I’ve been meaning to follow up with the next post in this series for months now. There have been two so far, by the way, so if you missed them you can check them out here:
I think I’ve avoided it because while I’m still a productivity geek, I’ve been playing with letting that part of me slide into a little more chaos than I’m comfortable with. Because I’m getting really interested in the benefits of learning to embrace life’s messiness. But I also feel compelled to finish this series now that I’ve started it, so here it is in case you’ve been waiting with bated breath.
Those first two posts outline a way to do a “brain dump” so that all of your things to do are written in one place, and to start sorting them all into meaningful categories.
But unless your life is extremely simple and uncluttered, that probably won’t be enough for you. You need a way to maintain all those to-do items in a single system which you can refer to daily, weekly, monthly, and annually so that nothing falls through the cracks on you.
This isn’t necessarily easy, and generally needs a lot of tweaking until you figure out what works best for you. But if you can get to that point, the relief of getting it all out of your head so that you don’t have to worry about remembering it all frees up tremendous energy for the doing of it all.
Basically, what you want in your system is a safe place to store and manage your lists by category, and some sort of calendar to keep track of the specific times (meetings, doctor appointments, special events, etc.) when you need to be somewhere.
Calendar preferences are very individual, and there are hundreds if not thousands of options, so I won’t even go there.
For lists, written and electronic formats both work, but each type has its pros and cons.
Pros: They’re tangible. Somehow, manually writing or typing a to-do list and then holding it in paper format helps reinforce your awareness of the items on it. The process of writing engages the brain and inspires creativity. Also, if aesthetics are important to you (and don’t knock this, because enjoying the look and feel of your system can inspire you to actually use it), you can choose something that embodies your personality and preferences.
Cons: It’s difficult to keep “clean” lists—if they start getting too crossed out and messy, you have to re-write the whole thing. Also, there’s no way to “back up” a paper system in case of loss or damage other than scanning (which is digital) or photocopying. Or, God forbid, writing it all twice.
Pros: PDAs, smart phones, netbooks, etc. are durable, lightweight, and extremely portable. The key advantage, though, is that you can edit your lists on the fly and they’ll always be current and neat. Also, they are easily backed up.
Cons: Dependence on yet more technical gadgetry. To some, high-tech gadgetry feels emotionally “cold.” You might also find yourself in an environment where you can’t “plug in” or get access to your data.
The debate still rages in productivity circles, but some people have found it helpful to combine the two. Check out the quote by Glen Stansberry featured here.
Yet this struck me: If there are pieces of each [method] that are better than the other, why can’t we use both?
Indeed. Hybrid lists combine the best of both worlds. I am an inveterate low-tech, analog, hold-it-in-your-hands person, but I (reluctantly) switched to a hybrid-style system when using my beloved paper planner exclusively started creating unnecessary work for me. And so far it’s working well.
There are as many ways to set up a system as there are people who use them, so I’m going to briefly outline my own system and show you the software I now use.
I still use my beloved planner, but I keep my to-do list in one place using Priacta’s TRO software. (Please note that that’s an affiliate link.*) This allows me to categorize, edit and cross off items quickly and easily, and always have an up-to-date list. Their “TROG Bar” even has a feature that will generate a manageable list of things to “Do Today” based on the priorities and due dates (if any) that you’ve assigned. Very cool.
*An affiliate link, for those who don’t know, means that if you decide you like the product and buy it by clicking through my link above, you will pay the exact same price, but I’ll get a portion of it as a referral fee.
Every morning I just transfer the “Do Today” list in my paper planner. It gives me all the advantages of handwriting, and having to fit it into the planner ensures the list is short and doable. My planner is almost always with me, so I can look at the list all day long and track my progress.
I also keep a separate, teeny notebook where I quickly scrawl anything that comes up during the day related to anything I have to do, keep, or know. Every few days I add these items to TRO, process them, and they then turn up neatly in their appointed places on the appropriate list at the appropriate time.
Whether you use this system or any other, to make it effective you will need to:
- Have categories that are appropriate to your life. (See some common categories in post #2 of this series.
- Carry something to capture information on the fly for processing into the system later.
- Periodically review the items on the list so that things happen when they need to (a system will store your information, but sadly won’t do the work for you).
Have a system that’s convenient and portable enough that you will actually use it.
It’s too easy to overcomplicate things, so I’ll leave it there for now.
And there you have it, your Outboard Brain. A trusty companion by your side to help you navigate the shoals, sandbars, and deep waters of your time and tasks.
If you’ve implemented any of the suggestions in this series, I’d love to know!