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Tasklist manager

Tasklist manager available from Tools : Tasklist (e.g. by pressing F4) can be used to edit, prioritize and sort tasklists (e.g. reading lists):

readlist.jpg (145700 bytes)

To edit a selected field, click it, type in a new value and press Enter. To sort the tasklist choose Ctrl+S. To edit all parameters of a task, choose Ctrl+Shift+P in the same way as you do it in the element window.

Here are the most important controls on the tasklist manager toolbar:

The tasklist manager menu provides the following options:

Apart from the reading lists, the tasklist manager can be used to edit and sort all sorts of to-do lists. For example, your prioritized shopping list can be kept in SuperMemo as a tasklist. To be sure that you go on with your major investments starting with those of highest benefit, you might list your planned purchases using price of the purchase in the Time field and, for example, daily time savings in minutes in Value. You could also use other measures of value. For example: degree of satisfaction from the purchase, the maximum price you would be ready to pay, or annual return on investment, etc. This approach would make sure that you never waste your time or money on petty impulse purchases. You could always be sure that you methodically progress from the most important and valuable investments

If you plan to use more than one tasklist in one collection, you should also learn about using categories. Here are the step to keep your shopping list in SuperMemo (as a separate category):

  1. Choose File : New to create a new collection. Name it Shopping
  2. Choose Edit : Create tasklist
  3. Choose the location in the knowledge tree where you want to store your tasklist and click Next
  4. Name your tasklist category (e.g. Shopping) and click Next
  5. Click Finish 
  6. Note that at this point your current category is Shopping and your current tasklist is Shopping. You can see it on the Tools toolbar
  7. Press F4 to open the tasklist manager
  8. Choose Add task (Ctrl+Alt+A) to add your first item on the shopping list
  9. Type New computer in the Description field
  10. Type 30 in the Value field. Let us assume that your new computer will save you 30 minutes per day on average
  11. Type 1.5 in the Time field. We will assume that your computer will cost you $1500
  12. Press Enter and note that the Priority field is now set to 20. As priority=value/time, you will know that every thousand dollars spent on your new computer will earn you 20 minutes per day. Note also that strangely we assigned time to value and value (price) to time. This is to express the fact that the interpretation of the Value field is as profit while the interpretation of the Time field is as cost (the naming comes from the original purpose of tasklists in SuperMemo: implementing a prioritized reading list)
  13. Add more items that you want to purchase with Add task and sort the list with Sort tasks

If this is your first experience with the approach based on priority=value/time, the order of your shopping list may be a surprise!

For exemplary tasklists and their use, see: Break free from work overload!


Estimating task value is up to the user (#5946)
(Reinhard, Germany, Thursday, July 26, 2001 12:06 PM)
You mention the value of tasks. How do I know how much a task is worth?
Estimating value of tasks is entirely up to you. The simplest approach is to ask yourself a question: How much would I be ready to pay for having this task done? For example, how much would I be ready to pay to have this article read and processed? Value estimation is a skill that is worth developing independent of SuperMemo. Is your time valuable enough not to pick up a nickel? Or perhaps not? Is the value of comfort high enough to justify a bus fare or should you just walk two bus stops? Or perhaps the walk has an added health value? We must make similar estimations on a daily basis to function efficiently. This is why a little training with SuperMemo will probably not be wasted time

Do not use the numbering column in the task manager to double-click tasks (#6261)
(Zoran Maksimovic, Fri, Aug 31, 2001 19:47)
Double-clicking on the number of an individual task results in opening the selected task instead of the one I have clicked on
Yes. As the number column does not change the selection, you should rather double-click anywhere else on the task to ensure the clicked task gets opened

(Stefan Schenderlein, Germany, Dec 21, 1999)

SuperMemo tasklists order articles according to priority. The most practical approach I know is to distinguish between urgency and importance. Sometimes this is called the Eisenhower Principle. Stephen R. Covey has improved this method in his books "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and "First Things First". To understand it, you can take a pencil and draw a vertical axis called importance. Then another called urgency. Now draw another two lines to distinguish between high and low in both directions. You will get four quadrants. Each has a specific meaning. (compare: The so-called quadrant B (highly important, less urgent) is of strategic importance. A (highly important, highly urgent) is vital. C are mostly routine tasks and are seen as less important but urgent. D can be forgotten. This is implemented in the Franklin Planner Software. Would it not be more practicable to apply similar principles in handling SuperMemo tasklists?
Indeed the quadrant approach is very simple and convincing. However, we would like to promote the approach used in SuperMemo for two reasons:

  1. we believe that learning should always be based on importance. Indeed, SuperMemo by definition defies urgency as it emphasizes long-term learning. The truth is that pen and pencil will often work better than SuperMemo as a cramming tool for an urgent exam
  2. SuperMemo encapsulates the urgency as the function of importance in time! This should help understand the true meaning of urgency and eliminate it from the learning process (and not only)

SuperMemo introduces deadline functions to make tasklists adapt the sorting order to the changes of importance in time. For example, if you need to read an article before a meeting or exam that takes place on January 30, the priority assigned to reading this article will reach its maximum on January 29. If you pick the day on which the priority reaches 50% of its maximum value, you will be able to see how this article gradually climbs up the tasklist from day to day as the deadline approaches (there is no guarantee it would reach the top though). This deadline function illustrates how urgency influences importance.
There are also other changes in importance possible, for example, if a task makes sense only after a given date, you can use the Post-Date function. On the other hand, if the value of a task gradually decreases in time, you can use Decline function, etc.
Deadline functions can help you keep your tasks sorted without paying much attention to deadlines, value decline, urgency, etc. and without compromising their impact at the same time

(Prof. Chris Houser, Japan, March 16, 2000)

In reference to Hot to break free from work overload: It seems to me that the greatest difficulty in the presented approach is in assigning values. For example, in case of SuperMemo features, you could value each feature as the number of email messages requesting the feature. This is comfortingly exact. But it's wildly inaccurate! I believe that Time Management authors have recognized this difficulty of pinning down exact numbers, and so recommend the A B C prioritization scheme
The process of assigning values becomes quick and intuitive with a dose of training. If it is not accurate, it is still more accurate than the A B C scheme. For example, in choosing the value of a given feature in SuperMemo, many criteria will be taken into account with the overall intent to maximize the benefit to the user. Very often, new features are introduced without customer requests (e.g. tasklists!). Others, despite significant customer pressure, will not be included (e.g. many repetition rescheduling options have been proposed and rejected due to their potentially harmful effects on the results in learning). An average man in the street often takes similar multicriterial decisions without much effort. For example, if you would like to take a week vacation on Hawaii, you will quickly make an overall valuation of benefits and reject offers that seem too pricey. Valuating tasks, with some training, is equally automatic and straightforward

Deadlines in tasklists are not impassable (#20811)
(MM, Netherlands, Monday, February 09, 2004 11:39 PM)
I would like to see a possibility of giving an alarm message when the deadline of a certain task in the tasklist has been reached
Your proposition would quarrel with the concept of a tasklist. The underlying principle is that you never do things if there are things with a higher efficiency tab (i.e. value/time). Tasklists should ideally be deadline-less. What deadlines do in the present implementation is to reduce the value of tasks before a certain moment in time. For example, if a task makes little sense before a certain date (e.g. assembling software modules before all individual components arrive), the deadline will degrade the position of a task on the tasklist. If the deadline is reached and the task still does not come top on the list, by definition, the tasks of higher priority should be executed. Naturally, some projects may be strongly time-dependent and as such not suitable for being managed via tasklists. Tasklists are primarily suitable for handling massive numbers of deadline-less and independent tasks