Keeping Track

I am a great believer in Post-it notes.  Every room in which I work (perhaps embarrassingly there are three: in the Department, the College and my home in the Master’s Lodge) has torn off Post-it notes scattered around and a selection of virgin pads of different sizes to hand. This is how I scribble down those tasks I mustn’t forget to do. I don’t yet have one by my bed but, too often, as I lie in bed my meandering winding-down brain throws up crucial things I should have done yet have failed to complete. At which point sleepiness departs but I can’t scrawl anything down in the dark.

I know I could use some wonderful app or other electronic widget to organise myself, but it would not have the same tangible satisfaction or pervasive availability (with simultaneously the opt-out clause of losing the piece of paper). I like the physical act of crossing out entries, of watching a list visibly diminish in a way the use of a ‘delete’ option would not provide. I like being able to have multiple lists, not because they’re carefully organised into College, committee, domestic or other logical grouping, but because I can retrace the memory path of when the list originated: this one started during that interminable committee meeting, that one began when I was on the train back from London, and so on. And as I get to the point when one list is all but scratched out because I’ve managed to accomplish the majority of the tasks detailed, then I can copy the remaining items onto a new page. That too has a strange satisfaction about it.

However, Post-it notes on distributed desks (and sometimes on the floor too), don’t add up to the effect of walls of ‘buffered thesis’ that Pat Thomson described a little while ago on her own blog   .  In this case the idea was to use Post-it notes to help with thesis writing; an easy way to organize thoughts as bite-sized headings which could be moved around to try out different flows of logic and ensure that nothing got forgotten. Much though I like the concept I think if I were faced with a wall of Post-it notes each morning I would find it altogether too depressing (although admittedly I’m not currently painfully trying to wade my way through thesis-writing). In a way, half the point of my disorganised collection is that I don’t have to stare at them all the time, I can quietly bury them whilst doing some major task (or alternatively doing something time-consuming which isn’t the same thing at all) and then uncover them again when ready to move on.

No doubt this says a lot about my flibbertigibbet brain, my habit of doing one thing with half a brain whilst the other half is reminding me of what else I should be doing. I most certainly would not describe this as fruitfully multitasking, although I am quite capable of talking and doing up my shoelaces at the same time. It is probably also connected with the fact that I have a variety of hats to wear (just as I have a variety of offices to work in) and I don’t compartmentalise them very well. It is probably not surprising if a remark – for instance about references – in one meeting reminds me of a task I have as yet failed to do, such as write a reference myself. Jotting this down, as long as it is sufficiently comprehensive to put the idea in context, simply makes sense.

I doubt very much the world was easier when everything was done in hard copy, including reference requests. I remember from my early years seeing professors carrying around bulging briefcases with folders of letters requiring attention. The attention they received was probably a dictated response some shorthand typist would be expected to type up for checking. But now everything comes in by email and few departments run to shorthand typists, we need to do the typing ourselves. In practice, this is probably at least as fast (assuming you have got beyond the one finger typing mode, as I would guess most people now have) as the thinking –dictating – checking and correcting modus operandi  of yesteryear.

So, I am not apologetic for the quantity of yellow dog-eared bits of paper littering my desk. I just wish I could discipline myself to write phrases that are invariably translatable days (or even weeks) later. Finding a note helpfully saying ‘repetitive words’ to remind me of…what? is simply frustrating. That particular item I cannot gleefully strike out – or at least not until the inspiration that provoked me to write it in the first place revisits me.

Dear Reader, how do you keep track of your to do list  – assuming you do?


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5 Responses to Keeping Track

  1. Laurel says:

    1. I put my tasks on my computer’s calendar; it sends me helpful, irritating reminders of things undone. (Bonus: occasionally prevents me from overcommitting)
    2. The Reminders app on my phone shows my to-do list before I unlock the phone (and before the game apps catch my eye).
    3. I agree with you about post-its! They wind up in my pockets, and provide a final push when I unload the pockets at the end of the day: among the keys & coins are notes about bringing coffeemaker to work, returning library books…

  2. James says:

    Paper diary for personal stuff, ‘week to view’ with a space where the 8th day would be for notes. Square brackets around items means to ideally do this week, but not yet essential. At work, outlook tasks and diary events. Square bracket rule applies there too!

  3. I make lists on a white board, a new to-do list at the beginning of each work day. Then I get to cross things off as I do them and erase the whole thing at the end of the day, which feels very satisfying.

    Also, hi! I’ve been reading here for a while and recently started a blog of my own, and am trying to get to know some other academic bloggers.

  4. NC says:

    I’m interested in the things you list as the advantages of a hard copy system: most of those things can be done in a variety of apps now!

    However, as a 25-year-old with an old lady’s brain, I also prefer the hard copy, and find my Filofax indispensable. I don’t have a phone, but I keep a list of the molecules I’m making (I’m a PhD chemistry student) along with synthetic steps and helpful info on the website Trello, and a long-term to do list on Google Keep. Anything like links and papers I need to read, I just email to myself!

  5. Stewart Eyres says:

    I apply Getting Things Done with Wunderlist app for practically everything – especially Waiting For to keep track of delegated things or where I’m waiting for a response,