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To-do waves (sysiak.substack.com)
91 points by pawsys on July 15, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 32 comments

My first thought here is that the composition of todo waves allows the opportunity for a human to become arbitrarily busy on a given day when the waves positively interfere. Thankfully many of these items phase lock to the circadian rhythm or enjoy some scheduling flexibility.

I thought it was going to try to actively schedule based on the opposite of that, like get your passport renewed early because you have a lot of stuff coming up next year.

Yes, I thought it would go there as well.

Unfortunately the troughs of the waves are at minimum zero so we cannot benefit from negative interference to cancel out waves.

Or perhaps the right mental model is to treat help from others as negative waves. When you anticipate a particularly busy “rogue wave” you arrange help with shopping, food prep, family care, etc., to cancel out some portion of that wave.

Nice article, really clean and hits my taste just right. The content was not too profound or wise or anything I usually look for, but I just wanted to say the layout and flow of the page was a good read.

Agreed, I liked the graphics especially.

The concept of waves is really nice. It supplant my previous visualization of these kind of tasks, which was more "spiky".

Presumably, that header graphic is not to scale.

As the old saying goes, "’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Needing to Pee and Taxes."

I don't find it insightful because for me tasks that are ToDo are not like sine waves.

I am also not a person that gets annoyed by cleaning dishes or brushing teeth. I just do these things and I accepted that these are time costs that I cannot do much about.

Not brushing teeth - getting even single infection from rotting tooth would cost me much more in terms of wasted time than brushing twice a day.

Just like trying to cut on sleep time, you might get away for 3-5 days sleeping less but then you will have to pay it back with interest.

I think it is mostly difference in approach "unrealistic" trying to schedule and squeeze in as much as possible - vs - I have bunch of stuff to do, let's see how much I will be able to finish and anything that drops goes to the next day or ends up never done because if I did not do it and no one complained (even myself) it probably was not that important at all.

It's a cool metaphor. I think the examples are a bit more of things that you just do though. I don't normally think about having to pee, it just hits me. I don't normally consider going out for ice cream a "to do", I see it as a reward for doing things on my todos.

I can't tell the authors perspective on breaks though. They mention scheduling them are counterintuitive but believe they are needed for diffuse-mode thinking. The reason why the pomodoro technique is so effective and widely used is that we have a natural time limit to our "waves" in term of our active focus before we need a wind-down.


Yeah, some better examples that I use on a regular basis:

  1. Take out the trash on Mondays
  2. Pay the credit card bill on the 5th of every month
  3. Get a haircut every 5 weeks
  4. Pay the water bill every 3 months, etc
Having those sorts of things in my recurring To Do list are very helpful to ensure they don't get forgotten.

I made a little email/web app that makes it easy to have a shared list like this for my wife and I, it’s very barebones but I use it every day: https://www.onit.today/

I found the alternatives to be either: designed to build your life around them and therefore too complex, or simple but lacking a good mechanism to have a shared list with others.

Looks great! Right now we just use a Google sheet but I'm looking to upgrade. There's something I need that isn't obvious when comparing features of apps like this: I need the next due date of a recurring task to be a specified duration (say, a week) after I mark the previous occurrence as done, not when the previous occurrence was due.

Example: my cat's water fountain can only be in service for a week before it must get washed. So I put it out on July 1 and it's due to be washed July 8. Alarm goes off on the 8th, I take it out of service (putting a non-fountain bowl out temporarily) hopefully that day but maybe a day late, and put it in the dishwasher. Some time later (maybe July 9, 10, or 11) I finally run the dishwasher and put the fountain back into service. Next due date is a week after that.

Right now, I have to manually type the next due date into my spreadsheet. I'd rather just click a button and have an app know to set another alarm a week after the button was clicked.

So a wave that isn't strictly periodic, it has a hold phase...

One thing I'm trying now is "hey Google remind me to x in a week" at the time of putting the fountain in service, but basically I'm looking to avoid specifying the duration or due date every single time.

I find many chores to be of this type. Another example is changing the HVAC filter. I want an alarm to happen 3 months after the last change, but maybe it won't be dirty yet so I let it alarm for a while, in which case the next alarm happens 3 months after marking the last one as done, not 3 months after the last alarm started.

Thanks for the detailed info–I think what you're describing is how onit actually works. By default, when a repeating todo item is due, you'll get a daily email listing the things that are currently due. For each repeating todo item you can choose what happens when you check it off: either schedule it again based on now+interval, or on a strict schedule (e.g. always on Wednesday, always on the 15th of the month etc).

I use the strict schedule for things like bills or annual registrations, and the now+interval schedule for things like your cat fountain cleaning example, where I'm happy to just get a morning reminder about it until I get around to it.

I should probably update the homepage to provide some more detail on the actual functionality!

Awesome, thanks!

Ticktick will do this. I have one called 'air filter every 3 months' and the next iteration is always exactly 90 days from when I mark the current one as done, even if I am late or early.

Do you need the premium version for that? Is there any OSS that does that? I might need to get onto that then…

No, I use the free version. My todo listing needs are actually very basic, I just think ticktick has the best semantic scheduling out of any that I have tried and I hate fiddling with scheduling widgets.


Love the name. It’s great!

I've been looking for something like this for a long time. IS there a demo or screenshots to see what it looks like in use?

I'm autistic, and I have a whole category of recurring self-care stuff like haircuts, having a shave, doing some pull-ups, crunches, something to eat, that kind of thing. Without that, I wouldn't function so well. Never shared that before.

I meant that it's counterintuitive to think about scheduling breaks, but it's actually very helpful thing to do. Thanks for the feedback. I will see if I can make it clearer in the article.

This sentence “ And a week, year or longer waves like cutting nails, tanking a car, renewing a passport”

I initially read that the author only cuts his nails once per year. Yuck…

Then I realized he was more likely giving an example of weekly.

Anyone else read it that way?

What is "tanking a car"?

filling up the gas tank with fuel.

thanks, changed to "refueling a car"

probably a „germanism“.

This reminds me a bit of the old "biorhythm" concept.


I'd rather think of it like a pulse wave rather than a sinusoidal one

That's a good point. I was thinking about it during writing. Really it is binary – doing and then not doing for a while. There is no ascending part of the graph – even though spiky line would be closer to depict this it is also incorrect. I chose to use the simplest wave form just to highlight the nature of most to-dos – they repeating over and over again like waves on the ocean.

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