Klu: biologically aligned task focuser for process-oriented, proudly mono-tasking robots mortals

Try it out, contribute or simply keep reading. TL;DR ?

Klu might be for you if some of these apply:

  • you enjoy mono-tasking
  • you are pretty bad at juggling multiple commitments in your head
  • you dislike multi-tasking but more importantly realised that you cannot
  • you want to feel at peace when working on that one important task (and the next, and the next ...)
  • you want to do stuff, not constantly re-evaluate your priorities for every single task
  • you would love it if your life was just a series of neatly compartmentalised processes (to some extent of course)
  • you secretly tend to favour doing what feels good in the moment (aka quick wins)
  • you look at a task and often think: "don't want to do it", "don't want to start it", "too difficult", "too big", "can't get bothered", "won't make it anyway", etc... (aka procrastination)

Klu is definitely not for you if:

  • you find processes too constraining
  • you are happy with the way you approach doing things at the moment, even if it implies keeping multiple commitments in your head
  • you tend to jump from task to task without impacting your performance and emotional state

Klu does not require or use any external services. This is good news for privacy as your data never leaves your computer. On the other hand, you won't be able to access your data from another computer or device. This might change in the future.

One thing you should also know is that there is no easy way of exporting your data just yet. This is not a shameless vendor lock-in, but simply a feature that hasn't made it to the top yet.

The genesis

Ain't nobody got time for that

Klu is born out of a need to tackle hundreds of competing tasks, scattered around tens of projects, with no easily identifiable dead-lines. I had a need for a structure but that structure clearly didn't revolve around time nor did I want it to be. With urgency (i.e. time) demoted to second-class citizen, the spotlight was back on "importance" when deciding on what to do next.

I had played in the past with relative importance as a way to sort through a list of tasks but it turned out to require a fair amount of brain power every time a new task would show up. "Where does this one fit within hundreds of tasks?" was too daunting of a question to ask on a regular basis. I needed a system that allowed me to quickly input tasks into the system, without having to go through that expensive mental bubble sort.

Out of sight, out of sight, out of sight, ...

Another tricky and paradoxical aspect of such systems is that I want them to get stuff out of the way for me to focus on that one thing, while still giving me a sense of security about what I am not working on. If you ever felt a need to keep important things in front of your eyes for fear of forgetting them, you know what I am talking about. You also know that very quickly, everything becomes important, and you're back into a stressful mess of "so much stuff to do, where do I start?!". Part of the solution here is psychological but this does not mean that the system cannot help me ease into trusting it not "forgetting".

No pain no gain

The first implementation of Klu revolved around that somewhat masochistic idea that the stuff I needed to focus on was the stuff I was running away from. It held true for some time, as I was mechanically attacking the metaphorical sea of loose ends, the boring admin stuff or reviving that frightening project. However, it started to show some limitations after some time as the balance of important stuff starting to shift towards the realm of pleasant stuff, but the system would insist on making me work on less important, energy depleting and frustrating tasks. So clearly, focusing on what I was pushing back, albeit useful as a curative measure, wasn't working in the long run.

No wave no rave

This is about the time I came across an idea popularised by Daniel Pink in his book "When", which can be summarised as follows: in the course of a day, your energy levels, emotional state and abilities vary along a peak-trough-recovery wave and you should match your tasks to that wave for optimal performance. For instance, when you are at your peak, you should work on challenging tasks, or those requiring a fair amount of analytical skills. Working on those tasks during the trough phase is detrimental to your output as your analytical abilities plummet. On the other hand, working on admin tasks when you are at your peak is certainly a waste of precious energy. The good news is, that natural rhythm is quite predictable (at least for a particular person) which makes it easy to implement into a system of processes.

Even though the implementation might be rather robotic, the underlying idea not only felt biologically aligned but also gave the first part of the answer to "what should I focus on now?"

A dash of commitment

The second part came with the creation of projects and contracts. Projects are in their bare form tasks grouped together with a label. It would actually be more accurate to call them "groups" or "categories" as they don't really carry any of the attributes of a standard project: goals, deadlines, milestones, etc… But my natural inclination was to use those groups as projects so that's what I have been calling them so far.

Contracts are what happens when you group projects together while applying a desired frequency to each of them. Let me illustrate this convoluted definition with an example. Say you have two projects, each containing a few tasks:

  • clean the house

    • make the bed
    • vacuum
    • do the dishes
  • make dinner

    • cut some vegs
    • season

Say you really want to get done with cleaning the house and decide to make that project a priority. The way you do this in Klu is by saying how many times you want to attack that project, or in other words how many tasks you want to complete today. So you could say for instance:

  • clean the house: 2X a day
  • make dinner: no set frequency

This is your contract for the day, and will tell Klu to put "clean the house" tasks in front of "make dinner" tasks, at least until you complete two of them. At that point, the default algorithm will kick in. We will see how it all works in detail later on, including what happens when frequencies are set on more than one project (hint: Goliath).

When Harry met Sally

So bringing these two concepts together, I came up with a model that would allow me to both work on what matters (through contracts) while listening to my biological rhythm (through peak-trough-recovery tagging). As I started using the system more and more, I realised even though I was working on the right project at the right time, I still wasn't working on the right task. I (reluctantly) figured I had to re-introduce the time dimension so I would tackle important and urgent tasks in a predictive way... meaning first for now (as opposed to important and random). I would have loved to keep the system time-agnostic but this ended up creating more stress or worse, me working around the system. So I'll bite the bullet for now but I'll definitely keep an eye on how that dimension could be pushed into the background even more (maybe by allowing a temporary "sprint mode" to clear out urgent tasks in bulk before going back to a more serene process).

So in short, Klu allows you to tackle your todos, favouring important over urgent. It does this by allowing you to arbitrary define important projects, how many tasks you want to address within those projects every day (contracts), while respecting external time constraints (start and due dates) as well as your biological rhythm. You end up with one task in front of your eyes, in big letters. No distractions. No endless lists. No stats. Just your most important tasks, one at a time.

Don't take my word for it, try it out and see if it works for you too!