Notes with Checkboxes – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

Ah, the humble checkbox. How ticking you fills me with joy, a sense of completion, a small bit of the chaos locked away.

Or at least, that’s how I’ve heard some people describe them.

No, I’m not really going to wax poetic on the nature of notetaking apps, but I am going to talk about one of the easiest tools to use to get started on improving personal productivity if you’ve never used anything in the past: the checkbox or list.

How to Use

To me, list making seems a nearly universal approach to remembering to do something, a way to have a plan (albiet a very simple one) to deal with something we must do. We use lists for grocery trips, chores, errannds, packing, and just about anything we want to quickly jot down to do later. But lists on paper and checkboxes within digital notetaking apps (like Evernot, Google Keep, and OneNote) can be extremely powerful. I find I use them all the time, even within other productivity systems because of how useful they can be. 

At the simplest, grab a sheet of paper and list out all the things you want to do. You don’t even have to separate them into categories. Put your oil change right after your character motivation you just realized you needed to add to your current scene. 

Using them within a dedicated environment can be even more powereful. Some entire systems are built around them – Bullet Journals,  HipsterPDA, Todoist, TickTick, Wunderlist, AnyDo. Even the prioritized daily task list that was part of the Franklin Day Planner system I mentioned in the first article of this series is just a list of things to be checked off during the day.

Of course, things might start to get a little jumbled after a while so a strategy is useful in applying this to your fiction writing. And that’s the big problem with them – lists can spiral out of control. Often, when you start listing out everything you need to do, you get overwhelmed by actually seeing HOW MUCH you have to do. And then you can’t find the item you need or it doesn’t remind you to do it at the appropriate time.

So, how do I use them?

My Usage in Writing Fiction

Lists and checkboxes are a tool within the much larger system I have developed for myself (and that is the topic I’ll be talking through next time). I use them sparingly.

Inside my project management system, I will create lists of thing associated with that project and only that project. And I try to limit that to only specific tasks.

“Revise draft” is not an appropriate checklist item – too broad and too encompassing. “Revise scene for redundant emotional beats as part of 10% cut” is a lot more useful. It reminds me what specific task I should be doing in enough detail and focus to make sure I get that ONE thing done.

I use them for research to create a list of exact sources I want to review. My next book about rogue AIs and teenage girls getting caught up in a crime syndicate’s plans has a lot to do with pets, so I have a list of movies and books that feature the important relationship between owner and pet, alongside requirements to research neural networks and machine learning.

I have a list of exact topics for this blog post series. 

I have a list of buisness and personal branding changes I need to make with my website. 

For me, the biggest asset in list making is knowing the context of where that list would be useful and making sure that the list surfaces when I need to work on that topic. I make sure I am checking my system for these things on a weekly basis to ensure I’m getting things back into my head that need my focus now.

Applications and Apps

I already listed out several applications and apps above, but without giving any opinion on them. Mostly that’s because each of the apps has a devout following and I have found they all have things that make them good fits and bad fits for me. Most of them become their own systems if you use them long enough. Also, fair warning, I don’t use a MacOS or iOS device, so there’s likely a whole bunch of appse out there that I’m not aware of, so take the below with that in mind.

If you prefer living in a paper and pen world, give Bullet Journaling a look. It doesn’t work for me, but the flexibility is very good. 

Digitally, I think Evernote is the most useful notetaking tool and it has some decent list making and reminder resources, though it can be overkill. 

For a simpler digital note system, Google Keep is very clean and ties in nicely with the Google environment if you are already a Gmail lover. 

And if you just want a digital checklist, I recommend TickTick as a starting point as it has all the features that you’d likely want in the free version.


How do you use lists in your current work? Do they help you or do you find them superfluous? 

Comment and engage below.

4 thoughts on “Notes with Checkboxes – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

  1. My biggest running checklist is a very specific revision checklist for each story that I make when doing my first read-through. I also like using Google Keep (thanks for the rec!) to track things I want to add or ideas for scenes as I’m writing. Cheers to the checked box!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve tried various apps and methods for digital lists but, I always end up using a simple “todo.txt” file. Although, most of my checklists are analog and I typically utilize a 3×5 index card. They are small enough to slip into your pocket and carry around and keep my lists from getting out of hand due to the natural size constraints imposed by the dimensions of the card itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paper is okay for quick stuff that I need to remember within the course of the day, but for anything project related I have to get it into a system of some kind because I am not organized enough to keep track of little peaces. And I’ve been so conditioned to searching for things to re-find them that not having the in something digital is a recipe for disaster.

      I’ve tried plain text files for things like note and to-dos, but just find aI have too much that isn’t textual or is easier conveyed through something visual – snap a quick pick of the serial number and IMEI for my new phone or the new eye drops I’m using is just faster for me.

      But that’s the great part of personal productivity – it’s personal and can be tailored exactly how one needs it.

      Liked by 1 person

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