Summer is the busiest season of the year for me. Because school is not in session, it is the time when those in education have the time to attend workshops of their choice, recharge, and refocus for the coming year. Likewise, summer is the time when the most professional development opportunities are offered during a short period of time, and I have been privileged to be invited to participate in the process in many venues.

Consequently, I see a large number of professionals in a short period of time. This time, like no other, keeps me grounded in what people are actually doing, what tools they are using, and what material I offer resonates most and has the potential for the greatest impact. This article presents those observations.

Virtually every professional lives by his or her calendar, and virtually everyone with whom I work feels comfortable in that area. The change I see is the large percentage whose calendars are digital. In a typical workshop, approximately two-thirds of participants say that when they look at their calendars, they are looking at their phones to see them. Five years ago, that percentage hovered around ten percent.

The area for growth seems to be two-fold: syncing that digital calendar across all devices and sharing calendars. When the calendar is only on the phone, all data is entered with two thumbs on a piece of glass. Not fun. Cloud-based calendars, of which I think Google is the most powerful and user-friendly, require no more than being logged into ones Google account on the computer. On Android devices, merely opening the Gmail app and logging into the Google account imports the Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and Gmail. On the iPhone, articles such as this one show how to set up the Google calendar on the iPhone or iPad.

When we ask workshop participants about their to-do lists, a different picture emerges. Among those who say they keep their to-do list digitally, some say they just put their to-dos on the calendar with their appointments. This procedure makes for a very crowded calendar, and one where tasks not done at the appointed time must be continuously moved. Others who supposedly keep a digital to-do list do so by using the note-taking app available on the iPhone, the app which resembles a yellow legal pad. While the procedure is digital, it’s no more beneficial than writing on a sticky note and sticking the note on the back of the phone.

The good to-do apps have seven features. They have a field for “due date” and will sort by due date, allowing the user to record tasks for today as well as tasks for next year and always see what needs to be done now at the top of the list. They allow those tasks which repeat every week, month, or year to be entered one time and reappear each time they need to be done. Good to-do apps have an attached note, so that information related to completing the task is front and center when it comes time to do the task.

Good to-do apps allow for searching the list for a particular item. This feature allows me to see any item related to a particular person, see every phone call I need to make at a glance, or see a comprehensive list of everything I am waiting on from someone else.

Good to-do apps interact with my email. How many emails sit in your “Inbox” because they are reminders of things you have to do, even if though they are usually poorly defined reminders? Wouldn’t life be easier if they were on the to-do list, worded clearly, with related information in the attached note section and a due date which puts the task “front and center” on the date you want to see it?

Good to-do apps sync across all devices, so that whether you are at your computer, using your tablet, looking at your phone, or logging into your information from a remote computer, the same to-do list appears. Finally, good to-do apps allow the user to enter tasks via voice input. While input with two thumbs on a piece of glass is no picnic, talking into the phone and having the results appear on the to-do list is easy.

I have written in this space before about Toodledo, my to-do app manager of choice, and have blogged about it. This post is the first in a series of six posts on Toodedo. Participants in live workshops can’t believe that within an hour, they go from having no strategy to a fully-functioning system with all of the previously-listed seven components. Note: In October 2018, I left Toodledo in favor of Remember The Milk due to changes made by a new owner.

In a typical workshop, roughly half have a Dropbox account, yet the remainder are still tied to a flash drive for getting information to another. Of those who have an account, few have a good strategy for what to keep in Dropbox versus what to keep somewhere else, and how to use the services sharing features.

The more we depend on our smartphones and tablets to house reference information, the more we need Evernote to provide a file structure and the ability to get to that information from anywhere. In any given group, the number of people who have an Evernote account tends to be less than half of the number who have Dropbox. Of those who have an account, many remark, I have it, but I don’t know how to use it. I have also written about Evernote in this space. This post provides an introduction.

What about you? Where do you stand in terms of making use of free digital tools designed to give you access to your information from anywhere?