To do or not to do. That is the question, to paraphrase the famous line from Hamlet by William Shakespeare. In my case, I am thinking about the New Year resolutions that I typically write about the first week in January of each year. More specifically, I am thinking about the ways that I keep up with my “To Do” lists of things I want to accomplish.
I have always been a list person. It started out with a pad I kept in my shirt pocket when I started working at the peanut mill. I would jot down reminders, names, wagon numbers, lot numbers of peanuts, and anything else that I was likely to forget. I did not forget nearly as much then as I do now.
Eventually, computers found their way into my life. I started making “To Do” lists on Lotus spreadsheets, then Excel, and finally on Word. Templates became available that made the lists look more professional but had no real impact on how many items got done.
At this point the printed lists morphed into sub-lists. There were lists by date, by subject, by objective, and just lists made up of uncompleted items on old lists. I even read a book or two about how to organize your day and the things you needed to get done to be successful. The only person benefiting from most of those books was the author selling the book.
Halfway through my college years, Post-It Notes became popular. They were actually invented in the 1960s when a 3M scientist accidentally invented a weak adhesive while trying to discover a stronger one. It was not until 1974 when another 3M scientist, Arthur Fry, found a practical use for the soon to be famous product. Fry was looking for something to mark the pages in his hymnal and combined the weak adhesive with a small, brightly colored piece of paper. Easy to find the marker and no adhesive left behind. Literally a new and better mousetrap that made millions.
I cannot imagine how many Post-It Notes I have used in music books and hymnals in my years as an organist. Originally a 3” by 3” yellow square, Post-it Notes, and their many offshoots evolved into many sizes and colors. I can see dozens on my desk even as I type this article.
Eventually, I decided to let the digital world become my note-taker. I downloaded the Evernote program which synced my notes between my iPhone, iPad, and computer. Despite my belief that Evernote would replace Post-It Notes, that did not happen. Instead, my digital notes became even more numerous than my paper notes.
As of tonight, I have 279 notes on Evernote. That is not 279 items listed, that is 279 notes full of items. There is no telling how many items are duplicated on different notes. Or tasks. Or lists. Evernote became more sophisticated and managed to capture my thoughts and tasks in many more ways than paper ever did.
As I reviewed my past columns for previous resolutions, I realized that some make the list each year. Some are accomplished and some fall by the wayside. Some resolutions and promises get sidetracked by unforeseen events. For instance, my main resolution in 2020 was to travel more of the world. Three months later Covid was changing our world in unimaginable ways.
This year, aware of our remaining challenges and mindful of the need to move forward positively, I am keeping it simple.
In my office, I have a file of old written To-Do Notes, each with at least one item that has not been completed. I also have a file with dozens, maybe hundreds of Post-It Notes, mostly yellow, but not all. Each of them has at least one uncompleted task, an address, a phone number, or something that needs to find a more permanent place. As I have mentioned, I also have 279 Evernote notes and tasks.
It is too much to resolve to get all these reminders, tasks and notes down to one list. However, if I can convert the paper notes and Post-It Notes to a digital file and consolidate my Evernotes down to maybe ten subject related notes, then I will have accomplished something amazing in 2022.
So, there you have it. Just one resolution. Not to put my projects on a list, but to reduce my lists to a single project. Consolidate.
Of course, as with all resolutions each year, success really just boils down to one thing. To Do or Not to Do. That is the question.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org