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"TO-DO" lists used to haunt my dreams. I would always feel this constant nagging to cross just one more thing off my list in the hopes that I would reach a place of calm, serene, satisfying accomplishment.
It. never. happened.
I now use a few different tools that not only replace this old archaic system, but makes me more efficient and proactive. I learned most of these practices through an online course that I took on UDEMY called "The art of less doing," taught by Ari Meisel.
The basic concept is to eliminate your "TO-DO" list entirely by using your email inbox as a daily guide for reminders and actions. By using this system, I now have a clear understanding of what I need to do each day. Better yet, I don't feel pulled in a million directions. Trying to prioritize what to do next, when you are already overwhelmed with a million tasks, is not a good strategy.
There are a few things you have to do in order to start using this process. (OK, I am lying....it is a little more than a few things...) It will take you some time to set up, but in the long run, it is worth it!
STEP 1: EMAIL OVERHAUL
Make sure you have separate e-mailboxes for work, personal and subscriptions
Note - a separate e-mailboxes for subscriptions saves time by allowing you to control distractions ( i.e. spam and shoe shopping ) from clogging up your personal and work e-mailboxes. You can comfortably navigate through your day, not checking your subscription inbox, unless you have time. I use my subscription email to sign up for blogs, newsletters, e-commerce stores etc. -- Anything that is not specifically personal or work related.
Sometimes, signing up for specific newsletters or websites is impossible to avoid. It's even harder to avoid distraction by these emails during your work day. In this case, set up a smart mailbox through MacMail (directions here) that filters out anything with the word "unsubscribe." Or, use the new feature on google mail that sorts your emails by PRIMARY, PROMOTIONS AND UPDATES - (directions here)
Unsubscribe from anything you don't read, don't want or don't care about etc.
Use a tool like Unroll.me that helps make the process of unsubscribing easier and more efficient. This tool can even combine certain subscriptions into one email summary.
STEP 2: SET UP FOLLOWUPTHEN.COM
followupthen.com is a free email reminder tool that I didn't even realize I needed until I started using it. You can use it to send yourself reminders, follow up with someone and -- most importantly-- schedule your "TO-DO" items.
by scheduling your "TO-DO" items, you are forced to prioritize when a new task is added to your list. It allows you to effectively separate urgent, non-urgent and important reminders effectively. A calendar-based scheduling system, does not work nearly as well because you end up wasting time re-scheduling the task on the calendar -- or worse -- missing it entirely. With followupthen.com if you don't have time to complete the task on that day, you can hit one of the convenient "snooze buttons" in the reminder email.
Once your email(s) address is registered with followupthen.com, you schedule your emails by sending it to "(day)@followupthen.com" For example, if I have a task that I need to finish on Friday, I would email Friday@followupthen.com and I would get an email Friday. You can set up times, dates and even recurring reminders. You can find a detailed list of how to use this service here.
Some of the ways I use followupthen include:
sending myself boarding passes or flight info a few hours before my flight
setting up monthly recurring reminders to stay on top of financial work
BCCing followupthen when I am emailing a lead and want to make sure I email them again in a month.
automatically resending an email to someone (or myself!) if they don't respond within a few days
STEP 3: ADOPT NEW EMAIL HABITS
Your inbox should ONLY contain actionable emails in it that you can respond to or do within that day
hen you get a new email, it needs to be deleted, archived/filed, scheduled for the appropriate day (through a tool like followupthen) or kept in your inbox to complete THAT DAY.
Adopting this practice allows your inbox to stay focused on your daily priorities.
STEP 4: IDONETHIS.COM (optional, but recommended)
If you are like me, crossing something off your "TO-DO" list is rewarding, even if only for a few seconds. (remember, it is the small joys in life that count here, people!) By adopting this new system, you won't have a list to cross off, however you can still get the same joy by using a tool called idonethis.com. This is also a free tool that tracks your "DONE" list instead of your "TO-DO" list.
Every day, you'll get an email asking you what you did that day, along with a list of the previous days accomplishments. It takes about 30 seconds to complete this email, over time you'll get to see how much you are accomplishing. The tasks are searchable if you ever need to lookup when you did a particular task.
SIDE NOTE: Given all of the above, sometimes there is a need for a list. Grocery shopping or short-term reminders don't need a complicated system. I call these types of lists "temporary lists." For this, I use wunderlist, a cloud-based application you can install on mobile and desktop devices. The beauty of using a separate application for temporary lists, is that they can be accessed easily and live independently of your other notes and files. Wunderlist can also be shared easily with friends and family.
I hope this system improves your daily routine as much as it has improved mine. Looking forward to hearing any feedback.