Evolution of To-Do List Management

Yes. Would that be so wrong? In the last installment on productivity, I talked desk management and evolution. Once you've got your work environment under control, you need a system for getting all of those tasks out of your head and getting them done.

Otherwise, you may just want to take a nap.

The trick is...what's the best way for you? There are just so many ways to keep track that you can easily get so wrapped up in the set-up of a system that it eventually becomes a procrastination tactic.

How to get shit done - Organizing with a Side of Fabulous blog

Don't lie to me...you know you do it. I've done it to.

Still, bottom-line, we need a way to keep on top of our to-dos and make sure they get done. Then if you're a business owner like myself, the to-dos and ideas can become endless.

So first, before you do anything else, give yourself permission to not get everything done. Because, well, you can't.

True story.

Following is the trial and error that I've taken for my own massive to-do list over the years. Some things worked well until they didn't. Other things just sucked period. If you're stuck and not sure how to manage your to-do lists, play around with these ideas until you land on something that works fabulously for you.

In the Beginning

I was all about the paper: to-do list and calendar. I LOVE paper to pen. I still use paper when hashing out new ideas and playing around with things. It just feels better to me. However, when I started my business, the to-do list grew exponentially. What was relatively simple to manage as a mere employee grew unruly when I became a one woman show.

Still, I held out a LONG time before finally sucking it up and getting a smart phone. (As in, just 4 years ago.) When this happened, it became easier to switch over to doing things digitally. It started with my personal to-dos and my business to-dos eventually went that way as well.

I'll start by going through the evolution of tools I used for my business needs, then my personal needs, and lastly the apps I use currently to keep everything flowing.


  • As I said before, it all started with good, old-fashioned paper calendar and to-do list.
  • Desk To-Dos (detail) - Organizing with a Side of Fabulous BlogOver time, that paper to-do list got so unruly that it was no longer functioning. So I switched to immediate to-dos on a dry erase board and less immediate things went into a system of 2 file folders: one for 5 minute tasks and the other for longer tasks. (Picture to right) The idea behind this system being that whenever I got an idea I'd write it down and toss it into each corresponding file. Then whenever I had five minutes of time, I'd take a task from the 5 minute folder. If I had a longer swath of time, I'd grab something from the longer file. One day I realized how full the files were and sorted out all the bits of paper. Many tasks were duplicated. So I sorted everything out, tossed extras and paper-clipped by category. Then they all went back into the file. Pretty much to die because nothing was really getting done.
  • Since we can't let our to-do list die I took all the random tasks from the files and transferred them to legal pad with each category getting its own page. This worked great until I needed a fresh page. I'd originally set it up with the most important tasks on the top sheet and each new page was a less urgent category. So the top page got marked and re-written and marked and written over and was no longer legible. But I needed those things on the front. So it just got all convoluted and ugly. And an ugly to-do list is just unacceptable.
  • So here's where I first, finally, ventured into something electronic. I transferred the legal pad of to-dos into a spreadsheet. Each category got its own page. At the beginning of the week I plucked a few to-dos from the main list to get accomplished that week. This worked out pretty well except that it was only on my computer. If I wanted to add something to it, I'd have to wait until I got home. I could have dropped this into Google Drive but then the spreadsheet wouldn't have been on my desktop to see immediately and get to with one click. Yeah, yeah...I know...#firstworldproblems.
  • After searching many to-list and task managers I settled on TickTick, which I love. (more about why I love it below.)


