Monday, August 19, 2019

Proximity in Productivity

I find to-do lists to be most useful when they are located closest to where things are to be done.

Paper to do lists have one huge advantage over electronic to do lists. Once the ink is on the page, it stays there. The only thing one can do after writing something down is cross it off, presumably when done. It is also easy to have them always on and visible—no battery charge required.

Electronic to do lists too easily create the illusion of accomplishment by enabling doing something with a to do item other than doing it. I can move it, color it, categorize it, edit it, sort it, time it, date it, locate it, email it, share it, remind it, flag it, subtask it, and on and on. In the end, these things have a tendency to make my to-do list longer, not shorter.

There is one instance in which electronic to-do lists are useful: when that is closest to the things that need to be done, i.e. doing electronic tasks, although even then they accessory distractions remain. For to-do items that include location information, that feature still depends on the device being close to the action. Sometimes having electronic devices nearby is unwise as water is dangerous to electronics.

Sometimes I wish I had written down on paper what I intended to do before I pick up and turn on my electronic device, because as soon as I do, there are bright red email notifications, or app organization schemes, or previously opened apps ready to beckon my attention.

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