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How to Use a Todo List to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever

How to Use a Todo List to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever
Use a Todo List to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever

    Ah, the humble todo list. With all the high-tech, whiz-bang productivity applications, mobile gadgets, office tools, and genuine Corinthian leather dayplanners out there to spend our money and attention on, in the end the single most productive tool we can use boils down to a list of crap we need to do. Look under the hood of any GTD app or productivity system, and the engine that drives them all is the todo list — whether organized by date, priority, project, or just according to whenever you thought of doing it.

    As virtually every productivity guru says, somewhere near the front of every one of their books, the main reason most people fail, get overwhelmed, or drive themselves to the cardiologist with worry and stress is that they don’t have a good grip on what they need to be doing. So they wake up in the middle of the night (if they can sleep at all) in a panic over whether they did everything the needed to do that day, or they look over the piles of clutter around them and wonder how they’ll ever reach the bottom.

    When they are just about to their breaking point, they reach for a pad and pen and start writing up a todo list. They write down everything they can think of, stick it up next to their PC or shove it in their pocket, work through their list, feel a momentary sense of relief, and return to their regular state of being overwhelmed until the next time they reach their breaking point.

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    This cycle of inefficiency and ineffectiveness is crazy and stupid — and it’s most people’s lives. Which is why breaking that cycle is the first order of business in almost every system aimed at helping people become more productive, whether in their work, their creative life, their family life, or just in general.

    The key to an effective todo list is not the list itself, how it’s organized and managed, but the habit of using, adding to, and reviewing the list. People who make sporadic lists only when they’re almost completely overwhelmed tend to do a good job of writing up their lists and working through them — and they’re typically very productive during the time they’re working through their list. In other words, they know the value of todo lists, and even more or less how to create them, but not how to spread that value throughout their daily lives.

    Like any habit, using a todo list on a daily basis takes some time to establish to the point where it’s automatic. So the first order of business is to put your todo list somewhere intrusive. Don’t count on willpower, logic, pride, or luck to help you keep on track. Put your list in your face, every moment of every day, so that you have to deal with it somehow. For example:

    • Keep a notebook in your back pocket, where you’ll feel it every time you sit down.
    • Rubber-band a notebook or stack of index cards to your wallet or pocketbook, so you’ll have to remove it every time you reach for money, a credit card, your ID, a business card, or whatever else you keep in your wallet.
    • Use an online todo list like Remember the Milk, Tada, Toodledo, or Todoist and set it as your homepage.
    • Embed your online todo list in your desktop (see instructions for XP here [flash video]; you can’t do this in Vista)
    • Install a separate browser with your todo list as it’s homepage, and set it to open automatically when you start your computer. Never close it, and never use it for anything else. So if you regularly use Firefox, use IE or Opera or Safari for your todo list and keep it running whenever you’re at your computer.
    • Use a reminder system (whether built into your online todo list service, or using a service like Sandy, or using a desktop timer, or setting an alarm on your smartphone) to give you hourly reminders to check your list.
    • Place your paper list on your desk in front of you with a pen or pencil while you work.
    • Use a sidebar gadget or widget in Windows Vista, Google Desktop, or other desktop widget software. Set it to always be on top.

    You won’t always need to be reminded to use your list; eventually, it will become a habitual part of your daily routine. But for the first month or so, set your too list up in a way that it actually disrupts your work, forcing you to pay attention to it. You might lose a small amount of time, but the overall productivity gain will more than make up for it.

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    So, now that your todo list has your attention, what should you do with it?

    Short answer: write down everything you need to do. Repeat. For the rest of your life.

    Slightly longer answer: add every task, no matter how small, to your list, at the moment you think of it. Break large tasks into discrete, doable chunks — that is, don’t add “Rule the world” to your todo list, add “Call Bob to discuss 3rd quarter tax estimates.” If you’ll need to get Bob’s phone number before you can do that, write “Look up Bob’s phone number” and write it down next to “Call Bob…”. As you finish tasks, cross them off your list; as you think of new ones, add them. Keep doing that.

    Full answer: use your list as a central repository for all the tasks, thoughts, and plans you need to accomplish in life. Use categories to organize your list and keep you on target. Break complex tasks into small, realistic steps, and use your lists to plan out the steps you need to take to reach your goals. Review your list for a few minutes each day, adding new tasks and removing old ones, and highlighting the 3 or 4 most important tasks you need to finish to consider your day well-spent. Every week or so, do a more in-depth review, planning out new projects, considering every aspect of your life and what you need to do in each to make your life fuller, richer, and more successful.

