What’s the best system to use in handling your daily to-do list? Maybe something in your phone with built in alarms that syncs automatically to a calendar and another task manager? Or how about a paper calendar with a neat row of boxes where you can check off completed items? Or even putting yellow sticky notes on the bathroom mirror?
The best system
Guess what the best system is? The best system is the one you’ll use.
Because no matter how many design features a task manager has, it’s worthless if it gathers dust. We can go from one tech solution to another always looking for perfection. But the latest and greatest system will be a waste if we don’t use it.
So why don’t we use a to-do list? Even with the best of intentions or the best technology?
No meaningful goals
The first reason we don’t use a system is we don’t have any clear goals or purpose supporting our daily tasks. If we just have a list of uninspiring busy-work we’re likely to lose interest after a short time. So if you have trouble staying focused during the day maybe it’s not the technology you use.
Instead look at your life purpose and see if you even have inspiring goals in the first place. Because no amount of technology is going to make up for a lack of inspiration or focus.
It’s all about you
The second reason we don’t use a system is it doesn’t fit our personality or preferences. Some people prefer paper solutions over electronic ones. Other people like to have very few commitments with lots of room to be spontaneous. There’s no right-or-wrong answer but if you end up using something that doesn’t fit your preferences it doesn’t matter how highly rated it is.
Too simple or too complicated
The third reason we don’t use a particular system is it doesn’t fit our needs. If you happen to be part of a team at work and are assigned to a complicated project you’ll need a different solution than if you’re a solopreneur. Or suppose you work by yourself and try to use the same task manager NASA uses to shoot rockets to Mars. You’ll make yourself crazy.
One time when I worked for the FBI we were preparing for a three week trial and deciding which witnesses would testify on what day. A suggestion was made about how we could use some calendar task manager scheduling system. Lots of bells/whistles and who knows what else. Probably highly rated by all the tech blogs.
But the lead prosecutor pulled out a blank monthly calendar printed on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. We probably had fewer than 20 witnesses in total and all those could easily be written in on the appropriate day. In pencil. If a change was necessary then 30 seconds of erasing and rewriting was all that was needed. In that situation we didn’t need a high-tech solution. A simple piece of paper was perfect for our needs.
Recommendations are everywhere
Want some ideas for to-do lists? There are plenty of recommendations. Ask your friends. Ask Google. Here’s several articles from PC World, Lifehacker, Fast Company, or from ABC News. So there’s no shortage of advice about what to use to help you manage your tasks.
Honestly when I read all the reviews it makes my head hurt. I’d rather pick something that works for me and then use it consistently. That gives me better results than spending too much time looking for the latest new thing.
Some tools I use
Over time, I’ve used a variety of paper vs. tech solutions. The items below meet my current needs and I’m happy with them.
TeuxDeux is a a clean, simple daily to-do list with very basic features. For example, it automatically moves uncompleted tasks to the next day. You can also drag and drop items to another day and set up reoccurring tasks so they appear automatically.
One nice feature is it’s divided into two sections. The top half has a column for each day where tasks are listed and can be checked off when completed. The bottom half has columns where future tasks are listed and then later moved to a specific day when you decide to do them. Future tasks can be organized by different topics such as work, fitness, blogging, household, etc. Simple and all on one page.
Here’s a three minute video that demonstrates all its features. Only three minutes. That’s how simple it is. It costs $2 or $3 a month depending on whether you pay in advance or are billed monthly. They have a 30-day free trial and no credit card is needed.
Evernote, the note-taking king, has both a free version and a premium one, which costs $45 a year. Since I’m still learning, I doubt if I’m taking advantage of all of its features. But I really like it for storing all kinds of notes, plans, and ideas.
iCal is the standard calendar included with all Apple products. Again, it’s nothing fancy but it works for me. Easy to look at a month at a time and it reminds me of all the birthdays in my contact list. That makes my nieces and nephews happy
Another item I am considering is Scrivener, which was recently recommended by Michael Hyatt in this post. It’s not really a task manager but more of a writing tool. From reading the review I think it’ll be a good supplement to my other tools so I’ll give it a try.
How do you keep your life on track? A 3×5 card or the latest app? Something in between?
photo credit: paulund.co.uk