As I had posted here in 2007, I have been trying to make an effort towards paperless organization of my lists, most of which are ToDo items. The Palm device that I was originally attempting to use for this effort turned out to be a headache because of limitations on formats, storage capacity, speed, interoperability and expandability. I ended up giving it away to my cousin brother who is a student, to make his first attempt at getting organized 🙂 In the meantime, I picked up a Sony Ericsson P990i, which let me do a lot more, faster and more efficiently (Of course, that device is also fast approaching its event horizon). I found that I have so much going on in my head that often it was a pain to take out the phone, flip it open, navigate to “Tasks” or “Notes” and start typing. Going 100% paperless wasn’t working out too well, sometimes during this physical process I would lose track of my mental process (i.e. forget the idea or task that I wanted to note down). Over the years, I have arrived at the following hybrid approach, which helps me get things done effectively:
1. On my device, I maintain the following lists, in the following order, each of them almost like a Product Backlog:
|1) This Week
||5) Online – Stuff to do the next time I’m in front of a computer, like e-mailing somebody
||6) Projects – Not just software, even real-world projects like scale models
|3) Next Week
||7) This Quarter
|4) This Month
||8) This Year
Plus, the following “dynamic” lists:
a) Groceries – Since the stuff I buy every week/month is almost always the same, I just have a master list in which I keep moving things between “Pending” (unchecked) and “Completed” (checked) depending on what I run out of
b) Shopping – Other things to buy next time I’m out
c) Travel – Places to travel to on the weekends
d) Focus – 1 to 5 items I’m currently focusing on (e.g. “Get to work on time” 🙂 ), to keep reminding myself regularly
2. My phone lets me prioritize tasks within each list, on a scale of 1 – 3. Also, for example, within “This Month”, if “Pay Rent” has been completed, it gets checked into “Completed” and doesn’t get deleted. At the beginning on next month, I simply uncheck everything back into “Pending”.
3. I maintain a single sheet of pocket notebook-sized paper (more if I’m actively noting down ideas/tasks for an ongoing activity/project), akin to a Sprint Backlog, with the following:
|Today – Things to do today (mostly at work)
||This Week – Including weekend commitments
|Calls – Phone calls to make + e-mails to send
||Home – Things to do when I get back from work
4. Every weekend I move stuff from the “Product Backlog” (long-term list of stuff on the phone) to the “Sprint Backlog” (short-term list of stuff on paper), and *wait for it* stuff gets done! I never use more than one sheet of pocket notebook-sized paper in a week, and this way I also always have paper handy to quickly note down stuff (on the margins). Finally, in case I ever lose/damage my phone (which is backed up every 2 weeks), I don’t lose the things I had planned for the week.
Am I going overboard? (After all, it’s just a glorified ToDo list.) I don’t think so. I find that by keeping things prioritized and focused this way:
1. I manage to get a lot more done without worrying about what I’m forgetting to do.
2. I don’t lose track of things that I would eventually like to do, but don’t have the time for right now (or this week, or this month, …)
3. Moving the prioritization and organization out of my head helps me think clearer and focus 100% on the task at hand.
But it doesn’t end there. Over a period of time (and with a lot of self-imposed discipline, I must add), I have managed to harmonize the short-term (a.k.a. “sort it when you see it”) organization of things that I come across everyday. I do this by managing the following “tags” (often as Folders, in some cases even physical file folders) across my Inboxes, Browser Bookmarks, Hard Disks and scattered notes (including those on my phone):
I visit these as and when I have the time and keep emptying them out. With the addition of lists (as notes) for Movies to watch, Music to get, Books to read and Scale Models to buy, my little universe of lists is complete!
Stuff that I learned along the way, though:
1. Hybrid is more practical than paperless.
2. We need a device (implant?) that can make a note when the wearer thinks of it (and where to put it). The interface & actions between thought and task noted are, well, so ’90s! (Note: Speech Recognition is also so ’90s)
3. It’s best to stick to simple formats like Text and CSV instead of proprietary ones (like Excel). Simpler formats are easily portable and retrievable in case of failure, and suffice for making lists. If your list seems to require a complicated format, well, simplify your list!
4. It may be a good idea to reuse Visiting Cards and such, but your handwriting needs to be tiny.
5. Evernote can probably help.
UPDATE: [2011-07-16] I have since migrated all my lists to my new BlackBerry Curve 9300.
UPDATE: [2012-03-09] I discovered Todoist, which is quite simply the Tao of using Computer Science to solve problems. Although using it means that my todo list is now in the cloud, something that I’m [still] not very comfortable with, I find it indispensable to manage long-term projects. I initially found it attractive due to its Outlook integration, which meant that I didn’t have to grapple with numerous tasks disguised as emails, but the app is constantly being improved with new features, like @labels that enable a task to be present in multiple lists. HTML5 support means my list is now available offline, and it syncs effortlessly across devices, including my BlackBerry. I occasionally take local backups with Todoist Backup.
UPDATE: [2012-09-15] With my mind emptied of the long term stuff now safe on Todoist, I have started relying more on my memory for day-to-day things. I’m also trying to do less and focus more on the important things (not to mention years of long hours have significantly shortened my “backlogs”), and try not to take on more than I can comfortably remember over the span of a few days at a time.
UPDATE: [2012-10-05] I have a
new revived obsession with Whiteboards at home. I’m trying to keep it under check to avoid looking like too much of a mad scientist…
UPDATE: [2013-07-12] Since Todoist Backup no longer works and I don’t have the time to figure out what changed, I have upgraded to Todoist Premium to be able to make use of their backup service (amongst other cool features). I now exclusively use Todoist coupled with a one-page note on my phone, which has tasks for the day to week range, plus trivial items (< 2 min) that don’t need to go into Todoist. Also, the other day I found the phone I used to use before my Palm device: Nokia 6820.