Do you ever feel like you’re constantly devoting brain power to maintaining a to do list in your head? Like you have a mental checklist that you’re responsible for, always adding new things and trying not to forget that one important thing?
A few years ago, I read a book called Getting Things Done. (Somewhat ironically, I did not finish the book, but that’s another story.) It had so many helpful ideas about organizing your to do list, but what resonated with me the most was his reasoning for why we should devote time to keeping a good to do list.
A good to do list allows us to free up that space in our brain for other things. If we write down all the things we have to do, and if we trust that we can find them again when we need them, then we can let go of that running list in our head. It’s such a freeing concept. Clearing our heads by storing the list elsewhere. Minimalism via organization.
… Which is why I’ve become a devoted lover of productivity tools, or to do apps in particular. They take some investment of time, especially initially, but once you’re in the swing of things, they pay off big time. They have reduced my stress load at work (and home) and sent the message to others that they can rely on me to get things done. Win win!
Everyone has their own preferences, but I wanted to share a bit about what I look for in a good to do app.
There are plenty of great free apps out there, so many that I’m unwilling to pay for one.
It works on my computer and phone, seamlessly
I check and update my to do list on my computer during the day at work, so that is a must. But I also want to be able to add items to my list when I’m out and about, hence the phone. Without a phone app, I feel burdened. I either have to make mental note (defeating the purpose) or make a note elsewhere that will eventually have to be entered into the to do list on the computer (waste of time making the same note twice).
It lets me change priorities
I don’t know about you, but my priorities change all day long every day. I will go into work planning to work on one thing, only to find out that we have to put out a fire on something else. Or I’ll decide that the oil change can wait an extra week. I need to be able to easily change priorities and dates that tasks are due. (This, for me, is the biggest advantage over a handwritten to do list.)
It lets me group tasks into categories
Like many people, I’m a visual person. Being able to group my tasks into categories, such as projects at work, errands, or professional development activities, helps me paint a clear path forward in my head. When planning, I like to be able to sketch out next steps in a given project, before moving on to the next project.
It lets me see what is due in the near term
In addition to letting me group tasks by category, I also need to group tasks by due date, especially for those due in the next week or so. This way I can see everything that’s on my plate today, and shift things around as things evolve during the day.
It is simple and a pleasure to use
The whole point of using a to do list is to save time, free up brain power for other things, and not lose track of important deadlines or tasks. It is counterproductive to spend a ton of time managing the to do list. Some tools can be so complex that managing them becomes a task in and of itself. This is why I only use tools that are easy, intuitive, and a joy to use.
My current obsession: todoist
It meets all of the above criteria. It’s easy and elegant to use. I highly recommend it. It makes me very happy, and I can let go knowing that it will tell me when something needs to get done.
I’d love to hear what tools you use to free up space in your brain? What kinds of features are musts for you? I invite you to share in the comment section below.
(Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis, Flickr)