I like using TaskPaper to make and maintain my to-do lists because its format is flexible and it’s easy to come back to if (when) I stop using it for a while. I’ve come to accept that there will be times when I stop maintaining my to-do lists, and I don’t worry about it anymore. There are reasons it happens, and overall it doesn’t hurt my productivity.

Daily planner with TaskPaper list

The most common reason I stop maintaining my lists is that I get heavily involved in a single project for an extended period, and I just don’t see any reason to keep writing down what I’m going to do. I know perfectly well what I’m going to do when I come into work in the morning, and I wouldn’t bother looking at my list even if I’d made one. This is what happened over a 4–5 week period in October and November, when a lot of new work and a short deadline put one project above all others and consumed virtually all of my time. When thoughts of what to do and how to do it are in my head continuously, when every evening and every weekend are taken up with work on the same thing, writing it down is waste of time and effort.

Of course, other projects and other clients don’t just disappear during a period like this, and you might well argue that it’s especially important to maintain your to-do lists when one project threatens to overwhelm all the others. Oddly enough, I find that not to be the case because I’ve taken one of David Allen’s GTD precepts and applied it in a way that Allen probably wouldn’t approve of.

According to Allen, if a new task comes up and you can do it in just a few minutes right then and there, you should. Don’t write it down, don’t try to figure out where it fits in your list taxonomy, just do it. My adaptation of this principle is that when a call or email from a client comes in on one of my other projects, I try to take care of it immediately, regardless of how long it takes. I don’t worry that doing so will take me out of “the zone,” I treat it as a mental health break from the all-consuming project.

Obviously, this doesn’t always work out. Sometimes I don’t have the information or equipment needed to do this other thing, and in those situations I often do write down what I’m supposed to do later. But even then it’s not always necessary. If, for example, the “other thing” is to inspect a failed device that’s being sent to me, the arrival of the UPS truck with a box for me is the only prompting I need.

I find the hardest part of working on one of these all-consuming projects is getting back to a normal work pattern when it’s over. It stays in my head for days, interrupting my other work and generally making a nuisance of itself. It’s also hard to get back into the habit of making and maintaining task lists.

Which is why I like my TaskPaper system. There’s virtually no taxonomy to it—no contexts, just projects and tasks—and the bar for getting back into it when I’ve been out of it for a while is very low.

I’m still using Version 2 of TaskPaper, which I bought as part of one of those MacHeist bundles many years ago. I never took to FoldingText, Jesse Grosjean’s followup application that is in the same vein as TaskPaper but does much (too much, I thought) more. But Jesse is working on TaskPaper 3, and he has a preview version available. I like the way the new version handles projects, but I’m not so keen on the lack of options for setting the font and font size. I assume such things will be in the final release. Even if they aren’t, I’ll be buying it because I owe Jesse more than I’ve paid him so far.