You’re probably getting emails for them too. And they look awfully pretty. They’re next year’s paper planners. But wait…

Every day at this time of year, my email contains its fair share of ads for new paper planners. Some look more like workbooks with all the things you have to fill out.

They look good because they’re fresh. They’re free of sticky notes and things scribbles and strike-throughs. There’s no confusion.

But fast forward a few weeks. The “new” planner is likely to be cluttered even sooner than you’ve given up on your New Year’s resolutions. I’ve talked about this type of thing before.

Please understand, if you’ve been using a paper planner and it works for you, stick with it. If you receive little actionable email and don’t need to keep up with URLs, you may be OK. But that’s not most of us.

If you’re overwhelmed by your digital world, the answer is not to resort to paper. The answer is to stick with the digital tool that can manage your digital information.

Last week’s example

Just last week, I watched an interview with a leading proponent of a paper system. But as he talked about where he keeps notes and reference information for future reference, he was talking about far more digital tools than I use.

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of clarity. Give yourself the freedom from having to copy and re-copy half-finished to-do lists. Give yourself the freedom to search digitally instead of combing through page after page.

Here’s my suggestion

If you’ve got a good digital task manager, stick with it. I use Remember The Milk. TickTick is very good. Todoist is very good. Asana is very good. The market is filled with digital task managers.

Set aside an afternoon to clean up your digital task manager. It’s something you can even do while you’re enjoying television. I recommend working from a computer rather than a mobile device, so grab your laptop and hit the couch.

“Organize” instead of “do”

Your job is not going to be doing what’s on your list. Your job is going to be cleaning up the list so it makes sense and is attractive. At this point, doing is only going to slow you down.

Read through the list with an eye for the things you know you’re not going to do. It’s easy to let things continue to ride. But if they’ve been hanging around, there’s a reason why.

Give yourself the permission to say “no” to tasks you don’t want to do that aren’t going to give you any value anyway.

Make it clear

What’s been sitting on the list because it’s fuzzy? You don’t have the information you need in order to do the task. Take a moment to make decisions. What phone call or Web search would get you that information? This step takes a little more time. But again, your focus at this point is on organizing rather than doing. Rephrase tasks so they’re clear and doable. Put all related information in the note section of the task. If you have links to other information, put those links in the task notes.

Decide “when”

Tasks snowball with a digital list. Take all those tasks which appear to be due today and spread them out. Use dates to indicate when you want to see tasks. Use priorities to decide what part of the day you want to see each task. That phone call probably doesn’t need to be made Tuesday at 9:20. Anytime Tuesday is fine. In Remember The Milk, I use Priority 1 for my “Fab 5,” Priority 2 for morning tasks, Priority 3 for afternoon tasks, and “No Priority” for tasks I want to see in the evening. Since the list is sorted by priority, I see my day in four nice blocks.

You probably have many tasks that have no date associated with them. I give these types of tasks a date of the last day of the month. I call it my “Master List.” When you have available time, scroll to the end of the month and choose a few. There’s no way to forget. When the last day of the month arrives, anything not already completed is in front of you. Delete those no longer of value, schedule others for specific dates, and move the rest in mass to the last day of the next month.

Those advertisements for nice new paper planners may seem like an oasis to relieve you of your time management struggles. But the oasis may just be a mirage. Clean up the digital task manager you already have. Watch your productivity improve and your stress go down.

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