I've used many task management programs throughout my career. Whether they were to-do lists, daily planners, journal notebooks, online tools, software applications (too many!), etc. Name it and I've probably used it.
And each time, I keep coming back to one. It has been my favourite method for a long time.
The reason is simple: I'm busy. I run several businesses, work with multiple ongoing clients, play drums in two bands, act in a local murder mystery theatre, and more. My life would be a disaster without a way to manage it all.
This one tool drives my entire day. I keep coming back to it because:
- I already use it all the time.
- It's available everywhere.
- I don't need to switch between tools.
- I can't multitask to save my life.
- It shows relationships between tasks.
- It makes me far more productive.
- It stops me from procrastinating.
- It automatically prioritizes my tasks.
- And so many more.
I learned recently that over 200 billionaires — including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Sir Richard Branson — all use this one technique. In fact, even gold-medal athletes, top-performing students, and super-successful entrepreneurs use it, too, which doesn't surprise me.
What is this tool, you might ask?
Well, the technical answer is:
I don't use one.
I don't use to-do lists, including task management apps. Unless you're a project manager dealing with large, highly complex projects with many moving parts, you shouldn't use them, either.
So what do I use, then? The real answer is my calendar.
Just one calendar.
The secret is in the way I use it. It's a method called timeboxing or time blocking. I might have tried other methods mostly because I'm insanely curious. But every time, I fall back on my trusty calendar and this time-blocking method.
Here's what I do.
First, I use Google Calendar and three of its key components. Google Calendar is accessible from all my devices and syncs with multiple apps, like Calendly, my meeting scheduling software. (Apple and Outlook are fine, too.)
The three components are events, reminders, and tasks. They all show up on my Google calendar in one single location. No need to switch between tools.
- I use Events for timeboxing, blocking out chunks of time to accomplish a task or group of tasks.
- I use Reminders to prod me, like pay bills, take out trash, take meds, etc. Because of my ADHD, I can get distracted, so reminders keep me on track.
- And I use Tasks to brainstorm. It's a wishlist, not a to-do list. I only use it to list unimportant or nice-to-do tasks that I may never do.
The key is that I schedule everything.
Even the simplest and smallest things. I schedule times throughout my day to do big stuff, like “work on ABC project” or “create marketing plan for XYZ client,” and small stuff like “call aunt Marie.” I also schedule times for perfunctory and repetitive stuff, like “check emails,” “return calls,” “write newsletter,” etc. In fact, I set recurring blocks for those.
“That which is scheduled actually gets done,” wrote Kevin Kruse in Forbes.
This method saves me time, trouble, and turmoil. It's simple and streamlined. It reduces my stress, makes me more productive, and even reminds me to schedule personal stuff, too, like exercise and date night with my wife.
My scheduling tool checks against my calendar and lets my clients know what time slots are available for calls. So timeboxing reduces interruptions, too.
I hated to admit it, but overstuffed to-do lists only fed my ego. They made me feel important, busy, and productive without accomplishing much. Half of the items on my list would never get done — or they would get forgotten.
Whether it's because of my ADHD or not, if I don't write it down I'll forget it. So the moment I realize that I need to do something, I don't write it in a to-do list.
I simply schedule it.
In short, work from your calendar, not your to-do list.