how can I stay organized when I’m working from home?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m an analyst, and we’re working at home during Covid. In the office, I used a lot of physical space to stay organized: white board wall, sticky notes, task lists, and I kept a lot of it in my head. Now that we’re at home I don’t have access to the same tools for physical lists around me, and more and more projects are coming my way. I’ve noticed that I’ve started to drop some small balls. Thank goodness they were small and not fragile, but I want to work on fixing this issue before the dropped balls are huge and important.

I’m starting to look into a project organizing type of software for myself (free would be ideal but I’m willing to pay for one) but I’m having trouble knowing what’s too much and what’s too little. If it’s too complicated, I’ll never do it … but if it ends up just being a simple list, then it doesn’t help me prioritize and date all the different project tasks. I was hoping you or your readers would have some good tips for helping to stay organized.

Readers, what’s your advice on staying organized when you’re working from home and/or don’t have a lot of physical space to use?

{ 265 comments… read them below }

      1. OHCFO*

        No software will help if it doesn’t align with your sel-management style. When I worked in an office I needed physical reminders too (big white board, daily list making). I have been WFH for 3 years now and my workspace isn’t conducive to a big whiteboard. But I did score a roll of removable whiteboard vinyl for $15. I made a tall skinny whiteboard (18” x 72”) by adhering it to the side of an armoire & use that to track the big things. It doesn’t leave adhesive residue when removed so it’s not permanent, but it’s super helpful to have the big visual tool again.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            Right?! I miss my 10ft x 4ft whiteboard but can certainly make one if I find this gem of a product!

            1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

              We use the stuff regularly for client meetings. The brand we use is Magic Chart by Letraset; there are others as well.
              They stick to the wall (or any surface) purely by static, no glue or anything that could leave a residue. A roll of 25 sheets, Flipchart size, is about $25.
              It’s also available in clear – this is useful if you want to structure more; print your grid/form/calendar/whatever on paper that is 3-4 inches smaller than the plastic sheet so that there is enough stickiness. Instant dry-wipe calendar, weekly planner or whatever!

        1. JSPA*

          Was going to suggest same. Or, if OP isn’t sensitive to chalk dust, chalkboard paint on a wall (or on a piece of luan board screwed to the wall), along with an unpainted section to use as a pin-board.

          Or tape up strips of butcher paper with painter’s blue tape, and use only pens and pencils that won’t bleed through.

          Worst case / emergency plan, write and pin on a wall with pencil (it won’t bleed through when you eventually prime and repaint).

          If you mentally file things completely spatially, no software may quite replicate what actual, physical space gives you.

          1. JSPA*

            I stick the whiteboard stuff on the backs of legal size clipboards.

            You can’t really use the clipboard as a clipboard without destroying the notes, but you can keep essential but rarely used documents on the clipboard side, and wipe-off notes on the back.

            Add a few hooks on the wall, and it’s something like a system. Works for the “household task” chart, as well. The ink seems to eventually bead up a bit, in ways that whiteboard pens don’t do on regular whiteboards, but you’re good for at least 3 or 4 months of decent legibility.

            Take an occasional snapshot in case there’s a regrettable misdirected wiping incident.

            (Bonus for fellow ADD and spatially-anchored people–if you often forget what you’re doing when you pass through doorways, put a hook in each room, and you can carry the clipboard with you and have it handy wherever you’re working.)

            1. JSPA*

              Getting granular–you have to cut a little “X” or cut out little circles to fit over the backs of the rivets on the clipboard, and then it’ll sit flat and stay glued down.

            2. Carlie*

              “if you often forget what you’re doing when you pass through doorways, put a hook in each room, and you can carry the clipboard with you and have it handy wherever you’re working.”

              Whoa. That might actually work for me.
              I’ve often wanted a reminder app that can add geolocation data as the prompt too. So for instance when you get into your car after work, the phone pings and says “go to the store and get bread before you go home”.

              1. katelyn*

                You might be able to do this with NFC tags that some people in the smarthome community really like to use (a good place to start if you’re tech savvy). You can link them to a huge number of apps, and it you put one in your car and as part of your standard habits tap it with your phone when you get in, it can give you your to-do list. I know some people who used it in the pre-covid times to turn their thermostat when they left the commuter train parking lot so that it would be warm/cold when they got home.

              2. Quidge*

                Google Keep can do reminders by location (or at least used to)! It’s free, and you probably have it installed already if you have an Android device.

                (Alas, I kept turning my location back off, forgetting that I was trying them out, so I can’t speak to how well and reliably they work…)

            3. Glitsy Gus*

              This is a good idea. I have been missing my whiteboard terribly, but I don’t want to turn my studio apartment into Perma Office. Whiteboard Clipboards on hooks that can come down Friday night are a good idea, though.

              1. Windchime*

                I actually have a magnetic white board that I bought for my office at work. We had metal lockers but nowhere for a whiteboard, so I bought one that would stick magnetically to the front of my locker. It’s thin and flexible. Something like this:


                So if you have a magnetic surface in your office area, maybe this would work.

        2. Not A Girl Boss*

          I found a small desktop whiteboard that has been lifechanging. It fits right behind my keyboard and I use a fine point dry erase marker on it.
          Its like sticky notes, but I don’t end up with a pile of 600 at the end of the week because its easier to remember to wipe when I run out of space – actually the limited surface helps me prioritize. Its called “Quartet Glass Desktop Computer Pad, 18″ x 6″, Whiteboard, Dry Erase Surface, White Surface (GDP186)”

          I also use Trello at work and its great.

        3. Peacemaker*

          In my home office (converted dining room), my desk sits right in front of the window. I use dry erase markers and the window as my “white board.” It works well, my lists and thoughts are right there in front of me, and when I want to focus and avoid distractions, I can just close the blinds.

        4. Window above construction*

          The teacher hack fifteen years ago was to buy shower board, cut it down to student desk size, and hand out dry erase markers. Seems like another possible make your own for cheap solution.

        5. TardyTardis*

          You can find some sizes of whiteboard and markers at Dollar Tree. Erasable markers aren’t that expensive on Amazon, and if you remember to erase them on a timely basis, come off pretty well.

    1. Marie*

      I came here to recommend Miro! It’s a fantastic way to visualize work virtually, and it’s really powerful but also intuitive and not so complicated that you can’t just start using it immediately.

        1. Clemgo*

          I like Trello too, but I love Wrike! You can share with teams and different team members can choose which view is best for them. I use a board view that’s like air traffic control – you can move a task through each step of the process and always see where things are.

    2. Specks*

      Seconding Trello as a fellow analyst. You can have separate lists next to each other based on priority or timeframe, add dates, notes, people responsible. It’s the only software that’s ever truly worked for me.

    3. CB212*

      I use Trello the way I used to use colored sticky notes on a board – you can drag a card from column to column as it progresses, so it’s easy to see at a glance where everything stands. I don’t love it for detailed checklists because you have to flip the card to see the notes, but I make it work.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Its been indispensable for managing handoffs for our team. Every team member has a column and we just drag the stickies to the next person’s column when its ready for them. Also, the due dates, game changer.

    1. That Girl from Marketing*

      I think Asana is going to be the best bet. Lots of color coding that actually makes sense!

      1. cyanste*

        Thanks to everyone suggesting Asana — just hopped on it as someone who also struggles with staying organized and this is amazing!

    2. blue canary*

      I use Asana too, it really helps me track clients through various stages of their projects. But I also use a paper calendar for individual tasks.

    3. Sarah*

      Trello is my absolute favorite and my go to, I have different boards for small and recurring task-ey stuff, and longer term pieces or projects to keep on the radar.

    4. Bobina*

      Loved Asana when I had it! Fairly intuitive but you can build it up quite a bit if you want. Third this recommendation.

    5. hayling*

      I’m also a big Asana fan. But I still make myself weekly and daily to-do lists in my notebook because I need the physical reminder/tracking.

      I am also using a new technique I learned called MIT: Most Important Things. I write down the three MIT things I have to do each day, really helps me focus.

    6. Anhaga*

      My work uses Asana and I love it, especially because you can customize your view to fit your preferred style–the free version of Asana comes with both a list view and a board video (the tasks for a project go in little tiles) and there’s also a “My Tasks” section. Everything can be color-coded, too. We have it set up so that different teams have their own areas, and I create different projects to roughly divide our workflow into different kinds of tasks (training materials creation, work on internal tools and sites, client-focused work, etc.). It’s been really nice for me, and helps to keep me on track when we do have tasks with deadlines (unusual in my office).

    7. Parenthetically*

      Was just coming down to say Asana! If you usually use a white board and similar visible, physical reminders, Asana is going to be appealing, IMO.

    8. A Person*

      I used Asana before and now and it helps me a LOT, especially in cases where I need to make a quick note to remember something for the future.

  1. Environmental Compliance*

    Trello works pretty well, but I’ve also moved into using the Teams task function (and that seems to work better with how I like to organize stuff).

    1. MarMar*

      I’m also loving Microsoft To-Do. It syncs with your tasks and flagged emails from Outlook, but it’s a lot nicer to look at. It allows due dates, sub tasks, notes, attached files,
      reminders, and reoccurring tasks.

      Being able to click a single button on an email to add it to my list really helps me keep up with using it.

      1. Bricolage on the Brink*

        +1 on Microsoft To-Do. I was facing a similar breakdown on my work-at-home task management via bullet journal and an increasingly complex scope of work, and To-Do lets me quickly turn emails to tasks (used alongside a inbox-zero approach). I also like being able to view tasks by time (planned), category (main list or each sub list), and by setting a priority focus of “My Day”. I still sometimes make notes of action items in my handwritten meeting notes, and for that I use the Moleskin meeting notebook, which has a nice little pulled out section in the margins to note actions that need to go into my list.

      2. LilyP*

        I use microsoft to-do daily and like it a lot (if you already have access to microsoft products)

  2. I'm A Little Teapot*

    One point – whatever you use should work from home and from the office. Offices can and do catch fire and burn down. Which argues for a software/digital solution.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Related to this: there may be tools available to you through work that you aren’t using or don’t exist that might be really helpful. We use Outlook at work but hadn’t bothered to use any of the other Microsoft tools that came with it before work-from-home. Trello is good and free, but Microsoft apps Planner and To Do can work well in combination with other tools you might already be using, including Outlook.

      1. BatManDan*

        I really need someone to show me how to get Outlook and To Do to work together on my computer and my phone. I need them all to sync, and I can’t seem to make it work. How do I find a consultant or specialist?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          One of my former staff members is also an artist and drew our team a beautiful, stylized illustration of Milton and his stapler (that hangs in our team’s office space and would be lost in a fire) as a parting gift when their art career took off. I hope someone has a picture or digital version of it!

      1. Chinook*

        Don’t forget flood! When downtown Calgary was flooded (and possible threat of loose hippos from the zoo), everyone had to work from home, even IT. By already having virtual desktops, the hardest part was everyone VPNing at the same in and slowing the system the first morning.

        The only downside is we came back to numerous documents in the printer because we all forget to print to PDF initially and sent it to our network printer.

    2. TL -*

      Digital organization systems are inherently problematic for me because if I do not see something, I generally don’t remember it very well. Physical is great; I can leave a notebook open on my desk with a to-do list, things on the wall I will glance at regularly.

      Anything I have to open or navigate too without a specific trigger isn’t a great organization system for me. (I can organize digitally very well, but if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind) Even virtual sticky notes on my desktop I close when I’m reading or writing, and then poof! they’re gone.

      If my office burns down, people will just have to accept that I’m going to be a little disorganized while I recover.

      1. WellRed*

        I know I’m late to the game but preach! I miss my wall board and year at a glance calendar.

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        I had a manager who appropriated an unused projector. He hooked up as a (third) screen and dedicated it to his team’s Kanban board (i.e. a fancy to-do list). He needed the constant visibility.
        A spare screen could do the same job.
        Also, Windows 10 offers virtual desktops (Linux had it since the nineties), this could help as well.

