Get the Most Out of Your To-Do List
Make your to-do list more do-able with two software picks that will keep your organized and boost productivity. Here, expert reviews on MindManager and Life Balance.
Do you have a hard time getting things done? Many of my clients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do. And for many years, so did I. My daily to-do lists used to read like the stream-of-consciousness scribblings of a deranged novelist, lots of words with little structure.
I would forget to add some tasks to the lists, while listing others more than once. Even on ADHD “superstar days,” when I’d get 50 things done, I would always miss an important item or two—and feel that I had wasted the day.
Then I tried ADHD organization tools: calendar/task-management software, of the sort that comes with Internet-based e-mail accounts, such as Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail, as well as in programs like Microsoft Outlook and Entourage. These programs are much clearer than handwritten to-do lists. You simply enter the date, time, and task that needs doing, and the computer automatically sends you a heads-up chime or an e-mail at the appropriate time. You can even have the reminder text-messaged directly to your cell phone.
But what comes out of these programs is only as good as what goes into them. If you forget to list a task, you’ll never get a reminder to do it. If you list too many tasks, you’ll get a torrent of reminders—and be overwhelmed. Perhaps most galling, if you don’t include enough detail about the tasks and appointments (time of day, location, people involved, and so on), you may be unable to figure out exactly what it is you’re being reminded to do.
Case in point: I was working at my computer the other day, and up popped a reminder: “WEDDING.” But whose wedding? Where was it? What time? That’s when I decided I needed a calendar/to-do list system with some intelligence. Something that could take up the slack when I got sloppy about entering details, something that would help me set priorities and then push me to get things done. “WEDDING” wasn’t enough. What I needed was “Smith-Jones wedding, 554 Main Street, 11 a.m., 303-555-1212.”
For Mac, Windows, or iPhone available at llamagraphics.com; starting at $4.99
Unfortunately, some adults with ADHD, including me, need even more help with organization and structure and tend to be visual in the way we organize ourselves.
If that describes you, Life Balance may be worth a look. It lets you create to-do lists that are filled with check-boxes, highlights, tabs, and rating scales that help you see what you need to do, when you need to do it, and whether it’s getting done. There’s even a continuously updated pie chart that lets you know if your priorities are out of whack.
It compares what you think you should be doing to what you’re actually doing. For instance, if you worry that you’re spending too much time at work and not enough time with the kids, it’ll let you know if you’re right—and, if necessary, even help you re-balance your life.
Each time you enter a task into Life Balance, it asks you how difficult the task is, whether it is a one-time or a recurrent task, and how important it is, given your overall goals. Acting as a sort of electronic ADHD coach, it then sorts and resorts your task list to keep you honest.
Let’s say you have no trouble with small, easy-to-accomplish tasks but put off the big, bad, ugly tasks. Using vibrant colors, Life Balance highlights a task and starts marching it to the top of the list, changing the highlight from green to yellow to red as it becomes overdue.
For Windows and Mac, available at mindjet.com
As I was putting the final touches on this column, I stumbled across MindManager. This software doesn’t look or act anything like traditional calendar software or like a to-do list, but it works beautifully. At least it does for me. I’m the sort of person who never really feels in control of things unless they’re spread out before me, as I struggle to remember names and dates. (I can picture ideas, concepts, and places with ease.)
Instead of text-based lists or outlines, MindManager organizes your tasks using highly intuitive visual maps. At the center of each map is a box listing its overall theme—in this case, “taxes.” Each time you hit “enter,” you create a new box on the end of an arm radiating out from the center. Clicking “insert” allows you to add more detail to the new box, such as listing the forms you’ll need to fill out. You can add and view as much or as little detail as you’d like, and you can add color, icons, folders, files, pictures, or anything else you’d like to a topic or subtopic.
Once everything is laid out in map form, you can easily see (and remember) all the steps that might otherwise have gotten lost or overlooked. What’s more, viewing the map makes it easier to brainstorm new ideas that are related to taxes. I’m not much of an artist, but in just a few minutes, I had made a colorful map of my daily to-do list. The tasks were visually leaping off the page.
The more you use MindManager, the more cool stuff you start to do with it. You can insert pictures to represent tasks (such as a photo of a friend you want to call) or flag tasks with detailed notes, icons, smiley faces, or directional arrows. You can link tasks to e-mails, phone numbers, or Web sites. And everything is searchable by keyword—so you’ll never lose track of a task. Finally, the software provides an on-screen countdown timer to help you stick to a schedule and remind you to keep moving from one item to the next.
Life Balance and MindManager: two very different approaches to help you get organized and take control of your to-do’s. Make a commitment to either of these, and you’re almost certain to enjoy greater efficiency —and less trauma. At long last, it’s a relief to feel organized and up to date on my tasks.
ADHD Tools & Organization: Helpful Books
CrazyBusy, by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D.
Scattered Minds, by Lenard Adler, M.D.
Conquering Chronic Disorganization, by Judith Kolberg
Updated on July 8, 2021