My TODO Solution

Author: Jake Bauer | Published: 2020-07-08

Yesterday I posted about why I don’t think TODO lists or applications are useless. Today, I want to talk about my TODO solution or what I do to keep myself organized.

It all comes down to preferring simplicity over complexity. TODO applications or web tools are very pretty and very easy to synchronize across devices, but they suffer from the failing of being cumbersome and awkward to use. I find they get in my way more than they help me usually because of some required format that I have to structure my thoughts in, too many menus and clicks to do simple things, or an interface that has more whitespace than the latest minimalist desk picture on Pinterest.

I prefer to make literal TODO lists in a physical journal or plain text file. In fact, I typically do both and have multiple files at the same time. I have a Leuchtturm1917 A5 DotGrid notebook with an addiction assortment of fountain pens which I use to keep a physical TODO list and I have a 1970’s vintage vi which I use to finely craft my text files.

By “literal TODO lists” I mean just that: a plain list of things to do and appointments to keep with two different shapes of bullets depending on the type of item in the list. The TODO lists in my physical task book follow this format:

Thursday, 1 January, 1970
○ Lunch with Brian and Ken @ 12:30
□ Create UNIX time
■ Refill TTY with paper
□ Destroy undergrads in Spacewar!

An empty square represents a task that is yet to be completed. A filled in square represents a task that has been completed. Similarly, an empty circle and a filled circle represent appointments yet to be attended and appointments which have passed respectively. My task book is just page after page of days with tasks written like this.

At the beginning of school semesters, I will dedicate four pages (one for each month) to listing out the days of the month so that I can note assignment due dates, midterms, and exams in a single place. If I don’t complete a task written down on one day, I’ll just write down the same task (or what’s left to do for that task) on the next day. Sometimes I write a few days ahead if I want to make sure to remember something that I need to do in the near future.

Digital TODO lists (aka text files) are typically much shorter-lived. I find keeping track of things in digital form clunky and awkward to use, so I prefer to do as much on paper as possible. However, when programming, quickly listing and organizing a list of features I need to complete or bugs to fix can be preferable. Once again, this is a plain list with bullet points in a plain text file. When something is completed, it just gets removed from the list.

So, that’s how I stay organized and manage to get things done. No apps, no special formats, just pen and paper or, more rarely, a plain text file and a text editor. I’m interested in hearing about how other people stay organized and whether or not you use something like a TODO application or just pen and paper. Let me know by sending me a link to a response blog post or by mentioning me on the Fediverse.

This is my sixty-fourth post for the #100DaysToOffload challenge. You can learn more about this challenge over at