  3. bweave*

    Miro is a gamechanger for me – if you watch some of their intro tutorials it helps get you oriented pretty quickly. It’s a really powerful whiteboarding tool.

  4. J*

    If you have room on your wall (or table) for one pad of flip chart paper, you can layer a bunch on top of each other and then flip back and forth. It’s not quite the same as multiple whiteboards all over my office walls, but it’s been helping me a lot to have that large visual next to me the past few weeks. Too often a computer program is out of sight, out of mind.

    1. Dave*

      I missed my white board so much I bought a small one to put on my home office wall. It has helped me so much because I am forced to look at to make sure I don’t miss anything.
      I have also always use my whiteboard for don’t forget items where I am waiting on other people for stuff so I have a a running column of open items.

      1. BeeBoo*

        I don’t have a wall next to my desk so I found a small (8×11) desktop whiteboard that stands on its own. Its been a life saver for keeping key dates and to things that were getting lost in my notebook. I got one off of Amazon for around $25 I think (I charged it to my office as a work at home expense).

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Staples has an unframed letter-sized white board, too, for $6 (we got them for $2 at back-to-school time, and they are nicer/thicker than I expected). My elementary-schooler props hers up with an iPad ring stand, but I bet an easel would also work.

        Of all the things in my office, I miss my white board and my fancy desk chair the most. I finally got a 2′ x 3′ white board from Michaels and hung it on my wall.

    2. Belle of the Midwest*

      I bought a pack of small (8 x 11) white boards plus dry-erase markers, that I spread out over my kitchen table for daily use. I haven’t found a low-tech that can work for a week or month at a glance yet.

    3. Ms. Minn*

      I’m am an “out of sight, out of mind” person as well. I bought a small white board (paper-sized) that I write my must do today tasks on. It keeps me more focused, which is a problem for me at home – too many distractions!

  5. TurkeyLurkey*

    At home, I love to use todoist for organization because I can easily see my categorized lists and tasks on my computer, phone, or even smartwatch.
    At work, I stick to the apps that our IT department recommends. We use Office 365, which has lots of features to link together documents. My breakdown is: MS Planner for to do lists, Delve for tracking down shared documents, OneNote for Notes, and Flows for an extra boost of automation. I’ve moved to this from lists on legal pads and post-its.

    1. Lyudie*

      Seconding Todist. It integrates with Outlook, though I’ve not used that feature myself. I make a lot of use of OneNote for various things too.

    2. Foxtrot*

      I use Todoist for personal and work through using multiple Todoist projects, though I tend to use Asana for collaborating on bigger team projects.

    3. CK*

      I love Todoist! It’s been a big help for me at work & keeping track of my ~70 clients and various time-sensitive tasks for each. I use the free version (each client is their own “project”) which has been good enough. It’s also weirdly satisfying to check things off the list and see the little number of tasks you’ve completed go up.

    4. Mockingjay*

      @TurkeyLurkey, thank you for reminding me about OneNote. I used it all the time for years, but don’t any more (mainly because my ‘high-tech’ project is stuck on using excel and email – ugh.)

      My project is picking up speed and without a whiteboard or those easel-size post-it pads, I’ve been struggling to capture status for different elements. I’m setting up a new Notebook right now!

    5. JC*

      I rely on todoist for project management, and OneNote for notes. Have been very happy with it. I use the paid version of todoist for tags, which are especially helpful in helping mw track the tasks of people I manage, but it’s pretty cheap.

    6. A Todist Top 5% User in 2019*

      +1 for Todoist.
      I use Asana at work and Todoist at home. While I love them both, OP said they needed prioritization, and for the free versions, the prioritization in Todoist is lightyears ahead of Asana. It doesn’t work as well for collaboration, but that’s not the OP’s focus right now.

      1. A Todoist Top 5% User in 2019*

        I should add that I’ve tried a variety of other models — Outlook Tasks, Google, OneNote, Trello,, Basecamp, etc. and a bunch that are no longer in business too such as Wunderlist — but I keep coming back to Asana and Todoist.
        (And, yes, I realized the typo in my name just after I pushed Submit!)

    7. Libervermis*

      Agreed, I live by Todoist for tasks and Google Calendar for meetings/places I have to be. I’ve never used Todoist for collaboration so I can’t speak to how well it works for that, but it’s so good for prioritization and sorting of different things to do.

    8. I forget the names i choose for myself*

      I’m also a big fan of Todoist. I’ve been using it for years, started just to keep track of school stuff, then personal, and now work.
      I’ve tried other tools like Asana, Trello, but for my work style todoist is best. I used Trello at one job and absolutely hated it. I used Asana for school and work, but i disliked asana because there were so many steps when creating a task, setting a due date, priority, and assigning it to someone. I like todoist best because you can write everything in the main text box, and it picks out due date and priority you want to set. Its great because I’m usually adding multiple tasks at a time.

  6. pug life*

    My workplace uses Asana and it’s great. You can create projects, tasks within those projects, and subtasks assigned to tasks. You can set up tasks to be dependant on each other. You can assign colors per project, and tasks can have color markers for status and/or urgency. You can see everything on a big calendar, or in list view. If other people are using it too, you can assign tasks to them (and vice versa). There are also goal-setting features and big project chat/notes features, but my team doesn’t use those. I know they exist but I can’t say whether or not they’re useful.

    I also used Trello a bit in a previous role, but we found it unintuitive. I didn’t use it enough to say whether there was a learning curve that we didn’t pass, or whether it is clunkier than Asana.

  7. Aquawoman*

    I was also going to mention Trello. I’ve used it for long-term/complex volunteer projects as well as home management stuff. There is a calendar which I haven’t used much but I think would likely address the need for reminders/dates etc.

    I personally use a combination of a paper calendar (large spiral book with the days of the week on one side and space for goals/notes/todo on the other) and Outlook tasks, which is especially useful for me because we do So Much via email and a lot of what I do involves following up on email so I can just create a task directly from the email.

  8. Amy*

    I live and die by my Outlook calendar. I set reminders constantly, check-ins on projects. I just had a client email me 20 minutes ago, I replied to his email and then put on my calendar “Check back in with Jim” for 1 week from today. If I hear back before, I’ll delete the reminder. If I don’t hear back, well out of sight out of mind, so I need the calendar reminder.

    I also love Boomerang. All my emails come back to me if no one has responded in 2 days. It too easy for me to send things and then forget about them if I don’t hear back.

    I save writing things down on a physical piece of paper next to my computer for the big ideas, not the minutia.

    I’ve been doing WFH for about 3 years and it works very well for me at this point.

    1. Dave*

      I have found the mail snooze feature super helpful for the follow up tomorrow / next week on emails so I remember to do it without using brain space to remember.

    2. Katniss Evergreen*

      Yes I reflect verbatim the sentiment in your first sentence! Outlook has my doctors’ appointments, anything I ever need to cut off my work day early or exactly on time for, as well as all of my work meetings. Once I put something in the google calendar on my phone, I put it in Outlook too if it’s on a weekday.

      1. Chinook*

        Ditto. My Outlook at work includes must remember items for after hours too. I categorize everything and have daily reminders in my Task list.

    3. Meg*

      wait– does boomerang work with outlook?? I LOVE the snooze feature in gmail and use it constantly, but my work email is outlook and I just really want to be able to snooze emails–ones that I sent or received–to pop back up in a couple days or week or whatever

      1. Cat Lady*

        The desktop Outlook has an option to schedule emails in advance (the Boomerang function I use most often), but I never figured out how to return something to my inbox :/

        1. Uranus Wars*

          If I need this I always just use the “send sent item to” and select my inbox. Then when it does send the copy comes to me as an unread email.

    4. Rose Tyler*

      On following up on emails – after I hit send on an email I need to keep an eye on, I go into my sent folder and set a reminder flag on the email itself. So I don’t have to make a calendar entry, it pops up on my actual Outlook reminders, and I can snooze it into a different time frame without needing to mess with my calendar.

    5. skadhu*

      I use a mix of Trello and Agenda (the latter only exists for Mac, alas).

      Trello allows me a horizontal overview of all the projects I have going; I list overall projects/tasks and colour code them for priorities, moving the highest priorities to the top. That lets me scan all of the work and make quick choices as to what to do. I can also move a selection of high priority items into a “today” or “this week” list.

      I use Agenda, which is timeline based in its organization, for keeping track of all the detailed sub-tasks and other materials related to projects. Its basic functions are free but you pay for the premium version (not a subscription, a one-off that gives you all updates for a year; you would pay again after that time if a new release offers new functions you want).

      I use the two together because I find that I can’t drill down far enough with Trello, and although Agenda has a great range of functions and flexibility, it uses a vertical organizational structure so you can’t as easily do an overview scan if you have as many subcategories of tasks as I do. I can cross link from one to the other. Together they work well for me.

  9. EPLawyer*

    Google tasks which integrates with my google calendar. That way I am not scheduling a big to do on the same day as an all day trial.

    I’m old school though too, so each day I print out that day’s task list then physically cross it off.

    I have a corkboard up on the wall above my desk (bought squares and used command strips to hang them so they can come off without damage). The to do list hangs there, so I can see how I am progressing at a glance. I also have a print out of monthly calendars so I can see what hearings are coming up quickly. Then there is a print out of the current month hanging off to the side so I can see what that particular month in detail has going on (the top calendars only have big hearings like trials). My timesheet also hangs on this board so I don’t lost it.

    Rather than putting deadlines on the calendar, they are on the task list so I can see it.

    All the google things are free. The print outs of the monthly calendar are free and I write in the info.

  10. Meh*

    Google Keep! I am a big whiteboard user and like to have the list of all my projects in easy view. And I like using color coded markers. It’s a bit like a sticky note application but it works way better for me than the other ones I tried. It’s free and works on desktop and mobile. I also use a written daily to-do list in a little notebook that I customized bullet journal style to suit how I prefer to keep track of projects with a monthly to do list in the front.

  11. glitter writer*

    I’ve used Trello but to be honest I remember information much better if it’s analog, so I use quad-ruled graph paper notebooks and small sticky notes to lay out my important projects when I don’t have space for a wall-mounted solution.

  12. Snickerdoodle*

    I have a small bulletin board on the wall over my laptop where I can pin reminders. Pre-pandemic, I used Excel to track assorted projects and have doubled up on that. I have to go into the office once a week, so when I have something to deal with in-office, I leave the file open on my laptop so it’s open on my desktop in the office and I don’t forget about it.

  13. CatCat*

    I like handwriting things, but also have physical space limitations. I started using the GoodNotes 5 app on my iPad to take notes using a stylus instead of on paper. I also put my daily to-dos in there. I still use sticky notes set up kanban style as sort of a big picture overview of where my projects are and I put those sticky notes on a window near my desk. These things seem to be working well for me.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I’m the same way. There’s something about hand-writing things that makes it stick in my head in a different way than digital formats. When I was in school and studying, I would usually have a notebook just for writing things over and over to memorize them. That’s just what worked for me then, and still works for me now!

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      FYI: if you are an iPad and stylus person and also a sticky notes person, check out the post it app. (Like actual branded, 3M post it app.) You can import pics of physical stickies and also create your own and rearrange them in-app, and they never fall off the wall.

  14. NomadiCat*

    I could not have accomplished ANYTHING this year without Asana. My whole brain lives there. I use the Pro version at work with my team and the free version at home, and it has been amazing. With the Pro version you can build out lists with due dates, turn them into calendars, Gantt charts, or a couple of different visualizations, and both versions can be calibrated to send you email reminders for upcoming deadlines. I love it, love it, love it.

    1. Rhythm of the Night*

      Cosign on all of this! I couldn’t live without Asana and use it both personally and professionally. I looked at a lot of systems for myself and it’s the most intuitive and robust. You can also look at things in board view if that’s your thing.

