Establishing a task list/planner with a lot of redundancy
August 9, 2010 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm returning to school and need help developing a system for remembering tasks and deadlines that involves a lot of redundancy. I am having trouble not just remembering said tasks and deadlines, but remembering to check any To-Do lists or planners I fill out.

Pertinent info: I have ADHD, I'm currently on medication that helps with it, and when I remember I need to do a task focusing on it is not the major issue. It's remembering that the task exists in the first place.

This is the first time I have put a concerted effort into staying on top of school, work, and extracurricular activities, and given the number of even very basic deadlines I've missed in these spheres (like the first day of a class or a car inspection deadline), I am very, very bad at this.

I have tried To-Do lists and planners (paper, Google calendar, etc), but inevitably forget to fill them out or that they even exist and I'm back to square one. I feel like I need a system with a lot of redundancy, like fifteen dozen identical planners scattered across my room, car, house, gym, etc, so I can't go five minutes without being reminded to check my task list and if there's a task that requires repeated attention (like seeing if someone's replied to an email yet) I will remember to keep at that task. But buying fifteen dozen planners is financially infeasible, not to mention trying to fill them all out would be a job in of itself.

If you are badly scatterbrained, really badly scatterbrained, what systems have you put in place in order to combat your forgetfulness? How did you establish redundancy to make sure your planner or To-Do list was at the forefront of your brain at all times, if not the tasks you're supposed to get done themselves?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (16 answers total)
In the past I've made hundreds of to-do lists, only to find them a week later buried in my bag or ina drawer somewhere.

What works for me is if I find out I need to do something coming up - I immediately note it in an app on my phone. I then set a reminder with an alarm. Even my old "dumb- phone" had a section for notes with alarm options.

Also, in the past (which I should start doing when I get home - I'm going to note it in my phone as soon as I'm done with this reply) is to mark a wall calendar for things when bills are due.

So, basically, since you forget that google calendar exists - I think it may help to use an application on your pc or cell phone that has an alarm/email/pop-up notification/reminder.

There was a year or so, that I wore this cool little notepad around my neck that I constantly wrote in - but I realize that's not for everyone.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:40 AM on August 9, 2010 Set it as your homepage in all your browsers.

If you go "pro" for $25/year, you can also get a smartphone app if you have a compatible phone (iPhone, Android, etc.)
posted by aheckler at 8:41 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of task management approaches emphasize the idea of a single repository for this sort of thing. Everything you need to do is in one place. Keeping multiple todo lists in sync is a tremendous overhead, both practically (although doubtless people will have software suggestions that address this) but, more importantly, cognitively. Multiple "redundant" views of the same list would only stress me out. Unless you can 100% trust that every todo list you look at or edit is in sync with every other, you will subconsciously (or even consciously) stress about whether they are in sync, and stress leads to analysis paralysis. And seeing your todo list too often does the same. Concentrate on getting a system in which their is only one point of entry for your tasks.

Assuming you buy that, there remains the problem of reminding yourself that you have tasks at all. Unless you have a truly unusual job, you do not need to review your list every fifteen minutes, and I would imagine that doing so would exacerbate attention-related issues. Checking the list at the start of the day and the end of the day is likely (more than) sufficient. This may betray my ignorance about ADHD, but can you make sure you do the review in the morning with your breakfast/coffee/on the bus where there's nothing else to do/whatever before you start work? And select only, say, one or two things to focus on. Then don't look at the list again if you get those done.
posted by caek at 8:41 AM on August 9, 2010

Do you have a mobile phone? Even a non-smartphone can send texts to Google Calendar to set up appointments, and create reminders to text you on or before they are to happen. The very second I know I need to be somewhere on some day at some time I say "excuse me" and send a text to Gcal.

Did the professor just announce the date of the final or when the big paper is due? I text Gcal right there and then in of class. If the professor has a "no electronics in class" rule, just explain your situation to them privately, before or after class. Don't be shy. I have a similar issue, and have had to explain it to at least a dozen professors over the course of my college career. Not a single one has has had an issue with it.

The other thing is to set up a certain period, once a week or so, to maintain your Gcal. Every Weds at 9 PM, you sit down and set up alerts. Big paper? Have Gcal send you an alert two weeks before. Then, a week before. Then, three days before. Same thing with the final. You can even set up an alert to remind you that you need to maintain your alerts for the week.

Good luck!
posted by griphus at 8:41 AM on August 9, 2010

PS- It can also send SMS, IM, and email reminders.
posted by aheckler at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2010

Best answer: I like to have a giant desk sized calander in front of my computer. I write every due date and commitment on it. I end up looking at all the time. Even when I'm just browsing the web I still notice what is coming up on my schedule.
It helps to get your syllabus and fill it in at the beginning of the semsester.
posted by WhiteWhale at 8:44 AM on August 9, 2010

I think you're looking at this backwards - instead of 15 identical planners, what you want is a single, universal planner, that contains absolutely everything you have to worry about. Don't commit to anything or agree to any task before putting it in your planner. That way, you only have to remember one thing: check my one planner. Check it as often as you need to to feel like you aren't forgetting anything.

I'm extremely absentminded, and what worked well for me was the Getting Things Done system. It was an Internet fad for a while, with lots of accessories and complications, but the basic GTD book is all I used to get things much more under control.
posted by pocams at 8:45 AM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: I don't have a smartphone or "dumb phone" that does task scheduling with any ease whatsoever.

