Rhodri Marsden: Can Google Lists make you more efficient than apen and paper?

Cyberclinic
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The Independent Tech

I'm a compulsive list-maker. If something isn't worth including on a list, it's either too insignificant to bother with ("iron socks") or so daunting that it'll send you spiralling into depression ("closely examine relationship with father"). My arcane time-management system consists of sheets of scrap A4 which have been torn into two A5 pieces, and are used for drafts and redrafts of "to-do" lists. When a task is done, it's crossed off. When there's only a couple of things left on a bit of paper, it's rewritten on a fresh one – along with the dregs from other bits of paper – to form a lovely new list. Simple.

I'm not telling you all this because of pride in my organisational tics – far from it – but because I occasionally investigate software which might replace this somewhat outmoded system. And this week, once again, I've come away thinking that they're all inferior. Some are ludicrously complicated: I've been toying with an app for the Google G1 phone called TooDo, but its interface is a mass of icons, buttons and text fields. It synchronises with an online service called Toodledo, which mentions "folders, subtasks, due dates, priorities, tags, contexts, goals, notes, time estimates" – but the time devoted to categorising and labelling your tasks would obviously be better spent actually doing them.

It's notable that David Allen's whole Getting Things Gone (GTD) ethos which has spawned this glut of software has five meticulously explained steps, but the fifth one – "do" – is inconspicuously tacked on almost as an afterthought.

A brief mention of GTD on our blog brought many list makers out of hiding; many believed, like me, in keeping it real with pen and paper ("It's a lot more satisfying to cross out an item with a Sharpie than it is to click a checkbox"), while others bemoaned the way that forgotten paper lists tend to dissolve in the washing machine, and instead recommended various online systems: simplegtd.com, rememberthemilk.com, taskfreak.com and listography.com (which is a pretty terrifying repository of obsessive compulsive behaviour.) I did start making a long list of them along with a star-rating, but the irony of it all started making my head spin, so to make me feel better I made a list of easy-to-accomplish tasks instead ("derive pleasure from 'Harry Hill's TV Burp'").



Email any technology gripes to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk, or join the discussions on the blog at www.independent.co.uk/cyberclinic . Currently under discussion: What should I do with my CDs now that I never use them?

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