Remembering the Milk

I’ve been using Remember the Milk to manage my tasks for a while now. It’s a mostly good platform. I like the number of possible clients and interfaces it provides. I don’t care for how difficult it is to export your data or the clunky web interface. It’s the flexibility of the platform that keeps me using it. Between lists, tags, and the very powerful Smart Lists feature, RTM makes it very simple to organize some fairly complicated workflows. If you’re into that. Which I am. Erich and I were talking about our RTM strategies yesterday, and that reminded me that I haven’t captured my own workflow yet. So here it is.


  • Each project has a list. If I have long-running projects, all the tasks get assigned to that list. That allows me to quickly switch between sets of tasks. Nothing special here.
  • Things with deadlines get dates. This also makes sense.
  • One priority for urgent tasks. I don’t spend any time deciding between Priority 1 and Priority 2. It’s either a priority or it’s not.
  • Tags are for context. I’m the son of a librarian, and if I let myself tag tasks thoroughly, I won’t stop. To avoid the Semantic Rathole, I only permit myself a few tags to indicate context: @desk, @phone, @errands, etc.
  • If a task involves another person, their name or username goes into the task. So if Erich calls me out of the blue about one thing or another, I can search for his name in RTM and immediately get everything I needed to talk to him about and all the tasks that are waiting on him.

The Set-up

We start with a few Smart Lists:

#Actions tagContains:@ This is everything in the universe that I need to do. If it has a context, I need to do it. If it doesn’t have a context, it’s obviously not a real task.
#Next Actions tagContains:@ not (tagContains:@waiting and dueAfter:today) If I need a list of tasks to consider right now, this is it. Note that I hide anything that’s waiting until it’s due.
#Scheduled tagContains:@ AND NOT due:never These are all the tasks that need to get done by a certain date.
#Today (dueBefore:today or due:today or priority:1) and includeArchived:true What it says. Either do or reschedule all of these things.
#Weekly Review completedWithin:"1 week of today" and includeArchived:true Handy for talking with my boss and reminding myself how productive the week was.
These are a few Smart Lists that are tag-specific. These start with “@” signs, so I remember what tag I need to make sure a task ends up on that list:
@Waiting tagContains:@waiting Things that I’m waiting for people to accomplish.
@Online, @Offline tagContains:@online, tagContains:@offline Stuff I should do the next time I’m online or offline. Given my work and travel schedule, it’s important to distinguish things I can do on an airplane.
@Phone tagContains:@phone This is the one I use most often. If I need to call someone, I give the task an @phone tag, and I have all my phone calls in one place. Combine @phone and @waiting, and I know everyone who I’m waiting to hear from.
@Home tagContains:@home Everything I can only do from my house. This is almost always because the task involves paper.
@Errands tagContains:@errands This is the “Saturday morning” tag. I have a whole day in front of me. What do I need to do?
And a few regular Lists:
#Someday I put a hash tag in front of it because I use it like one of the Smart Lists above, but it’s really just a regular list. This is stuff that I could do, or not do, at some distant point in the future. If the task belongs to a project, though, I’ll stick it in the project without a priority or a date.
#Household This is a grocery list and list of chores. I share this list with my special lady, so we’re both working off the same set of tasks.
Inbox It’s always there, and I use it as a dumping ground, like any GTM practitioner.

The Rules

  • Is it really important that you do this task? Give it a priority 1.
  • Is the task due at a particular time? Give it a date.
  • Where can you do this task? Give it a tag: @offline, @phone, etc. If I don’t give it a context, it’s not a real task. I’ll stumble on it later when I’m going over one of the lists.
  • Is this part of a larger project? Add it to a list.
That’s it. You’ll notice that I don’t have a lot of rules. Again, I’m a librarian’s son, and if I give myself too many rules to follow when creating a task, I’ll get lost in the Semantic Wilderness. Keep it simple.


  • Add an item to the grocery list:
    half and half #Household

    “half and half” ends up on the “Household” list I share with my special lady.

  • Remember to call Erich about a project task:
    Call Erich to complain about ship dates #@phone #ProductX

    Shows up on “@Phone”, and in the “ProductX” project.

  • Wait for a call back from Erich:
    erich: left VM about ship dates #ProductX #@waiting

    Shows up on “@Waiting”, and the “ProductX” project. Will also show up if I search for “erich”.

  • Expect a call back from Erich by Wednesday
    erich: left VM about ship dates #ProductX #@waiting ^wednesday

    Just like the previous task, except I’ll start showing up at the top of my lists on Wednesday.

  • Call ssmith as soon as possible:
    Call ssmith about ACME issue #@phone ^today !1

    Shows up at the top of “@Phone”, “Today”, “Actions”, and “Next Actions”.

  • Remember to tell Lynne that ACME wants to do a POC for Product X:
    lynne: ACME Corp wants a POC for Product X #ProductX

    Shows up on the “ProductX” project, and when I search for “lynne”.

  • Remember to clean the washing machine filter once a month:
    check the filter in the washing machine #@home #Household *after 1 month

    Reappears every 30 days on the Household list, and in the “@home” context.

  • Respond to that ridiculous opinion piece you found on NextGov:
    writeup agile story #@online #Story Ideas

    The task includes a link to the agile story, in my list of story ideas, and in the “@online” context.

Neat Tricks

  • Stay in touch:
    call John *after 1 month

    Note that I didn’t give it a due date. That means that when I complete the task, RTM will schedule me for another call one month later. Which is awesome. I have dozens of these.

  • Email ticklers:
    RTM provides you an email address you can use to add task lists. If you want to be reminded that somebody owes you a response, you can BCC RTM. You can even add “@waiting” to the subject line. If you don’t want confusing metadata in your subject, just forward the email to RTM separately. You can include whatever tags you like in either the subject or the body. Pretty handy.

2 thoughts on “Remembering the Milk

  1. Here’s a smart list I use a lot: list:Work NOT tag:waiting_on NOT tag:expenses


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