You spend so much time managing your to-do list, you never get anything done!

Thanks to the Agile Ajax blog, I’ve learned about Remember The Milk. Essentially, it’s an online service for managing a to-do list. It apparently integrates with a variety of other services, including Gmail, ICQ, MSN, Skype, AIM, and more. It claims to also allow for task lists to be published and shared with others.

I have to say, it looks like a major over-complication of what should be a relatively simple thing to keep track of. Over the years I’ve worked with many managers and co-workers who’ve deemed it necessary to use some little digital doodad to manage their tasks and time. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such devices prove to be useful. If anything, they’ve more often than not been a hindrance to getting things done.

Even getting information into the things seems to be a challenge. Some I’ve seen have used a stylus. But those often require you to learn a new writing style that the device can interpet. Others have an on-screen keyboard, where you poke the keys with the stylus. Yet other devices have small keyboards built in. And I’ve seen other devices that come with separate, nearly full-sized keyboards that can fold up. Nevertheless, none of those methods ends up being very efficient.

Of course, then there’s also a need to power these devices. Some use normal AAA batteries. Others have specialized power cells. And others need to be charged using some sort of an adapter. The power sources of these devices always seem to run out at the most inopportune time. Trying to get your to-do list off of one of these devices when it’s unpowered is pretty much futile!

What I tend to see happen is that these people end up spending a huge amount of time with these devices. They struggle to input data. They struggle to find the data they’ve inputted. It ends up being a situation of task over-management. What was supposed to make their lives more organized, and thus increase their productivity, has instead rendered them useless for a greater portion of the day.

Most of the successful people I’ve worked with have just written stuff down on paper. They carry a pen or pencil with them, and each day they fold up a new sheet of paper, and put it in their pocket. Others have used a tiny organizer booklet that contains a calendar and contact list. Along with the wristwatch they typically wear, they’re all set to manage their time wisely and effectively.

If something comes up that requires their attention, they write down a brief note. If they have an appointment, they write down the time. These people tend to check their watches often, and have more than a one-second memory, so missing an appointment is rarely a problem. Best of all, these papers can be filed quite easily, for future reference. There’s no digging around on some device for old records that often end up deleted by accident, or trying to synchronize it with a PC somewhere.

So while the idea of Remember The Milk may seem novel, I really don’t see how it’s that beneficial. A pencil, a piece of paper and a wristwatch render it nearly useless. While somebody is still sitting there inputting their reminder note one keypress at a time on a handheld device, the person with the paper and pen has written down his or her note, and has moved on to doing something useful.

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