Tuesday March 10, 2020

I’ve never been a fan of a to-do list concept, because in my case it simply hadn’t worked, being disheartening rather than motivating. Everything changed when I discovered Microsoft To Do - I’ve found it so refreshing and surprisingly handy, that pretty soon it became my favorite app. But most importantly it inspired me to change the way I perceive the concept: I don’t think “to-do” anymore. And this is the key which has significantly improved my life.

Interestingly, it still surprises me with another and another brilliant idea of harnessing it into my everyday life (it is surprising how many things You can manage via a simple ‘to-do list’ concept).

Today I rely on the app so much that I could call it “my Creativity-Hub” or “Activity Center”. It definitely has turned out to be much more than a bunch of to-do lists gathered together in a form of a digital notebook - it became “my magical pocket” where I can find everything which I mostly need at the moment, the crossroad where all the key themes of my everyday life nicely meet one another.

I’d like to present You with this idea of harnessing a simple to-do list concept in a way which You also may find surprisingly helpful, making several things much easier, fluent and seamless. Let’s take a little survey throughout all of this fantastic topic :) .

Quick survey on what’s coming:

  1. All the crucial things in one place.
  2. Taking advantage of the cloud.
  3. Make it Your Idea-Hub.
  4. Make it Your note-taking app.
  5. Make it Your Dream Diary (and/or other ‘logs’).
  6. Embrace creativity.
  7. Other ideas.
  8. A to-do list app of my choice.

All the crucial things in one place.

When it comes to a to-do list concept, the first thought which may come to mind is its simple, straightforward purpose: list all the tasks You’d like to manage. If You, however, take a closer look to the very core of the idea of well-organized multiple lists, You may realize that, for example, in the digital age an average to-do list app makes the whole thing seamless and convenient - which You might find inviting to find yet another topic deserving its own dedicated list, serving some particular matter and, therefore, getting another thing out of Your mind (without a need to constantly remember it).

Taking advantage of the cloud.

Another thing is that there are apps which may be synced through the cloud, which enables You to easily access them “on the go”, throughout Your day, regardless of where You are, or what device You’re using at the moment. This alone may inspire You to treat Your to-do list also as a note-taking app: why bother with two separate apps, while You can easily jot things down within a dedicated list, taking advantage of its neat organization (everything put in its place, nice as nine pence :) ).

There is also another aspect to the cloud feature, which You may find useful: cooperation. Some to-do list apps allow You to co-create particular lists, which significantly widen the usability of such an app. For example, Your partner may prepare a ‘Honey-Do’ shopping list and add some forgotten items to it even if You’re already on the go. Another example: You can use shared lists to delegate tasks to other people (e.g., Your children). Sky’s the limit.

Make it Your Idea-Hub.

If You’d ask me on life-changing habits, one of these I could point out the habit of instantaneous writing down anything worth being remembered. Ordinary things to do are just the beginning - You might find even more crucial a similar approach toward Your ideas. It could be fantastic if:

  1. There would be not a single idea which become lost due to forgetting about it.
  2. There would be no need to constantly ensure that You remember some especially interesting thing.
  3. You could take a look on all Your ideas when You need it - all nicely gathered in one place (and maybe also topic-arranged). Wonderful to pick and choose what You’d like to work on at the moment :) .

As examples of such lists within a to-do list app: I have lists dedicated to articles/blog posts ideas, podcast episodes ideas, and even a list of exciting things I could do once I’ve moved house :) .

Make it Your note-taking app.

When it comes to more note-taking purposes, here You are what useful ways of harnessing a to-do list I’ve discovered so far:

Food ingredients and whole meals preparation time.

When it comes to food ingredients (those which require cooking, frying or just soaking) I never stick with recommended preparation time, Instead, I use trial-and-error to find the sweet spot which suits me most. Once I find such one, I write it down and let it fly out of my mind - because the next time I need this knowledge, I just take a look on my Culinary Timing List and know exactly what is the sweet spot I need in my kitchen today :) .

In case of whole meals preparation timing it serves a more “logistic” purpose: it helps me to properly estimate the time span needed to prepare some particular food, which sometimes plays a crucial role as a key factor to decide what could be the best choice for today (or tonight) to cook.


This is another thing worth remembering while cooking management: what exactly is still present within culinary supplies, and in what quantities. I find it highly helpful to have all such information easily available, i.e., without a need to check the fridge, basement, cupboards, what have you, to ensure or remind myself what is the current state. So I write down each ingredient, alongside with the information of its quantity and - often - its best-before date. It helps much both with the planning what meal to prepare and with the upcoming shopping list as well :) .

Worth-remembering quotes.

I find fantastic to fish out valuable quotes from various sources (books, articles, etc.) and keeping them always close to me, with the habit of giving them my attention on a daily basis. This way they actively provide me with their wisdom - which I find of a great value in everyday life, especially in the long run.

It’s not a rare occurrence when some particularly interesting or nicely-put-in-words thought draws my attention while reading e-book or browsing the Web (e.g., via so-called RSS reader) on a smartphone. Whatever the way, in a similar situation You may find a good idea to have a dedicated place at hand for You to preserve those worth-keeping quotes. To do so under Android it may be enough to simply select the desired text and use its inbuilt “share” feature to save the selected text as a quote within the proper list on Your to-do app.

