My procrastination solution

I have so many problems with to-do lists. If I don’t write down all my miscellaneous tasks, I’ll forget to do them, but if I DO write them down, the list becomes a mile-long and things just keep getting pushed to the bottom. I feel like I don’t make any progress as I work through my lists because even if I cross off 10 items, there are still a billion items there, so I end up ignoring the whole thing and just reading a book instead.

I’ve been piecing together the solution for a long time. I found that iCal is great for recording appointments and important events, especially since it syncs wirelessly via iCloud between my computer, iPad, and iPhone. (I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I am such an Apple junkie, but yes, I have all those devices and they make my life a lot easier and more enjoyable.) But iCal isn’t great for detailed to-do lists. Neither are Stickies, though I use them, too–more on that in a minute. I’ve tried a fillable PDF calendar, a bunch of different apps, and even the old-fashioned paper list (which works well for tasks at work but not for organizing my whole life, unless I want to carry a piece of paper and pen everyone I go.)

Reminders

This image (from Apple) shows how you can organize your reminders by date and also by list topic.

Finally, finally, finally this week I found a solution that keeps my to-do lists at a manageable length and doesn’t allow me to ignore tasks that I don’t want to do. It’s the Reminders app, which is free and automatically built in to iPhones and iPads (and syncs across devices.) It allows you to keep lists organized by topic (shopping lists, errands, etc.) as well as by date. When you complete a task, you press the checkbox and it disappears from the list. If you want to see a completed list of everything you’ve accomplished, the data is still there (perfect for me, because I like to look back and reflect on how astoundingly productive I am in between obsessively checking Facebook and  blowing cat hairs off my computer screen.)

I’ve played around with this app before, but what finally made it work for me was the reminders by date function. Instead of just adding “finish and email report to Sara” to a list of fifty items that makes me tired just reading it, I pick a date to tackle it. So if it needs to be done soon, but not immediately, I type the task in for a couple days from now on a day (say, Thursday) when I haven’t scheduled too  many other things. I’ll get a reminder on my phone first thing in the morning of all the day’s tasks (an option I really like) and check the list periodically throughout the day. If I decide not to email Sara on Thursday, the task automatically rolls over to Friday. Or, I can set another date and have the app remind me then.

I love seeing a blank to-do list at the end of the day, so I’m motivated to not over-assign tasks and only give myself what is truly do-able. Knowing that I can’t avoid tasks and will have to see them added on to tomorrow’s list keeps me from procrastinating. I love that it’s all on my phone, which is never more than 24 inches away from my person. I can even dictate my items if I can’t type them in at the moment.

Stickies

Here's what Stickies looks like on my desktop--unlcluttered-looking, right? I can click on any Sticky to expand it and see what tasks are there.

If I think of something that I would like to do eventually in my life (like doing search engine optimization for some older images on my website–yawn), I can either assign it to a random day several weeks/months from now, or I can add it to my Stickies, where I have tasks divided into High Priority, High-Medium Priority, Low-Medium Priority, and Eventually. Once a month or so, I go through my Stickies and take some of those items off and assign them to specific dates in the Reminders app. Occasionally I realize the task really didn’t matter and I just delete it, which is even better. I also use these Stickies to keep track of reference information, instead of storing it on pieces of paper or in Word docs.

So this is my newest plan for overcoming procrastination and my never-ending to-do list debacle. How do YOU keep all your work-related and personal tasks organized? Do you have a workable system for making sure you get everything done?

P.S. While we’re on the topic of useful apps, head over to appSmitten and sign up for the daily or weekly newsletter with app recommendations. I’m appSmitten’s Educational Contributor and I recommend 3 education-related apps each month. This month I shared the apps that everyone was talking about at the ASCD conference: Toddler Timer (which is not just for toddlers–seriously, check this app out, it’s really cool); JibJab Jr. (a book app from the creators of Elf Yourself); and Puppet Pals (the best digital storytelling app I’ve seen yet.)

