Trying out a new way of keeping a todo list for non-work stuff, inspired by Plaintext Productivity. I’m not using todo.txt as I can’t see a way to have that information available on a widget that I can have on the home screen of my phone. So I’m sticking with using iOS’s Reminders app.

One of the inspirations I’m taking is around what actually gets added to the list. On that site, your todo list should be for anything you are actually realistically going to get done in the next week. If you don’t really think you’re going to do a task, be honest with yourself and don’t add it. And if a task is due further in the future or it’s just not something you need to do right now, don’t put it on your list, but instead put an event in your calendar to remind you (or if it really is just a ‘nice to do someday’ make a note of it somewhere). The outcome should be that your todo list consists only of things that you can and should do as soon as possible.

The other part that I liked was the use of priorities. Using todo.txt, the idea is to use the (B) priority for tasks you intend to get done that day, and the (A) priority for your next task. (C) and (D) also get used for tasks that are likely to be done later in the week. Priorites can be assigned, changed and cleared with a single keypress, meaning that you can quickly choose the task you’re going to do next, and easily reconsider the tasks you think you’ll get done that day just with a few taps on the keyboard.

The author of the site mentions that he gets interrupted a lot at work (and I do too so I’m going to try copying this system more closely at work) which is why it should be very obvious what the current task is. For me, for non-work stuff, it’s not that I’m going to be distracted (well, that could still happen of course), but more that I would just like to know what’s next on my list so that I can get started on it when I’m ready. Having a big list and thinking ‘oh yeah, what did I decide I was gonna do?’ slows the whole process down.

(I think this is one of the reasons I’m dropping my Bullet Journal for now - flipping through pages looking at open tasks that aren’t really in any kind of order seems a little bit overwhelming at the moment)

The reminders app does have a Priorities function, but it’s not fast to use. To edit a task’s priority you need to click into it, scroll down a little and then select the priority from a little menu. The idea is that priorities should be very quick to assign and change so that you can quickly choose which task you’re going to work on next, and I think the clunkiness of priorites in Reminders gets in the way of doing this.

I’ve decided I will use the Flag function instead, and I’m using this in the same way the (A) priority gets used above. I think my list moves slowly enough that I won’t miss having any further way to break up the tasks.

So I have one list, just called Todo. Everything that I want to get done in the next few days goes on the list. If it’s going to be further out than that, it can go on my calendar if there’s some sort of deadline associated with it, or if not I will just make a note of it in Bear to save for later. I can then look at my list, decide what I’m going to do next, and Flag it. This is a couple of taps on iOS which isn’t bad at all, or there’s a keyboard shortcut (cmd + shift + F) if I’m using a keyboard. I then have a Reminders widget on my homescreen that just shows Flagged items - meaning it just shows the thing I am intending to do next. I kind of like that the rest of my list is hidden away a little and that I only see my next job. I think it helps my mind to feel less cluttered and it’s easier to just focus on one thing.

Once I’ve done the thing, I get to mark it as completed, and then take a moment to look back through the list and decide on the next thing. Taking this little bit of time is nice too, there’s something deliberate about it which again helps my brain feel less cluttered.

I can add things to the list as they come up, either as I think of them or an event in my calendar turns up that gives me a little nudge. If I think of something I need to do, I like to write it down in Drafts, so that I have the option either at the time or later to decide whether it goes straight into Reminders, or into my calendar, or into Bear, depending on when I realistically am going to get that task done.

The last part of the system is stuff in Bear, as mentioned earlier. If I have some project or a hobby-related idea that I might want to do at some point, I’ll put it in a note somewhere in Bear and mark it as a task. Bear has a Todo option in the sidebar which lists all notes with unticked tasks, and so periodically I can browse through these and add them to Reminders if I want. For me there’s no real intention of getting anything in Bear done with any urgency, it’s just ideas that are there ready for me to pick up in the future if/when I feel like it.

I’ve only been trying this out for a little while but I like it so far. It helps avoid that feeling of a huge list of tasks that doesn’t seem to be budging and that is hard to pick apart and get started on. As I’m working on improving my mental health hopefully this will help me get things done slowly and steadily.