How difficult is it for you to keep up-to-date with your to-do list? In 2010 I wrote a blog on my to-do list problems and it’s turned out to be one of my most popular posts to date, so I’ve assumed that to-do list problems are pretty universal. Funny thing is the article really wasn’t about my to-do list or to-do list management at all, but rather about what to do when in those rare moments when you finally get all the issues screaming for attention done. Since then, I’ve tried lots of different solutions to try to keep organized and lessen the stress of keeping track of everything that needs to be accomplished. The first thing I did was to read David Allen’s genre-defining book, Getting Things Done (GTD). Allen’s system is comprehensive and complete but turned out to be way too complicated for me – I believe it would actually take more time to manage his system than to simply do what needs to be done. Funny, too, because Allen’s system promises that Getting Things Done is “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” but I found it to be even more stressful than just doing nothing.
After that I tried lots of different programs for my computer and apps for my phone. I created lists and codes, scribbled on Post-it notes, dabbled with Evernote, and even wrote Excel spreadsheets. But nothing I tried was clear or simple enough to work for very long.
Somewhere in my quest for the Holy Grail of personal organization, I stumbled across a series of online videos titled The Secret Weapon (TSW). Even though I hate watching online videos – and dislike instructional videos most of all – I sat through all 11 chapters and immediately set up the system they recommend. Ironically, TSW is a combination of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Evernote software, both of which I had previously rejected as far too complicated and difficult to incorporate into my life. But TSW’s online videos make the system so easy and so sensible that I figured it was worth a try.
After a year with TSW and GTD, here’s where I stand:
I’m a total convert to the TSW method. I haven’t looked at other software or tried other systems. TSW just plain works for me.
I’ve got my to-do lists cross-referenced across my desktop computer, laptop, iPad, and iPhone. That means that wherever I am I always have access to my lists and notes, and can add information and updates whenever necessary.
I have 1,636 active notes, 880 completed tasks, 447 archived memos, and 4,512 notes in the trash. While that might sound like an insurmountable pile, thanks to Evernote’s tags they are all instantly searchable and available at the swipe of a finger.
I even have notebooks set up for my assistant, agent, and others in my office so I can stay on top of tasks I’ve delegated and follow up when necessary.
The SecretWeapon.org system combined with Evernote is a lifehack that I can’t recommend highly enough (for the record, I have no connection with either TSW or Evernote other than being a satisfied user of both). Yes, the ramp-up is a little confusing and uncomfortable, mostly because you have to accept new ways of doing things you’ve probably done a different way for your entire life. And backsliding is to be expected although it’s no different with this system than it is with any other meaningful life change you’ve attempted (dieting, exercising, quitting a bad habit, etc.). The good news it that the payoff is spectacular and liberating.
What’s not spectacular is the price. TSW is free and so is Evernote. After you use Evernote for a while you’ll probably pay the $45 upgrade fee to their premium subscription, but you don’t have to commit to that until you’re a hardcore power user and ready for the extra features. And because Evernote is completely cross-platform, it works with the various digital devices you already own. There’s nothing else to buy.
So what have you got to lose? A few hours watching the videos and a few more setting the system up. After that, the only things you might miss are the scraps of paper you scribble notes on, the various datebooks and legal pad lists you might still be using, and the stress of keeping track of whatever it is you need to do next.