To Do or Not To Do

“We’re also big users of Google Calendar at the radio show. The desktop interface for that is good but the Google Calendar iPhone app is just fucking annoying and really should go to hell.”
-Ira Glass in “I’m Ira Glass, Host of This American Life, and This Is How I Work

Ira Glass is someone who inspires me. I’ve long been a fan of This American Life, but they’ve kicked it up a notch over the last few years with ambitious investigative pieces, like this one about Tylenol or this two-parter that came out of the five months their reporters spent in a Chicago high school. They’ve also taken up doing live shows, and Ira’s always out on the road speaking. I saw him speak in Buffalo this past fall, and when you hear him talk about the process of putting together the show, it’s impressive.

The newest thing Ira’s done is he’s decided to take on This American Life‘s distribution, which he keeps insisting is not such a big deal but is actually completely badass. Every time I think about it, I want to do something radical and awesome.

What I’ve done instead, though, is I’ve started using the to do list app Ira talks about in this Lifehacker interview I can’t stop quoting. For many years, I have been using my patented Spiral Bound Notebook Organizational System, but a few months ago, I realized this was no longer working in my new job* because I’m always looking so far aheaFind the Money Tree: DO IT NOW!d. Sometimes I have to write a thing down that I need to remember to do, say, two years from now. I write down things I want to remember to think about at some point. The present is important, but a lot of what I do is about the future and planning. Not so long after I got my job at HPL, I gave up my paper calendar and switched to iCal, which I mostly use on my iPad Mini, which worked out way better than I wanted it to (because I love my paper), so I decided that maybe the Mini was going to be the solution to my to do list issues and started using Reminders.

Reminders has been helping, but I don’t like its display, which is a completely aesthetic response, but some of its functionality is likewise irritating–like if you want to put a lot of items on a list at once, that doesn’t work smoothly. I keep fussing with the customization to try to like it better, but it hasn’t helped. I fell in love with the app Ira uses, Wunderlist, as soon as I opened it. It’s the pretend wood grain that hooked me, which is ridiculous–because shouldn’t it look like paper?–but I find it easier to look at than Reminders. It turns out the functionality is better, too, at least for me. Adding new lists, editing, and adding multiple items to a list is more a one-click business than it is in Reminders.

Not that I’m giving up my spiral-bound notebook, my blank paper desk blotter, or my colored pencils. For me making plans and really thinking things through involves paper. (And Malcolm Gladwell says that’s just as it should be, so it must be true.) Ira uses paper, too. He specifically mentions these notebooks and these pens, which how much do I want both those things now? Very, very much. But do you see how the notebooks are out of stock? I don’t know how the universe expects me to endure this hardship. I guess I could use the legion of notebooks I already own, but that’s not what Ira does.

And they do have a wide selection of other notebooks.

My choice here is clear.

*I celebrated my two-year anniversary on July 10. I’m not sure when I’m going to stop calling this my new job. Perhaps when I have a solid organizational system. Maybe never.


  1. Posted July 27, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I used to use a particular brand/style of steno pad that I’m not really sure is available any more. It’s potential lack of availability makes me avoid writing things down these days. I also used to horde them whenever I’d see them in a store.

  2. adrienne
    Posted July 27, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Now I want to know the brand and style. Details, Jeffrey. Details.

    I don’t hoard much, but I absolutely hoard paper and writing implements. I’ve decided that’s okay, though.

  3. Posted July 27, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    YES, I love Wunderlist, too! I love that it’s easy to keep multiple lists and that I still get the satisfaction of checking something off (but it’s still saved in case I need to find it again).

  4. adrienne
    Posted July 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I keep playing around with it and liking it more and more.

  5. tanita
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    This whole piece and especially Jeffrey’s comment makes me laugh. I am so anti-commitment that I don’t even like to watch TV shoes which I might get hooked on, or read books that are in a series that isn’t DONE yet, so I can feel your angst on hoarding paper goods and longing for ALLLL the notebooks of one particular type.

    There’s a certain brand of crazy in that.
    And, apparently it’s mine.
    I am not brand-conscious, but I am paranoid about NOT having a pad of paper around, and have a distinct inability to throw away paper pads… when they’re filled with things that aren’t checked off. I don’t just TRANSFER that information to somewhere else, no; I keep them. So, I seriously should look into an online thing… but I do love my paper…

  6. olivia
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    OOOH. Those notebooks are pretty!!! I don’t need them, of course, but I would likely just look at them and touch them with fondness. I think I have a problem. :)

  7. adrienne
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Tanita, The reminders aren’t working right on my Wunderlist, and so I had a crisis this morning in which I felt like I should just go back to paper–so we’ll see.

    I love notebooks so much. I knew you’d understand.

    Olivia, I knew you’d understand, too.

  8. Posted July 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I adore Wunderlist! One thing I like is that I can share lists with my husband (like the grocery list). I also like being able to create different task lists (like one for KidLitCon) and then being able to see everything from all my lists in one place.

  9. adrienne
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I did notice that there are some sharing and emailing options on there that I have to look at more closely.

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  1. […] was looking at old posts trying to figure out what I was up to here before I abandoned my blog, and check out this post where I was all cute thinking I was going to change my life using digital to do lists and […]

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