What about categories?

I’ve recently gotten some questions about why Sooner Or Later doesn’t have categories.

That is a great question, especially since every other to-do/task manager out there seems to have them.

So they must be good, right?

Early in the design and development of Sooner Or Later, I invested a lot of time in creating an efficient and novel system for categorizing tasks.

In fact, I was so proud of this system, I considered trying to patent it. It did require you to un-learn the way you have always thought about categorizing things in other apps, but I believe it was actually more natural and it was certainly far more efficient.

However, as my testers and I used the category system on a daily basis, I had to do a reality check. The plain and simple fact was that categories were having a negative effect on efficiency, and the benefit just wasn’t there.

In short, my conclusion is that categories are a waste of your time.

Or, another way to think about it is that creating more categories than “Soon”, “Later”, and “Never” is a waste of your time.

We can analyze why this is the case.

First, the key question that Sooner Or Later is helping you answer at a moment’s notice is “What is relevant to me right now?”

Spending time trying to figure out whether “Call Susie” belongs in a “Work” or “Home” category simply doesn’t help you answer this fundamental question.

And second, what are you going to do with this data once you’ve carefully categorized everything, anyway?

Other task management apps use categories for views and filters, and I’ve already explained in previous posts how filtering tasks makes you likely to miss something important, erodes confidence in the app, and ultimately undermines the goal of helping you achieve peace of mind.

So, it’s clear that categories are not a solution to any problem relevant to Sooner Or Later.

But, in using Sooner Or Later on a daily basis, it was clear that some feature was still missing.

The problem was that the “Soon” list would have a list of items that need to be done over the course of the day, and some of these weren’t immediately relevant.

For example, I couldn’t take out the trash when I was at work, and it bothered me that I kept having to scan past my “Garbage” task all day while I was at work, in order to find my next relevant. I couldn’t move my Garbage task to “Later” because I only look at my “Later” list at the start of the day using my system.

The solution I arrived at for this problem is the “focus” button, and I describe how to use it effectively in my Context-Focus System. (You can also use it for the Focus system, which may work better for some.)

In my experience, the focus button is the perfect solution for tracking what is relevant right now.

It also aligns with other research that indicates that humans are at their most efficient when focusing on a small number of tasks, and can be used to implement other focus-based systems.

If you’re still wanting to categorize things it may also be because you’re using the wrong tool.

It’s important to realize that Sooner Or Later is a specialized tool in your arsenal for managing your life. It is not a replacement for a calendar, list maker, or project management application. It is a complement to all of these.

In these other tools, categories may be very useful and appropriate.

For example, I recently did a kitchen remodel, and I kept organized in a combination of a spreadsheet and a Microsoft OneNote document. I only used Sooner Or Later when I had to remember to do something specific, like call a contractor.

As another example, at my day job as a software engineer, I use a database of work items and bugs with many different category views to track my work. I do not try to copy all of this into Sooner Or Later. But, I might add a particular item to my Soon list for a day or two while I’m focusing on it.

In conclusion, I’ve said before that Sooner Or Later is a serious tool and that I’m absolutely ruthless in removing features that do not align with the goals of making you more efficient and ultimately helping you achieve peace of mind about the things you have to do and handle in life.

Categories simply did not meet this criteria.


P.S. You can find plenty of examples of the complete opposite way of thinking about task management, including one of my favorites which lets you select from over 100 different icons for each task. If that’s how you want to spend your time, then you’re almost certainly going to find Sooner Or Later too Spartan for your liking. But, if you’re looking for a ruthlessly efficient and effective app to help you take control of your life, you’ve found it.

One comment

  1. […] point I didn’t make on my last post about categories in Sooner Or Later is that you are one […]

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