October 9, 2013

Sample Today post-it
The Post-It Todo System

Back in the day I used to manage all (!) my todos with post-its. I had a very simple system, which in part was derived from other people’s ideas, as most things are.

Sample Today post-it
The Today post-it could look something like this

This is how it worked:

  • Everything resided in my Moleskine notebook, a pocket-sized model with hard covers, which never left my side. I had several post-its on the insides of this notebook, mostly for jotting down quick notes to hand to others (a nice tip overall, for avoiding having to rip pages out), but also for todo lists.
  • I used the square medium-sized post-its, but any post-it will do as long as you get the space (and limitations) you need.
  • The post-it on top was the Today list, used for todos meant for today.
  • There was a Tomorrow post-it underneath the Today post-it, for tasks meant for tomorrow.
  • Finished todos are striked through. Very rewarding.
  • When the day was over I moved any unfinished but still relevant todos to the (then) Tomorrow post-it, before discarding the Today post/it, thus making the Tomorrow post-it the new Today. A blank post-it for the new Tomorrow was added.

It’s a simple system, meant to keep you focused on the tasks at hand. I’m sure others have done the same, with post-its or other tools. I added some rules though:

  • Todos should be reasonable, no “build and launch this site” or “write 10,000 words for book” todos, that’s cheating.
  • All todos should be written in all caps, in a normal size (personal preference).
  • When the post-it is full, the day is definitely full. No expanding the post-it not what you can cram into a day’s work!
  • You can add todos to the Tomorrow post-it.
  • You cannot add todos to the Today post-it, ever. If a todo is urgent, add it to the Tomorrow post-it because, you know, nothing’s that urgent…

This system worked very well for me. It can easily be replicated using a simple text file, or an app (Begin more or less does exactly this, except it lets you add todos to the Today list), but it never really felt natural to me in digital form. On paper however, this was magic, an excellent tool, in many ways refined thanks to the limitations of the post-it’s size. The same can’t be said for apps or text files, which tend to give you unlimited space, with no thought as to what’s reasonable for you. The post-it size is a lot nicer in that sense.

Give it a go if you like, steal it and tweak it. Whatever gets the job done, right?

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.