-only thing, but this section comes in handy when I am working on more greenfield development. For example, you could place tasks like "stub out new landing page" or "modify the button component styles."

3) Implementation/Logic

image.png This is where the bulk of my tasks go. I add all the tasks that will make up the core of the work I need to do to implement whatever feature I'm currently working on. This can be a little tricky to task out since it's difficult to identify every little step that you'll need to take to implement something, but it helps as a general guideline and I am constantly adding new tasks to this section as I work through a feature.

4) Testing

image.png This includes general testing I want to ensure I do once the functionality has been wired up and/or official test cases that I need to write up before submitting a pull request.

5) Miscellaneous

image.png As the name suggests, this section consists of a grab bag of tasks that don't fit under any of the other categories.

6) Bugs πŸ›

This is a heading to house those pesky bugs that you may find while testing your work as you implement a feature. Sometimes determining the root cause of a bug is not super apparent and will take a deeper dive. Due to that, I like to put those tasks here so that I can make sure to fix them later on. This gives me the ability to forge ahead on the bigger feature at hand while still making sure that the code quality is met.

7) Cleanup 🧹

image.png

This section is for general code cleanup things I need to do. Things like "Remove log statements" or "Rename variables" could go here.

8) PR TODO

This is a placeholder heading that I rarely have to use because I write perfect code 😜 (just kidding!). On a serious note, if I get pull request comments from teammates to address certain things, I will place them here.

Caveats

Planning dev work is not always the easiest thing to do. Especially since the effort involved varies on the type of work you're doing. I utilize these broad sections in my template as a general guideline to help me in completing the overall job at hand.

The template I've outlined works best when you have a bigger feature that you need to implement with multiple moving and/or complicated parts to it.

El Fin πŸ‘‹πŸ½

Thanks for taking a sneak peek into how I use Things 3 to structure my dev work. I hope this birds-eye view will inspire you to create a system that works for you. Feel free to share any comments about how you tackle your dev work.

Thanks for reading and happy coding!

Cover Photo by Bookblock on Unsplash

Abhishek Vaish's photo

Thanks for sharing!! πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡ This is really helpfull while managing the workflow.

Alyssa Holland's photo

Thanks for reading Abhishek! Glad you found it helpful πŸ™‚

Thomas Skyttegaard Hansen's photo

Thanks for sharing πŸ‘.

Things 3 looks nice and simple. Notion is also a great app, but maybe I find it bit too complicated. What I personally needed was a kind of general list app keeping everything I needed to remember and do. Had a hard time finding something I really liked so as a dev I built what I needed. Free for anyone to use mentalist.app

Have a nice day!

Alyssa Holland's photo

Thanks for reading Thomas! That’s great that you built something to suit your needs. Mentalist looks really cool and I really like the color scheme. Great work and thanks for sharing!

Braydon Coyer's photo

I'm a huge Things 3 advocate and loved reading about your workflow process. Thanks for sharing!

Alyssa Holland's photo

Thanks Braydon, I appreciate that!

Neha kumari's photo

Love how simple the UI of this looks. I have been using Notion for a while now and it doesn't allow me write notes on the go. I'll give this a try! Thanks for sharing.

Alyssa Holland's photo

I use Notion as well but Things 3 is great for managing my TODO lists and projects! Definitely give it a try and I hope you like it!

Thanks for reading Neha kumari!

Aspiiire's photo

Have you tried Notion? if yes what do you think about it, by the way great article πŸ™‚

Alyssa Holland's photo

I have tried Notion and really like it! In fact, I wrote an article about How I use Notion to Organize Resources. Feel free to check that out for more information.

Thanks for reading!

Syed Fazle Rahman's photo

Great methodology. πŸ™Œ Thanks for sharing, Alyssa

Alyssa Holland's photo

I appreciate that! Thanks for reading!

Catalin Pit's photo

Today I learnt something new. I wasn't aware of this application! Thank you!

How come you chose this one, instead of Notion, let's say? I am curious because I might switch from Notion too. πŸ€”

Alyssa Holland's photo

I've been using Notion for about a year and really like it! I use it more as my general knowledge hub.

I prefer Things 3 as my task manager because of its simplicity and ease-of-use. It provides a great user experience.

It's all personal preference though πŸ™‚

Catalin Pit How are you liking Notion and what's making you consider switching?