  15. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I struggle with lack of whiteboards too – especially for brainstorming.

    But if it’s just lists and priorities, I’ve found that I can replicate that to some extent by writing those things on paper, and then pinning or taping them to the wall. The act of getting up from my chair and walking a few steps seems to trigger some muscle memory or something that gets me in the right gear.

    You can also buy flip-chart pads that have post-it-note type sticky stuff along the top. Write on them, peel off and stick to the walls or furniture.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Those big sticky pads are REALLY expensive. I used them a lot for teaching, then was horrified at how $$$ they were. Blue tape and butcher paper are way cheaper!

      1. Raine*

        You’re paying for the convenience of size + sticky glue but sticky glue can be purchased separately.

  16. Mochafrapp*

    Google Keep is a lifesaver! They’re basically virtual sticky notes. A lot of people mentioned Trello, I use it as well in conjunction with Keep. I’m a teacher at an online school.

  17. A Simple Narwhal*

    I use Microsoft OneNote to keep all of my projects organized. My team uses it for just about everything, and it has a lot of options for organization. Outlook has a function/integration where you can just click a button in outlook and it automatically sends the email and its contents to a section in OneNote. I’m fairly certain this is a standard integration so you wouldn’t need to download anything and it works on both macs and pcs, and since you can link it to your outlook account, it syncs between all versions of your OneNote, whether you’re using the desktop or online version, on your tablet or your pc or your mac. It also allows you to set outlook tasks within OneNote, so you can add reminders and notifications as well.

    OneNote may not have the immediate out-of-the-box organization functions that other tools have, but there are lots of things you can do with it. For example, I have a section dedicated solely to task tracking. Each day gets its own page, and on each page I have different sections for things I’m working on currently, things I’m waiting on someone else for, and upcoming things that I need to keep in mind but am not taking immediate action on. Once a task is complete I cross it out (slash-through font). I duplicate the page each morning, update the date, delete the crossed out items, and boom, now I’m tracking my work for the day. The pages can get subpaged by month, and then I collapse the days under each month once the month ends to make things look neater.

    Bigger projects get their own notebooks, which allows me to break things down into separate sections, and then into separate pages within each section if they require that level of granularity. You can attach notifications and emails to everything. I tend to keep an email section too that I just drop relevant emails into, but then grab the link to that particular email so I can write something like “The singing tomatoes need a new dance number, reference: Grandboss’s request [link to email in the email section]”. This is also a good way of tracking your accomplishments for the year “March 12, received accolades for my tomato choreography, [link to related email].

    Hope that helps! This just how I use OneNote, I think there are a lot of resources online for other ways to take advantage of its functionality.

    1. Megumin*

      That’s almost exactly what I do with OneNote! I just posted below. In office, I was keeping track of my work with a handwritten list in a notebook, but I really like OneNote a lot better, and I don’t have the clutter of physical notebooks.

    2. foolofgrace*

      I love OneNote. Though be warned, there will be about 15 minutes that you might be confused when you first start using it but it’s 15 minutes well invested. The first time you open OneNote you should get a couple of screens of description that can be confusing, but just digest it. I think when it goes away it goes away for good.

      The best way to think of it is as college theme notebooks with dividers — separate notebooks for big things, separate dividers within them for smaller breakdowns. I also keep a running list of my days, one note for each day to capture what I’m working on and where I am in the task. And it’s totally searchable!

    3. Emily*

      I love OneNote and cannot recommend enough. I do the same thing with saving accomplishes in OneNote for my kudos list, but for end of year and just general need a smile reasons.

      For short term to-do lists, the “I need to remember to do x soon!” things, I still write down on paper. But longer term projects, reminders, references, are all in a notebook by topic.

      And if you have the desktop version, the OneNote icon in the task bar is the best. Just click the icon, a post-it note type page pops up (and smaller on the screen so not blocking everything) to quickly jot down whatever. I use it a lot for incoming phone calls or other interruptions rather than writing on a post it I might not find again later.

    4. AnonPi*

      I’ve been thinking of using OneNote to help keep track of tasks for several projects and notes for each. Glad to see some feedback from others how they use it. Now I just need to sit down and figure out how it works and set it up.

    5. Whocanpickone*

      Same for me. OneNote has been the only thing that stuck. I used Trello for a while and still use that sometimes with a team, but One Note allows me to separate my projects & associated tasks, and move tasks easily, take notes, etc.

      It’s a simple solution, but it just works for me.

    6. miss chevious*

      I love OneNote for this, because it allows me to have multiple projects and lists all in one space. I have a prioritized master To Do List, as well as all my longer term projects there, and it’s the best!

    7. Chinook*

      Be warned, though. There are two versions of Notebook – one separate app and one online. They save to the same place but look very different.

  18. KH*

    Ooh ooh I have had the same struggles and here is the mind-blowing solution I’ve discovered: Do what works! If having visual cues in your environment was The Thing, then figure out how to replicate that—buy a small whiteboard, use a notepad, tape important papers to the wall, get a real monitor and cover the bevel in sticky notes. I tried SO MANY apps and digital solutions before it occurred to me that I’d already found a system and just needed to replicate that at home.

    And also remember: This is not like office work. There are additional factors at play. Shame and self-flagellation never helped anyone fix their organizational problems—it only makes it worse—so try to give yourself some grace and acknowledge that all the additional stress of a pandemic and wildfires and the election and Zoom school and whatever else you’re dealing with is also going to have an effect on your executive function right now.

    1. Somebody*

      +1,000 thank you

      I am pretty tech savvy, but tech-based solutions do not work for me! Technology is too easy to set aside and forget about (like when was the last time I looked at the notes app on my phone?)

    2. Making Muddling-Through Look Easy*

      Totally — I am a written list person. I use some aspects of the GTD methods, with physical lists and written notes. I have a daily list that I write up the night before and a notebook for what is relevant for meetings during the day. I’ve tried more digital methods, but need the tactile interaction for my own work.

      If I am managing projects and other people need to see the work, then I use pages in Confluence (moving to SharePoint currently) to show the project narrative, store related files, keep a task list, etc.

    3. NeonFireworks*

      I also need it tangible; if it exists in a tab I can banish easily, it’s out of sight out of mind. I use two notepads, two sets of post-it notes, one daily organizer, and one wall.

    4. Circe*

      I wholeheartedly agree!

      I struggled at the beginning and had similar issues to the OP. My cube at work has whiteboard walls and so all of my notes and tasks were posted for me (and everyone else) to see. At home, not only do I have space constraints, but I also lost that community visibility into my workload.

      I’ve got a hybrid of digital/analog tools to help me stay organized:
      -using Microsoft planner/lists to organize long-term projects and team tasks. These are shared among the teams I’m on so we can all see what needs to get done and who’s responsible. Having external accountability also makes me not ignore the digital aspect.
      -the Appointed Weekly Task Pad (linked in my name). It has different blocks of space for notes, tasks, etc, and fits on my desk or under my laptop stand. And the pages are blank on the back so I can use them like white boards for brainstorming and scratch paper.
      -Time blocking on my outlook calendar. It’s easy for me to dismiss the appointments, but it’s a useful signal to my peers of what I have going on and protects my time. It also helps me manage tasks that have a longer time horizon.

    5. JJ*

      “Do what works” is the BEST advice. I’m highly organized naturally, and I cannot deal with Trello, Asana, Wrike (the WORST) etc. I find programs like that much too messy and disorganized for me, most likely because they require me to adapt to someone else’s organizational preferences. They also are very high-touch which I find annoying.

      I echo others who say to get a whiteboard, if that visual cue is what you need, no digital solution is going to be able to replicate that. Maybe you could paint a chalkboard wall in your workspace if a whiteboard can’t fit?

      A simple Evernote to-do list (mine is organized Mon-Fri with checkboxes so I can easily see my weekly to-dos) + longer deadlines on the Google calendar is sufficient for me!

  19. AnotherAlison*

    Would a 2×3 whiteboard that is not attached to the wall work? You could prop it up against something in your space during work hours and stick it behind the couch or whatever during the off hours. I’m a sticky note person myself. I was able to replicate my office set up pretty closely at home, but when I traveled a lot, I would stick my notes to a notebook instead of my monitors. Maybe you could use a large piece of cardboard and stash it away, similar to the whiteboard suggestion.

    I’ve tried an electronic conversion to OneNote myself, and I do that for meeting notes, but my to-dos are still on paper.

    1. Yvette*

      Unless it is huge a white board could be held in place with velcro. That would allow you to take it down and stash it somewhere. Just becareful you don’t wipe anything off in the process. If you do need a non digital method, back in the day I swore by my Franklin Covey Day Planner. I also had a project notebook for specific projects.

  20. designbot*

    Probably an unexpected answer, but posting in case someone else needs to hear it to connect the dots… adderall. The breakdown of all my visual reminders to myself, from the piles on my desk to the post it notes around my monitor, to the simple act of being able to see someone and go “oh yeah! I owe them that thing!” resulted in a bunch of stuff not getting done at the beginning of quarantine, and me not even realizing it at all until it had consequences. Like, stuff I should’ve done months prior that just went completely out of sight out of mind. I actually wound up getting diagnosed with ADHD (combined type), because when looking at the situation it became clear that I’d actually had problems with working memory and procrastination and distractibility and impulse for a very long time but I’d been building up a whole system of coping mechanisms that supported me in the fight the way my brain naturally worked. When that system collapsed with working from home, meds have been able to help step up and fill in some gaps.
    From an organizational standpoint, even just having the diagnosis has helped me understand where I need help, and given me the confidence to bow out of certain tasks that I was previously forcing myself to do instead of choosing to delegate them. As they say, knowing is half the battle. Obviously this won’t be an answer for most of you, or even hopefully that big of a chunk, but I wanted to put it out there in case anyone else suspected this and needed the push to pursue treatment. I know it’s something I’d thought about for a few years since starting to read articles about how women present differently with ADHD than men do, but had procrastinated acting on, because well, procrastination is part of what we do.

    1. Anon, anon*

      Seconded! All my precarious structures fell apart (not that they worked more than 60% of the time anyway…)

    2. Sarra N. Dipity*

      Hahahaha yes! I had undiagnosed ADHD for most of my working life, and getting on medication was definitely a step in the right direction.

  21. Vote*

    ToDoIst is AMAZING! I’ve been a paid member for several years now, do not know how I would be able to keep track of all of my home/work/school/activity/volunteering/etc without it.

  22. Megumin*

    This might be too simple, but I’ve been using Microsoft OneNote. My organization has an Office365 site license, so it’s through that. I have 2 levels of tabs – the first level is To Do List on top, and then it’s split into days, ordered descending. It make a simple to do list on each day, and when I’ve completed a task, I highlight it yellow. I just keep copying the list over each day and remove the highlighted items. This helps me keep a log of things I’ve worked on if I need to go back to it. Bonus – I was using a handwritten list on a notebook and I could barely read my handwriting from past lists, so now I can actually read everything. :)

    Other first-level items include major projects, or systems that I’m responsible for, then they have a second level of tabs for various sub-items.

    1. Rena*

      Stealing this, thank you! I’ve been using a hand written notebook too and I really like the daily list, but I really want things to be searchable. I recently started using OneNote to organize projects and readmes, so this will be a great addition.

  23. Wondercootie*

    I’m an organizational junkie, but I’ve settled into Trello for my to-do list/project management, Outlook for my calendar, and OneNote for my whiteboard. I can access all three at office and home as well as on my phone and ipad.

  24. Somebody*

    I don’t have good advice since I am struggling with the same thing, but I am gathering from the comments that perhaps I should embrace technology. Aside from my Outlook Calendar, which has been a life saver, my brain seems to work much better on paper. I live and die by yellow legal pads. Any non-tech advice?

