Before the Planner, Get Your Mindset Right
I’ll cover a few ways to plan your tasks for the day but you should already have your general productivity “mindset” nailed down. What I mean is that you should already have a central app where all your incoming to-dos get dumped into. Moving things out of your mind and into a pending actions list is a Getting Things Done tenet and a great one to swipe even if you’re not using their system.
What You Choose is Highly Personal
Your choice of planner is highly personal and an abstract list of benefits for any planning system can never take this into account. You have to enjoy using your daily to-do system such that interacting with it is pleasurable and natural. For some people they will want to use the don’t-break-the-chain system where a physical calendar with ‘X’ marks for every day you’ve completed the task:
The Joys of a Physical Planner
The simplicity of seeing your kanban lanes on a physical board is quite gratifying. There’s something not quite pressing enough about apps that only exist on a smartphone, apps that can be buried among the digital app-hoard and hardly ever seen again. (Or we tend to see it out of the periphery of our vision – ‘I really should open that app. Maybe later …’) If you have your to-do’s for the day out in front of you, not able to be hidden, it’s your unmistakable agenda for the day:
Perhaps you need a weekly schedule where you can affix magnets for various tasks after you’ve completed them. Or a blank chalkboard that you can divide up however you want to hang above your monitor. Your imagination can devise any design when working with physical kanban / to-do boards which you can then hang up in the most noticeable place.
Paper – Best for Productivity?
While everyone should decide for themselves whether paper is better for digital as far as task and productivity tracking, I do believe that a portion of your tracking system should be paper based. There’s something immediate about being able to pick up a pen and cross a finished task off your paper list, and paper doesn’t suffer from the unfortunate out-of-sight out-of-mind problem where you lose sight of your todos because you forget to open one of your numerous productivity apps.
Which Should You Choose – Digital vs. Physical?
There are drawbacks to each form of todo planner, digital vs. physical. One aspect of the physical / paper planners is the visceral impact of holding / touching your planner to interact with it. This includes the physical sensation of completing the task, which would mean moving the task marker to the completed lane (kanban) or crossing an item off your list (to-dos). There are digital apps that try to bridge the digital-physical divide. Habits from MacAppStudio (Mac & iPhone) tries to remain faithful to the chalkboard metaphor in its UI design:
Digital Productivity Apps – iPhone
Chains uses the don’t-break-the-chain metaphor to keep you motivated towards regularly performing a task at your custom interval (daily or Mon – Fri, for instance). The chain gets customized graphically according to the nature of the task:
The iOS app Balanced makes it part of its interface to physically interact with your phone to signal whether you’ve finished a task or not. I think Balanced looks delightful from a UI perspective, and among its subtle features are the unobtrusive notification reminders which rise to the top really helps entice you to complete the task. The best summary is from an iTunes review: “If you really want to improve small things, like I did, but had trouble forcing myself to keep on top of it, this little app is perfect.”
The Way of Life is another iOS app similar to Chains for habit tracking. The most impressive thing with this app is the overview dashboard which shows all of your habits measured out with days you completed the task (colored green) versus days you missed doing it (red).
TeuxDeux is a week planner that borrows some kanban concepts like keeping a hopper of tasks in waiting and a fluid drag-and-drop reordering of tasks that is reminiscent of Trello. It’s a well designed app that is also available in the browser. In fact, it might be the best use of responsive web design I’ve seen as you can focus your view to a single day by simply shrinking your browser window. Another week planner worth checking out is http://weekplan.net/
Paper or Digital, It Doesn’t Matter: Biggest Enemy is Yourself
Some people do better tracking their productivity and tasks on paper, while others do well with the more sophisticated digital task & goal apps available. But the biggest roadblock to your productivity is always going to be yourself. Many people will spend hours trying to find just the right iPhone task tracking app only to never bother opening it the first week. If you’re susceptible to getting sidetracked and distracted then you need to really observe yourself like a hawk. Be honest about what your weaknesses are so you can adapt your tools to protect you from those weaknesses.