When to-do lists fail

At one time or another, we have all made a 'to-do' list. These lists are great when you need to complete a simple list of tasks and are very useful when you need to do those tasks immediately. But, what about when you need to remember to do something later?

What is a to-do list?

Simply put, a to-do list is a simple list of tasks that we need to remind ourselves to do something. Shopping lists, Daddy-do lists, etc. the basic premiss is that we are busy and our attention span is short. Without these handy lists we would forget to do lots of things. 3M has created a whole economy based on our short attention spans, never heard of Post-it notes?

Sticky notes have failed us

Simple notes are great for capturing simple ideas, but what about time sensitive tasks? What about groupings of tasks? What about those ideas that if we don't capture a thought now, it is forever lost? In offices around the world you will see monitors littered with Sticky Notes. Casual reminders of the overlapping responsibilities we face in the lie that is multi-tasking.

Without a system to help accomplish the tasks, they simply pile up. Task over task, new ones are added before old one can be completed. A perpetual state of non-accomplishment. An overwhelming sense of failure. We exclaim, "Why can I never get anything done?!"

Get things done!

Get things done(GTD) by David Allen was like a lightening bolt to the world. So simple, so precise, so awesome. The art of stress-free productivity, how awesome is that? GTD puts a real process to the every day issues we face with getting stuff done. It laid out a simple process that showed us how we can collect, act-on and schedule the things we need to accomplish in our lives. This translated to being more productive at work and at home.

GTD goes digital

Calendars w/reminders and desktop Sticky Notes were great starts. If they worked in the real world, then they will work in the digital world too? But reminders are annoying, and without a real process desktop sticky notes simply litter not only the outside, but the inside of our computers now as well. What's even worse are the Sticky Note apps that have reminders?! How many lists and stickies have you created only to be abandoned over time? If these processes really worked, would you be reading this article? Then came the PDA, that's all I have to say about that.

Digital to-do lists have been coming at us in waves. App stores are littered with 'Productivity' apps that promise to save us from our worst habits of poor task management. I admit, I was a productivity app junkie for a long time.

These digital GTD apps tried really hard to assist in the management of the tasks to be completed. Staring and defining due dates helped to raise importance. Cascading folders between today and tomorrow helped as well. But this always came across to me as "This is what you will do today!" There was more emphasis on just getting things done versus the real value of what needs to be done. There was a small sense of accomplishment by checking something off, but more often then not I felt that I was just checking off tasks, not really accomplishing goals.

The Kanban