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    • Use your list as a central repository: Use your list not only for the tasks you have to work on immediately, but for planning, recording random thoughts for later consideration, and recording your goals. I’ve divided my Moleskine using Post-It tab dividers into four sections: the front is for immediate tasks, a middle section of a few pages is for books and music I’ve heard about and want to look into, a longer middle section is for listing out all the projects I’m working on and fleshing them out, and the last is for notes and thoughts. But I find myself using the last section less and less often — instead, I’ve started putting notes directly into my todo list with the preface “T/A” (“think about”). I also use my list to record things I’m waiting for, whether that’s a package I’ve ordered, a piece of information I’ve requested from someone, a bank deposit, or whatever; I use the preface “W/F” (“waiting for”) and put the date I added it in parentheses at the end, like this:

      [ ] W/F: Response from Barbara about new health insurance deductible (12/17)

      When I review my list, I know how long I’ve been waiting — if I feel it’s been too long, I add a follow-up to my todo list, like this:

      [ ] Call Barbara about requested information on new health insurance deductible

      Finally, if a task is related to a specific project, like an article I’m working on, I add “for [project]” to the end of the task, like this:

      [ ] Look up book by Ruth Behar for Sex and Gender article

    • Use categories: I found using categories in a paper list to be a waste of effort (although the tags I used above are a kind of categorizing, I suppose). However, I’ve recently begun using an online todo list manager and the good ones make categorizing much more seamless. People who follow David Allen’s GTD system use contexts for their lists, categorizing tasks by the location or occasion in which they can be done. So for instance, they might have an “@phone” category, listing everything they can do on the phone, so when they have a quiet moment when they can use the phone, they can focus on working though all their calls at once.Contexts don’t really work for me; instead, my lists are categorized by project, and I block out time in my schedule for each project and work through the list for each. I find that the mindset I get into when working on a task from a particular project helps me build up momentum to work through other, related tasks even if they’re different in nature — that is, I’d rather make a phone call about some project and then write up a report for the smae project than make a phone call about one project and then make another about a different project.
    • Break projects into small, discrete tasks: When we look at our todo list, we need to see clear instructions about what to do next. If you have to ask “how do I do that” about a task, you haven’t broken it down enough. As a general rule, you want to reduce everything to the level of activity just above the instinctive — that is, if you need to write something, you’ll more or less instinctively reach for a pen and paper, sit down, take off the pen’s cap, and assume a writing grasp; everything beyond that should be a separate task.
    • Most Important Tasks (MITs): Review your list first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, and highlight a few things you absolutely have to get done, or that will most advance an important project, in the coming day. You can use a highlighter, move them to the top of your list, mark them “high priority” in your task management software, it doesn’t matter as long as you know those are your MITs. Do these things first. If you do nothing else in the day, you’ll still end the day having accomplished something important.
    • Weekly review: My reviews aren’t exactly weekly; instead, I tend to do one about every 4 or 5 days, but whatever frequency you choose, take some uninterrupted time on a more or less regular schedule to look over your lists and think about the “bigger picture”. Think about what you want to accomplish in the next week, consider your overarching goals in life and whether there’s anything new you could be doing to move towards those goals, write up detailed plans for each of your projects, make sure your “waiting for” items are all closed, actually think about all your “think about” items, and so on.

    It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to keep a good todo list. What it does take is a little bit of thought, so that when you come back to your list, it’s clear what you need to be doing and how it fits into your overall life. Once you’ve developed the habit of using a todo list, though, it becomes almost effortless, like walking or talking — something you just do.

    Take some time this year to get into that habit, and start using your time and energy to move towards your goals instead of burning it up trying desperately just to stay where you are. Get started now and make 2008 your best year ever — until 2009!

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

    There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

    Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

    It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 35 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

    For Getting Things Done

    1. OmniFocus

    This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

    Download it here.

      2. Forest

      Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

      Download it here.

        3. Things

        Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

        Download it here.

           

           

          4. Any.Do

          A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

          Download it here.

            5. PocketLife Calendar

            This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

            Download it here.

              6. Asana

              We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

              , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

              Download it here.

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                7. ToDoist

                This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

                Download it here.

                   

                   

                  8. Calendars 5

                  This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track, and complete your to-dos.

                  Download it here.

                    9. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                    A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                    Download it here.

                      10. Due

                      A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                      Download it here.

                        11. Checkmark 2

                        I use this app

                        for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                        Download it here.

                          12. TeuxDeux

                          Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — TeuxDeux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then TeuxDeux will be right up your alley.

                          Download it here.

                             

                             

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                            13. Nirvana

                            For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                            Download it here.

                              14. Priorities

                              An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                              Download it here.

                                For Building Habits

                                15. Productive

                                With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day, and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                                Download it here.

                                  16. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                  You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                  Download it here.

                                    17. Streaks

                                    This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                    Download it here.

                                      18. Remember The Milk

                                      Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                      Download it here.

                                        19. Day One Journal

                                        When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                        Download it here.

                                          For Files Organization

                                          20. Evernote

                                          Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote is an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                          Download it here.

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                                            21. Pocket

                                            You can save an article, video, or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                            Download it here.

                                              22. Sync.Me

                                              This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

                                              Download it here.

                                                23. Droplr

                                                One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                                Download it here.

                                                  24. Dropbox

                                                  Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive on your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                  Download it here.

                                                     

                                                    For Working Smarter

                                                    25. Captio

                                                    A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      26. Drafts

                                                      A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things, and more.

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        27. NoteShelf 2

                                                        This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                        Download it here.

                                                          28. Doodle

                                                          This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

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                                                          Download it here.

                                                            29. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                            I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              30. Launch Center Pro

                                                              A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                31. GoodReader

                                                                This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                                Download it here.

                                                                  32. LogMeIn

                                                                  Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                    For Improving Security

                                                                    33. 1Password

                                                                    There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      34. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                      You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                      All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass auto-fills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        35. Truecaller

                                                                        Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers, and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                        Download it here.

                                                                          There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                          Featured photo credit: William Hook via unsplash.com

                                                                          Reference

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