Over the weekend, I read Steven Covey's excellent book - The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It's an interesting read with principles and habits that can be applied to many aspects of your life.
There's one habit in particular that you can apply easily using Eclipse - Put First Things First. To put it really simply, the idea is that you maintain a task list and keep prioritizing. Luckily for developers using Eclipse, this functionality is built into the IDE.
The Eclipse Mylyn project, at it's minimum is a standalone task list for Eclipse. These tasks are not to be confused with the Tasks view that is supplied with Eclipse by default, which includes compiler errors/warnings and todo tags. A task in Mylyn represents any unit of work - a bug, a note, a feature. Task Repositories can be connected to such as Bugzilla, JIRA the TRAC Project Management system and more - a complete list of connectors are available here.
Organising Tasks Using Mylyn
To access the task list view for Mylyn, simply use the Window>Show View>Other...>Mylyn>Task List menu item. Initially this will be an empty list with an Uncategorised folder displayed. You can add new Categories, using the context menu, and you can also add new tasks to your local task repository. When you add a new task, the Task UI is displayed.
[img_assist|nid=1515|title=Creating a new task in Mylyn|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=389]
It looks like any task manager at first glance, providing fields for status, priority and due dates. You can also add in notes, and a URL to associate with the task. If you right click on the Activate option, the task is highlighted in the Task List.
As well as these local tasks, relating to your Eclipse workspace, you can connect to a task repository to use shared tasks across your team. The default repository available with Eclipse 3.3 bundles is the Bugzilla repository. You can also create queries on repositories, for example a Bugzilla query can display all the tasks assigned to you. As well as querying you can create new tasks, and synchronize back with the repository to update it.
[img_assist|nid=1516|title=Bugzilla Task Repository|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=419|height=354]
If you end up with a lot of tasks from a repository, you can use the Task search, which is added to the standard Search dialog in Eclipse by Mylyn.
Building on Mylyn
Tasktop, a task focused desktop built on Mylyn was recently released as both a standalone RCP application for people without Eclipse, or as a plugin for Eclipse users. It provides additional task repositories for Microsoft Outlook, Wikipedia and the bookmarks of your browser. Additionally, you can connect to calendars from Google and Outlook.
Get Yourself Organised
Although it seems simple, the effect of using Mylyn could have a big effect on your productivity. There will be more task repositories becoming available as plugins, so it should be possible to use Eclipse as your central task management tool. By maintaining your list of tasks, continuously updating and reprioritizing, you'll find yourself freeing up more time and focusing on the important items.
This article only skims the surface of what you can do with Mylyn - there's a good two part article on developerWorks showing how to use the task focus features, attaching file to the context of a task, and lots more.
Mylyn 2.3 is currently available with the Europa Winter Updates, with 3.0 scheduled for release in July with Eclipse 3.4.