This is a post about how I keep track of things I have to do. I’ve tried special note taking strategies people on Hacker News swear by as well as productivity apps. But nothing has been as successful as using a pen and paper to keep a TODO list in my notebook. There are so many ways to keep track of all the different things that I need to get done – in code I write //TODO comments, in projects I use GitHub issues and Trello.

My process is very basic. Every morning I sit down at my desk and write the date in the upper right corner of a page (if the previous day’s list was short I’ll draw a line below that day’s list and start right below it) in my notebook. Then I write a bullet list of all the things that I need to get done that day. Sometimes each tasks is separated by topic or other times I just write one giant list of the different things I need to get done that day.

Topics are pretty free range, work TODOs are usually the name of a project or client and anything that falls outside of work gets listed under the Personal heading. This method seems to fit my work/life style the best. Like I said, I’ve tried more complex task taking styles but none of them ever really fit. Here’s a list of things that I’ve tried to use to keep track of the things I need to do, but nothing compares to the classic just writing down the tasks on a sheet of paper.

  • Simple text file that I had saved in Dropbox so each of my devices could read and write to the file. This way I could have a single text file that allowed me to update from anywhere. From PC, Mac or iPhone I could always pull up the TODOs and edit them right there.
  • Apple Reminders app – for some reason I could never stick with this method. And I ended up with far too many different reminder categories than I actually needed
  • Apple Notes app – A highly useful piece of software, but I never remember to use it. I’ll go through spurts where I’ll try to use it for everything and think it’s the greatest thing in the world, only to completely forget about soon after.
  • Various methods from the Hacker News community.

In the end the best thing that works for me is to make an entry in my notebook every morning when I sit down at my desk. My mind is fresh and before I dive into any emails/code/Slack messages I can really think about what I’m going to accomplish that day. This helps prepare for the day as well as remember what tasks are still outstanding from the previous day so I can copy them over to the new day.

Throughout the day as new tasks come up I’ll write them down in my notebook. Having these notes right in front of me really helps when I get into that state of feeling lost or if I’m not sure what I should be working on next. I just reference my notes that are right in front of me and I’m back on track.

Throughout the day as I finish a TODO task I cross out the item with a straight line through the text. Not only is this weirdly satisfying, but I can go back through my notebook and look at how many things I was able to get done over the weeks/months/years. It’s also a fun to take a notebook from two years ago and see what different things I was working on or what my priorities were back in 2020.

In summary, here is my method of keeping track of all the things I need to get done during the day:

  • Every morning I sit down at my desk and open my notebook. I write the date in the upper right hand corner of a new page
  • Create a heading that’s a topic/project/client and underline the text
  • Start each new tasks with a + sign or little square box. Think about what tasks I need to get done and write them out under the appropriate topic heading
  • Carry over any previous day’s items that I didn’t get completed below the appropriate heading
  • Go through emails and add to the list as new tasks come up
  • Work through the tasks and cross them off the list when they’re complete
  • As new things pop up during the day or I remember things that need to get done, I just write them in the appropriate spot in my notebook.