To Do Lists are Overrated.

This afternoon, we're starting our taxes in my house. Because some of my bookkeeping systems floundered in 2008, it got me thinking about various systems I've changed in the past 18 months or so.

I used to use MS Outlook for calendar, contacts, and a to do list. I synched it with a Palm device. This worked for me for years. But late in my pregnancy with my first-born pumpkin, said Palm device decided it was time for frequent non-functioning to set in. I didn't feel like hunting down a replacement then and there. And then I realized that after the wee one was born, I may not be able to follow my own rule for PDA use:
Do not depend on a PDA unless you back it up daily.

Now I realize this rule is somewhat outdated with iPhones and whatnot, or at least the backing up works differently. Point is that small portable devices crash, freeze, die, get lost, etc. And I synched mine with my computer, in my basement office, every day, but didn't really see that being high on my priority list when I was in the massive exhaustion, 18 diapers-a-day beginning of parenthood.

So I gave up the PDA lifestyle and bought myself a paper week-by-week calendar for 2008 at the drugstore for about $3.95. I was going to be taking some time off after the baby anyways, and wouldn't have that many appointments to note.

It worked just fine.

I still miss having a portable, complete list of addresses compiled in one place. I'll work that out.

I got myself a little bit nicer paper calendar for 2009 (this one I ordered online, and accidentally got one a size too small; as long as I use pencil for most appointments, it seems to be fine, too). If I did use something like an iPhone, I'd be happy to use Google Calendar, but this way I don't have to have computer or laptop access to make or check appointments.

I don't keep a to do list anymore.
I don't miss it. I don't forget a lot more than I used to. Outlook was a great place to put a "master to do list," i.e., a place to dump all the tasks stuck in my head so I didn't have to carry them around in my head, and so maybe I could look over them to think about how to use my time. That's actually one of the keys to why it's not a problem for me not to have one right now; my work life is compacted into taking care of clients, and very immediate related stuff, and one or two bonus tasks per week, because I work part-time. When I'm with my son, everything is very immediate and clear what I need to do.

I do write things down:

Occassionally I have written an email with then things I'm meaning to get done. It's not an ongoing thing like it used to be, though it is a list in a very simple place that I can find back. I haven't done that in quite a while quite honestly, though I have emailed some goals to work buddies to help focus my thoughts.

And I write "stubby to do lists." That's where you take a scrap (not too small) of paper and write down the three or so things you need to do right NOW in the next few hours, so you don't forget them when you get distracted. The the scrap can go away. Using a fat marker seems to work well. I think this is helpful because my working or short-term memory gets foggy. It works because I'm NOT trying to prioritize as I do these things, it's just a really short list to keep me on task rather than drifting into space.

So to be fair, I do use to do lists my own way. And I'm not recommending that YOU give them up…if they HELP you. I AM recommending that you use natural opportunities to slash and burn overly complicated systems that aren't necessarily helpful, and see what grows in their stead.