Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 27, 201411:00 PM

The Best To-Do List

How do you handle your To-Do list?

I've been stressing over my to-do list. How about you? It's funny, I'm not stressed over the growth of it and the activities that I need to get done. I'm actually stressing over the actual/physical list. Let me explain. I used to carry around a hard cover Moleskine notebook that I loved dearly. It had everything in it from to-do lists to book ideas to client meeting notes to random thoughts gathered at a conference and so on. It got to a point, where I was carrying it around and hardly looking back to any of the older pages of notes that I had taken in the weeks and months that had past. Along with that, if I were asked for my notes on a client meeting, I found myself shuffling through the pages and my digital calendar to figure out where these thoughts might be. I was also an early adopter of Evernote. Once I got heavily vested in the digitization of my notes, I found myself having lists in multiple places. Along that journey, I started getting worried that Evernote could get hacked or my info could get lost (again, this is long before the company had become the juggernaut that they are today). A couple of times, Evernote froze/crashed on me and I started getting really worried about the stability of it as well. So, I wound up switching to the native notes application on the iPhone. At that point, I had notes in a physical notebook, stuff in Evernote and other stuff on the native application. At that point, I became interested in using my iPad for close to everything, and feel madly, deeply in love with writing notes on the iPad with a stylus and the Penultimate (now owned by Evernote) and NoteShelf applications. Yep... I was screwed. Now, I had stuff all over the place.

Getting organized.

At the end of last year, I recognized the error in my ways and the trouble I was experiencing. In short, I was spending a lot of time trying to get more efficient at using the tools that were simply supposed to make me more efficient. It was very meta. I was downloading apps, trying them out. Some were better on iPhone and some weren't great at being integrated with the MacBook Air and my current email/calendar system, etc... I was reminded of this unholy mess of notes, ideas and content earlier in the day because Business Insider had a little news item titled, The Best To-Do List App For iOS Is Free For Today Only. Many people are very excited about the amazing to-do list app called, Clear. It's typically, $4.99 but it's free for the next little while (so go and grab it, if you want it). My initial reaction was, "awesome! Gotta grab me that!" And I did. It's gorgeous. It's easy to use. Tons of cool little usability tricks with swiping and pinching. It seems like a total cinch to use. Then, that sinking feeling came over me again. Am I starting over with another note, list, to-do app... again? Nope. Not me. I deleted it. Sorry Clear.

What has been working?

Perhaps you will view this as the most anti-technological way of getting organized. So be it. It has been working so well for me, that I'm almost a little embarrassed to admit it. Here is my system for staying organized. I hope it works as well for you as it has been for me:

  • Paper. I use a simple 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. I put my to-do list on it. Only the immediate/short-term things that need to get done. This sheet stays on top of all other notes. I also have one sheet dedicated to business development needs for Twist Image. That's it. I keep it all in a manila folder. If the sheet is more than half marked off, I start a new sheet and copy the items not done over to a clean sheet. If I'm not around the folder and need to add an item, I email it to myself and add the item later in the day. If it's a client meeting, it gets a new sheet of paper and once the notes are filled or no longer immediately pressing, those notes get put in a client-specific manila folder (historically, I have rarely had to go back and access these older notes). If I am doing an interview for a podcast, blog post, book, etc... I use another new sheet of paper and once the interview is done, I have an interview folder (again, I hardly ever need to go back once that content gets published). In short, I never have more than 3-5 sheets of paper to carry around.
  • Notebook. Moleskine. I. Can't. Quit. You. I carry around a soft-cover Moleskine for all of my more creative thinking (ideas for clients, posts, quotes, podcasts, conference notes, book ideas, presentation ideas, etc...). Quite frankly, I could use the same one-page technique as above for this, but I just love the feeling of writing creatively in the Moleskine. Plus, it does feel like a separation of client work/business-related stuff to the deep thinking stuff.
  • Technology. I use a password protected resident note application for more sensitive things. If it's something that really needs to be on a to-do list, I only use the technology to email myself a note about it. That's it. Kinda lame, right?

It seems to work.

From my vantage point, having that physical paper open on my desk - and within constant view - seems to be the best/most functional way to ensure that stuff gets done (plus, that folder is so easy and light to travel with - be it from meeting to meeting or country to country). This simplification of the process also keeps everything very clean and organized in my mind. That being said, I am left wondering if I'm missing something by removing all of the technology, bells and whistles that seem to get some many people so excited? I'm reminded of Michael Hyatt and how passionate he is about Evernote, and everything it has done to simplify his life in terms of organization (check out his post: A Handy Index to All My Evernote Posts).

What's your take? How do you stay on top of everything? Has technology helped or hindered you?

By Mitch Joel