    1. SongbirdT*

      I posted a comment right below with my suggestion.

      The struggle that I always have with tech solutions or pre-printed planners is that they never quite organize information the way my brain does naturally, so I was always fighting myself to conform to their structure. I’ve found that my notebook lets me define how I organize and it’s been a game changer.

    2. Nea*

      Paper calendar (a la Day timer or Day Runner), paper lists, bullet journals. My life has been immeasurably improved by looking at bullet journal layouts, going “That’s great!” and then making a home printable version of whatever format looked good to me.

      It’s all kept in a binder with tabs. There is much highlighter-based color coding.

      1. Nea*

        PS – don’t be distracted by all the beautiful bullet journals. They’re nice, but the real question is – do I want the days of the week in a horizontal or vertical format? Do I want a little set of tickyboxes for tasks along the bottom, side, or not at all? That kind of thing.

      2. snoopythedog*

        Why haven’t I thought of the binder with tabs solution before?
        I’m good with lists online, occasionally use paper lists for big ideas or small minutia, but have struggled with big picture planning on technology. Binder with all my plans + printed calendars = genius. Quick reference without getting lost in all the files on my computer, easily transferred into my computer to do lists when the time is right.

        1. Raine*

          I temped for five years and one of the things I used to do was organize all my relevant, frequently-used info into a three-ring binder with plastic sleeves (for the info that would invariably change) and tabs.

          1. snoopythedog*

            So brilliant. I find that tech-y solutions just aren’t visual enough for me. I need the combination of high-level details quickly visualized but near the minutia for running multiple projects that are always changing.

            Is it weird that I’m so excited to build my binder today?

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      For non-tech I use a bullet journal system – I modify it to use just the monthly lists of things to do and make project lists. I don’t do the whole decorative version you will see online as that’s not my skill or interest. But I find making lists and then moving items to an online calendar as needed or just reviewing the lists and the x, >, symbols to be helpful.

      My advice for embracing technology is to just jump in and try it with something low stakes so it does not matter if you need to give it up and try something else.

      1. Tammy*

        Seconding this. I find that writing things down on a physical piece of paper (with a fountain pen, no less) slows my ADHD brain down just enough that I retain the information in ways that I don’t when it’s purely digital. Jessica McCabe from the “How to ADHD” YouTube channel has done a few great Bullet Journal videos, if you’re into that sort of thing.

        But also, do what works. And to that, I’d add “do the simplest thing that works”. If your system doesn’t work at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon when you’re exhausted and just Need To Be Done Working, it’s too complicated and you should simplify it. The problem I’ve had with a lot of tech organizational tools is that they either are too complex out of the gate, or they offer you too much opportunity to over-complicate what you’re doing in the name of productivity and flexibility. When I find myself starting to fiddle with and tweak my tools, that’s usually a sign I need to pause and evaluate whether I’ve over-complicated things.

        1. Ashley*

          Yes! I use a lot of to do lists and tend to get half information from phone calls so part of my end of day routine is to go through the piles of sticky notes scrape paper to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Sometimes that means making a new list for the next day to consolidate.

          1. Hydrangea McDuff*

            This is why I love my journal. I have a No Sticky Note rule because too many lost scraps over the years. Every conversation, every meeting, every note goes into my journal. I don’t have a lot of other strict rules but that one is commandment one. Keep the notebook with me always and review it every morning and afternoon for tasks and follow up.

      2. Kyrielle*

        This! And expect failures. If you’re lucky, whatever you try first will work for you, but if it doesn’t, move on. Tons of people swear by Trello, and objectively, it’s amazing. My attempts to actually use it involved swearing at it rather than by it. I just don’t work well with its paradigm. (But somehow, a physical dayplanner coupled with duplication in Habitica tasks works for me. It’s an objectively more complicated, less detailed system. My brain doesn’t care, it works.)

      3. Res Admin*

        Agree! I am currently reporting to the office (where I have 3 HUGE whiteboards) every other day (not optimal, but not my choice) and working from home the rest of the time (I could fit at least 3 of my home offices into my work office). Bullet Journal stays with me–and is opened up next to me wherever I am working.

        Don’t be distracted by the “pretty” versions you may see on-line. I just use a 5″x8″ (approx.) lined or dotted book. The fanciest I get is blue ink for home and black ink for office with a bright color for ad hoc notes.

        Otherwise, a couple of pages devoted to “contents”–ie, page numbers of things I decide might need to be referenced later; 4 pages (3 months/page) to note items coming up for the next year or so; then 2 pages listing details of calendar items for the month followed by a list for each day (which I add and update throughout the day). So I can flip a couple pages back and see all of the meetings for October (complete with Zoom logins) and the flip forward to see what I have to work on for the day and what has been carried forward from previous days.

        Each day’s list: lines marked with a circle are meetings, lines with a dot are to be done, lines where the dot has been turned into an x are completed items. Other symbol for other things. A check mark in the upper corner to note when everything on the page is complete. I am on page 105 of my third book. LOL

        The book by Ryder Carroll “The Bullet Journal Method” is very useful in forming and adapting the process to what works best for you.

      4. suzuzela*

        Yes to the bullet journal! Pre-COVID I used it mostly for personal development but since working from home it’s been essential to keeping my work life organized. I still use Outlook Tasks, and calendar for specific things, but there’s something about hand writing certain notes etc. in an analog way.

        It may be pretty basic, but I use different pen colors to differentiate: blue for work and black for personal.

        1. Raine*

          Different color pens, different color highlighters, tabs on a paper journal, and then a key to your color coding in the front of the paper journal so you don’t later wonder what you meant by teal green ink and a neon green box around that note. (And also, if you need to copy that note for someone else later.)

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      My husband has loathed my yellow legal pads for years, and the working-from-home thing has only exacerbated his hatred. I ended up buying a file box/hanging folders to keep all the pages of notes (sorted by category and date) in as well as a folder stand for the actual pads so it would be less everywhere. He ultimately bought me one of those notebooks that you can scan and send images and OCR text to a variety of could services or email – I am currently synching it to my office’s OneNote, which lets you insert to-do items and tag things, too. I get my write-it-down fix in but there is no need for the paper detritus (as the notebook pages are cleanable/reusable). It’s called a rocket something – book, notebook?

      There are also entire YouTube channels on how to use the notebooks and bullet journal with them. (I’m not a bullet journaler, so I haven’t dived into that world.)

      For team projects, we use MS Teams.

    5. JessicaTate*

      Paper-lovers… I use an old fashioned Word doc task list, which I print out at the start of each week. I can cross off tasks as they’re done AND I can jot down new tasks/nuances or “oh crap” moments next to a project in a hot second when it happens. But there’s a system…

      I have a Master Word doc, at the top of the page is “Week of [Monday]”. Underneath, I have headers for all of my current projects: “Adam’s Ant Project”, “Beverly Beehive Project,” “Admin Stuff”, etc. Under each project header, I have bullets of the tasks I need to do in the near future on that project; this sometimes includes “Awaiting Bob’s feedback to decide next step,” which reminds me to bug Bob if he’s unresponsive; or “on hold until client resurfaces”. The bullets are in the shape of giant squares or circles so that I can satisfyingly check them off (physically, on the paper) as I get them done during the week.

      Each Monday morning (or Friday afternoon), I copy/paste the past week’s list to the top of the Word doc (preserving the old list below). Now I edit to reflect the current week — deleting tasks that are done, keeping things that still need to be done, adding new tasks. I also move the projects around in chunks, so that the most pressing stuff for the week is at the top.

      Then I print it out (it’s usually a front/back 1 page). It sits on my desk, right in front of me. I constantly refer to it, and jot down additional task-related notes on it – adding or clarifying as things happen during the week. Those hand-written notes get incorporated into next week’s typed list (unless they got done this week). This is not for all note-taking, but for tasks / to-dos.

      I use Asana to communicate with my team about tasks/progress at a higher level and what they need to do. But it wasn’t useful for me in daily organization. I’ve been using this system for at least a decade. It’s fairly low tech, but it works for me.

      1. SparkyMcdragon*

        Similar comment that basic Bullet Journaling, inbox zero, and a calendar app are what has always worked for me. Glad to have found the paper people! I think part of what works about the Bullet Journaling is that you can’t be interrupted by an urgent email while your updating your daily because you aren’t looking at a screen during that time.

    6. Glitsy Gus*

      I’m pretty late to the party here, but one thing I to that has saved my bacon is one of those narrow, spiral bound “grocery list” pads. I write out what I need to do with due dates, if a task has a hard deadline. The once a bunch of lines get crossed off or added I flip to the next page and reorganize and re-prioritize. Because it’s thin it can sit right next to my keyboard without getting in the way. Super low tech, but it works for me.

      I also have a five subject notebook that I keep more general notes, meeting info, brainstorms, etc. in. Each Subject section is devoted to a different kind of task, then I title and date each page as I use it so I can find the specific thing I need relatively quickly. Once a page is pretty much done forever I tear it out (though a lot of pages with “evergreen” info stay for the long haul).

  25. SongbirdT*

    Lots of great suggestions for digital tools, but I’ve found that they never quite work for me. Something about writing things down just makes it “stickier” somehow. And I work in technology! I’ve WFH for about 5 yrs now, and I’ve found my favorite solution is a simple notebook.

    I use a Kokuyo Campus looseleaf notebook because it has the form factor of a spiral notebook and the convenience of a binder that I can move pages around in and out of when needed. The front section is a DIY planner page that I set up for the way I work (sort of a quasi bullet journal) and the back section is for meeting notes, project plans, brainstorming, sketching, whatever. What I love about my notebook is the flexibility – I can do whatever works for me in that moment – and it’s form factor. It’s the right size that it takes up minimal space on my desk, I can slide it in next to my laptop when I was traveling, I can organize it however I need for the week, the day, the meeting that I’m in. If I ever need to share notes, I can always just snap a picture or (more often) transcribe what I want for sharing and keep my senseless brain scratches to myself. :)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      You may have just solved my problem of, oh, 20 years. In school, I used binders so I could move the pages around, but notebooks are more portable for work. The problem is that I manage multiple jobs and I don’t like to mix up the notes, but 3-subject notebooks or whatever always fail in that I don’t have enough pages in one section for project A or never use the pages in another section for project B.

      1. SongbirdT*

        Exactly! Finding this notebook was a real “where have you been all my life?!?!?” moment.

        JetPens is my online source for them, and just search for Kokuyo Campus Smart Ring binder notebook. The listings have videos where you can see how they work before you decide to buy. There are a couple of other brands that also have opening ring bindings, but the Campus works really well.

    2. Kiki*

      Ahhh, yes! I’m definitely going to order one of these. I love writing things down in notebooks for work but get so frustrated when I wish I would have organized something differently, or unrelated meeting notes interrupt several pages of project notes. I’d tried binders, but a lot of them were too bulky for carrying around, so this is awesome.

  26. The Assistant*

    I have tried many digital project management tools for myself, but if you’re accustomed to physical organization, it can be a tough transition. It’s easy to simply not log in or ignore the email reminders because they’re not in your peripheral vision all the time. I’m a digital person, too – analyst on my team – and yet I crave some physical organization tools.

    Nothing beats a tiny whiteboard, in my opinion. I have mine divided between my six main focus areas/projects, and I write down tasks in each box. That way I have a quick visual of what’s overloaded and what’s not. I use a magnetized fridge white board, so if I’m working from the living room or my dedicated office, it’s portable and lightweight.

    I’d also not discount colorful post-its for placing on your laptop when you close up shop each night – just reminders like EMAIL BOB is very useful.

    Finally, a small notebook for To Dos Tomorrow is also helpful for organizing your thoughts at the end of the day and starting fresh the next.

    1. C*

      Also, you don’t even need to buy a whiteboard – you can put a piece of white paper in a picture frame and use whiteboard markers on that. Wipes off with a cloth.