If You are often take notes on Your smartphone and maybe even similarly often need those notes while working elsewhere - a to-do list app with the cloud sync feature may be of a great help, providing You with a seamless workflow between a smartphone and, say, a PC). Possibilities of harnessing this advantage are limitless. For example, while reading an e-book or listening to an audiobook I can take notes which later help me to write the book’s review. The concept works well regarding any purpose in which note-taking is involved.

Make it Your Dream Diary (and/or other ‘logs’).

Besides all of the ideas listed above, I discovered also a little bit more “hermetic” purposes in which a to-do list app also can make a significant difference, especially given its portable, very-easy-to-reach character. One such an example is a dream diary. The habit consists of taking notes on your dreams as soon as You find Yourself awake and able to recall them. To do so, however, a smartphone with a to-do app is of an invaluable help because it makes the easiest way to write anything down with a minimum effort (I have my smartphone close to me while sleeping, so it’s very easy to grab it with no hassle, therefore I can take the notes immediately on time, given I have enough willpower to do it ;) ).

A to-do list app seems to be a great choice when it comes to log various things. Besides Your dreams You can track, for example, what new have You learned each and every day (which may give You a pretty neat sense of satisfaction if indeed You usually learn something new so often, but had never tracked this progress before).

Embrace creativity.

The most exciting motivation to write this post is to inspire You to discover some other creative ways of harnessing such a flexible concept of a to-do list app. Before that, however, it’s good to know what exactly You can do with Your particular app of choice - because this knowledge alone may be inspiring. For example, with Microsoft To Do which I prefer, You can:

Create “lists within lists” via so-called steps which each list may consist of.

This way I can, for example, have a list called “Timing”, in which I gather a few sublists, like “Culinary (ingredients)”, “Culinary (meals)”, “Charging” (how long doest it take to fully charge various devices), “Post” (how long I’ve waited for various letters or parcels), etc.

Attach much more text to an item via the “Add note” field.

It definitely makes a difference whenever I need to write down more than a single phrase or a sentence (e.g., in case of a dream diary, a bunch of recipes, etc.).

Quickly sift through by labels.

You can label both lists’ items, steps and notes - just precede Your label with a hash (#) and it should be highlighted. Once You tap on such a label, the app will show You all the things labeled by it. One example of applying it are reading-related tasks: whenever I want to save something to read later, I still use the main “Tasks” list instead of some dedicated one - I just include a #read label within an item’s name (e.g., “#read this article (link here)”). Then, whenever I have the time to read - I simply tap on any #read label and see all the choices I have.

Attach files to an item (unfortunately this option requires an active Internet connection).

I personally haven’t been using this yet, but I suppose it could be helpful - sky’s the limit.

Other ideas.

Although nowadays I’ve already been using the app for multiple purposes described above - I’m pretty sure that there are still new ideas just waiting to be discovered. One of the freshest example in my case is related to... YouTube. There is some stuff out there which You might find worth keeping, especially given that there is no guaranty that any particular video will be available on YouTube forever. In such a case the only reasonable solution is to download videos on Your Own. To do so, You can give a try for YouTube Premium, which has built-in feature of downloading stuff - but it is a paid service. There are multiple ways to achieve that free of charge - one such an example is jDownloader (both for Windows and GNU/Linux) which (i.a.) allows You to download YouTube videos. If You download videos frequently, however, this app may be not so much of a good choice because the process of adding and setting videos to download is far from being convenient. Instead, it’s pretty time-consuming, even if You learn how to automate part of it. As a comparison, there is an Android app called NewPipe which is a great example of what does it mean to design a seamless way. With this app You can download a YouTube video even right after a tap on its address (here a dedicated to-do list comes in) - just confirm the desired quality of a video and it will start downloading right off the bat. I find this enough of a difference to use my phone instead of a PC whenever I find on YouTube something worth-to-grab :) . Oh, and one more thing: NewPipe allows You not only to save a YouTube video as a video file, but also as an audio file (there are great many podcasts on YouTube, regarding which You don’t really need to watch anything - just sole listening).

A to-do list app of my choice.

Having said all of that You could go and research Google Play, F-Droid or other app store to find a to-do app which could suit You - or You can read a little bit further and learn about my own pick, and especially why I’ve chosen this one.

The app of my choice here is Microsoft To Do which I’ve already mentioned. It’s free, works under Android, iOS and Windows - on top of which You can access its lists simply through a website. There are several reasons why I’ve stuck to this particular app, here You are the most important:

  1. Convenience - in my opinion the app is very well thought, You can easily manage even many lists, being able to quickly find what You want (there are several ways supporting this - e.g., widgets displaying particular lists directly on Your desktop, or even tags (labels) which can incredibly increase navigation through multiple lists). Furthermore, You can create sublists (via “steps”), add more in-depth notes. You don’t need to open the app when You want to add a new item - just use a desktop widget or a button placed within Your Android pull-down top bar. Those are just a few examples of the app’s many features in a similar, making-life-easier mold.

  2. Aesthetics - the app looks great, includes dark theme; elegant animations (e.g., while swiping an item left or right) make using it a really pleasant experience.

  3. Cloud synchronization - as I’ve mentioned before, everything is synchronized throughout all Your devices, which greatly widen the number of places and situations in which You are able to access the information You’ve gathered within the app. For example, there are cases when I find much easier to manage things within the app, using its web interface.

  4. Lists sharing - You can co-create chosen lists with other people (e.g., family or team members) which adds a whole new dimension to the concept (again, sky’s the limit).

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