Organization, economies of scale, and a bit of Autodo 11:46 on Friday

When we do something and bump into a potentially reoccurring problem, we start to think of ways to find a “permanent solution” to the problem. We try to find patterns, then implement a process of how to respond to the problem the next time it arises. We’re getting organized, and that’s about setting up your resources for doing something systematically.

What can be done systematically, benefits from economies of scale. In practice it works like this: one person always has to run the process. Running the process creates overhead on top of other work. So if this one person can run the process so that it benefits many people, there’s less combined overhead for everybody. Therefore, for big business getting organized (creating systems, processes, hierarchies) is often worth the trouble.

My kitchen cabinet
My kitchen cabinet, originally uploaded by Jenatlax.

Personal organization, on the other hand, is different.

When getting organized personally, there’s only one person benefiting, and only one person to cover the overhead. No economies of scale, and the effort to benefit ratio sucks.

Yet most personal productivity tools, todo lists, GTD systems, etc emphasize creating a “system”. And you have to believe the overhead time spent is worth in the long run, you have to keep maintaining the system OR ELSE.

I’m increasingly starting to believe the best approach would be to do just-in-time organizing. To find ways to organize the things that are wrong when you come across them.

The Autodo idea is built around this notion. You have a todo list on which you can only see a limited number of the most important items. If the items you see are not what you should, could or wanted to do right now, you tell the system why. For example, you want to call the insurance company to reserve an appointment, but it’s 10pm. You can tell Autodo this particular task can only be done during the office hours, between 9-5. Based on that knowledge, the system re-prioritizes the todos and shows a new Top 5 list. The dentist appointment task will reappear on the list the next morning at 9am, when it’s actually possible to complete the task.

2 Responses to “Organization, economies of scale, and a bit of Autodo”


  1. Henkka Says:

    Some wishes for the Autodo which sounds like a nice idea – or a totally different approach for consideration.

    I’ve also been toying with an idea of an automated personal resource/todo list/calendar. I’ll try to explain the thoughts so far.

    Usually I know when a certain task needs to be done and how much time it needs to be completed.

    Currently I’m using (or trying to use) the Outlook calendar to accomplish my resourcing and todos, but I don’t use the todo list. When a project starts at work, I divide the different project tasks to several chunks (2h-3/4 day) which I place in the calendar before the deadline.I also try to place all other small todo items with a 15-30 min slot to the calendar. So far so good.

    But everything changes – as usual – so it would be very nice if the calendar could reorganize itself according to the changed parameters – be it a chaged deadline or new tasks that are more urgent than the older ones.

    The benefits for using my calendar as the todo list for larger tasks is that I get visual feedback how big certain tasks are and not just their priority. And when you look at the calendar in week view, it usually is quite comprehendable.

    So, what I would like to have to enhance my current system:

    1. Adding a task: I input the task, estimated time for it and the deadline. -> The program divides the allocated time on my calendar into suitable chunks, depending on the task size – and possibly reorganizes my previous markings so that all different tasks are in large enough chunks that you get the flow going when you start to do something. All little tasks could get their own day, or then be spread evenly for mornings or according to my preferences.

    2. Well, if something changes it does the same thing as in the first step. Sounds quite simple.

    3. I also need a way to mark certain elements in my calendar “fixed” so the system knows that these can’t be moved (e.g. client meetings).

    In other words, I need and an autofiller and defragmenter for my calendar :) Or an Automated Tetris Calendar.

    Phew, I hope you’ll get my idea. This probably goes a bit beyond of what a todo list usually does, but I guess you can always make wishes ;)

  2. Niko Says:

    Something like that is destined for version 4.2alpha of Autodo. ;) I said the todo list would show only a limited number of todos at any given time. The limit could be “tasks that can be done today”, and I’ve dreamed to lay the tasks out on a daily calendar layout. So you’re basically asking for the same thing, but also with a week view and maybe a month view, too. ;)