Once upon a time, organized people used pen and paper to write down their To Do lists. It was a
simple, practical device and a reasonably effective way for people to manage what they needed to
In the 1980s, basic pen and paper To Do lists morphed into something more sophisticated with the
advent of day planners and leather bound organizers. Suddenly, being organized was ‘sexy’ and
everyone wanted a Filofax.
But, no matter how you dress up handwritten To Do list techniques, they all have limitations
when it comes to dealing flexibly with the increasing workloads that are the consequence of a 24/7,
In such a fast-paced environment, where a manager can have any number of ‘live’ projects on the
go, such paper-based systems struggle to cope.
If something you’ve written down needs to changed or moved, then the only choice is to erase it
or cross it out and write it down again somewhere else. Having to repeat the process is messy,
inconvenient and anything but time-efficient and productive, and certainly not something any of us
are used to when we are working with digital information all the time.
What’s more, the busier you get, the harder it becomes to maintain ‘clean’ To Do lists. Managing
them becomes a chore in itself, so it’s hardly surprising that ‘list fatigue’ sets in, we look at
them less and less as they become increasingly irrelevant, until in the end we stop looking at them
Consequently, time-pressured people are looking for new ways to organize their tasks that
require minimal amount of effort to set up and maintain, but give maximum flexibility however and
wherever you work.
Digital Paper (List) Solutions
Given that the traditional To Do list has been around for so long, it’s understandable that many
software packages mimic the handwritten model. Of course, they offer the added benefits of being
able to recycle information - once it’s been inputted it can be moved around and used again and
They also allow the addition of due dates, categorization and different formats to give more us
more structure and power to manage our tasks.
Why 'List-Oriented' Software Sets You Up to Fail...
To Do list software suffers from many of the same problems as its paper predecessor.
#1 - Dull, Boring Lsits.
The To Do list environment, even in electronic form, is not the most inspiring or exciting
environment to work with when we are so used to the interesting multi-media interfaces of the iPad,
iMac, tablets and smartphones.
Given this, and the fact that it can be quite difficult to input tasks into much To Do list
software, again the whole process can quickly become a chore. So yet again, ‘list fatigue’ sets in,
the system is abandoned, and we go back to our old pen and paper ways.
#2 - False Urgency
Many applications impose additional pressure on us, by continually asking for due dates and task
durations. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to be accurate with these, so we make poor
estimates that result in our being bombarded by ‘task overdue’ messages.
#3 - Lack of Cohesion & Focus
If our aim is to achieve greater goals, then everything we do should move us that little bit
closer to those goals. But, by dragging tasks onto To Do lists, we isolate then from the bigger
picture so that they become ’ends’ in themselves, rather than a means to an end.
What’s needed is a more flexible approach that helps us
to achieve our goals, not simply give us things to do.
And a new era of smart task management software is delivering just that. Not only does it
offer a more exciting alternative to how we sort and systemize the information we put into it, but
also an altogether more enjoyable user experience.
And that’s important, because the more we are engaged, the more likely we are to continue and
persevere with a new way of working. If something isn’t a pleasure to use, you won’t keep on using
Additionally, because standard To Do software compartmentalizes information into rigid lists, it
doesn’t have the flexibility to successfully manage and progress many separate on-going
projects at the same time.
It is the ability to tag your tasks with a variety of ‘contexts’ that really sets this type of
While some tasks can be done anywhere and at anytime, most can only be tackled when you are in
the right place (office, home or town); or with the right person (boss, colleague, husband or
wife); or have the right equipment available (computer, phone, fax).
By allowing you to attach these different contexts, the new task management software lets you
create flexible ‘living’ lists. Just sort and filter your open tasks by their context and you can
continually reconfigure all your actions to suit you at a particular moment, without ever having to
waste time or effort inputting duplicate information onto more than one list.
Some of these new applications also offer ‘at a glance’ viewing to give an immediate overview of
the tasks that lie ahead and how they might all fit together in a day for maximum productivity.
Others offer a richer and more engaging environment for users by presenting information
differently, with a vertical column for current projects, and rows for the tasks that make them
Some - including our very own 'ShoutDone' - take this even further still, automatically
floating the ‘next action’ for each project to the top of their respective lists.
So, if you’re still struggling to make traditional To Do List software work for you, you’ll find
the extra flexibility of this new type of task management software a major contribution to your