Getting Things Done

November 11, 2011 | 20 Comments

I’ve tried a lot of task management apps, but none of them seemed to stick. I’ve spent more hours than I’d like to admit just comparing features, reading reviews, and testing out demos. While a lot of people have success with digital task apps, they all just felt like too much effort to incorporate into my workflow. I didn’t want to spend time categorizing, tagging, and organizing tasks, I just wanted to get stuff done.

I always seem to come back to good old fashioned pen and paper. It’s the most frictionless method and there are several keys things that make it work for me:

1. It’s always in front of me. One of the main problems I had with all of the task apps was having to switch between apps just to look at my to-do list. I keep my task list on a plain old memo pad placed below my monitor. It stares at me all day long and I can’t ignore it.

2. Crossing things off feels so good. Sure, you can digitally cross off tasks, but nothing beats taking a pen and scribbling out a task on the list.

3. I can easily jot down additional notes, sketches, or info for a particular task. For example, if I’m on the phone with a supplier and need to make some notes about production details, I can easily write it down right next to the task.

My Simple Method

1. My daily routine starts with looking at my whole list of projects on my paper to-do list and then writing the most urgent tasks on a small sticky note. This allows me to focus on the 4-8 things I want to accomplish that day. The small size of the sticky note limits me from trying to put too much on my plate for one day.

2. As I complete each item I simply cross it off. If items don’t get completed that day, they carry over to the next day’s sticky.

And that’s the extent of my GTD system. It’s not complicated or innovative, but it allows me to get stuff done without worrying about another app. My situation is probably a little different than most people since I handle most things myself and don’t need to manage a large team of people. I’m certainly not advocating this to be the best way for everyone to manage their tasks, but wanted to share what works best for me.

  • Mroziers

    Enjoy this blog post

  • Craig Thompson

    Great tip I do the same. I tried using Wunderlist but Its not for me. I use those little Ugmonk journals (not the leather one) for sketches, sticky notes for quick tasks and reminders and a large moleskine for designs. I also find scheduling the days tweets using Hootsuite can let me get on with work.

    • Jeff Sheldon

      Awesome, glad to hear you’re putting the sketchbooks to good use. 

  • Fabiano

    Nice! My method is almost the same, but I use Tasks, on Gmail. My email tab is open the whole day, so I list everything as topics, like your sticks. When I get a bunch of tasks related to some projects for example, then these tasks go to Basecamp, and I have only one task on my to-do, like “Project X – Design”.

    I used to manage some people, and in this case Basecamp is the best!

  • Yardboy

    Like you, I prefer pen and paper to any digital method. I use the 43Folders Hipster PDA ( That is, instead of a notepad and stickies, I just use index cards. One item per card, and your tasks can be sorted, shuffled, organized, grouped, spread out and viewed in total or inspected individually. No rewriting when a task carries over, just set the card aside till tomorrow. And, while crossing a task off the list is great, nothing beats tearing up the note card when it’s done.

    • Jeff Sheldon

      Cool, thanks for the link. Tearing up the cards does sound great.

  • Sean David Dennis

    Nice post! What kind of iPhone stand is in the photo?

    • Jeff Sheldon

      It’s made by Elago. Super simple, but does the trick.

  • Anonymous

    Where do you buy your iPhone dock?

  • P!
  • Felipe

    Interesting post. I settled on Evernote and GTD and it is working fine for the last two years. I consider myself a rehabilitated messy person now.


  • Anonymous

    I use a similar method after reading How to get organized without resorting to arson. Great book on real world application of creating a system rather than trying to conform to one.

  • Sam W.

    Nice post! Like you, I’ve been trying to get used to apps like Wunderlist, Evernote, and so on, but they just didn’t feel comfortable to use. I’ll try your method, it seems promising!

  • Patrick Branigan

    I’m the exact same way. I still prefer sticky notes over digital means…I’ve tried many, and it just never works out as seamlessly for me.

  • Larry

    I too was caught in a mix of apps and paper until I found the app TeauxDeaux. I no longer use paper notes at all. If you haven’t tried it or seen it yet, you definitely need to.

    • Jeff Sheldon

      Yes, that’s probably the best and simplest app out there. I’ve tried it but for some reason always go back to paper. 

  • Dan Philibin

    Great post Jeff, sounds pretty similar to my own system. I feel more committed to my to-do’s when they’re in my own handwriting and always in front of me at my desk. It’s just too easy to ignore digital lists. Also, I like that every day is an opportunity to build a new list of only the things I know I can get done, rather than cherry-picking from everything I’ve thrown into an app.

    • Jeff Sheldon

      Exactly. It’s all about focussing on what is doable in a given day.

  • Brent Galloway

    I had the exact same experience with task management apps. Seems like I’ve tried them all, but always end up using paper. Although this post was from a year ago, still a great read! :)

  • Himali Girkar

    You should also take for a spin. Simple intuitive and will help you prioritize/focus. I believe – Tasks that get delegated/tracked eventually get done :)