Keeping track of things to do

How do you keep track of what you need or want to do? Do you have a system? If you do, do you write things down or do you keep it all in your head? I used to have an elaborate system, but now I work with mental notes and sticky notes.

You see, I like to keep track of tasks. Whether it’s filing tax returns, calling the landlord to request maintenance, writing a blog post on a certain topic, or returning a library book, I like to write the task down and add a due date. Writing it down seems to reduce the clutter in my head.

For years, I used OmniFocus to keep track of all kinds of tasks. OmniFocus is a sophisticated app, but it’s easy to use. You can adapt it for well-known productivity systems such as Getting Things Done or you can set it up for your unique workflow.

One of my favorite features of the app is the periodic review for projects. For instance, I had OmniFocus set up to suggest, every couple of months, that I take a few minutes to review outstanding home maintenance tasks. Were they all still relevant? Had I completed some of them but forgotten to mark them as completed? Those periodic reviews kept the data tidy and up-to-date.

Unfortunately, I don’t use OmniFocus anymore. You can’t use the app unless you own Apple devices running Apple operating systems, and I don’t anymore. My smartphone runs Android and my computer runs Linux. That’s a shame, because OmniFocus is the best app of any kind I have ever used. There is not one other app that comes close to meeting my preferences for tracking tasks and projects.

Nowadays, I keep track of tasks and projects on paper. I enjoy using paper products, but my new paper to-do system is not very sophisticated. For instance, on paper I cannot add recurring tasks. In OmniFocus, I would enter some yearly tasks related to checking my investment portfolio statements and then submitting tax returns. These tasks would stay out of sight until I wanted to see them, which was when the yearly window to submit tax returns was open. In OmniFocus, I set this up once and the tasks recurred yearly. On paper, I need to re-write the tasks every year.

Of course it isn’t so bad to have to re-write some tasks every year. I can keep track of what I need to do just fine on paper, as people did without computers for millennia. But my OmniFocus workflow did reduce the clutter in my head, because by checking OmniFocus just once a day I could be reasonable sure that I would not forget important tasks.

Now that I use a less effective system to keep track of the things I want or need to do, I try different strategies to reduce the clutter in my head. One approach that has helped me is meditating, which I mention frequently, and practicing its cousin mindfulness. Another is not to think of life as a never-ending stream of incoming tasks.

That used to be a challenge for me. I would think of all the tasks that I would probably have to do daily or weekly for the remainder of my life, such as the dishes, cleaning the floor, ironing clothes—how many hours of my future will I spend on those tasks that, when it comes down to it, aren’t horrible but aren’t fun either? Thinking about these tasks mindfully, and doing them one thing at a time, helps me be less bothered about having to do them.

For tasks that “must” be done by a certain date with seemingly serious consequences, I apply a technique I learned from Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff. Ask yourself: “will this matter a year from now?” If I return a library book a few days late, I don’t need to worry about it. I will pay the nominal fine and I won’t even remember it a year later. So in a way, I have replaced my sophisticated system for keeping track of tasks with a less sophisticated system and with fewer worries about “needing” to do things in the first place.

As I mentioned, I find a quieter head incredibly valuable. The world can be hectic and in my experience technology tends to add to the chaos. But OmniFocus is the rare piece of technology that made my head quieter. I’m sad that I can’t use it anymore without buying back into the Apple ecosystem. If you run Apple operating systems, though, by all means try OmniFocus.

Subscribe to my email list

Get my articles in your inbox.

Posted by Peter

Here, Peter writes about whatever has caught his interest recently. Maybe he'll narrow down this blog's scope someday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *