SingleTask: The One of Zen

We all have goals. Some of these are easy to achieve, and some are long standing desires that have never come to fruition. Working towards them takes dedication, hard work, and most of all, consistency. Staying on task for extended periods of time is the key to completing your goals.

There are many different tools to help us stay focused. In a life so full of distractions these todo lists, calendars, reminders, accountability partners, angry ex girlfriends, and life coaches, all serve as impetuses to keep us productive. Along with each of these are various philosophies on what the key ingredients are in achieving one’s goals. One of these philosophies is to focus on one task at a time. Write the task down, work on it through to completion, and then continue on to the next task. The idea is that by accomplishing one thing you’re slowly making your way to accomplishing an overwhelming pile of work. This idea of focusing on one and only one task at a time is promoted by the book Zen to Done, and is also a core principle of Agile development.

Never did the concept of singling out tasks for linear completion take a truer form than its implementation in the site Single Task. Single Task, is the ultimate representation of the Zen to Done philosophy. It’s an underwhelmingly simple tool that keeps track of your todo list. One task at a time.

Exhibit A- Single Task

If you don’t believe just how simple Simple Task is, observe the screen shot above. That’s the home page. All of it. By clicking the Add Task link on the top right it prompts you to add one more task. The circular arrow cycles through them. The X deletes the current task and the pencil allows you to edit it. There is no way to see all tasks at once- don’t want to over complexify things here. When you’ve completed the task you check the box and it removes it from the queue.

I want to pause here a moment and reflect on a phenomena that occurs in religious circles. Oftentimes an excess of piety is imposed on others by those with a guilty conscious. Instead of confronting ones own lusty desires it’s projected on other hapless souls. In turn it’s compensated for with a regimen of strict morality. Back to these Zen- let’s do everything one by one- people, I’m guessing they’re the same. They get distracted more than most of us and never get anything done. So they write a book to make up for it raising the focus and simplicity bar far above normal standards. In the same way that most people see through the veil of chastity from men of the cloth, so people also realize the limitations of an uninterruptable sequential task system. But not Single Task. They’re the one dutiful convert, living up to the standard that its Zen creators know only in their ideals.

The result of this is evident. Here we have a website with no borders. It’s like your one task is about to spill off the page into the nebulous outer webs. The most attractive graphic is in fact the favicon, (which reminds me we need to update ours…) And then there’s a whole lot of nothing. I didn’t mention this at first, but for most actions it brings up a popup dialogue box to enter text or confirm your response. Yes, the kind of popup boxes that are best known for their prevalence in 1998. What’s more is that the Single Task folks are Javascript kung fu champions. Just click on the Help link and the page is uncomfortably filled with an exceptionally limited set of instructions. (Pictured below.) Surely we can upgrade to a more graceful JQuery dialogue box or something. At this point we’d settle for a blinking marquee- anything to make the site better reflect the fact that it is in fact, a web site.

Exhibit B- Help!

In the absence of common web browsing amenities, all we’re left with is our one task to look at. It looks right back at us every time we bring up the page. And perhaps, the open space leaves room for our inner Zen child to be channeled away from the distraction that so easily entangles. Before we know it we’re working towards getting that one thing done right now, free from the encumbrance of our mountain of chores.

So, we offer our dismissive approval to Single Task if they’ll grant us this one request. Don’t let the (extremely brief) content run to the edge of the page. Adding just a smidgen of padding on both margins will help allay our fears that our task will fall off, into the unknown. Hopefully this minor indulgence won’t upset the equilibrium of the Zen world, incurring a global outbreak of procrastination.

Achieving one’s goals ultimately comes down to the choice of the person pursuing them. Single Task provides a simple, yet powerful, yet simple, tool to help accomplish this. Whether you’re enlightened by the height of Zen, or like those of us who are a bit too dull to think about two things at once, Single Task can help you stay focused on the task at hand.

It looks like Single Task pulled the site down. Too bad! I was just attempting to use it.

  • LWR

    I actually started SingleTask as a way for my 4 and 2 year old daughters to focus on their chores,
    but found it also helped me focus on my own task list and thought it could help others too so I launched it as a web site.
    My daughters helped out with the design and the javascript part ;-) and I focused on the server side programming.
    I’m not sure if my 2 year old daughter is ready to try something more than javascript but I’ll see if my 4 year old is ready for JQuery ;-)

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