Deciding on the best task management tool to help you manage your days can be challenging with all of the options out there. I’m asked frequently which is better – paper or digital? My answer is, “it depends.” Whether you choose paper calendar and task management tools or digital tools, or perhaps a combination of both, is very individual and can only be decided by each person after examining your preferences and some experimentation with a few different models. If you lean towards digital and like to have calendar, to-do lists, contacts and email sync seamlessly, I highly recommend Google’s productivity tools, especially Google Tasks. Tasks enables you to organize your to-do lists by category, set a specific day for each task to be done, and have reminders sync with your calendar if you use Google Calendar (another favorite!) When you pull up your schedule for the day on your calendar, the tasks you set for each day (if you specified a day and/or time for them) will show up. In addition, any scheduled events that come via email can be automatically saved to your Google calendar. All that’s required is a Gmail account. Now, I can hear all of you Outlook users hollering that Outlook does the same thing, and it’s a wonderful tool as well for all of the above! It’s also more robust, but may be more than what most folks need. Google tools are simpler, and free! If you use Outlook at work, it may be a better fit for your personal life as well. If you’re a digital fan, explore both and give one a try.
If you’re looking for other options, check out Todoist and Toodledo. They also offer some great features and I know of many who use them quite successfully to manage both short and long-range tasks and projects. The key to finding success with any productivity tool is to use it religiously. Once you’ve found one that seems like a good fit, use it regularly for a minimum of three months. Stop searching, choose one, and use it every day, all day. Consistency is the key to success with any time management tool – paper or digital. Jumping around, trying to find the “magic bullet” to solve your problems will only delay getting your time organized. It’s not about the product. It’s about the process, and being consistent.
The second key to having success with any good to-do list, no matter whether you utilize paper or digital tools, is to categorize your lists. Having one, long list where everything accumulates, has no specified action time and all items are jumbled together just invites wasted time and forgotten tasks. Categories for each person will be very individual. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, my categories are a combination of personal and business tasks, such as “Call/Email,” “Write,” and “Business Development.” Yours may include lists for errands to run, bills to pay, invoices to send, reports to write, or anything that relates to you, your life and work. If you’re currently keeping one long, rolling to-do list, take some time to work through what category each item falls under, organize them by list (color-coding is a great tool for that,) prioritize, and decide where on your calendar each task will live on a daily basis. If it’s not assigned a time on your calendar, it just won’t happen. Taking some time to plan each night for the next day, and at the beginning of each week to look at the big picture is crucial to better time management and increased productivity. While it may seem counterproductive to spend time planning when you feel as if you’re short on time, the time saved will be more than enough to make up for it, as well as the stressed feeling that will be relieved when you have a handle on what needs to be done when!