Monday, December 29, 2008

Making Lists

I'm a list maker. Particularly when I'm working on a project that has a lot of dependencies, I find they come in at all different times. And I need a list to tell me what I can and can't do at any given point. Otherwise I spend a lot of time looking to see if I can do something instead of just doing the things I can do.

It's really simple: 
- task (need ___ from ___)
- task (need ___ from ___)
- task

Lists are my hero.

The problem I have is that I haven't found a good way to handle lists. I've tried sooo many list programs:
- a text file
- Dashboard stickies
- OmniFocus
- OneNote (on Windows, of course)
- Mac Mail tasks
- Campfire and variants
- Who knows... many more.

So what do you other list keepers use?

ETA: I should point out that I consider the defect tracking system one of my lists! I just need the status information...


  1. I often use Freemind mind mapping tool in the early phases of a project, when asimilating new knowledge and when I need track lots of variables and paramaters, e.g. simultaneous execution and debug of tests on multiple pc's.

    My other stalwart is the old favourite, excel.

    btw, do you twitter?


  2. Have you looked into using mind maps?

  3. That's two mentions of mind maps in two comments! I've played with them a bit, wasn't impressed, and haven't gone any deeper. I had tried VisualMind (back when I was working on Windows) and OmniGraffle (in the more recent Mac worklife). In both cases I just couldn't find any information later on - it just looked like a big mess when I opened it up again.

    I'll have to check out Freemind, though. Maybe it'll get me to spend more time thinking and less time moving stuff around in an attempt at readability!

    @glenn No, I haven't started twittering.

  4. Re. finding things later in mind maps... I find that my use of mindmaps is short lived on each occasion, during the learning or intense information monitoring phases of my work. I prefer a wiki for longer lived information. I also don't use mindmaps for shared information as I don't want to force others to use a mindmap if that's not natural for them.

    So, I'd agree that information can sometimes be hard to find in a mindmap. I think Freemind has a reasonable search.

  5. Try the Tasks list in Outlook. I recently started using it after trying out notepad and OneNote and I find it really helpful. Adding an item is really easy and so is re-prioritizing and re-ordering tasks. Once you're done, clicking it will make it go away from the list but you can always look at all the tasks you've marked complete. Theres also % complete.

  6. For personal lists I use todoist, which has hierarchy within tasks and categories, and has a good UI and strong deadline, priority, and tagging support. What it does not have is shared to-do lists for use on a team, and I have not found a to-do tool that shares at a useful granularity without losing hierarchy.

  7. Another vote for FreeMind. I find that the App takes too long sometimes to start when I have that pressing thought or list, so here's a tip; Make a list with hierarchy in Freemind, then copy the root node and paste it in a text editor. Notice the spaces? You can use those same 4 spaces when typing into a text editor, and paste that text into Freemind. I've actually found myself using sed to emulate this behavior in directory lists to make freemind lists easier to generate..

  8. For my list making needs, i've turned to a plain text editor, Excel, and recently TiddlyWiki ( The personal wiki allows me to use tags to organize my stuff.

  9. If you want lightweight, look at Things. If you want lighter weight, look at Anxiety.