 

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mo April 16, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Thanks for sharing this app!
Mo

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2 Angela Watson April 16, 2012 at 7:26 pm

You’re welcome, Mo! I enjoyed your review of Dr. Branstetter’s book…looking forward to reading it myself (and I’m not even a school psychologist…that’s how awesome she is, right?)

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3 Sunny April 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I am such an Apple freak now….I won an iPad 2 last summer…then got 2 iPod touches for my classroom through a grant and just got an iPhone 4 and I’m addicted. I haven’t gone to Mac for my computer but I have all the other Apple goodies :)

I’m glad you posted about this app. I keep a paper planner because I’m kind of old-school but I do love the idea of putting everything on my phone or iPad and being able to keep track of it there as well since they all sync. (It’s my favorite part of my Apple stuff — EVERYTHING syncs and it’s so awesome.)

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4 Angela Watson April 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Whoa, you are totally Appled-out! Wait until you get a Mac computer, too. The wireless automatic syncing is soooo nice.

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5 Jami April 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Soooo glad you posted about this as I was pondering the very same question! I use google calendar but have been thinking of switching to iCal since I have all of the devices you mentioned as well! Question: do you add appointments or events to the reminder app? Or are you still using iCal?

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6 Angela Watson April 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Hi, Jami! I use iCal for appointments and events–that’s on all three of my devices so it works really well. I use the Reminders app for little stuff that I need to do so iCal doesn’t get cluttered up. I do really like iCal for that purpose.

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7 Christine April 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Please take this as a compliment. I have been using reminders for a while and I love it. The fact that you just found this makes me feel a sense of relief. When I see your site I sometimes wonder why I can’t be that amazing at teaching. The fact that I was doing something that you weren’t made me feel good. The sync feature is what I love the best!

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8 Angela Watson April 16, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Hahaha, Christine, I know exactly what you’re saying! Anytime a super techy person is like, “Hey, did you know about this really basic tool/program/shortcut? I just found out about it!” and it’s something I’ve been using forever, I always feel a tiny bit better about myself! LOL! It’s kind of like, whew, I’m not as behind as I thought I was!

There are SO many programs and apps out there, and it’s not possible to know everything. Same thing with teaching in general. None of us have it totally together, and none of us can be on the cutting edge in every aspect. Glad you got to see my human side in this post–I plan to share it more often. :-)

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9 Bethany April 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm

We love all things Apple at our house. I have used that app but not in the way you talked about. I will be checking that out. I’m finding the older I get the more reminders I need ;) Thanks for all the great info and the freebie finds! Love your blog.

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10 Angela Watson April 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Hi, Bethany! I used to try to remember everything in my head and then wonder why I couldn’t relax or sleep at night. Now I don’t have to run through mental lists anymore because writing things down is so easy that I actually do it every time I think of something.

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11 Danielle D'Andrea April 17, 2012 at 9:28 am

Hey Angela!

I LOVE Apple products too…it’s a disease, I believe…much like obsession with teacher blog stalking! :)

Anyway, I procrastinate badly too so I was very excited to read this post! I ended up procrastinating more last night (avoiding writing a paper for a doctorate class), when I discovered that the Reminders app on our iPhones and iPads actually syncs up with the Reminders on iCal! Turns out they’re one in the same! I know you said you weren’t a huge fan of the iCal reminders, but I’m looking at it this way…there is no MacBook version of Reminders, so if you have all your reminders on your iphone or ipad, you just have to open up iCal on your MacBook to see them all too. This way in case you ever find yourself where your phone is 25 inches away from you (hahaha – me too!), you can just take a look at iCal!

Seriously though – thank you for being amazing!! :) If you ever find yourself in CT, let me know!! :)

Danielle

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12 Angela Watson April 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Hi, Danielle! I didn’t realize I could see Reminders from within iCal…great tip! I have Lion so reminders are no longer within the calendar boxes, but on the side in a list. It’s a little cluttered-looking for me but I’m going to play around with it. Thanks so much for letting us know!

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