December 22, 2018

How I found my (to do) style

Reading time: 4 minutes

A look at to do approaches and what works best for my current self.

A duotoned dark purple and beige version of the Apple emoji for a clipboard, in front of a light blue zig zag shape across the bottom

I love chatting about to do tools, management, and processes. I’m always eager to learn how other people manage their to dos and get sh*t done. I’m forever optimising my process, looking for inspiration and trialing new methods.

I imagine this will be a topic that we’ll touch on a lot in this blog, heck, it could even become its own category! How can three super organised people only talk about this topic once?

So here I am, writing a post about how I manage my personal to dos. I’m talking about the nitty gritty work tasks that you’re faced with daily and not project tasks per se.

I don’t hold back on what I qualify as a ‘to do’. They add up fast when you you consider how many things you need to get done managing projects, teams and clients. Not to mention some business and company administration thrown in.

At the time, you might not think the effort required to make a to do out of something trivial (e.g – reply to an email) is worth the return on investment (ROI). But believe me when I say, there are times when it really pays off.

Some typical to dos that appear on my work list:

  • Check with [person] on status of [task]
  • Notify [client] that [task] is completed
  • Send [project] invoice
  • Chase up unpaid [project] invoice
  • Follow up [client] on quote
  • List out to dos for [person] for [task]
  • Work out [project] billing milestones
  • Respond to [email]
  • Chase up [email]
  • Confirm [meeting] [day] [time]
  • Prep for [meeting]

Having tasks that are this detailed won’t work across all processes. It’s important to make sure the types of to dos you write match your tools. For example, if I couldn’t add due dates to my to dos, I’d find almost half of the above unhelpful.

So what do I use to manage my to dos you ask? Well, before I tell my secrets let’s look at how I’ve got to the present day.

Analog methods – the ol’ notebook and pen:

  • I started with no real order or consistency – I’d write things as they popped up, sometimes I’d throw in a date or two
  • Having a page for each day – there was more order than before. But I would hate it when my day spilled over and it’d mess up my whole ordering system
  • Introducing order – I needed more order so I trialled the bullet method but I’d miss things and it’d get messy quickly
  • Swapping notebooks – I put it down to the notebook I was using, I went to Kikki K and bought some notebooks with to do list layouts
  • More notebooks – still thinking that my notebook was the problem, I went wild at Milligram and bought different notebooks that still had to do list layouts but more blank space to allow for more flexibility

Still unsatisfied, I looked to separate things more visually within my notebook:

  • I introduced highlighters to help break up my tasks, but I got a bit tired of having to carry so many pens around
  • I then bought –and what I use today– my trusty four colour bic pen
    • Red = dates
    • Blue = client or project name
    • Black = all notes
    • Green = !important

No matter how many colours I added, I remained unsatisfied, yet wasn’t able to rid myself of an analog system. Then I had an epiphany: combine my use of a notebook and pen with a digital system.

Digital methods

Using my notebook, I was missing better date control but still allowing flexibility so I started using the Note app – I had a single and very rudimentary page. I’d have ALL to dos at the top and then I’d break important things up by date below. I used the Note app for some time, but as I grew in my position and took on more projects I needed better structure.

So, I tried some apps with more specific task management features:

  • Things – I wanted to, but unfortunately I didn’t love Things. I needed a bit more structure and organisation as I manage a lot of projects and clients
  • OmniFocus – ‘Wow’, was my first thought. I found OmniFocus had too much going on and I was overwhelmed. I went from one extreme to another
  • Todoist – This is where I’m at today. I’ve worked out a way to use this app that works for me and I’ve combined it with a notebook and pen

Here’s how I combine the two, Todoist and my notebook:

Todoist – I use this for all to do tasks:

  • I have a company project and within that, separate projects for each client
  • When adding a to do I write the project name in capitals and bold at the start (CLIENT: chase up outstanding invoice). This helps me scan when I view all to dos. I tried using labels for this, but wanted something with a stronger visual cue
  • I always, always assign due dates. I never add a to do without a due date. Some due dates are important, others are “do this sometime in the future”. I always know what’s a priority, and so when something appears that I know I can shuffle I’ll adjust the due date
  • I never leave to dos overdue. If it’s not done: reschedule
  • I have the app on both my computer and phone
  • I have all to dos synced with my calendar app
  • I don’t use the filter and label functions, but I’m sure these could be useful

Also, not to brag but in 2018 I was in the top 27% of all Todoist users!

Notebook and pen I use a simple notebook and my trusty four colour pen for day to day management of to dos. I draw a line down the middle of each page, and add dates only on the day I’m using it. Sometimes, I won’t use it for a day or two, and that’s fine. I use it:

  • When I’m working in real time on a specific project or task, and think of things I need to do to complete that task. I’ll add it to my notebook under the date (in red) and the project title (in blue). These are always immediate tasks, I’m not doing them tomorrow or next week. I’m doing them before the end of the day today
  • When I’m in a meeting (internal or external). I don’t always take notes on my computer for meetings, so often my notebook is the place for that
  • When I’m trying to map something out. It’s easy to work through something on pen/paper before you make it real on a computer

This blend of Todoist and my notebook is working well for me at the moment. This to do approach and my daily non-negotiables, helps me stay on top of things and get sh*t done.

I’m interested to see what more I can learn, explore and how I can grow from discussing this post!

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Aimee Cowie

Wanna be tap dancer, annoyingly organised, to do list aficionado and digital producer. See what else I've written here.

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