How I track ideas, notes and tasks

My friend Tim wrote a great blog post the other day about his unhappiness with his mixed-up approach to organisational and productivity tools, and his dilemma of whether to use paper or digital tools and processes in future. He put a call out for help and advice from others, and I was one of the responders.

The reply I gave was quite long and worthy of being a post of it’s own, so here it is: my own, multi-tooled, mixed-media approach to organisation.

I don’t think I was much help to Tim because, as he currently does, I use a variety of approaches and am perfectly happy with that. But maybe one of my points here is that a mixed up approach is perfectly OK!


First of all, I find it really useful to separate stuff I’m organising into ephemeral and practical.

Ideas are ephemeral. They accumulate over time and as they accumulate they gain traction in my brain. The drip, drip, drip of thoughts and ideas accumulate until they are ready to become practical.

Doodling and jotting down in notebooks is IDEAL for ephemeral stuff. I might not want to refer back to it later and it’s not structured enough to make sense in the long term and to make it worth making it permanent/searchable/structured.

Eventually there comes a time when the ephemeral becomes more focused and starts to turn into more structured thoughts or practical actions. At this point stuff tends to become digital and I gather my ephemeral notes and record them digitally and organise them.

This sounds like I have some wonderful working process, but I really don’t!

A bit like Tim and other commenters on his post I have:

  • Physical Notebook(s) for jotting stuff down. I love the focus this gives me. Though, oddly, using an iPad works the same way. I often type blog posts on an iPad and it’s way less distracting that having my laptop open somehow.
  • Bear Notes: For recording everything written I want to remember (except links/bookmarks which go in Pinboard) plus writing draft blog posts and ideas for talks and videos and stuff. Sadly iOS/MacOS only.
  • Trello. I use this in two ways: 1) as a high-level project status board (with separate boards for personal, work and household projects) 2) as kanban-style boards for in-flight projects.
  • TickTick for the day to day “what the heck am I doing next” and odd things that don’t warrant a Trello card. I’ve used a bunch of ToDo apps over the years and TickTick suits me really well. Good apps, cloud sync, reminders, tags. Everything I need in a simple package.
  • I also use other project management tools for clients that use them. I’m happy to be flexible on a project-by-project basis and have used Asana, Basecamp, simple spreadsheets and plain emails to manage project work. It SUPER important that my clients are happy with the tools we are using to collaborate.

I also think it’s useful to do something like a physical written-down daily plan at the start of the day. What are the three things I want to do today? Ticking them off gives you satisfaction and some brain chemicals that make you feel good! But I’m not really sure how this fits with using TickTick for day-to-day todos. Hmm…there ARE too many things.

For this paper-based, day-o-day stuff, I’ve used Just Three journals by Sam Hotchkiss) pretty successfully, but they no longer exist.

And I use a Daily Greatness Business Planner on and off too, which I LOVE but it’s a whole year with week-to-a-page and loads of other stuff too and it’s just too big to carry around with you. I actually love the planner format, but I want a quarterly planner like this, not a whole year in one book.

You’ll see that I use a variety of methods, and that’s because I have a variety of needs. Not just the ephemeral/practical split I mentioned earlier; there are other considerations too. But I’m happy with mixed media and a multi-faceted approach.

Anyway, maybe there’s some helpful stuff there. Let us know what you do!

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