  • Same as with the business list, it all started with a paper to-do list and calendar.
  • When I got my first smart phone, I used whatever generic calendar app that was with it. I hated it but it was more convenient with scheduling clients because I could sync it to my Outlook calendar. So at least I didn't miss any appointments.
  • When I decided to start using an app to maintain shopping lists and such, I first landed on WunderlistI loved this but started using it early in their progress and every time they'd run an upgrade my account and lists would be EMPTY for up to 2 or 3 days. Let's just imagine the OCD panic that set in for a moment, shall we? It may be much better now but my goodness they'd send me into a panic attack. Nobody needs that.
  • I searched for a different to-do app and swapped Wunderlist for ToDoist. I loved ToDoist (and wrote about it here) but I transferred everything to TickTick since it would accommodate all of my personal and professional needs.
  • While Wunderlist and ToDoist were great for keeping track of the lists, I need things on my calendar. I work better with visual deadlines. (Even if I have to make the deadline up.) I started using Any.do after a friend raved about it. I liked it a LOT. Beautiful design and I loved how it made you take a moment at the beginning of the day to go through your to-do list and it always ended the "Any.do Moment" with a nice affirmation of some sort. They had an equally beautiful calendar (Cal) that it synced with. Again, gorgeous design and the added benefit of seeing all of your to-dos and appointments for the day - super easy to tell if you've been overly ambitious with what you can actually get done for the day. However, I had to enter my to-dos into this app separately from my other lists since it's more to-do and less task management. Over time this was just too tedious and I stopped using it. I still highly recommend them both for someone else with different needs. These would have been awesome to have while I was an event planner.

Current System:

  • Google Calendar - This is the glue that helps me make everything else run how I want.
  • TickTick - This helps me keep track of everything. I have lists for personal, professional, things to buy, movies to watch, you name it. Set-up allows you to have either a checklist (great for grocery lists) or notes (ie: expanding upon book ideas) within each list. You can set deadlines, recurring reminders (which I use ALL. THE. TIME), and prioritize by high, medium, low, and no priority. Then you can sort tasks by date, priority, or name. Tasks that have been assigned a due date import into Google Calendar. (Easy to see if you're over-scheduled.) There's also a great widget so you can see any particular list right from your home screen. I keep my "Today" list there. It's fantastic.
  • Sunrise Calendar - This calendar has a clean and simple design. Since TickTick is imported into Google Calendar, Sunrise imports them both. It also immediately syncs with Google Calendar. I get directions to my appointments. It imports Facebook events and birthdays if you want it to. There are quite a few calendars and task management apps it'll import so this could be a good fit for you even if you don't use what I do.
  • Google Now - This is either a super-creepy stalker or the best personal assistant ever. Since privacy is false anymore anyway, I choose to see this as the best personal assistant ever. If you have an Android then you already have Google Now and just need to set it up. It alerts me when to leave for a meeting based on current traffic. When I'm on the road it'll tell me when there are accidents (although this isn't always reliable.) You can set location-based reminders so that when you're near the place it'll remind you of what you wanted. (other styles of reminders as well) It gives stories to read based on things you like or think you'll like (based on Chrome and Google Search trolling I'm sure.) It'll tell you how long it'll take to get you home from wherever you are. It gives you the weather. I'm sure I've barely scratched the surface of what it can do for me. There's a nifty widget so I can see the "cards" on my homescreen. Yes, it knows everything. I for one welcome our technological overlords.

Bonus Round:

These are a couple of extra apps I use that make life a little easier...and making life easier is really key to being more productive.

  • Google chrome set to open to important pages when browser opened. This way what I need to look at is right in front of me.
  • For when I open up a new tab in Chrome, there's Momentum. When you open up a new tab, there is a gorgeous photo and it says "Good morning, Melinda" and asks for my focus for the day. There's also the weather, an inspirational quote, and I can enter a to-do list into if I like. Sometimes I just keep this tab open to look at through the day. Even if you don't, it's good to get even that quick reminder and inspiration while on your way to doing something else.
  • Unroll.me - I wrote about this a while back and it bears repeating, this app ROCKS. Seriously. It takes all of your subscription emails out of your inbox and into the "Rollup" that you receive once a day. The first few days it took me a while to get used to not having so many emails. Now, it's glorious and creates so much more time to put into better pursuits.

Ta Da

Keeping personal and professional in one place works well for me. Much better than the alternative really. Many articles recommend drawing a hard line between the two but when I can see it all together, I can stay on top of all of it together. If you do better keeping them separate then by all means do so. But if you've tried that and it's not worked well for you, try keeping all of the to-dos in the same place and see if that works out better for you. Play around with your different options, drop what doesn't work and keep what does.

What's your favorite ways to keep track of your to-dos and get them done?