Throughout the ages I’ve tried a multitude of todo systems. I’ve ended up trashing pretty much all of them.
What worked: At primary school this would work quite well. Homework was placed nicely on the date to be completed, I could always look at tomorrow in my calendar to find out what I needed to do.
Why it broke down: I ended up putting to many things on my calendar and sticking them on wishful dates with no regard as to the amount of effort and motivation needed to complete them.
What worked: Most advanced todo software give you the feeling of getting things done, and when you start off you feel motivated to use it and want to do the things on the list. The system is good looking, feels very smooth, and I actually did manage to get a lot of things done in the first few weeks.
Why it broke down: The worst was not having my calendar with me wherever I went, or having to open the laptop on every occasion. I remedied this with an ipod app, but I could never remember to sync it and it wouldn’t sync over the net. Eventually I got fed up with the feeling that I couldn’t really rely on the list being up to date, so I stopped using it. There was also another factor, and that was that I got tired of all the time I spent rearranging my lists.
What worked: Finally a centralized location for my todo lists. This was massive. I could check my list from any computer and even add items with email. This was very important because it meant I could pull out my ipod and write an email with my todo, knowing it would get delivered the next time it had a wifi connection.
Why it broke down: Every time I wanted to view my todo list I had to log into a web page. I couldn’t just take a quick glance, and if there was no internet I couldn’t look at my list either. There were apps for the ipod for this, but they cost money, and I didn’t want to buy into a system that I didn’t know if I could stick with.
What worked: Keeping todos in my inbox was nice. One place for things to do and get done. I still use this today if there is something I want to remember to do, especially in the morning, because having an unread email looming back at me actually stops me from forgetting.
Why it broke down: Simple, if I didn’t finish a todo item off fairly quickly it would slide down my list and eventually I would forget about it.
What worked: Three flat text files on my desktop (on my laptop). I could add a todo with the quicksilver append function from anywhere. Nothing went missing and the only thing I could do to organise my todos was to rearrange them or move them from file to file. I made a nice alias in the terminal to view my lists. So I could quickly just take a peek with a few key strokes.
Why it broke down: I kept my text files on my laptop, so when sitting at my desktop I couldn’t add anything. Also when I was out and about I couldn’t add anything at all. So I eventually started emailing myself todos again.
What worked: A nice java application that showed my todo list and I could add things with a button or by sending it an email. It was actually a very nice system and I could keep it running on my laptop and it would update whenever I had internet and if I suddenly thought of something I could simply email it in.
Why it broke down: Bugs, bugs and more bugs. Because I wasn’t very good back then I made some fatal architectural flaws when designing the app. I used a single file to store my todos in. I had multiple linked lists in the application with the different todo lists that I would sort and add to and remove from. Eventually adding a new feature would break something else, so I felt I couldn’t rely on it and I didn’t want to spend the time to fix it.
What worked: A centralised sql database with my todo lists, a web interface in Ruby on Rails and a java app running on my server that would receive emails with todos and also take commands. I could email in todos, organize them on web interface and send commands like “get todolist” and receive the lastest copy by email. This is very useful for a shopping list.
Why it broke down: Well, it hasn’t. Though I am finding that I’m putting too much stuff on there and not making them actionable. Emailing in todos has as few minor bugs from time to time, but nothing fatal. The todo list emails I receive in the mornings (as a reminder) I’ve started to ignore, which isn’t helping.
The simplicity of organizing todos in a text file is very nice. Sending emails with todos is really useful. Having a centralised system that I can use from anywhere in the world is vital. And being able to take my todo list with me, like in the good-old-days, stops me from forgetting things when I’m out and about.
I’ve been thinking about adding reminders to the system, but I’m not sure. Reminders are useful for my calendar, but I’m having second thoughts about having my todo system email me todos I need get done.
Automated ranking is a thought. Right now my lists are just sorted on date, with old items turning grey and fading out, since they are probably not important anymore.
Simplification is important. I need my todo lists to be short and concise and always reliable. I don’t want too many lists, but then again, I don’t want my todos mixing too much. A lot of this is down to me, and not my system, so if nothing else I could always try changing.
And finally. I’ve stopped using my todo list for projects. I use project planning software with a time line for this. That clears a lot off of my list.