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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

How-to Friday: Organize your tasks

Today I'll be telling you about my favorite task manager app. It has a LOT of features that I won't even mention.

But first, the disclaimers:

There is no magic system. I should know. Having tried so many systems for organizing my life, I've learned that it's up to me to stick with a system to actually make it work.

Your current system of keeping your calendar and to-do lists may not need improvement. Maybe the real trouble is that you're neglecting it. So, please, PLEASE, don't get sucked into thinking that the system I use is foolproof. (Just ask Nathan about the day when I forgot to bring snacks for his soccer team. Ooops.)

Third, my system is obviously electronic. It is easily adapted to a paper/pencil system. (That will have to be another blogpost.)

So for the bad news: this app is not inexpensive.

It costs $10 for the iPhone app, $50 for the desktop software (not a must-have, but nice), and $20 if you have an iPad and also want to sync with that. I've been using the app now for over three years. At first, I only bought the app for my phone. That's a great way to start - try it first to see if you like it. After several months, decide if you'd also like to have it on your computer. Since I write, I'm often at my computer and liked having a bigger screen version that was a bit easier to navigate. I don't yet have it for my iPad. In an ideal world, I'd love to, but I just don't think I'm using the iPad enough to warrant needing it there as well (although it's BEAUTiFUL on the iPad, I must say.) And we're a MAC family, so I believe that the desktop software is only available for the MAC.

Enough of the preliminaries. . .drum roll, please.

THINGS by Cultured Code is the system that is currently keeping me sane.

And thanks to my nine-year old, I've learned that you can take photos of the screen of your phone, so I have some pics for you.

This is the first screen you see when you open the app. See all those beautifully  organized categories? Read yesterday's post if you didn't catch how to keep "today," "next" and "someday" lists.

If anything is overdue, a hash mark usually appears in red.

The scheduled category allows you to obviously schedule something time sensitive or schedule repeating tasks. For example, Tuesdays and Fridays are swimming days for the kids at school. I have my lists remind me every Tuesday and Friday to send the kids with their swimming stuff. (This is a HUGE benefit to something electronic!)



This is my list for today. (Note that I had on my list to ask Nathan how to take a screen shot!)

Everything greyed-out are things I've already checked off today. And yes, there are two "budget" items because I've scheduled "budget" as a daily reminder and didn't do it yesterday. (Anything that you don't check off stays on your list for tomorrow.)

At the bottom, if you hit the star, it lets you decide you don't want to do a certain task today. You can move the task to another list because, remember. Keeping today's list UNCLUTTERED is very important.

I love that I can easily move tasks around using this app. No more writing and rewriting.

Also, you can cut and paste from your email or other documents. (That phone number on this list was from an email. P.S., don't try and call her.) No rewriting names, numbers, or other info that's already typed out. Just cut and paste.

Here's my lists of ongoing projects. You can see how many to-dos I have under each project, and the arrow on the right side of the screen gets me to each individual project list. Once inside the project list, you can move any of those items into "today" or "next."








My "someday" list. These are the to-dos I'm not doing anything about anytime soon. You'll see I'm keeping track of good ski hills people have mentioned. I've got addresses to lunch spots I've read reviews for. I've got a book I want to check out on Amazon. This list is long. And again, you can move any of these into your other lists when you're ready to act on them.





Finally, this is your "logbook." You can set your preferences to keep your completed to-dos for as long as you like.

The website has a MUCH better tutorial than I've just given you, so if you're thinking you'd like to buy the app, invest the time and energy to really understand how to use it.

And in case you're overwhelmed with what to do first, try this:

1. First, brain dump on paper (see yesterday's post). Reserve a day, maybe even two for this. But keep a piece of paper with you at all times, and every time you remember something you need to do or someone you need to call, write it down! Capture all those ideas floating in your brain. Don't worry about which list it belongs to. Just get it down!

2. Make sense of your list (which, by now, might have 200+ things on it). This is obviously harder. Do you see patterns emerge? What are your projects (those things that require three or more to-dos)? Which tasks belong on today, next and someday? And are your to-dos "actionable?" That means, do you have, "Be a better mom" on your list when what you really need to commit to is, "Take Audrey out for breakfast,"?

3. Don't overcommit. Put only three or four things on your list for today. You can always add more if you finish them all! The key is reliability and knowing the difference between a calendar and a to-do. Calendars for time-sensitive stuff, to-dos for action lists. If you clutter either of these with things you really don't intend to do, you'll avoid looking at them.

4. Give yourself TIME and GRACE. Learning anything new feels intimidating and awkward.

Phew. This blogpost wasn't even on today's list. Need to take my advice and attend to my list! For the next several Fridays, I'll keep posting on time management. There's more to say!

And I hope I've done this right, but I think I changed the settings for today, allowing you to comment. Would love to hear your questions, hesitations, ideas for further posts!