I’m turning 49 in a few days. I hate aging, but that’s food for another story. When I was a kid, there were no digital devices of any sort. We got extremely excited when Sony released the Walkman. We were used to 45 RPM portable record players.
In such a world, everyone used to memorize a lot of stuff. I still remember home and friends’ phone numbers from 40 years ago. Adults used the prehistoric edition of a digital device, a paper “agenda” to remember things, but not kids. Using agendas was a terrible experience. I have clear in my mind my mother spending hours at the end of every year copying essential things, like phone numbers, from one planner to the new year’s one.
My digital device life started with a Philips Velo 1, followed by a Compaq iPAQ 3150. Everything changed: no more need to remember phone numbers, no more need to have a paper planner, and more advantages.
Nowadays, everything is different. Devices swamp us. The market offers every sort of option. From smartphones to smart rings, we can buy a device for every possible use. Many of them are indeed a solution in search of a problem, but that’s also another story.
Regardless of their usefulness, it’s fair to say that digital devices have changed our lives for the better. My primary use for digital devices is probably a bit different from most people. I don’t have any social account configured on any device. I have very few installed apps, and if I look at iOS screen time, a friendly iOS features keeping track of time spent using different apps, it tells me that I’m primarily using Pocket, Feedly, Todoist, and Paper.
The first two are for reading articles. For books, I have a nine-year-old Kindle.
The cat needs a daily pill for its kidney problems. I need to clean the Roomba dust filter every three days. We do waste sorting daily. Not to mention grocery shopping and many other minor and not so minor things that the entire family needs to remember. All that is stored in Todoist. We only need to remember to check Todoist. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Before the pandemic, I used to travel quite a lot. More or less one week away from home every four or five weeks. Traveling requires a lot of preparation, ranging from booking airline tickets and airport car parking to packing stuff and complying with the destination rules (e.g., ESTA when traveling to the United States). There are plenty of details and documents that need to be prepped and brought with you. Not to mention less essential things, but still nice to have, like a toothbrush or gym/swim gear to exercise while abroad.
I have a Dropbox Paper document template for that and many other things.
Paper, using markdown syntax, allows defining documents with, for example, lists of checkboxes. Each item in the list, e.g., “book the car parking at the airport,” can be assigned a due date. In my case, when an item is due, I receive an email from Paper with all items due on that day. Documents can also be defined as templates. When needed, I create a new document from a custom template, e.g., to keep track of things to be done when traveling or prepare a conference talk.
By taking a look at the Self-organization tag, it’s clear that I’m continuously evolving my processes. In 2019 I stated that being a procrastinator, I fail at to-do lists, and it still holds. The to-do list mentioned in this article is the short-term 5-minute thing primarily related to my personal life. On the other hand, checklists are a more recent tool I started using to manage slightly longer-term projects, which spans a few days or weeks.
A note on tools
As of today, as mentioned, I’m using Todoist and Dropbox Paper. I tried Notion and Trello too. I abandoned Trello after a few days of testing as it wasn’t providing anything better. When it comes to Notion, I’m on the fence. I’m still using it to keep track of books I’m reading, articles I’m writing, and as a knowledge base graveyard. Maybe I’ll benefit from it in the future, who knows?
I’m not using any digital assistant, like Alexa. We have an Alexa device at home. I look at it with my developer hat on, and the only thing it’s worth it is that it’s reassuring: Terminator and Skynet are yet to come. Alexa is only second to the Google Nest in my chart of wasted money. Both are nearly useless pieces of hardware, to be polite.
To-do lists and checklists are not only for forgetful people. They are a handy tool to declutter our brain and free it from duties technology created better tools. Nothing prevents us from making a “deploy to production” checklist template and using our powerful brain for more important things.
By dumping things into checklists, I’m not constantly trying to remember ‘what am I supposed to do right now?’ or ‘I know I was supposed to pick something up at the store, what was it again?’.