From paper to app: Productivity plans for a new semester


One of my biggest joys in this world is organization. It sounds odd, but I love when a calendar is color-coded. I love when the to-do list is prioritized. I love planning projects and managing time lines. Then, I love completing tasks early and making that oh-so-satisfying check mark! 

In fact, this time of year usually finds me hunting for a new day planner (see “The Black Sharpie” entry from one year ago today). I can’t help it. I love all things organizational. 

But with my institution’s new iPad initiative beginning this past summer, I found it problematic to carry around a high tech, expensive iPad AND my day planner. After a week of using the iPad, I realized it wouldn’t work. In fact, people commented on the strange combination. Why carry around a dated paper day planner when the high tech tool could do EVERYTHING? I made a promise. I would go completely iPad. I would force myself to take all notes in all meetings on the iPad, to input all my contacts, to incorporate it into my classes. What good is an initiative if the professors aren’t using the devices? 

But I struggled with the transition when it came to my calendar/daily tasks. I’ve spent the past few months bouncing from task list to task list and feeling frustrated and mildly out of control when it comes to my daily work load. I love the basic task lists for gentle reminders and easy one-time tasks, but how on earth do you work in a large project? 

Though I had no trouble going digital with my calendar, I struggled with a digital format for my tasks, goals, and “to do” items. I’ve synced lists with my email and worked my way through a surprising number of productivity and task apps. Though many work well, they just don’t give me the same feeling as writing a task and then (eventually) marking it off the list. I can’t color-code, structure, or add sub-tasks to these tools and find myself jotting notes on paper and dry erase boards to stay on task. But, I’ve made a pact with myself that I will not be left behind technologically and MUST use the iPad to the fullest possible productivity level. So, to that end, I have ignored my annual trip to the office supply store to shop for day planners. I’ve given in and followed the advice of many Twitter folks who recommended Toodledo when I asked about productivity apps and tools.

I have used this app for a few days and already I can tell it will NOT be relegated to a background list of tasks without prioritized structure or options to further manage the items. It let’s me categorize (folder), prioritize (high, medium, low), sort (by date added, due date, priority, folder, etc.), take notes, and sync through multiple devices. It FEELS like a day planner. It is cheap (the iPad app was $1.99, the online option is free), though I sprang for a “pro” account and paid $14.99 for one year (saving roughly $30 from my annual day planner purchase). 

What a great way to dive into a new semester and re-energize! I’ve already made my folders and input all of my goals for the semester along with all of my “must do” items prior to my (GULP) tenure review this coming fall. I feel calmer. I feel focused. I have that same shiny, excited feeling that comes with the purchase of a fresh, new calendar. In this image, you can see my folders- which were easy to create and SIMPLE to work with your tasks. 

I love to look at a snapshot of my week’s tasks and to review the sub-tasks on my projects. This is where most apps and tools stopped working for me. In Toodledo, I can easily structure my “view” to be by priority, due date, folder, etc. It is wonderful. I can mix high and low priority items and type in notes and even import files related to those tasks (the files can be attached to a specific task). Today, I opened Toodledo to find a beautiful list of both large and small tasks. I sat right down and started working through my highest priority tasks first (imagine my sigh of nerdy pleasure here).

Since it has become a tradition to start the new year off with a conversation of organizing the new semester, I simply had to mention my satisfaction with my electronic options to hyper-organize my last few months before the tenure review.

What tools, apps, or strategies do you find most effective to prepare for a new semester? 

Author of article – Lora Helvie-Mason


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