How to create a to-do list system that you can stick to?


3 min read

During COVID, when schools were all online-only, I switched between multiple apps to manage my to-do list. From Notion's versatile and infinitely customizable databases to simple Microsoft To-Do, I tried almost everything but I couldn't find that 'one perfect' system for getting things done. Unfortunately for me, I have this really bad habit of not being able to stick to the same thing for a long time. Somehow, however, I managed to get by with making scattered to-do lists here and there. I even tried using Trello's kanban style project management but there was always this friction and the sense of novelty wore off after a while.

Finally when I started this academic year, I decided I will set-up a collaborative Notion workspace with a few of my classmates and use that to manage tasks. It was all good for the first few months and after a few adjustments we used it regularly. However, I encountered this problem of not being able to add personal tasks that I don't want my teammates to be bothered by (or simply don't want them to know about). I somehow fixed this by making 2 databases and then linking to them from one page that I labelled "Tasks". It felt clunky but I managed to stick to it somehow.

Fast forward to the summer vacation and I absolutely couldn't get myself to stick to it! I despised opening Notion because of it's slow app. I opted to use the website whenever possible and even then the friction eventually became so much that I stopped opening it even after the vacations. What did I start using then? Plain ol' todoist!

Using Todoist brings back memories of my Microsoft To-Do days. Both apps are similar but Todoist is somewhat more powerful. The most important thing though is that it's fast and both the desktop website as well as the mobile app feel fast. I don't feel like it's "too much work" to add a task to Todoist like I did with Notion. There was just one small problem though: I can't take todoist to school. We do not have the luxury of being allowed to take devices to school and while it's something I have mixed feelings about, we have to find a way to move forward. So I found myself going back to where I was pre-pandemic: pen and paper!

First off, I have to admit that checking an item on Todoist is satisfying but nothing matches the feeling of the pen as it ticks through the item on paper. Right now, I am using a combination of paper and todoist. I write down things on paper in school and then transfer most of them to Todoist as I reach home and start working. But there's one thing that matters much more than whatever tool you use: you have to stick to it and trust it. I learnt it the hard way as I juggled clunky Notion pages and lost time as well as efficiency. The friction that was present in opening the app, creating a new item and then adding all the details made me postpone adding the task and eventually I stopped trusting my system.

So that's my main piece of advice to you whenever you are creating a system: trust your system, make sure it's easy to use and just KISS (Keep it simple and straightforward). Don't go for complicated categories, labels and priority-labels and what not. It's easy to create those labels but it's much harder (and time consuming!) to stick to them. By not sticking to them, you basically stop trusting your system and then we know how that ends up...

TL;DR: Make sure you trust your system no matter what tool you use. You can do this by avoiding complicated and too many categories as well as by making it really easy to add a new task.