Toolkit: To Do Lists

Resolutions by mt 23 on Flickr

Welcome to today’s installment of a new Tuesday feature in which I’ll offer some perspective on some of the tools that are out there for living a focused, productive and meaningful life. Today we’ll cover the most basic of tools: the To Do list.

Sometimes I think there are as many To Do list styles as there are people. That’s perfectly fine, because the two most important things about your To Do List are:

  1. That it exists somewhere outside of your head.
  2. That it works for you.

If you’ve ever lain awake at night thinking about such captivating subjects as whether you’ve remembered to refill your prescription or when the next oil change is due, then you’re probably with me on the idea that your mind is not a great place to store tasks. It’s already too cluttered in there.

The list style that works for you is a more complicated question for most folks. For me, it depends on what kind of tasks I need to track.  If you need to clean up your own task list habits, first ask yourself what your needs really are and write them down. Then start thinking about which tools you might use. Here are a few options.


Whether you’re a GTD fanatic with a pocket-full of index cards, or you just prefer a pen to a keyboard, paper is a pretty simple and flexible option. That said, if your desk at work is covered with Post-it notes of yore, you might consider going high-tech.

iPhone Apps

Disclaimer: I can only speak to what I have, which is an iPhone. I’m sure there are often Android or other phone equivalents. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments!

There are more iPhone to do lists than I can possibly list here, so I’ll just touch on a couple of them. First off, there is the native Reminders app, which is actually great. You can set it to remind you at a time or in a place if you have location settings on, and even prioritize items or snooze reminders if necessary. You can keep different lists, and notes about each item.

Another one I really like for really simple lists is an app called Clear. Its name is as simple as its interface. The low-fi interface makes it great for shopping lists and quick-and-dirty lists of any kind. Prioritization is really just the order of list items, but also happens in as higher items get closer to red than yellow. There are also some very satisfying little animations for crossing things off, adding new items or moving between lists. It’s definitely worth a try.

Lastly, there’s Thing List. I really like this one as well, though to be honest I never fully adopted it after installing it and using it sporadically. However, if your brain craves basic categorization of your lists, this is the app for you.

Lists on your Computer

Again, there are so very many possibilities to choose from that I’ll just offer a sampling of possibilities. First off is a spreadsheet-based list. If you’re like me, you may want to have control over the fields and views of your to do list for work or larger projects. Over the years, I’ve created a filtered spreadsheet (now based in Google Docs) that suits me very well. I can prioritize, include dates, take notes and generally manage the list just the way I like to.  I’ve been using a spreadsheet for my work tasks for a few years now.

If you’d rather use software, I have used and can recommend Things for the Mac. It’s almost a project management app with its many features, and if you use your Mac’s other native productivity software like Mail, it’s very well-integrated.

On the less pricey side, there is the much regaled Wunderlist. I haven’t tried this one, but it gets very good reviews, it has a free option, and is available across platforms.

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