About To Do Lists.

The thing about to do lists is that while they are great at making you be organized, they don’t actually do the things that need to be done.  That’s the rub.

I wrote a while back about my quest for the perfect list system.  I was anxious about going back to work and channeled that in looking for a new system to keep everything straight.  It was a useful deployment of my nervous energy because I did, in fact, need a new system.

And I actually found it.

As a recap, I wanted a system that could do a few things –

  • A simple, online interface that’s easy to add to do items to it and is accessible by both iPhone and computer
  • Offers a birds eye view of all the projects and tasks at once
  • Ability to sort by projects and due date
  • Reminder/alert functions; and
  • Ideally have some sort of task share option.

I tried several tools – Trello, Asana. Evernote, Wunderlist, and more.  And in the end, I went with ToDoist.  Here’s why:

First, there’s a certain visceral importance to the whole enterprise.  The tool has not just be organized well, it has to make you feel organized.  For me – the simple clean interface of ToDoist is satisfying and effective.  By contrast, the interface of Wunderlist (which had probably the closest set of features to ToDoist) just felt a little too complicated, remote and overdone for my visceral experience (I have colleagues who feel just the opposite though).  Trello, on the other hand, had a visually interesting interface I loved – seeing across all my projects like a set of sticky notes on a desk – but did not have the functionality of sorting by date and project, resorting tasks by priority, etc that I found really need.  At the end of the day, as alluring as some online to do systems are, I really wanted something pretty straightforward.

With ToDoist, I ultimately had to pay for an upgrade to get everything I wanted.  Recurring tasks with reminders, notes and a cool labeling system (that I didnt know I needed but I totally do) all came for the not-so-steep price tag of $29/year.  The Wife even opted to pay for the upgrade too as soon as she got on board with Todoist and converted to using it to manage every floating task in her brain.

What I love most about the system is that I don’t have to work to remember anything – every task I need to do is in on there (and I’m on there enough that it’s easy to add whatever new arises) – and when they are not on Todoist, the tasks don’t happen!  It’s cleared my mind a great deal of the things that used to wake me up in the middle of the night because I lost track of them.  I know mostly everything I have and have not done that I need to do.

But – and it’s a real but – that awareness of what I have not done that I need to do can be a hard pill to swallow.  Each afternoon as I check off tasks completed and reschedule those that are not going happen that day, it’s a moment of humility and reality.  I’ve written about the editing down of life to the essentials – but what happens when there’s not enough time for the essentials?  Or what you thought were essentials?  The hard task of editing down further.

I’m more proud of accomplishments I eked out that I might have before been quick to downplay – because now I know better how precious the time was that got them done.  And I’m slowly becoming a little less hard on myself about what I haven’t gotten done because I am seeing before my eyes that time spent on one thing takes away from time on something else – a simple, self-evident fact that I nonetheless used to believe I could will myself to overcome.  In that way, reality of my limits can be a hard pill to swallow – but a liberating one too.

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