Do you ever worry that you have forgotten something – that somewhere on a piece of paper is details of an action you should have taken to stay on top of some project or other?
If so, then you share a lot in common with about 80% of the people I talk to – many of us spend our lives sorting through multiple scraps of paper in our pockets and wallets, or through notes taken in online notebooks or in Outlook to try to keep on top of our to-do actions.
I used to try to keep control of all of my follow ups with a combination of paper-based lists and cc-ed emails to myself (every time I’d send an email that had a follow up I’d copy it to myself and then later paste it into the diary or to-do section of Outlook). My Outlook soon became a real mess.
Well now I sleep because of one simple feature in an online to-do management system – Nozbe. I first stumbled across Nozbe in a blog post by Michael Hyatt – it came at a time when I had decided I really needed to clean up my act.
Nozbe is an online ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) compliant to-do management system that runs both on your desktop and, if you have one, on your iPhone (and iPad). The key feature for me is one that allows you to automatically direct a copy of an e-mail’s content straight to your to-do list simply by cc-ing the message to your Nozbe inbox.
Let’s say I write to John Smith and know I’ll later need to follow him up – after the body of my messages I type:
‘* Follow John Smith about widget discussion’.
The ‘*’ is what Nozbe looks for when it receives a message – and it titles the new to-do with whatever you write in afterwards. I generally color this white so that it’s not visible to John. Then I copy the email to my Nozbe inbox (when you sign up you get a username that allows you to create a simple email address for this – see the cc field in the figure below).
In the lefthand screen shot you can see the to-do detail. In the right screen I have changed the font color to white so John won’t see this detail.
So, as I work through the day sending out lots of messages that will later need follow up I no longer have to do anything more to be comfortable that I have ‘remembered’ the follow up action (check out the screenshot below to see how the new to-do looks in my Nozbe Inbox).
Here’s what I do each day with Nozbe to prepare for the day:
- Open Nozbe and go straight to my list of unfiled to-dos in my Inbox (the ‘Inbox’ is just a temporary resting place for to-dos and should be routinely emptied)
- I file each of the to-dos from the Inbox in an appropriate project folder that is meaningful to me – these can be projects (‘New presentation design’), people (‘Joe Gray chat list’), concepts (‘Do this someday’) etc. As I do so I add a date by whichI must have followed up
- With those filed I then step through each folder to see if there are any to-dos that need my attention that day – if so, I note it separately. I extract only items I have to address on that day. If there’s nothing needs attention that day (never happens!) then with this simple review I have at least refreshed my memory on upcoming items that can be maturing away in my subconscious
- I then plan the necessary to action those items using my normal hour-to-hour approach for day planning. I like low tech for the day plan: I find making my hour-to-hour plan for the day on paper helps me to think it out – and gives me a great buzz at end of day when I crumple the paper and throw it away.
I now have a single, reliable system for all my to dos – and all of my paper notes are gone.
Nozbe’s integration means that everything I do on my desktop is synched up on my iPhone and iPad – so I have full access to my to-dos as I travel. If something comes up that I would normally note on a scrap of paper I now plug it straight into Nozbe on my iPhone – knowing it will synch up with the online system automatically. No more paper. Wonderful!
All over the world people who use the GTD approach rigidly are having apoplexy at the way in which I have bent the GTD system to fit my needs – but it works for me!
If you’re drowning in paper to-dos you could do worse than take advantage of the 60 day free trial (I have no commercial relationship whatever with Nozbe – this recommendation is based on pure satisfaction).