Achieve Planner

Personal Time Management Software



Structured Vs. Unstructured Working Style

In this advanced lesson, we are going to go deeper into the unstructured way of working, which I sometimes call “planning as you go.” (For more about the difference between structured and unstructured working styles, refer to lesson 5 of the Get More Done In Less Time ebook.)

I call it unstructured because you don’t have a specific project or time block to guide you and help you decide what to work on. Instead, you need to make these decisions on the spot.

I believe that structured work using project blocks is more effective and productive than unstructured work, especially when you focus on your most important projects, you take adequate breaks throughout the day, and you match your projects blocks with the best times for you to work. That’s why I emphasize it so much here and in my Effective Time Management program.

I also realize that you may need to use unstructured work from time to time to help you be most productive in certain circumstances, especially if you have a lot of change and uncertainty in your work environment.

Achieve Planner provides several tools to help you find the best tasks to work on when you are working in an unstructured way and trying to plan as you go.

  • Filters – Achieve Planner has powerful filtering support that can help you find the tasks that you need in various views.
  • Contexts – Contexts are a way to tag projects and tasks across different projects so that they are easier to find and group together. Contexts could be places, keywords, tags or categories that help you distinguish and find tasks across projects.
  • Task Chooser – The Task Chooser is a powerful tool to help you find the best tasks to work on across all your projects taking into account several different factors like priorities and deadlines. Combined with Contexts, the Task Chooser can help you create a prioritized daily task list using the tasks in your projects.
  • Next Action List – Achieve Planner’s Outline supports zooming and filtering to help you narrow in on the next actions you can take across all your projects.
  • Date Filtering – If you work in a deadline or date-driven environment, you’ll find deadlines and other dates very powerful.

In this lesson, we are going to look at how to use Contexts and the Task Chooser to help you find the best tasks to work on when you are planning as you go.

We’ll also take a brief look at the Next Action List support available in the master outline.

Using Contexts to Tag Related Tasks in Different Projects

Contexts are a useful way to filter projects and tasks based on a Context, which is a tag, keyword or category that you can use to identify the place, time, or situation (context) where you can best perform a project or task.

For example, you may create a context called ‘Phone’ to identify tasks that involve making calls on the phone. You could define a context called ‘Errands’ to identify tasks you need to do while running errands, or a context called ‘Home’ to identify tasks that you can only do while at home.

Achieve Planner has a Master Context List of predefined contexts. These master contexts have additional support throughout the software. You can easily add and delete contexts from the Master Context List using the Options dialog (Tools -> Options) by clicking on the “Edit Master Context List…” button in the General tab.

Contexts in the master context list are included in the dropdown & auto-complete list for the cells in the grid, and are also available by default in various context selection dropdown lists.

The Contexts column also includes predefined filters for the contexts in the master list.

Editing the Master Context List

To edit the master context list, use the Tools -> Options menu item and click on the “Edit Master Context List…” button.

New Achieve Planner data files include some predefined default contexts like Phone, Todo, Home, etc.

You can add contexts by typing the name and clicking the Add button. You can remove contexts by selecting them from the list and clicking the Delete button.

Adding Contexts to Projects and Tasks

You can add contexts to projects and tasks directly from the grid, using the Edit -> Contexts menu item (Ctrl+Shift+2), or by using the Project or Task information forms.

Projects and tasks support multiple contexts by separating them with a comma (for example, “Errands, Phone”.)

You can also set contexts for multiple rows simultaneously by selecting all the rows and using the Edit -> Contexts menu item.


Filtering the Grids to View Certain Contexts

You can easily filter the outline view to see only tasks associated with certain contexts. To do this, you use the “funnel” icon in the Contexts column header.

In addition to the standard filter entries, the Contexts filter dropdown also includes special entries of the form [Context] for each Master Context. These are special filters that include all rows with a context that contains the specified master context.

For example, if you select “[Errands]” as the filter value, that would include tasks with just the Errands context, but it would also include rows that contain the Errands context along with other contexts (like “Errands, Phone”.)

Click here to view the introductory filter tutorial video.

Understanding the Task Chooser

The Task Chooser helps you choose what task to work on next by displaying a list of tasks across all your projects in a single list.

It does this by “flattening” the outline and only showing the lowest level tasks in your outline.

Let’s look at an example of how that works…

  • Project 1
    • Parent Task 1.1
      • Sub-Task 1.1.1
      • Sub-Task 1.1.2
    • Parent Task 1.2
      • Sub-Task 1.2.1
  • Project 2
    • Task 2.1

In this example, you can see there are two projects and each one has tasks at various levels.

The idea behind the Task Chooser is that the only tasks that you can actually do are the tasks at the bottom of the outline, the ones that don’t have children. These tasks represent your potential next actions.