I know people are saying I need a "universal planner", my problem is that I have used "universal planners" before and forget that the planner exists. I find it buried in my bag or if I use an online system it becomes one of the twenty billion tabs I tend to open in my browser and gets lost in the shuffle (not to mention times when I don't have access to my personal computer, like the majority of the weekend, and so the planner wouldn't pop up anyway). I need some kind of system that's the equivalent of someone tapping me on the shoulder and saying "Oh, check that." I will create a task list in the morning, go out for the day, get distracted with doing something else, and then I see it sitting on my desk, in my pocket, stuffed in my purse, etc, and I realize I've forgotten that I had it again.

The thing about "fifteen identical planners" was an exaggeration, I was just trying to get across that if I have only one copy of something the minute I put it down or it's out of my sight it goes completely out-of-mind.
posted by Anonymous at 9:12 AM on August 9, 2010

The thing about "fifteen identical planners" was an exaggeration, I was just trying to get across that if I have only one copy of something the minute I put it down or it's out of my sight it goes completely out-of-mind.

I'm being semi-flippant here, but that's a good thing. Your job is not administering your todo list. It's doing the first item on your todo list.

Read Getting Things Done. You may not like that particular system, and you have to have a moderately strong stomach for self-help prose, but I think most people would get something out of reading that book.
posted by caek at 9:20 AM on August 9, 2010

As someone who is regular-forgetful, the only thing I've found that's worked for me is developing the habit of checking my calendar. I keep one calendar - keeping more than one just leads to more scheduling fuckups, where you've got two things on calendar A that don't appear on calendar B, which has three things that don't appear on calendar C, etc.

One. Calendar. Whether it's a notebook or a phone or whatever, it's always on your person. Develop the habit (easier said than done, I know, but there's really no easy technical solution to this) of looking at it every morning. When a friend suggests a movie on Wednesday, don't say "Okay!" - whip out the calendar right then and there and look at it, write in the plan for the movie, and set a reminder notice (if it's a digital calendar thing).

I can't emphasize enough that there is no purely technical solution to if I have only one copy of something the minute I put it down or it's out of my sight it goes completely out-of-mind. There are things in your life that, when they are out of your sight, you still remember them, yes? Whether it's your keys or your wallet or whatever, there is at least one thing that you have trained your brain to remember even when you can't see it. Train your brain to make the calendar one of these things.
posted by rtha at 10:36 AM on August 9, 2010

Do you tend to have your phone on your person the majority of the time? Rubberband post-in note reminders to that, even if they just say "check planner!" That's the only thing that's ever worked for me.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 10:36 AM on August 9, 2010

I don't have a smartphone or "dumb phone" that does task scheduling with any ease whatsoever.

You don't need one. All you need is a phone that texts. Then you set up Gcal to accept texts from you and put the number in the phonebook. Whenever something that needs to be written down comes up you text "Final Exam 7/29 11AM" and an entry is created for 7/29, at 11AM for "Final Exam." Again, you set up alerts on a set day every week. Put a big sign in a visible location: "WEDS. 9PM. DO ALERTS."
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on August 9, 2010

Again, you set up alerts on a set day every week. Put a big sign in a visible location: "WEDS. 9PM. DO ALERTS."

You could set up an alert to remind you it's time to do alerts for the coming week.

I haven't used alerts much, but they really are about the closest thing you can get to someone tapping you on the shoulder.
posted by not that girl at 11:40 AM on August 9, 2010

schroedinger: "I don't have a smartphone or "dumb phone" that does task scheduling with any ease whatsoever.

I know people are saying I need a "universal planner", my problem is that I have used "universal planners" before and forget that the planner exists.

That's why it's so important that the solution tie into your phone, which many people carry on them at all times, and are trained to respond to. If you don't, then consider what you do carry, and whether this is the one habit you can adopt. And that's the most important lesson here; forming habits breeds success.

As for redundancy, the solution I'm currently looking at is calDAV hosted on my web server. The goal is to get a unified view on my desktop, phone, car and work desk, but it looks less supported than ical format. So currently I use Exchange for work reminders (and push email -- no mentally draining reminders to check for email), calDAV for personal projects at home that are less about reminders and more about writing things down for later motivation. This kind of network access is kind of infeasible without smart phones, so I kind of like griphus's suggestion of using Google SMS reminders. And I actually do not that girl's suggestion of setting up reminders to set up reminders, which I got as a tip from a book I read on time management, which became a habit after the consequences of not doing this once or twice and practicing it deliberately afterwards.

It's great that you're learning this stuff now, rather than on the job. I wish I had done this because it's much less painful than letting stress motivate the planning, which comes with free acid reflux and cold sweats. I wish colleges did more to support this behavior early. Their online courses maintain all the data they need to offer students personalized calendars and todo lists, but they don't do it. Hell, you're lucky if the Academic Calendar is published in a standardized format.
posted by pwnguin at 12:06 PM on August 9, 2010

I swore that I would always use a paper planner, but I am slowly accepting the dark side. I use my Outlook calendar to remind me to do some things that I know I'll forget - it pops up every day to remind me to take my pills at lunch time, among other things. I also have it activated on my Droid.
posted by radioamy at 1:16 PM on August 9, 2010

Up until spring semester this year I was exactly like you. January I got my first smart phone (Google Nexus One). It has helped immensely. With the Google calendar and remember the milk widgets I have become much more organized. I thought it would be nice, but it has been so much more. I guess my recommendation is get a smart phone, take it with you everywhere, use it for all your organizational stuff.
posted by DJWeezy at 5:18 PM on August 9, 2010

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