I keep hearing from people that they find it difficult to keep track of what needs to be done. Every one of us has a list of different things to remember, work on, and accomplish. This list includes not only the very well-defined tasks that we call work, but also any Slack messages and emails that we have to reply to, documents that we have to read and review, and vacation time that we need to submit.
The wrong approach
We can rely on our brains to remember all these daily chores, but don’t ask me to explain why it’s a terrible idea. Our precious brain has a limited processing power for each day. This power can definitely be put to better use on something more creative than remembering to reply to an email.
A better but not ideal alternative is to use each tool’s unique features to bookmark any piece of information that we’ll need to act on some day. Gmail lets us star emails, messages can be added to saved items on Slack, and we can use one of the hundred TODO apps to store other chores like submitting vacation time. Saving and bookmarking stuff this way is mostly convenient to do, but very difficult to organize and retrieve. We will need to check various tools frequently to make sure nothing has gone off our radar.
The better approach
We tend to seek the most convenient way to store information (that’s why we might chat with ourselves on Slack), but don’t care much about the convenience of retrieving that information. Having a balanced approach and putting everything that needs to be done in a central place will make our brains’ life much easier in reclaiming them. Bonus point if we could add enough context to each item and organize them properly.
Which tool to choose for this central place will be very dependent on what type of person we are. Some of us prefer pen and paper and will go with a bullet journal. Others want to stay digital and will use Obsidian or Logseq. No matter which tool you decide to use, remember that it should be one central place. Try your best to stick with one single place as much as possible. Of course, this is not 100% practical advice, and there will be some exceptions since a few specific tools like digital calendars can handle particular tasks more efficiently.
Note that I’m only talking about storing chunks of different types of work we need to do each day (and we usually call them our TODO list). Other pieces of information like what we learn from a book or a course, or our long-term planning docs can be (and should be) stored somewhere else.
What do I use?
Since I was already using Obsidian as my second brain and personal knowledge management system, I gave it a chance to be the host to my daily and ongoing tasks as well. Although Obsidian has a few useful TODO-related plugins, I didn’t find myself comfortable using it for this purpose (I’m happily continuing to use it as my second brain though).
I’m currently using Logseq as my central TODO place. In addition to the fact that it stores all the notes in local markdown files, this tool comes with a few very nice features that make it very suitable for what I was looking for.
- Adding and toggling TODOs is easy and part of its core functionalities.
- It’s conveniently possible to schedule an item and set a priority for each TODO item.
- Daily journaling is a very native feature as well.
- Creating custom templates allows me to structure pages however I want.
I have iterated on a daily journal template, with a specific layout and a few useful titles and information pre-filled. When I open Logseq each morning, it automatically creates a new note (titled with weekday and date) using my custom template. The template includes an arbitrary structure to help me organize TODOs in different buckets depending on when they need to be done. Then follows an unfinished TODOs from yesterday, and then a full list of unfinished TODO items from the past. The daily note ends with a reminder section including all the TODOs that are scheduled for this day or have a deadline set to today. I can easily move items between days and sections and change their priorities in lists whenever needed.
I also use the daily journal page on Logseq to take notes of my thoughts, meetings, ideas, or anything that I don’t want to think about where to write them at the moment. Later in the day or week, I make sure to move anything important to its desired place (my second brain, the company’s docs, or somewhere else).
I know, you’re thinking, “… it’s a lot of work!”. Actually it’s not a lot, but yeah sure, it requires some discipline and work. Recall that to make the retrieving process easier and more efficient, we need a robust system. I’m not completely disciplined in it yet either, but I’m getting better. The secret is to just start. Start small and give it a try. I began with a blank daily journal on Logseq and added templates later on, and gradually improved it based on what I found essential for myself. Feel free to reach out if you are interested in knowing more about my workflow.