In the outline above, those tasks are underlined (Sub-Task 1.1.1, Sub-Task 1.1.2, Sub-Task 1.2.1 and Task 2.1.)

Those are the tasks that the Task Chooser is going to display, the ones that are at the bottom of the outline across all your projects and the ones that represent actions that you can actually do.

We’ll explore some of the more advanced features in the Task Chooser later in this and other lessons.

Selecting between the Outline and the Task Chooser

When working in an unstructured way, a natural question is when do you use the Outline and when do you use the Task Chooser?

(For the structured style of work, I recommend using the Tasks tab to focus on a single project at a time.)

Each one has strengths and weaknesses, so the answer really depends on your personal preferences and what you are trying to do.

Use the Outline when:

  • You want to see projects and tasks together in the same outline
  • You want to see the parents of the filtered tasks in the outline

Use the Task Chooser when:

  • You want to see a list of tasks across all your projects
  • You want more control over sorting and filtering
  • You want help figuring out the “best” task to work on
  • You need more complex filtering or sorting to see the tasks you want
  • You want to use a daily to-to list

Understanding the Task Chooser Window

The Task Chooser tab consists of the following elements:

  • View selector dropdown - Use to select the “view” that the task chooser displays... you can customize the view to show different columns and settings.

  • Settings... button - Controls the Task Chooser settings for the current view. Use it to change filtering and sorting settings of the task chooser view.

  • Show Less - Show fewer items in the grid

  • x of n - Label shows you many items are shown in the grid

  • Show More - Show more items in the grid

  • Date filter dropdown - Use this to filter items by their dates

    • Current - This is a useful date filter setting to only show items that are current (with a target start date today or in the past) and that have not been deferred to a future date

  • Advanced Filters - Show advanced filters (see below)

  • Project Label - Displays the project for the selected row

  • Grid - Displays the flattened, filtered and sorted list of tasks

  • Parents Panel - Displays the parent hierarchy for the selected row

All the tasks in the Task Chooser are at the bottom of the hierarchy (tasks without children). The only exception are any 'Next Action Reminders' that these bottommost tasks may have.

For example, in the image above, the task Gather requirements from client and other stakeholders has a next action reminder under it (called 'Example of a "Next Action" reminder task')

By default, the task chooser sorts entries using a 'Score' that is computed using various criteria like priorities, dates, deadlines, etc.

You can change the default sorting by clicking on the Settings... button, which will bring up the Task Chooser Settings dialog.

You can then adjust the sorting for the current Task Chooser view by clicking on the Sort button.

Task Chooser Views

Achieve Planner currently supports the following task chooser views:

Best Overall – Best tasks across all your projects regardless of result area.

Todo List - Useful for creating a prioritized daily to-do list. By default, this is sorted using the Task Chooser Priority column (see below).

Best work-related – Displays the best tasks across all projects belonging to work result areas (in the Work category.)

Best personal – Displays the best tasks across all projects belonging to personal result areas (in the Personal category.)

Urgent – Displays urgent tasks across all projects. Has different scoring values for dates.

Deadlines – Displays tasks with deadlines across all projects. Has different scoring criteria for deadlines.

Best in Project Block – Displays the best tasks in the current project block (weekly schedule) for the current time. If there is no current project block, displays best overall instead.

Printing - Useful for printing a Task Chooser based task list

You can change the default settings for each view using the Settings... button, and you can change the columns using the View -> Customize Current View menu item.

Related Lessons


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“I was reading over the testimonials on your website and I have to agree with all of them. I have spent the last 10 years working really hard on my time management skills and using the Tony Robbins RPM system.

Honestly I have to say that by using the Achieve Planner system, it has helped me focus much more on my RPM process because I was not wasting the time I was before managing the system. I have gotten a very good process down now and my efficiency and effectiveness has skyrocketed.

Mike Suco

“I purchased AP for my business and it has been a huge help in tracking and getting things done. It is straightforward and easy to use. It makes getting projects done much easier and tops Outlook and other tools that are either featureless or too huge and complex.”

Ray Diaz

“This by far the most intelligent piece of time-management software I’ve come across and I’ve tried a few.”

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“I’ve looked at several personal productivity / task management software packages over my 9 year career in IT... I have to say that Achieve Planner is hands down the best personal productivity app I’ve ever used!

It is quick to learn & awesome at unifying all of my life’s commitments while not skimping on the details if you should need them. I also love the ongoing time management tips & messages of encouragement which really help keep me focused and remind me WHY it is important to stay on-track! Thanks Effexis!”

Greg Pickrell

Wow! I’ve been waiting 20 years for this product!”

Fernando Chapa

“Your Achieve Planning software is the best I’ve used. Continue the great work!”