    2. LilyP*

      The second thing I bought when I set up my home office corner (a few years ago!) was a whiteboard. I think a small one or maybe even one of the dry erase wall sticker things attached to a large piece of cardboard would be easy enough to stash somewhere at the end of the day. It’d be a nice way to mark “work mode” vs “home mode” in a small space as well.

  27. Charlotte Lucas*

    Agreed about Outlook. I used to have LotusNotes & loved their calendar, but Outlook works. My to-do list is always up & I use the recurring feature all the time.

    1. IStealPens*

      Nothing to comment on your post, but I have seen you before – I LOVE LOVE LOVE your screen name. I just hope your spouse isn’t such a bore as Mr. Collins.

  28. MmmmmmMMMmm*

    I really like

    It has boards, check lists, etc. Its really what you make of it. All of it can be accessed for free!

    1. Casey*

      I also love Notion! I like that it’s customizable without being completely open — the structure helps. There are also cool templates and set-up walkthroughs made by Notion and the community.

      Things I use it for: tracking job applications, tracking what I read, keeping a running to-do list, a daily dashboard to tell me what I have to do each day, making miscellaneous lists.

    2. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      I’m also for Notion! I’ve used Trello and Asana in professional contexts and Google Keep personally, they’re all great but I prefer Notion to them all.

      Notion is highly customizable and versatile without being unwieldy. It offers nearly all of the defining features of the aforementioned tools—kanban boards, tables, to-do lists, reminders—and has an awesome landing/home page where you can access everything you need at a glance.

      There’s even a desktop version which is great if you want to set up, or tackle some tasks in a distraction free set up. Notion pretty much runs my life, I regularly refer to it as my second brain.

    3. King Friday XIII*

      I’m a big fan of Notion as well – I migrated my Trello and my Evernote into it! I use it for to-do lists, ticklers, and storage.

    4. Project Manager*

      Agreed. I’m using Notion personally, and it’s really helped me meet my personal goals. For example, I had a vague goal to finish working through my Alfred’s adult piano lessons book by the end of the year…several years ago. A couple months ago, I sat down with Notion and laid out what was necessary to actually complete the entire book by the end of the year. I’m on track to meet that goal! (And I’m doing really well – I can transpose melodies to different keys by sight now. !!! I didn’t even know what a key was a year ago.) My Christmas present to myself will be the next lesson book.

      I don’t use Notion at work. At work, I have three major tools I use:

      1. There are more meetings on my Outlook calendar than I can attend. So, for my actual schedule, I keep an Excel spreadsheet that breaks the working day into two-hour blocks. Into this spreadsheet, I write down the meetings I am actually attending. Then I fill in the general tasks I need to complete that week into the empty blocks. So, if I know I need to write charts for a meeting next Monday, I look for an open block on Thursday or so and put the task into that block. I also specifically assign time each day to prepare for the next day’s meetings; I have so many meetings that I can’t afford to attend one without knowing exactly why I’m there and what I need to get from the meeting. In addition, I assign time at least twice a week specifically to go through my task list.

      2. All meeting notes are in OneNote. I change up the organization of the notes occasionally. I just started using tags for special topics.

      3. All tasks are in Outlook Tasks. Every time I get an email that gives me a task, which is pretty frequently, I click my create task hotkey to auto-generate a task from that email. I also generate tasks from OneNote if I get an action during a meeting. I generally assign the task due date to be the day I plan to work on it (per item 1) rather than the day it is actually due; that way, I don’t get caught having to write a huge chart deck the same day of a meeting.

      It’s a little work to maintain, but I have a LOT of work to keep track of, and I’d lose things if I didn’t have my systems.

    5. Marie*

      I LOVE Notion. I keep a Kanban-esque board for my major projects (sorted by either priority or status) and then each project has its own individual page with notes and to-dos and status updates and meeting minutes, etc.

      But for my daily to-do lists, I prefer paper. On Monday morning I go through my project boards in Notion and make a list of major things I want to get done for the week week (finish report X, start presentation Y), which I put on a sticky note in my notebook. Then each day I write out my three top priorities, along with a few smaller items that would be nice to get done if possible. That combo—daily tasks on paper, project notes in Notion—really works for me.

  29. Amethystmoon*

    Since 99% of my tasks come through Outlook, I use the built-in color-coding flags. It’s easy to set up custom ones for different things.

  30. Datalie*

    I made my own outlook task form in outlook with the specific fields I need and a view to go with it. It works well and is part of the system I’m already using. I’m always in outlook anyways and I have it set up so I see my calendar and task list when I first open it.

  31. (Former) HR Expat*

    I use Microsoft Excel for my to do list. One column for the task, one with a due date reminder, one column with a status from a drop down (open, in progress, completed). And a column for notes. In some iterations I have a column for prioritization (high, medium, low). I keep the spreadsheet open all day and add to it whenever needed.

    1. CJM*

      My daughter is a paralegal and does this too, so I came here to suggest a spreadsheet. She also includes details like whose queue the project is in now (if it’s temporarily with someone else until it gets back to her). She reviews her projects a few times a day to see how to prioritize her next tasks. She says this system works great, and she’s often complimented on her organization and productivity.

  32. aepyornis*

    Possibly not a fully relevant answer here but one thing that massively helps me stay on top of emails and thus of things is too use the snooze button (I use Gmail’s Business Suite but I’m sure there are others). I snooze emails until the moment I have set aside to deal with a particular issue (finances & accounting > Wednesday at 14.00 / corporate partners > Tuesday at 8.00). I hate to have an overflowing email inbox but can’t tackle things as they come in so this works very well for me and allows me to have at most times 15-30 emails sitting in my inbox instead of 100+ and it helps me stay organised as well as giving me an overview of the most pressing issues.

  33. pamela voorhees*

    This is super low tech but it’s worked for me and a teacher friend — buy a large tri-board at Target like kids use for science fair projects, set it up around your working space, and use stickies etc. on it. It can fold away pretty small and flat if it gets in the way, but if you need a reminder, you can pull it out again and set it up around you.

    1. Stella*

      I love this! I’ve been thinking about how whiteboards can get erased when you store them somewhere.

      1. Mockingjay*

        There are semipermanent white board pens that don’t rub off (require wet cleaning to remove). When I’m in the office, I use those to outline status areas, then use the ordinary dry erase markers to add notes and status.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      That’s a good idea! Might also help if someone’s workspace is in a communal area and they’re trying to gain some privacy or keep their “blinders” on to stay on task. And luckily pretty inexpensive! Good tip!

  34. Choggy*

    If you are going to use a software solution, make sure you have a dual monitor setup so you can keep the software open for updates, and when closed, ensure it has reminders along the way for milestones and tasks due. Additionally, you can get those large Post-ITs if you need to map something out or create a task list before committing it in electronic form for a more creative flow.

  35. Nancie*

    For people who want to stick printed lists (ie, not sticky notes) to the wall, I ran across these on Amazon: Advantus StikkiCLIPS. They use wax to stick to pretty much any painted surface.

    I’ll post a link in a reply.

  36. Hello!*

    I don’t have many suggestions when it comes to software, my go to has always been Google Keep because I can yell at my Google Home in the middle of the night and add things to my to do list. As for your actual work space, I am not sure exactly what your set up is, but my dad and I built a ladder desk which was easier than expected so I have two large shelves above me for my printer, various home paperwork, etc. They also sell ladder desks but for my space it was the best desk shape option. You could also just put in shelves above your desk. The desk is set up right next to my sliding closet door so I bought a peel and stick whiteboard, it is almost the same thickness as paper so I can still open the closet door when needed. But I use that for planning big projects and organizing my week.

  37. Hamburke*

    We are currently using toodledo after leaving todoist. Both of these are great task lists (I’d pay for the lowest tier of either bc it allows subtasks and collaborators). Todoist has the better phone app but I prefer toodledos functionality and use it on the computer.

    If you’re looking for project management, Trello is a great product for this. I used the free version with a previous company and it was rather simple after the tutorial. I probably would have liked it more if I was the one creating the structure.

  38. Sam*

    I am not a naturally organized person, even though I’m considered one of the most organized people in my office. I work hard at it! It’s important to set aside time for getting organized and checking in.

    The right system for you may vary widely. I prefer paper, so my system is based around an agenda and a to-do list. The agenda holds the traditional schedule (meetings, deadlines, etc) but also reminders to check in on specific projects and clients, personal pre-deadline deadlines I’ve set for myself, and far-off tasks with a specific due date. The to-do list holds tasks, roughly in order of when I’ll get to each of them, highlighted in different colours based on projects, with new items jotted down at the bottom. Major tasks are broken down into sub-tasks. I also have a specific spot on my desk for placing paperwork that collects.

    At least weekly but ideally at the end of each day, I set aside 15 minutes. I check off anything that’s complete, review my agenda, paperwork, email inbox, and anywhere else tasks come in, then re-do my to-do list to include all the tasks I need done and use my colour-coded highlighters to organize them as needed. It really doesn’t take long if you’re doing it consistently! That 15 minutes sets me up for a successful next day of work and keeps me on track long-term.

  39. IStealPens*

    I’m in a similar situation – but in some of these cases mentioned above (which are sooo good) I haven’t had the same luck with. But for me I think a lot of it is because I don’t have a dedicated office that isn’t basically a disaster of a craft room that I can never keep clean.

    So youre not alone here.

  40. Also a tech writer*

    My husband is very picky about organizational tools and swears by Clickup. I use OneNote and have been playing around with the To Do feature in Microsoft Teams. I use digital tools for keeping track of backlogs and to dump information. Daily, I use a small notebook where I’ve written down the top tasks from my digital lists that I want to accomplish that day. However, as others said, play to your strengths. I’m get easily overwhelmed by visual stimulus. Trello’s cards were too bulky/flashy for me, hahaha.

  41. Generic Name*

    I use ToDoist for keeping track of my projects. You can put in reminders, due dates, and it integrates with Outlook. For other work tasks that aren’t my projects, I use Outlook tasks. My role is eclectic and I work on projects as a technical expert but I also review deliverables for projects others are working on, and I also have a wider role in managing a company-wide program. So folks asking me to review stuff submit an Outlook task request that gets put into my . For my role managing a company-wide program, I keep notes in a shared OneNote and I flag items that are action items in OneNote so that it creates a task in Outlook. It’s pretty nifty. While I do set up reminders, I still need to look over my ToDoist page as well as my Outlook tasks, but I think it’s pretty effective. I rarely drop the ball simply because I lost track of something. Oh, which reminds me, if I get an email I know I’ll need to follow up on, I’ll flag it with a reminder for whenever I need to follow up. I know Microsoft gets a lot of hate (I guess because it’s seen as uncool, but also the only option?), but Outlook is a very powerful program with a TON of features. I use it daily, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do.

  42. Elsie*

    This is a great thread. I like Kanban flow because it’s easy to visualize the process and you can create additional columns to suit your needs. But these days, I mostly use a combination of Microsoft To Do and a word document. I use the word document to make a plan of what I need to do each day (i.e. 8-9 check email, 9-10 work on report, etc). I also have a list in to do where I keep track of things I’m waiting on (such as send report to team after sally emails me the numbers I asked for), etc. But ultimately agree that the best system is what works best for you and that the simpler, the better. I also find it’s worth it to take time at the end of each day to plan the next day and time at the end of the week to plan out the coming week.

  43. Lifeandlimb*

    I suggest don’t overhaul the system that works for you. I’ve tried a few different task manager apps, but for some reason it’s never worked quite as well as a bullet point list in my notebook or a bunch of sticky notes.
    Get a mini whiteboard to stick up somewhere. Or you can try what I do for really important stuff, which is stick Post-it notes to the bottom of my computer monitor or laptop (saves space).

    Sometimes I also use the Stickies app on my computer. It keeps virtual Post-it notes floating on your desktop, and you can color code them.

