Stop using to do apps for managing to do lists

August 24, 2020 | Reading time 3 minutes

The promise of each to do app is making you more productive. It turns out to be the opposite.

I’m done with to do apps. For years I’ve treated them as the holy grail for managing my to do lists. And I used a lot of different apps. It went from Wunderlist to Todoist and from TickTick to Trello and Microsoft To Do. The list is longer, but mentioning everything gets embarrassing.

The course of each app is the same. It starts with 1 or 2 simple lists but ends in a maze of lists and sub-lists. Because having more lists is useful and it provides overview. At least that’s what I tell myself and along with many others.

Those lists are a pitfall. It results in spending more time on managing your to do’s. And that’s why I deleted all my to do apps.

All of them? No, one app holds ground and that’s Reminders from Apple. I use it for recurring tasks that I need reminders for and Reminders does the job. For everything else it can be burned with the rest.

Back to simple to do lists

Instead of using to do apps, I now have a simple method for managing my to do’s.

I created a note with 2 overviews containing my to do’s. A general list with all my tasks and a second with the tasks I will be doing in the short term. The latter consists of 2 lists: today and tomorrow. Nice and simple, right?

At the end of each day, I review the today list and move all uncompleted tasks to tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. (It remains 2 lists because today becomes tomorrow at that point.)

My to do list in Notes

Throughout the day, new and smaller tasks are put on the list for today or tomorrow. Larger tasks go to the general list. At the end of each week, I review the general list and determine which tasks I will do the next week.

Not all tasks can be completed in a day. These are passed on to the next daily until they are completed or I split them into smaller tasks. The advantage of the latter is that you can mark more tasks as done at the end of the day. It’s nice to see results.

Meetings are also noted as to do’s. They are time consuming and must be on the lists. Otherwise the system collapses.

I finally know what to do

With to do apps I never really knew what to do. I added tasks, but rarely did I go through everything. And with the jumble of lists, I didn’t want to either.

With my “new method” I know what my to do’s are. At least weekly I review all tasks and each day starts with checking my to do’s for that day.

To keep track of all tasks I use a note in a note app like Notes from Apple, Bear, or Evernote. You can also use paper, but paper quickly turns into chaos for me. And that is not useful, since I’m aiming for the structure.

I use this method for a few months now and it makes me more productive. Or at least the days are more satisfying. It increases focus and I’m more aware of what I do each day.