“To Do lists are evil, use your calendar”

To say I don’t agree with this is to emphasise how I put the advice in speech marks. Tasks and events are different and if you try mixing them you are screwed. For instance, say you have to phone the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – wait, that’s exactly the example that popped into my head when writing the book of The Blank Screen:

…you can be tempted to start putting some tasks in your calendar and some in a To Do app and that way begins with a certain amount of sanity but ends in an overwhelming amount of madness. You start putting things in that are really obvious like that phone call to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that you said you’d do on Thursday, that’d go in to your calendar easily. But the MTC is a busy bunch, if you’re not to waste the call, you need to plan what you’re going to ask them and when exactly do you put that in your calendar?

Maybe you pick a date for that and go into this cycle of moving the task to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow until you end up doing it right before the call. Or you put the planning into your To Do app and then you are stuffed. If you look at the To Do app, it doesn’t tell you when the call is due. If you look in your calendar, it doesn’t tell you whether or not you’ve finished the planning. Sooner or even sooner, you end up having to look in both and you end up having to keep looking in both. Over and over. And each time you think about whether this task in your calendar has an associated task in your To Do app, or vice versa, you’re wasting time you could spend on doing this stuff. I’m more okay with wasting time than I sound but I’d rather waste it doing something I like.

Now, a To Do application that includes a calendar: that’s different. Those I love. It seems such a simple thing, but to have my list of things I’ve got to do today followed by a stolen peek at my calendar is just great. It’s everything I need to know in one glance.

The Blank Screen – William Gallagher (2013)

But just because I believe this, it only means I’m right for me. Your mileage may vary and since I want you to be more productive more than I want you to say nice things about agreeing with me all the time because I’m a special little snowflake, I’d like you to take a look at someone who disagrees with me. They have many points. But they boil down to this one plus a lot of justification:

To-Do Lists Are Evil. Schedule Everything.

To-do lists by themselves are useless. They’re just the first step. You have to assign them time on your schedule. Why?
It makes you be realistic about what you can get done. It allows you to do tasks when it’s efficient, not just because it’s #4.
Until it’s on your calendar and assigned an hour, it’s just a list of wishful thinking.

How to Stop Being Lazy and Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips – Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree ( 10 August 2014)

Do read the full feature: I usually think Barker has a lot of good things to say.

Tip: returning Siri to navigation

Here’s the thing. You’re driving using Siri as a Satnav on your iPhone. Since the phone is plugged into the car and therefore thinks it’s on mains, you can just say “Hey Siri” and ask it what you like, when you like. It is great.


You’re navigating along and you get a text. “Hey Siri, read my texts”, you say. And it does. That’s nice.

What’s a lot less nice is that your iPhone then sits on that grey-black Siri page waiting for you to press the button to ask it something else.

Don’t. Do this instead. Say: “Hey, Siri, what’s our ETA?”

Siri will tell you. Many people don’t realise you can do this at all but the trick is not that you can do it but that Siri reacts in a certain way. It tells you the ETA – and then it goes back to navigating. It goes back to the map and its turn by turn directions instead of the grey-black emptiness of the Siri page.

There will be other questions that work but the ETA one seems to do the job because it is related to navigating. Somehow iOS 8 knows to pop you back to navigating after you’ve asked this.

Bonus: when you do this a lot, as I do, you get to ask the ETA many times and you get to learn what your ETA is. I rarely care but now I’m very familiar with distances on the motorway.

Quickly find something on a website

Google searches everywhere, pretty much, and the search within a particular website is often rubbish. Often seriously rubbish. But you can combine the two to get straight to what you want.

For example, if you wanted to find every mention of OmniFocus on this site, The Blank Screen, then you would need hours of reading but practically no time searching. Just go to Google and type”

OmniFocus at williamgallagher.com

That’s it. Google will now search williamgallagher.com for the word OmniFocus. The search page will go on and tell you more from other places, especially if anyone’s linked to my blathering on about that To Do software, but the top results will be the ones you want on the site you’re searching.

Productivity tip: Control-L

That’s it. Holding down the Control key (aka CTRL, aka Apple key on Macs) and tapping the letter L. This will speed up your life.

Because when you’re in a web browser, any web browser, doing that leaps you up to the address bar. More, it highlights that address bar. Just do Ctrl-L and begin typing the URL of the next website you want to go to.

Or since most browsers now have what’s called an omnibar – one space that doubles as both where you type www.whatever.com and where you type in what you want to search for – just Ctrl-L and type anything you like.

Trust me. It’s so much faster than going to the mouse and clicking away like a prehistoric computer user.

Make writing a habit by tying it to something else

You have lunch most days, right? You go to bed pretty much every night? Write for half an hour before you eat lunch. Write for ten minutes before you go to bed.

That’s it. That’s all. That is actually my productivity tip of the week – I do one of those in each of the weekly The Blank Screen email newsletters – and it’s so new to me that it isn’t in The Blank Screen book. I shouldn’t tell you that. But it’s you, I can’t lie to you.

And I can’t try to make this one sound more than it is. Just find a thing you have to do or a thing you like doing and then do some writing before it. Before it every time. Make the two things go together like a double bill. It means you won’t forget to do it, you will make it a habit.

Just be careful of one thing. Whatever you tie this writing to, make sure you do the writing before it. Not after. Telling yourself you’ll write for an hour after you come back from the gym won’t work. Telling yourself you’ll write for ten minutes before you go to the gym, that works.