  44. Elle by the sea*

    For me, nothing works better than a simple Excel spreadsheet. My job also involves analysis and product management and I love whiteboards, too, but almost all of that can be done on task lists created in Excel. I haven’t really found replacement for the whiteboard, though: I use sheets of paper, but that’s not the same. I do miss the whiteboard. I need to get one for my home as well!

    I’ve tried quite a few productivity softwares, but they just reduced my productivity. I spent so much time on adjusting the settings that I couldn’t focus on the content. But they do make many people’s lives easier. It’s all up to you after all. Different things work for different people. Keep on experimenting and you will find the best way to stay productive.

    1. Ashley*

      I love sharing spreadsheets on Google Drive with others to keep them updated on mundane items or reference phone numbers and other short term info they use rarely.

  45. Kaarsvlam*

    If you like to physically write things down but want a digital copy. I find using a Rocketbook with Trello really helps me.

    Rocketbook has a number of notebook/calendar styles and when you’re done you upload it to the cloud or your email or Trello etc and can then use it to share with others etc. I use it for all my meeting notes and then can easily create digital tasks from the notes. Then when you’re done you erase the page and can use it again.

    I also keep a duplicate Outlook calendar where I put my tasks. I can overlay it on top of the calendar that others in my organization have access to and easily see both my meetings and what tasks I need to work on in a given day.

    1. Liz*

      I’ve been looking at Rocketbook. I even downloaded a couple of their template pages to try offline… and then realized with COVID-19 there’s less need, because I’m always in front of my computer during meetings. But I fully intend to try it again later. (My biggest problem is that meeting notes end up in a notebook and everything else is on my computer, but I don’t focus as well if I take a laptop into meetings.)

      How do you find the handwriting feature? Is it pretty good?

    2. Carlie*

      I have long been a fan of Rocketbook.
      They also now have orange beacons that you can slap onto the corners of anything and take a pic of it – big whiteboard, piece of paper, whatever.

      It’s an ecosystem that you have to buy into, but if you like it, it’s great. It uses proprietary notebooks and Pilot frixion pens (the .05 with a cap are the best IMO), and an app on your phone. My problem with it is that once the file goes to its intended place I never look at it again.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        For paper, you can also cheat and just place a piece of paper over all but the very bottom of the notebook page where the category and QR code are. If I forget the book and have a page of notes, I lay them over the notebook page and snap a picture of the page plus the notebook footer.

        I only use mine for work and synch it with my corporate OneNote.

    3. Sarah in Boston*

      Another vote for Rocketbook. I mostly use the aspect of being able to wipe clean the pages when I’m done but you can use the app to do OCR and to send to the digital storage of your choice.

  46. Jess*

    I have tried every kind of organization software and nothing has worked for me as well as Things 3, but it is only for Mac. Remember the Milk is the closest runner up and is web-based.

    1. Ames*

      Try todoist. I have tried google,, gtasks pro, RTM, so many and todoist is amazing. I write a really detailed explanation of why, farther down in the comments

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Todoist is definitely the best to-do list app I’ve used (have also used Google which is too minimalist, Wunderlist which stopped working, and Remember the Milk which I forget why I didn’t like).

        Oddly, I find it great for managing my home/personal tasks, but still prefer an old-school notebook for everything work!

  47. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I use a combination of Trello, multiple excel spreadsheets, and handwritten lists. All involve judicious use of color coding. I also use my email inbox as a “to do list” in that the only things I keep in the inbox are things that need my attention/I need to follow up on. Everything else either gets archived or deleted.

    1. JJ*

      Oh YES this email tip is great, I do that as well. Plus HEAVY use of the snooze feature if something needs to stay in the inbox but doesn’t need to be done right away (like meeting invites).

  48. Chauncy Gardener*

    I like Google Keep. You can collaborate (share tasks with others), or just keep it all to yourself. You can color code. You can save emails in it. It’s very easy to use.

  49. Ames*

    I am absolutely loving Todoist. I have gone through a bunch and they often were way too involved, like you needed 5 steps to add a task, or they didnt have the features I wanted. Todoist is the perfect mix, and it lets you decide how many features work for you. It has gmail and google calendar integration. You can integrate with a bunch more like google tasks and evernote through IFTTT. But it really has a great way of letting you organize information in your own way, that makes sense to you. Personally I have been using the Getting Thing Done productivity method recently and it works fabulously with Todoist.

  50. knitcrazybooknut*

    I use my Outlook calendar a lot, but for any list of things to do, I stick with my notepads – 8.5″ by 11″, lined, cardboard backs. I have one notepad for each topic, project, regularly scheduled meeting, short term and long term tasks, etc. Right now I probably have 8 going. This helps me in two ways: Things stick in my mind better when I write them down physically, and I can review my questions for any upcoming meeting by pulling one out of the pile and running through the questions. Plus I can take notes by the actual question, to make sure it sticks.

    I deeply, deeply miss my HUGE whiteboard at work, and I tried having a smaller one installed, but it was behind me, and there’s not any room for a whiteboard anywhere else. I’ve started using Sharepoint as my virtual bulletin board for reference purposes, which is okay, but not as good as my physical bulletin board! Ah well.

  51. AdAgencyChick*

    Pre-COVID, my office had already been working hard to crunch people into smaller and smaller spaces, so I had already found my beloved whiteboards and walls to stick Post-Its disappearing.

    I now live and die by my notebooks. I do sketches that I used to do on whiteboards. I write down my to-do list (physically crossing off items works better for me than any computer-based list program I’ve ever tried). Sometimes I’ll recopy any undone items onto a new list on a new page, if I’ve needed to use the notebook for meeting notes in the interim! Basically my attention span is that of a gnat, so if it’s not right in front of me I’m going to forget about it. Which is why recopying the list helps (and the simple act of writing it down AGAIN sometimes gets me thinking about what I need to do and in what order).

    I spend probably too much money on the most beautiful notebooks I can find. It just feels nicer to enjoy looking at my most important work tool. And when I fill one up, I toss it in the trash with no regrets. I think of them as pretty but transient; no matter how much I enjoy looking at one particular pattern, I know I’ll love the next one too.

    1. DataGirl*

      This is pretty much exactly what I do, except I use the basic notepads from the office. I have one for household/personal chores and one for work stuff going at all times. During the week both live on my desk, on the weekend the household one moves to the kitchen. I also use it for menu planning for the week, grocery lists, etc.

  52. Middle Manager*

    I keep it really basic and just use outlook. I am a zero inbox kind of person (well, apiring, it’s at like 10-20 at the end of most days), so my inbox is essentially my to-do list and I will not infrequently send myself emails to put an item on the list and delete it out when it’s done. If something is further out or I need to remember to do it a specific day/time, I usually put it on my outlook calendar as an event for myself marked free.

    Not sure if this is part of what you’re trying to accomplish, but I use the Toggl app to keep track of my time (both overall and on specific projects). Once you load all your projects in, I find it very easy to keep up with throughout the day with an easy one-click most of the time.

    For monitoring staff work, we do have some shared OneNotes but that’s had pretty mixed success. I think it works well for shared notes, but not as much for to-do lists, maybe just because it feels like an extra step to go into it when I’m not already working in it.

  53. DataGirl*

    I am mostly a pad of paper and pen person- each day I review what I need to do that day and crossing off as finished. Once a week or so I start a new list, copying the stuff from the week before. If a project has multiple steps, it gets its own page of paper.

    For our family, something that could be easily used for work instead is we bought some very cheap sheets of thin plywood and chalkboard paint. Painted the wood and hung them on the walls to function as giant calendars and chores lists. I update that once a week for everyone. It was a cheap way to get really big boards without having to buy them and they are super light so easy to screw into walls. There is also whiteboard paint if you prefer that to chalkboard.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      In college, my roommates and I would write on our white refrigerator with whiteboard markers so we had reminders for bills and rent. Unfortunately, the refrigerator had a texture to the white finish, so cleaning it all off when we moved out was a ordeal, but it worked well while we lived there! Another cheap solution if it works well for someone’s home situation.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        White board contact paper may also work for this to avoid the cleanup hassle or risk of someone writing on your “white board” with a Sharpie (or for people with non-white fridges).

        1. The Rural Juror*

          It was in the days before Mr. Clean Magic Erasers were on the market. Those things work wonders! I think we used Windex and paper towels, it just took some elbow grease. That fridge was the cleanest it had ever been when we moved out haha! But yes, a Sharpie would be bad news…

  54. Anax*

    Same; I use some basic bullet journaling techniques – and I’m in IT too, but I just end up ignoring yet another tab or program.

    I like to use a basic 5″x7″ bound journal; spiral and looseleaf notebooks have never worked well for me, because I’m left-handed and it’s hard to write without banging my hand on the metal. And it makes me feel better to have a pretty new cover every few months; I’ll take the motivation I can get.

    I use a lot of color-coded pens, post-its to bookmark important pages, and an index for anything I need to reference later (like important meeting notes). I end up using it both for work and non-work things – color-coded and organized separately – so that if I get a chore done on lunch or a break, I can mark that down too and feel a little accomplished even on tough days. Anything I can’t get done that day, or anything longer-term, gets booted to the “sometime this month” or the “eventually” list, so my “today” lists don’t get too overwhelming, and I rewrite and re-evaluate the monthly lists every month.

    It’s been working well for me for a few years, though I definitely get less organized when I’m exhausted and stressed.

  55. not neurotypical*

    All of these various online (and offline) tools have their strengths and weaknesses, but one problem that trips me up and might trip you up too, if you’re someone who was unconsciously relying on visual reminders to literally jump in front of your eyes as you entered your workspace, is that you have to remember to look at them. So, you may want to think about including one tool that puts push notifications right in front of your eyes. I use the simple Reminders tool on the Mac, which allows me to type a quick to do AND SET THE DATE AND TIME FOR IT TO REMIND ME for each one. Various to do apps like Nozbe also allow this. If you are forgetting to look at Trello or your paper to do list or whatever, you can set push reminders that say LOOK AT TRELLO NOW or whatever

  56. LQ*

    There are thousands of to do/project management/work tracking applications and processes out there. You have to find one that works for you online. And you may have to take time to try different ones and see what works for you. People are going to recommend their favorites because they are the ones that work for them. But just because it works for one person who is incredibly organized, or who tends toward not but swears by this one thing, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone. The reason there are so many is becauce it’s a fairly individual thing to stick to a tool or process. For me I’ve also had to change processes and tools as I’m at different points in my career.

    I’m also going to suggest that a working at home tool/process may be different for you from an in office one entirely.

    To think through online tools:
    Do you need an app? Web based access? API? Mobile app? Something your company will allow you to download? Collaboration? Document storage? Security? I wouldn’t look at other features until you’ve sorted through some of these basics. (So you don’t fall in love with something that won’t work for your specific situation.)

  57. Moose*

    I’m shocked no one said book stands or typing stands (that hold up paper at your eye-line).

    I’m the same way about visuals and paper on the walls. It’s an ADHD thing in my case. I recently propped up my to do list on the table with a bookstand. I got some desk space back and it’s in my eyeline. I have a couple of those now for various things, and it helps me a lot.

    Tech solutions like asana are fine but don’t work for me, and i have privacy concerns with my work. If the walls were useful in your office, try recreating that at home.

  58. Vic*

    I use Microsoft OneNote. It’s integrated into all of the Microsoft Office applications, which my company uses heavily. So, it works great for me.

  59. Stella*

    For a non-tech option, don’t discount using a window or a mirror as a whiteboard. A former co-worker and I used to take over a conference room, start on the whiteboard then move over to the plate glass window when brainstorming. We’d take a picture with a smartphone to capture the info before erasing. For personal use, I’ll sometimes write a must do task in the middle of the bathroom mirror.

