This past month I took a look at my productivity and decided to make some changes. A big change? Using a paper to do list everyday (because those craved stone lists are too dang heavy).
Digital To Do Lists
I’ve tried a fair amount of to do list apps, programs, and reminder parrots over the years. Did they work? Yes, but usually not for long. I’ll be all about using them for a few weeks, give or take, and then I forget to use them ever again (or they just fly away, in search of crackers when it comes to the parrots).
I even tried emailing myself tasks so I see them first thing in the morning when I check my email. Again, this works, at first, but I never really stick with it.
Part of the problem, or perhaps the entire problem is I use my phone for so many different things (texting, browsing, cat photos, social media, streaming music, not getting phone calls). I needed something dedicated to keeping me on task.
And since my mom lives 90 minutes away, I needed to find something else.
Going Old School
I liked keeping to do lists in my sketchbooks before, and those definitely helped, tucked between drawings of dinosaurs and robots. However, this method had its own problems. First, I ended up drawing all over the page containing my to do list. Second, as I filled up pages with drawings and notes, I moved further and further away from my to do list.
Like a character on Lost with a non-speaking role, my to do list would get left behind and totally forgotten about.
Writing Things Down
I got the idea for trying to do lists again from Jessica Abel’s book, Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Daily Life.
A quick aside, Growing Gills is a handy book for helping you focus your creative energy and staying on task. Give it a read. Note, it’s not a book you can just sit down and read straight through, it’s more like a class—and do the work!
In Growing Gills, Abel mentions writing tasks down to get them out of your head. Why? Because your brain devotes energy to trying to remember every task, big or small. When you write these tasks, it takes some pressure off your brain (and I need all the help I can get).
Also, Abel says, seeing the tasks written down makes you rethink what’s important. A task might seem Super Important and/or An Amazing Idea in your head. But, on paper, well maybe not so much (this is the fate of most of my jokes).
The Notebook (Not The Movie)
My to do list notebook is a super basic cheap top-spiral 3″ x 5″ memo book. I like spiral binding because I can flip through pages easily and lay it open in front of me (another aside, this is also why I my next sketchbook will be a spiral, after a few Moleskines in a row).
Each day I write down what I need to do, be it something urgent (write a blog post for tomorrow) or can get done eventually (change my windshield wipers). As I knock out a task, I cross it out.
And let me tell you, there’s something about crossing a task off a physical list no app can replicate (at least not yet, VR might bridge this gap).
Do I finish my to do list everyday? Nope!
And that’s OK. My dedicated notebook’s advantage is all of those tasks are still there, ready for the next day, or later. Some tasks are more pressing than others, and others can wait.
Every few days, I’ll go through and consolidate any loose tasks from crossed out pages into a new list, and rip the old pages out. This way, I’m not flipping through 17 different pages looking for things to finish. Plus, writing my tasks down again helps as a refresher.
If you’re having problems getting things done, grab a cheap notebook and make your own to do lists! Heck, buy fancy notebook with a leather cover for all I care–just use it!