grab bag blog

This is where I talk about my work, my discoveries, my creative process, and the ins and outs of marketing in the arts.

Getting Your New Year In Order

December 31, 2011

Filed under:

freelance life, wisdom
The venerable to do list

The end of the year has arrived, disturbingly faster than I had planned for, but it’s here nonetheless. This is the time of year when everybody is into lists—the top five whatevers of 2011, your 10 best events of the year, eight things that will be awesome in 2012—and let’s not even get started about resolutions.

So it’s in this spirit that I share with you a little app that has been a lifesaver for me since becoming a freelancer and having to juggle a jumble of clients, projects, and business housekeeping tasks all at once. It’s called ToDoist.

Field Notes book - perfect for losing!

I started innocently enough with a To Do list. In the early days, when I was still transitioning from a day job to my current lifestyle, I would keep a list of tasks and goals on a dry erase board. It was tangible, easy to update, and always just out of sight enough to forget about. Great as long as I never left my work space.

When I started visiting client offices more and more, I needed something portable. Enter the Field Notes notebook: 48 pages of grided paper small enough to fit into my pocket. I could assign each day it’s own page, make a list, add to it as the day went on, and always check back on previous days for what didn’t get done. Again, tangible and easy, and now portable too! Perfect for misplacing or forgetting at home. Plus, when you flip a few pages, those ongoing tasks from several days ago are out of sight and out of mind. Blissful ignorance!

Who could turn away a cartoon cow?

Eventually, I decided to get serious about this list-making when I got to be staring at four or five projects a week, each with their own sub-goals, and trying to track a dozen more coming down the pipeline. This is when I did my online research to find out what other creative professionals use. A majority pointed me to Remember The Milk, a handy little online app for making lists. It includes the ability to tag each task, perhaps for type (design, paperwork, meeting) or client name, and assign them priorities. With a little finagling, I could organize each tag into its own tab. And I could sort the list by priority, tag, or due date! I could even add it to my Gmail and update it from any computer. Awesome!

But my love affair with Remember The Milk soon waned. Maybe it was the big long lists staring at me each day. Even if I would accomplish everything due on a certain day, the stuff for the rest of the week was still there, staring at me, part of one never-ending list. Maybe it was the lack of really good color coding. Very possibly it was that you typed in a task in one place, but then additional info for each task (due date, tag, etc) needed to be input and modified from a separate place. Definitely it was the lack of organization methods for tasks, sub-tasks, and sub-sub-tasks. Also, that $25 a month fee for their mobile app is crazy talk. Remember The Milk became a chore for me to use, and I went looking for better.

It's nothing personal, cow. Really.

I finally landed on ToDoist, and I liked it so much that I upgraded to a pro account. On the surface, it’s a lot like Remember The Milk in that it allows you to make a list of tasks with tags and due dates. But the awesomeness comes from organizing it all by project. On the left side of the screen, you have a color-coded list of projects (in my case, these are my clients). Each project can have sub-projects (these are each of the projects I have on my plate from each client). This simple enhancement has helped me keep track of my time and projects immensely. I also love that you can look at the coming week with each day having it’s own list of tasks rather than having one big long list. When my list for the day is empty, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.

ToDoist also allows you to assign not only due dates, but also due times to a task (Remember The Milk does this too, but less intuitively). This is great for putting a meeting or a time-sensitive project into a day’s list. In fact, this app has pretty much replaced my Google Calendar. The ToDoist Android app isn’t great, but their site is mobile-friendly, so I just keep it bookmarked on my phone.

These app tabs are brilliant

So there you go: ToDoist is my recommendation for getting your stuff in order for 2012. Not sold? The basic version is free (the paid version sync with Google Calendar and allows you to view completed tasks), so give it a spin for yourself and let me know what you think. It will take your list-making to new levels.

Oh, and one more suggestion: I love the new Firefox with it’s App Tabs. I have Twitter, Facebook, ToDoist, and Gmail pinned to the left side of my browser window at all times, and I’m constantly checking in on ToDoist and Gmail all day long. I highly recommend checking this out as well, since it has also massively changed my workflow practices.

Who's ready to party!?

Have fun tonight and I hope the new year brings you prosperity and inspiration!


  1. Notice: Undefined variable: author_email in /home5/grabbagm/public_html/grabbagmedia/wp-content/themes/grabbagmedia5/comments.php on line 15

    Notice: Undefined variable: size in /home5/grabbagm/public_html/grabbagmedia/wp-content/themes/grabbagmedia5/comments.php on line 15

    Notice: Undefined variable: default_avatar in /home5/grabbagm/public_html/grabbagmedia/wp-content/themes/grabbagmedia5/comments.php on line 15

    Last post of the year! Woot!

    Comment by admin on December 31, 2011 at 1:49 pm