  60. Ms. Minn*

    I’ve tried using Outlook tasks, Asana, and a plain old fashioned notebook, but I ended up making my own version of a tracker in Excel. I have headers for client, project name, task, week due, and the specific day it’s due so I can sort and filter it. Then I gray out the task when it’s done. I still need to be disciplined about using it (which is one of my struggles), but it’s helped me a lot.

  61. A*

    In addition to todoist. I do like a gmail plug in by HQ cloud that lets you take notes on your emails. Its free and it backs up all your notes to google drive. Really useful for summarizing long email chains or putting the next thing that needs to be done at the top of a long chain. etc

  62. Aquawoman*

    I do a similar thing with Outlook but I use tasks rather than the calendar (because I like to keep that to things I need to attend).

  63. CK*

    In addition to Todoist, I rely really heavily on my Google calendar. Before WFH started, I only used it for meetings, etc. But recently I’ve started scheduling things like “call X client” so I have reminders in two places and I don’t overschedule myself on any given day.

    If you’re more of an analogue calendar person, Agendio is *amazing*. They have tons of customizable planners (the ones you can buy ready-made never quite worked for me). I really, really loved the one I ordered last year; the only reason I didn’t re-up this year is because my current job functions largely via shared digital calendars.

  64. Ann O'Nemity*

    I did bullet lists for a long time, which worked well when I was in the office and attended a lot of meetings without a laptop. Now that I’m at home and am always on a computer, I’ve started trying out more digital tools.

    I did Trello for awhile. I liked it for bigger projects that had milestones I could plan in advance. I also like the ability to email tickets to my board. But I was terrible about putting smaller to do’s in, as it felt like I’d spend as much time entering and moving them as it would take to actually do the smaller tasks! But that meant Trello was only capturing part of my workload, and I was trying to keep track of those smaller tasks on scribbled post-its or in emails (eek).

    I’m tempted to try Google Tasks and/or Keep. Anyone have much success with either?

  65. OtterB*

    I like Workflowy because it’s pretty much completely unstructured – you create a series of nested lists, and can put hashtags like #today or #thisweek or #October on it, then search by hashtag. It would not be as good for things with definite deadlines, at least not the way I use it. But I like that it allows me to keep different kinds of lists all together – some are tasks and subtasks, but some are lists like “things to discuss with committee chair when we talk next” and “things to consider changing in the annual project for next year.”

    That’s for work. For personal/family things, a bullet-journal type notebook in a composition book seems to work best. I only put personal things on the Workflowy list if they are person-but-do-in-work-hours, like “call doctor’s office.”

    1. BubbleTea*

      Yes! I use Workflowy which I use in integration with Complice. Complice is my day to day to-do list tool, and I can tag Workflowy to automatically pull in random tasks, or to pull in specific tasks on certain days (I have a weekly routine with regular tasks on them). I also use it as a place to brain dump ideas, and then I can add dates later on when I want to work on things.

  66. TypeFun*

    Any suggestions for work where there’s a lot of overlap between projects? I find my project goals change often and sometimes projects merge or divide and I find it really hard to keep track when it feels like files should be able to be found in multiple places at once?

  67. No clever username*

    I’m surprised so few people have mentioned Remember the Milk. It’s free and is INSANELY powerful. I guess there’s a little bit of a learning curve but I love it.
    One tip if you do get into RTM: learn the difference between “every” and “after.” “Pay the snacks vendor Friday *every other week” means that every other friday, you’ll be reminded to pay the snack guy. “Clean my desk today *after a week” means that if you skip cleaning your desk today and do it tomorrow instead, you won’t be reminded to clean your desk until a week after you completed the last clean. That I think was the least intuitive part about RTM but now I use it all the time.

  68. TypeFun*

    Ooh also, I’d love to know specifics for how people actually use tools like trello, asana, todoist, etc. I’ve checked them out but I still don’t really get the mechanics of how people use them and I wish they had more specific examples from different fields on their sites, particularly in science (my field).

  69. Anenemous*

    This is probably not the most innovative suggestion, but when I was still working from home I just used a legal pad and each day I ripped yesterday’s page off, copied pertinent info over to the new page, and tossed the old page. I would also stick post it notes on as needed and could move those easily page to page. I liked having a chance to look over yesterday’s list and scribbled notes, and making a new plan each morning. It helped me structure my day. I combined that with google calendar and google tasks. I didn’t have any dedicated work space in my very small apartment, so it helped to have a system I could easily pack up and put away every day.

    1. Carlie*

      Just before Covid hit, I went totally geeky on this idea – I am also better with physical lists, so thought if I could keep a rolling list so I didn’t have to copy the undone stuff to a new page… and ended up buying a roll of paper with a dispenser to sit at the edge of my desk and stretch across the whole thing, with the idea that I would go left to right and rip things off as they were done. It was glorious. And then we went WFH and there was no room for it.

  70. Sarra N. Dipity*

    I have ADHD, and I have tried a million things to keep myself organized and not drop tasks. I finally found one that’s worked for more than a week – Excel.

    I have a file with 7 columns.
    1) project name, conditional formatting based on project, so I can see at a glance all the tasks for each project (or sort by color)
    2) basic task description
    3) due date – again, conditional formatting, color scale which makes the ones due sooner red, the ones further out green
    4) priority – conditional formatting for high/medium/low
    5) completed – when it’s done, I put an X here, and filter so that only blank cells are shown
    6) date completed, for my records or if someone asks “hey, did you do this thing?” I know where to look in my email for the sent message
    7) any additional notes for the task

    I have additional tabs for project timelines for each project I’m on, just for quick reference.

    Our org uses Office 365, and we’ve tried things like Project, but it’s just One More Thing to check every day. I have 3 monitors set up currently, and I tend to have my task Excel open on one of them fairly consistently (and I have a million other Excel files open, but that’s another issue :D )

    Have I mentioned that I *heart* conditional formatting? :D

    1. Colleen Whelpley*

      I am intrigued. I need to learn how to do conditional formatting with color coding!

      1. Sarra N. Dipity*

        it’s not hard!
        for coloring based on text content of the cell, select your cell/column/row, go into the conditional formatting menu, and add new rule – then select “format only cells that contain” at the top. now on the bottom, it should say “format only cells with cell value between [blank] and [blank]” – change the second drop box to “equal to” and put your text in the next box. then click format, then the “fill” tab. voila!

        For the color scale, select your range of cells, go back into conditional formatting, then color scales. the top left one will color your dates so the earlier dates are red and dates further in the future are green.

  71. Tammy*

    I said this in a nested comment, but I think it’s worth repeating (and expanding a bit upon). There are a zillion productivity tools out there, as you can see from all the replies. But the important thing is to find what works for you, because there’s no magic tool or process that works for everyone.

    And to that, I’d add “do the simplest thing that works for you”. If your system doesn’t work at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon when you’re exhausted and just Need To Be Done Working, or it doesn’t work when you’re fighting off a cold and just feel run-down, it’s probably too complicated and you should simplify it. The problem I’ve had with a lot of tech organizational tools is that they either are too complex out of the gate, or they offer you too much opportunity to over-complicate what you’re doing in the name of productivity and flexibility. When I find myself starting to fiddle with and tweak my tools, that’s usually a sign I need to pause and evaluate whether I’ve over-complicated things.

    Whatever tools and process you decide to try, be alert to the places where it’s not working for you, but also be alert to the places where the tool/process is adding “friction” to your actual effort to stay organized. There are lots of fantastic tools out there which are incredibly powerful and capable, and which I tried out for those reasons. (OmniFocus on the Mac/iOS is one great example). And it was a fabulous tool. But for me, the ratio of time/effort I had to spend setting up and maintaining the tool to time/effort I was enabled by the tool to actually get my work done just didn’t work for me. I’m sure for any tool mentioned in this thread, there are people for whom it is the magic savior for their productivity. But make sure you’re not spending more time maintaining your productivity tools than you are being productive with them.

    1. Jane*

      Agree with this comment completely. If I’m not careful, I spend too much time fussing with tools. It feels like I’m getting something done, but I’m not actually doing any work!

      1. Carlie*

        I currently have 11 tabs open in my browser, each a different organizational software, that I’ve been meaning to look at for weeks because I have spent my whole life searching for the Right Organization Tool and have gone totally off the deep end of chaos now that we’re WFH. So, um. yeah.

        One other to add to the master list- it’s not actually made for life organization, but if you work visually, you can use it like a Kanban or like the “stickies all over the monitor and desk” method – it’s called lino at You get a board, and can put sticky notes on it, and they can have writing or links or picture or whatever. And you can move them around and share them with other people and let them put stickies up, or keep them private. And you can have as many boards as you want.

    2. Sherri*

      Love this. I’d also add that I came to the realization that I need more than one tool. I love OmniFocus, but when I started using it, I tried to fit absolutely everything I wanted to track into it, and realized some things are just better in a list in a notebook. I’d originally assumed multiple systems were more complicated, but for me, it made it easier. And at work I track things in an Excel spreadsheet. I absolutely can’t mix work and personal.

  72. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    When I moved to WFH in 2013 I had to change the way I worked. I had always had aides-memoire pinned up in my workspace for easy reference, including phone numbers, standard deadlines, etc, but that became impractical when I started using a non-dedicated space.

    Seven years on, the only physical reference sheet I have is my charge-out schedule (equivalent to Task A $150, Task B $250 per year) and I only use that for quotes/estimates which is maybe monthly?

    Pretty much everything else lives in Outlook Tasks. We all use Outlook for email and Calendar, so it’s the first app I open when I log on. I’m a dab hand with Tasks now (custom views, categorisation, recurrence, etc) and I love that every Task can have a running narrative plus attachments plus reminders etc etc. I use Categories for projects so I can group or filter Tasks by that column. I can flag Tasks private too (“pick up dry cleaning”, “wash car”).

    My boss hasn’t totally committed to paperless: she likes to have a visual overview per project on the wall. But that’s a once monthly printout and otherwise we’re fully digital.

    I think it very much depends on how you work. Our workflow is closely task-driven and we live by inflexible deadlines, so I’ve always worked with to-do lists and Outlook Tasks is an obvious choice for me. I also compartmentalise, so setting reminders is absolutely necessary to prompt me to switch task whether across a day or a month.

  73. KnitsOnZoomCalls*

    This may apply more to people working in tech, but I use Emacs org-mode. Emacs is open source, available on the major operating systems (though not mobile, easily.) It’s all just text files, so you can save and store them anywhere and they are guaranteed to be viewable 10 years down the road. And it’s on your own computer, so no worries about security or IT blocking access to your todo side. Finally, it’s not visually distracting. When I BUJO, I get distracted trying to keep it pretty. Text is text. Easier not to get attached.

    The real freedom is that org-mode is very customizable to your workflow. So for me, I keep track of tickets in it. I can create custom TODO statuses that match my JIRA workflow. I can keep any misc notes about the ticket–what is tricky about it, stuff I had to google to complete it. Org-mode lets you track time on any bulleted item in your org file, so I can track my time on a ticket as well.

    I also put my meetings into org mode–you can set Emacs to send you reminders, and again you can track your time (which is useful since I submit timecards.) Additionally, I keep a separate org file for personal assessment tasks, so I can add to it/refer back as the year progresses.

    Oh, and Emacs is a full programming text editor, so I can do the rest of my job in it as well! The main cons is that the UX is unlike most modern apps. Lots of CTRL-x a and ALT-x command-name shortcuts, very few gui menus. That’s part of what makes it very fast to work in once you learn it, but it is a definite barrier to entry. In exchange you get complete control over your digital data and workflow, though.

    1. Keyboard Cowboy*

      Content notwithstanding – can I be best friends with this person who knits and organizes in Emacs? Can you forgive my Vim usage ;)

  74. Carrie Oakie*

    I like to write things down as well, it helps me focus and gives me moments where my eyes aren’t at the screen. I got a “daily to do” notepad off of Amazon, and each day mark my top 3 must do tasks, then everything else under. I can add to it as needed. I use a notebook for each department I work in to keep my projects organized.

