the quest for productivity

Lists. I love them. For years I kept lists of things to do, to pack, to read, to eat. Once I even thought it would be cool to make a list of lists to make. It must be genetic. Call it listlust. Anyhow, when it came to work I used to write my to do list in one of those heavy blue Collins diaries that showed a day to a page. I ticked off, or crossed out, whatever was done, and inevitably ended up transferring many tasks to the next day or the following week. It involved a lot of writing, and a lot of cross-checking to make sure that all tasks had been carried forward. In the early nineties they installed Lotus Notes on our computers at work and the developers had taken great care to make their electronic diary resemble our paper diaries as much as possible. I suppose it was a matter of minimising the shock of the new. Ah, those days of trompe-l’oeil productivity, with pretend ringbinders and fake leather covers.

Over the years, electronic to do lists have developed a format of their own, gradually introducing more functionality, such as the capacity to sort tasks by due date or priority, to create repeating tasks and to group related tasks into categories or projects. They have also evolved from one-dimensional lists to multi-dimensional productivity systems that are sometimes underpinned by a strong conceptual framework. One of the best known of these is probably the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach developed by David Allen. His 2001 magnum opus, subtitled the art of stress-free productivity, has spawned a myriad of applications for desktop computers and handheld devices.

David Allen emphasises the need to adopt ‘a trusted system’, in which you can record every single actionable thought as you go. For me, that trusted system is Omnifocus, having earlier tried Remember the Milk and ToodleDo. The latter two were worthy contenders, especially ToodleDo, which has nested tasks. As browser-based applications, they run on Windows and Mac, whereas Omnifocus comes in a Mac desktop version only, with separate apps for the iPhone and the iPad.

In a future post I will explain why I have decided to go with Omnifocus. I may also introduce some promising new productivity apps, including Asana and ZenDone.