Productivity: Old school is sometimes best.

I’ve probably spent a (very) small fortune on apps aimed at productivity: OmniFocus, Things, etc. for both my iOS devices as well as my MacBook Pro. (Okay, maybe not a small fortune, but maybe enough to take a good chunk out of a month’s car payment.) Over time, I’ve begun to conclude that the productivity apps are not the best for every situation.

The system I’ve developed seems to work well for me, and perhaps it will help you—or at the very least inspire some modification that works for you.

I use OmniFocus to keep track of various projects (client matters, home improvements, etc.). Within each project I maintain the GTD-style actions needed. I also include relevant due dates (often a week ahead of time for filing deadlines) so I can keep an eye on what must-do items need my attention.

Where I find OmniFocus, Things, and other apps lacking, however, is in managing the daily to-do list. Although I can look at the items due today, that list doesn’t include things I want to do on a given day even if they are not due that day.

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What I use is a form developed by David Seah as part of his Printable CEO™ series. Specifically, I use the Emergent Task Planner to list things I want to do on a given day. If I want, I can use the blank schedule to note appointments and court appearances. The lower right section is a convenient place for me to record voice mail messages and other notes.

Because the various notes are something I may need to refer to later, I keep the pages for previous days. To avoid a mess of paper hanging around, I keep them all in a Circa notebook. I print out a set of blank Emergent Task Planner pages and use a Circa punch to let the pages fit in my notebook. Using paper gives me a good excuse to use my fountain pens and try different inks.

This system has worked well for me for a while. How are you using new tech and old tech to manage your productivity? Leave a comment and share your success stories, failures, and suggestions.

One procrastination hack

43 Folders is an old (by Internet standards, anyway) web site run by Merlin Mann. (No, I don’t know why he’s named after a wizard.) The name refers to the 43 folders that are used as part of the Getting Things Done system. I like to read the site’s offerings once in a while for some inspiration. As part of my ultimate to-do system quest, I took some time to browse some of Merlin’s older posts.

This one, the (10+2)*5 procrastination hack caught my eye. It’s not a solution for the quest I’m on, but it is a useful tool to get things moving from the to-do list to the done list.

The ultimate to-do list system

What is the ultimate to-do list system?

I wish I knew. Seriously. I’m looking for it.

Many of us use the word “ultimate” to mean utmost or maximum: “the ultimate basketball player.” But ultimate has long meant last or final, as in “ultimate destination.” I’m searching for the final to-do system, one I will use forever.

Over the years, I have used a variety of to-do systems. As a lawyer, I need a to-do list system that works. I’ve used the Franklin Planner method (before Franklin ever joined up with Stephen Covey), similar tools on an early Palm handheld device, applications on my Mac, my Newton Message Pad(s), legal pads, variations of GTD, Circa notebooks, Moleskine notebooks, iPhones and my iPad. I’ve used OmniFocus and Things. I can’t even begin to count how much money I’ve spent on various to-do systems, looking for the right one.

With each of these systems, I have a similar experience: I get all my stuff into the to-do system, and then it sits and ferments. Grows mold. Whatever you want to say. Self-imposed deadlines pass, new stuff doesn’t get added. At times I don’t want to look at the to-do list because I don’t want to see all the stuff that’s on it.

Most lawyers wouldn’t want anyone to discover that they have these problems with the to-do list, but I figure nothing good comes from hiding the issue. Things do get done, just not as efficiently as I would like (and I rarely have complaints from clients about getting things done quickly). It seems to me that my bigger problem is a combination of procrastination and lack of discipline. I think if I had a to-do system that confronted me each day with a “here’s the stuff you must do today, and I’m going to pester you until it’s all done” message everything would be great. (It would also need to pester me at the end of each day to put new to-do items in the system!) Hmmm…I think what I may need is a mom in my office. 🙂

What do you use for your to-do systems? How do you maintain them? Who pesters you about them?