    Digitally, my company uses Asana and Monday. They’re very similar, personally I prefer Monday. I can create boards to organize departments and projects and it will send me A daily digest of what’s on my to do list, what’s coming up, etc. it’s colorful which helps me to color code – I like to color code my tasks so my eye can see at a glance what’s in trouble, what’s good.

  75. Kate*

    1. I bought a big ass white board off craigslist and its a life saver, it’s not helpful for your space but all the walls in my office are whiteboard so transitioning to not scribbling on my walls like a 2 year old was super hard at the beginning of the pandemic. It helps me go through my complex code logic and query optimization.
    2. I use a combination of OneNote and physical legal pads for to do lists. OneNote is mostly done in meetings while I take notes and AI’s because I can type faster than I scribble and for generic nonsense I want to remember later tha may or may not be applicable to an actual task at hand. My legal pad I write out my to-do list every day (I go through a lot of legal pads over time…) and use a system of asterisks/circles/squares to mark priority and type of task. I go through my emails/notifications/priority slack channels first thing in the morning and then rewrite my to do list before my first call so I have a good handle on what’s on my plate. I don’t compartmentalize tasks to just things that need to get done today because I don’t find that a good way to roadmap for future projects. I found this helpful to take up to leadership to explain that there we all only have the same number of hours in the day and has been helpful for resource planning each year.

    1. SeluciaMD*

      This is what I came here to say too! I use a combo of online tools and real-world tools to manage my projects and timelines. I have post-it easel pads and tear a few off and stick them to whatever wall is nearby and then use several sizes and colors of traditional post-its to organize things on each of the bigger easel pages. If I need to put everything away, I just roll them up and stand them in a corner or put them under my couch – everything stays put, there are no marks on the walls, and then I can pop it back up when I’m ready to work again.

  76. Yet Another Consultant*

    For everyone who’s a fan of whiteboards, check out the static cling dry erase sheets you can buy online! They’re a little pricier than basic whiteboards, but you don’t have to prop them up or install them – they just cling to whatever wall you want. I have used them frequently for leading meetings when I had to travel and they were great! Stayed up for several days and then I could also fold them up if I wanted to take the notes home with me or save them for reference.

  77. Jane*

    Other commenters are chiming in with great resources, but one thing that has helped me is a daily/weekly review of emails and to-do lists. I found that it doesn’t matter how good the tool is at managing the work, I need to review my upcoming deadlines and meetings.

  78. Delta Delta*

    I think whatever you pick, it’s something that meshes with your natural organization style.

  79. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I need sticky notes to organize my personal life. I put them directly on the kitchen cabinet in a previous apartment and found they left a sticky residue which I wasn’t able to remove completely. Oops!
    Now I have a piece of notepaper taped to the cabinet with painter tape and I put sticky notes on it.
    I suggest not writing directly on paper taped to a surface because it might scratch or mark the surface. Use sticky notes instead. If you need larger notes, get some of the ones that come as lined notepads. :)

  80. Keyboard Cowboy*

    Whiteboards, sticky notes, and todo lists sounds to me like you remember stuff you write down manually – so think hard about whether a software product really will help you. I’m that way too, and I have been bullet journaling for something like 6 or 7 years now. (Other commenters mentioned it too, but it seems like everyone was mentioning it as an afterthought, so I decided not to reply in-thread.) Unlike other commenters, I use my bullet journal almost exclusively for work! I don’t even look at it on the weekends.

    Benefits I find from bullet journaling:
    – In meetings, I don’t look at a device with internet to take notes – I just take notes by hand. My notebook can’t accidentally tab over to my inbox or to Twitter ;)
    – Being able to “migrate” items week to week or day to day means that I never look at a list and think, “how old is this?” I keep a lot of lists in Google Keep too, and I always have that problem with those. (Usually Keep just gets shopping lists or links I know I want to search for later, instead.)
    – When I need to do a weekly report or 6-month performance review, I have a list of everything I’ve been doing all in one place. Handy!
    – Since WFH, I started also rating my productivity every day to accurately gauge whether my ADHD prescription is keeping up with the elevated stress and distraction level at home. This is useful for my doctor visits every month and I also was able to give my boss an accurate picture of how much work-from-pandemic impacted my performance at review time.

    – If you lose your journal, this is not good. I’ve made my partner take a photo of the latest spread in my journal and text it to me when I went to work without it. (This is not an issue anymore with WFH, though.)
    – Like other commenters said, it’s easy to get mired down by beautiful journals other people post on Instagram and Pinterest. Think about whether you want filling out your journal to be therapy for you, or an organizational tool, when you decide how you want to lay it out. Mine is pretty minimal – it’s basically just an excuse to keep all my todo lists in one place.
    – Once in a blue moon, I’ve had coworkers tease me about taking notes on paper during meetings. Fuck ’em, though.

  81. TimeTravlR*

    I use one note for my white board. It is so handy! and can be organized in whatever way works best for you.

  82. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I’ve tried many tools like this, not particularly for WFH, but more for personal projects (website, blog, even things like “home improvements”, painting and such like) … I’ve found Asana to be the best overall, others swear by Trello including my boss who said he used it for many “house” projects. I think those 2 are probably the best level of organization without being “overkill”.

    However… make sure if you use software like this, that you set your profile to be private! Many a company IP violation has happened due to things being inadvertently visible to the public… it may even be forbidden in your company to upload anything outside of the organization that includes, for example, “discuss Acme takeover proposal”.

    There was an incident I’m aware of — was it on this website? Or somewhere else? (Alison?) where someone got wind of some HR-sensitive thing like layoffs or outcomes of interviews via an unsecured Trello (or similar) board.

    When you were working in the office, what was the function of your whiteboard and post its etc exactly? Was it just for your own organized process, or for ‘visibility’ to others so that they could see what you were working on etc? If it’s this shared visibility it’s likely that a more company wide tool might be needed.

  83. Gatomon*

    I took my small whiteboard home, actually, but it was more for sketching diagrams.

    I just use spreadsheets to keep myself organized – specifically Google Sheets, because it’s free and web based. Our projects are pretty much all organized the same and very linear, so each project site gets a line, due date, fields for internal systems to reference and status and notes on the main sheet. When it’s done, I delete the row.

    I combine that with time blocking on my calendar: when I get a new project I set aside a block of estimated time to work on it in the future with a reminder. This helps me meet internal deadlines due to having to shuffle things around to ensure I’m on track to get them done, or at least warn people that something may be late.

    And I also scribble a lot on notepads. The notepad travels with me home and office – I’m already hauling a laptop, so it’s no big deal.

  84. EngineerMom*

    First, changing organizing habits is hard! You’ll probably go through a couple of iterations before you find one that fits.

    Can you translate your old habits/pattern to something a bit more portable, maybe like a binder or planner with appropriate pages or a layout you can use to mimic your whiteboard and notes?

    If a non-digital method has worked well for you in the past, I’d be inclined to attempt to try some non-digital versions first before going down the digital rabbit hole of organizing software. I personally prefer non-digital methods (in a general sense – I still use Outlook to arrange meetings and manage email, and shared drives to manage saved files), and tried a couple of digital methods (with training and guidance) and still found it was better for me personally to stick to paper methods.

  85. Lone Evaluator*

    I use Trello for this. It took a bit of trial and error to get it to mirror how I like to organize things (from paper calendar, my head, project files, etc.) but once I had it laid out, as long as I duplicate my in-office organizing time – usually Friday end of day to prep for next week, and some time mid-week to just review – it’s pretty good.

    If it’s helpful, my process: For big projects or long-timeline work, I set up a specific board and use the lists to organize by time, and then the cards for functions (so Board: Project; List: January; Cards: Actions). For the little bits, I have a “weekly” board, set up a M-F list and duplicate for 5 or 6 weeks, and then fill out as I go. In all of these, I use the checklists for about 95% of what I’m doing – I don’t need a lot of text in this, I just need to scan and see when I want to or have to do something. Anything on a deadline gets a calendar reminder added to the item, but basically I’ve converted almost everything to checklists. Keeps me organized, simple, and doesn’t take long to review or update.

  86. Ina Lummick*

    I am incredibly basic. My role involves getting interrupted a lot, so when I get a interrupting thing, I write on a draft email so I have the basics when I am able to do the things.

  87. Monty*

    I’m a grad student so I’ve been working at home on and off for years now and have a couple systems to keep me on track. I find I do better with analog reminders than digital (I already spend too much of my time looking at screens), so I have an agenda where I itemize everything I need to do on a particular day (from readings to emails to groceries to calling my mom). When something is done, I strike it off. I also use sticky notes for short-term reminders and then stick them in the agenda. I also have become a google calendar user for anything time-sensitive (grant apps, meetings, etc.). I set it to remind me multiple times with plenty of notice, so I don’t miss anything. I have used ToDoist in the past, albeit with mixed results (it’s way to easy to wave off those reminders).

  88. AM*

    Does anyone have a suggestion for a tool with a good visual calendar view? We’re trying to track what’s coming up within our various subteams in the next ~6 months but I haven’t found anything that I like.

    1. Professor Plum*

      Depending on your complexity, you might be able to use airtable to track your tasks. You can set up various views—calendar, kanban or grid.

  89. Robin*

    A couple of my colleagues started using and invited the rest of our staff to join. I’ve been converted! I really like the ability to organize daily tasks vs. projects and I know there are some other board templates geared towards content creation if that’s your jam. I also recently used Miro for a virtual summit. It’s good if you’re a sticky note and whiteboard person, and it’s great for collaborative brainstorming too.

    1. Robin*

      I also wanted to add that online platforms are great if you work from multiple locations like I do. I already split my time between two buildings and now I’m at home two days a week, so I’m always carting around my “office” with me.

  90. lazy intellectual*

    Don’t underestimate the power of to-do lists! Whether on paper or digital. I can’t handle anything more complicated than basic to-do lists, otherwise it gets just as confusing as having to remember it all. You might segment your to-do lists to an extent, but just having a list of tasks and checking them off one by one has been super helpful for me.

  91. Chickaletta*

    My biggest suggestion is to mimic what worked for you at work as best you can. It’s harder to remember things in the same way once you start using a new tool no matter how good that new tool is. If your space allows it, get yourself a white borad and stickies and use those suckers! Before you drop money on a brand new whiteboard, be sure to check out Freecycle and Craigslist for ones that are cheap or free (and do the environment a favor too).

  92. Library Mouse*

    I used to use post-its by the pack, but then I began to split my work between two locations in the same building. Since my employer uses outlook, I’ve found that Microsoft tasks is a lifesaver, I have different to do lists for each location and nested lists within those that keep everything organized. The best part about it is that when I’m at one location, I can easily add tasks to the list for the other as they occur.

  93. JC Chupack*

    Overarching note – if you do switch to a digital solution, make sure your company’s IT and Security are cool with it. Almost all digital solutions have some form of cloud sync, and, as such, you’re then exposing company data to a third party as well as posting to an external server. In some cases, doing that will violate your employment terms if not authorized.

    In fact, a first stop should be to check on your employer’s authorized tools and apps to see if there’s a solution available that works for you that has already been vetted and approved by IT and Security.

  94. RedPony*

    I use my mail software for this. Most mail programs have inbuild features that work like whiteboards. You can type in whatever you like, even can add files and documents, flag the tasks for priority, add deadlines and even have them linked to mail conversations and appointments in your calendar. I use Outlook at the moment and I like that quite a lot. But almost every mail-program I’ve ever used had similar features. I’ve used Thunderbird nearly the same way and it also worked in lotus notes. I’ve worked with several others briefly and seen they had the same features but didn’t test them out as thoroughly as the three programs mentioned above. Also using your mail program has the advantage that you can always access your notes and tasks whenever you log into your mail even on different devices.

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