Quotas – a bulk to-do tracker

I use Remember the Milk to maintain my to-do list. In the past year, I’ve added a lot of repeating tasks to it. These are items like “clean for an hour” and “work on music (10 minutes)”, and they’re intended to build up as I blow them off so that I know how much laziness I have to make up for. Then what usually happens is that I take care of a bunch in a spurt of productivity.

The issue arises that my to-do list gets overrun by these multiple items, and it becomes tough to see past a long list of “clean for an hour” duplicates to notice some of the actual individual items like, say, “cancel cable”. Suddenly the list isn’t useful for anything other than a rough meter of long I’ve slacked on these repeating items.

Which brings us to Quotas, an idea for an application that keeps track of bulk to-do items. Instead of displaying a line for every individual instance of these repeating items, Quotas instead shows you a meter that builds up as time goes by and gets knocked back down when you actually do stuff.

And each meter doesn’t have to apply to a single item. One of my most important repeating tasks is “Do Something Awesome”, which is how I ensure that I stay active with my personal creative projects. I check off instances of “Do Something Awesome” when I post a substantial blog item (like this one) or when I post a song or an original drawing to one of my blogs. I also check one off when I post three minor blog items. Minor items are usually found images or links to interesting articles where I don’t editorialize much.

When I define “Do Something Awesome” as a quota in Quotas, I define how often its value increases — so let’s say it increases by 1 point every day. Then I’d define some actions that would make it decrease. Like a 200 word blog post, which would count for 1 point, so if I did this action every day, I’d stay caught up. Or how about reblogging a found image. I’d make that count for 1/3, and I’d also set a daily limit to this action of 3. So if I reblogged 3 images per day, I’d keep up. But if I fell behind, I wouldn’t be able to catch up solely by reblogging images, forcing me to do some of the other actions I’ve defined. This pretty much summarizes my self-imposed rules that I’m currently using with Remember the Milk.

Let’s look at some sketched wireframes.

Quotas Wireframes

I should point out that this interface is intended for an iPhone. Here we see the home screen, which would have a bar chart at the top, showing the current levels of all the quotas. These bars would expand in width if there aren’t enough of them to fill the space, but if there are too many, you could slide them horizontally to see what you might be missing. Below the bar chart is a grid of all the actions you’ve defined, scrolling downward if need be. When you want to report that you’ve completed something, you just tap on whatever you’ve done. (There’ll probably be some quick confirmation dialog — or maybe just an easy undo message.) To add a new quota or a new action, just scroll that section to the end, and an “Add” button will appear.

We can also see the quota screen and the action screen. These both list the actions and quotas they’re associated with, allowing you to edit those associations. On the quota screen, you can also complete an action that’s associated with that quota. The little “edit” triangle at the top right will reveal some delete buttons as well as making other fields editable.

Finally, I put the schedule screen on there. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but there will need to be a semi-sophisticated interface to define things like “once a month, on the first day of the month” or “every third monday and tuesday”.

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