There is a constant in my life for 335 days a year (let's assume that 30 days of vacation are a bit more relaxing): I've tons of things to do every day. Most are about my work, many are about handling home, health, family, and so forth.
I'm not the kind of guy that is good at remembering that I need to do this and that, usually I wake up, do a breakfast, sit in front of my computer and start to write code, read issues, reply to emails, and so forth. So to get pending things done I absolutely need some form of todo list, and in the course of the years I tried different things.
Paper and pen
One of the systems that I used most was just a piece of A4 paper and a pen. I did this for years, and it's not too bad, but this system eventually does not scale: writing by hand is time consuming so you end writing a bit too little information to complete or remember the task well enough. Deletion forces you to rewrite the items on a new piece of paper often. Paper gets easily lost, and you don't have it with you if you move often (I always change work place moving from home to a small office before lunch).
Eventually I ended trying different solutions using the computer and the keyboard: from a todo service I coded from myself, to "Remember the milk", and everything in the middle.
All those systems worked for a few weeks, but I always ended with some kind of mess, too many different "lists", and accessing a web site to look or modify my TODO list was boring.
However I discovered that the biggest problem was not the web service, how it was implemented, or how fast it was, the biggest of the problems was... myself. More specifically the way I used my TODO list.
I finally found a system that works great for me, and is working great since months. So at this point I want to share it with you. I'll not try to get into details about why it works and so forth, I'll just describe it. If you are looking for an alternative for your todo list keeping business, try it and check yourself.
- I write my TODO list using Evernote, in a single note called TODO. Evernote is great for two reasons in this context: it's fast because it is a resident program, but gets synched, so you have your TODO list in all your computers, in your phone, and so forth.
- The note is split into three sub parts: daily, weekly, monthly.
- The last two items in the daily list are: "read the weekly list if it is monday", "read the monthly list if it is the first day of the month".
- Every time you need to insert a new todo list item, just insert it at the end of the appropriate sub-list, daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the urgency you have to do this, or simply where do you think it is more appropriate for the item to stay.
- READ THE DAILY LIST EVERY DAY once you sit in front of the computer <- this is the core of the system. Don't do nothing before. No emails, no news sites, nothing. Read the list.
- When appropriate, move items between sublists. For instance if you are reading the monthly list and something is urgent now, move it in the daily part of the list.
- When needed, remove items, because you already completed the task or because it is no longer relevant or a priority.
That's all. You don't need to do at least one item or alike per day, as long as you keep reading the list every day. It's up to you when to act, how much you act, this system is not designed to fix your ability to get things done, is designed just to fix the schedule, and to keep you informed with little efforts about what you should do today.
It's working well for me and I hope it works well for you as well. If you find ways to improve this system I would love to hear.