Dan Cross

“Achieve Planner is the first time-management software program that I have found that really allows me to organize myself in a way that is more consistent with my wholistic lifestyle.

Believe me I have checked out a few programs and have an entire shelf of books and videos in addition to all the workshops and seminars I have attended.

It has been an up hill battle for me as a very right brained, ADDer (Definition of ADDer: Someone who finds life so exciting and full of possibilities that they can’t help but keep adding more and more to their already fabulous life!)

For me the point of managing my time is to be able to live with minimal stress and have even more fun, pleasure and prosperity... and Achieve Planner helps me do that!”

Caroline Bell, PhD

“I have tried just about every piece of time and project management software on the Internet, as well as most of the goal setting software that’s out there too!

I have to say that Acheive Planner is _the best_ program I have ever used.”

Dean W. Charron

“Also, thanks for a brilliant product. I have tried several time management type applications prior to discovering "Achieve" and they all seemed to lack something.

After loading the achieve trial I purchased the product very quickly afterwards as I could see the potential. I’ve now been working with "Achieve" for three weeks and will certainly recommend it to others.

It does exactly what I need and gives me a method of managing the multiple projects that my daily work involves.”

Paul Ralph
Scotland UK

“Thanks for making such an awesome product. This is far superior to any I’ve used before!”

Stephanie Chapman

“I work from home, and use to have my work schedule, ideas, and notes, spread between two desks, on multiple pieces of paper or just held in my head.

Achieve Planner has changed all of that. This tool is incredible, and has helped me organise everything so that I now have a solid plan to work to.

I know exactly what I have to do each day, and I can promise you one thing. Planning for the weeks and months ahead has never been this fun! Keep up the great job!”

Andy Williams

“Thanks so much for making a great product. It’s really helping me get organized in my personal and professional life.”


“It’s a great software product and we both love to use it. We both tried to use Tony Robbins OPA/RPM system for years.

My husband managed to make some progress with it, but it was a little too complicated.

The Achieve Planner does everything that OPA should have done and it is perfectly integrated with Outlook. More people need to know about it”

Liz Blackham

“I’d like to say that I really enjoy working with AP planner.

You made it so ergonomic. We can reach easily and rapidly any task, contact or project.
The keyboard shortcuts are very useful and intuitives.

There’s a lot of possibility in this software (I didn’t use every one of them yet) and I can’t hardly wait for the next developpements.
Really, Bravo !”

Richard Lavoie

“Your Acheive Planner is a work of genius. I recently purchased the
productivity suite and am stunned by all that this program offers. It’s like having a 24/7 personal assistant and personal life coach all rolled into one.

I just want to thank you for the time, effort, and creativity you’ve put into developing this truly revolutionary product.
May you live long and prosper!”

Mercedes Goldcamp

“I am in love with Achieve Planner. It has made a significant difference in how I organize my time and I am accomplishing more than ever without that feeling of being overwhelmed. Thank you for developing it.”

Bev Dugar

“This is the very best planning system I have ever used. I manage a small business and run about 5 or 6 departments by myself.

Achieve Planner has made it possible to effectively track all of my tasks and projects in one system. Thank you. Keep up the great work.”


“The tutorials are excellent - short and to-the-point. They clearly explain  the steps needed to achieve a task in Achieve Planner without a lot of extraneous commentary.

I was/am very impressed. There are a lot of garbage tutorials ’out there’. Yours are excellent & I have found them most useful.”


“I’m finding it quite helpful. I’ve just been using the basics for about 3 weeks now and already starting to feel like I have a better grip on my week.

It allows me to take a realistic look at the amount of time I have available and then plan my task time accordingly.

I’m finding fewer tasks are "slipping between the cracks", plus I’m not as frustrated by not trying to meet unrealistic expectations.

The integration with Outlook is also very handy in that I can easily assign Tasks to staffers.”

Mark Herman

“Btw, I am IMMENSELY pleased with the Achieve Planner. I am a software engineer myself, and appreciate the detailed attention to the finish the careful engineering that has gone into the features of the software. Very well done!”

Arthur Vanderbilt

“I have been using this tool for about a month - I have tested many,
many, software tools for project & task planning before and have NEVER found anything that has immediately and positively impacted the way I work.

This is a GREAT tool and I only wish I’d found it years ago.

Thank you!”

Paul Sheard

“You have a very good program and its the best I have seen. Thanks for the help and I look forward to using it daily.”

Paul R.

“I sent you an email earlier on Procrastination and the wins I had from that course. I just thought the wins were big until I started applying the technology of your Time Management course.

Just after the first week of using Time Charts and Project Blocks my production has soared mainly due to NOT multi-tasking and doing what I'm doing while I'm doing it.

I have benefited greatly from using your technology and your software program, Achieve Planner.”

James Owens



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