Every time another productivity book hits the best-seller list, thousands of people jettison their planners, calendars, software programs, and iPad/iPhone apps, thinking that if they just buy the latest and greatest system, they’ll be able to get a handle on this year’s New Years Resolutions.
The problem with this approach is that while it can be really fun to color-code your tasks, set up e-mail reminders for the next sixteen years, or invest a month’s worth of groceries in a new planner, there’s no guarantee that what works for the author, a blogger, or your best friend is going to work for you. It needs to match your needs and aptitudes.
To-do list or task-management systems come in all shapes and sizes. There are electronic versions that are slick enough to send your mom an emailed Mother’s Day card for you; there are plain-Jane pen-and-paper lists, and there are all sorts of hybrids in between. You can “Get It Done” with David Allen, let Franklin-Covey plan your life, or try to remember the milk with the Remember the Milk app on your iPhone. But if you don’t pick a system that’s in line with your personality and your life, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
Here are a few things to ask yourself before you invest in a new to-do or task management system:
- How much time do I want to invest setting up the system and maintaining it? Some systems require you to input all your tasks and appointments into a database, while others rely on a five-minute update at the end of each day. Figure out how much time you have available to allocate to this task.
- Am I digital or paper based? Even though it may seem like “everybody” is relying on their iPad to track their to-do lists, you’re not like “everybody.” You may find it downright uncomfortable to have everything kept digitally – and that’s okay.
- Do I like to carry things? Strange question, but an important one. If you like to travel light, you may find digital the way to go – or you may want to use a single 3×5 note card to track your list. Alternately, if you carry a backpack, messenger bag or purse, a larger notebook or device won’t be awkward.
- How complicated am I? Do you want a simple overview of your tasks, or a color-coded, ranked list backed up by project sections in a notebook or computer file? Don’t go for the gold standard when aluminum will do!
The takeaway: Match your system to your preferences and personality. Not everyone needs a computerized system capable of launching the next space shuttle, and not everyone is comfortable with a pen-and-paper format. Find something that works for you and stick with it – even if “everyone else” is moving on to something shiny and new.
Even better, just decide to take action. Remember, you don’t have to get it perfect, just get it started.