Everybody has TODO lists -- whether they like it or not. A pile of bills to pay on your desk is a list of payments to make. Once the payment are done, the bills will hopefully end up somewhere else: they are completed tasks. Your shopping list is a TODO list, with each item being an item to tick as "done" when it's in your trolley.
TODO lists are a natural way of organizing things: some people have pushed this context to complete methodologies to "get things done". In the end, however, the concept is always the same: there is a list of things that need to be done, and one person who is meant to go through them all until they are all ticked.
When you have a TODO list, you are delegating the job of remembering it away from your brain: you know that there are things to do, but you also know that the list is there somewhere, and that you will get to it when you have time. You can "forget" about the big picture, and focus more on the "now" (the current task). This is why many consider TODO lists a huge tool to prevent stress.
Is software an overkill?
The simplest tool to have a TODO list is made up of two critical components: a piece of paper, and a pen. You can write what you need to do, one in each line, and then simply cross it off (using the pen) when it's done. You can be fancy, and have it so that you type the date of when the task was completed next to it. But, pen and paper is really all you need.
So, is software an overkill, when we talk about using computers to manage TODO lists? Why are computers much better, really? I mean, do you really need a computer to do something that pen and paper have accomplished for literally hundreds of years?
Once you realize the advantages that computers offer in terms of TODO lists, you will answer this question with a simple, resonating "yes!".
Have it with you
Nowadays, we are used to using our PCs for pretty much anything -- including writing our list of things to do. However, having your laptop with you is not exactly ideal while shopping at the supermarket: that's when you will want to use your cell phone see that list you wrote in the computer in the morning. This could be as simple as an email that you sent yourself. Or, in a fancier fashion, a TODO list that lives online, and that can be accessed both from your PC and your mobile device.
Yes, you can have that piece of paper with you in a very "mobile" way too. But then...
Things change in priority. I mentioned earlier that you can write a list of things to do on a piece of paper, and even write out when you completed them. But what if something suddenly becomes more important than the others? You will want it to rise to the top, and to be the first item in the list. Even if you use a white board, you will still need to somehow "make space" to the top (apart from the fact that carrying whiteboards around is awkward at best!).
Computer-managed TODO lists can be reorganized by simply dragging them up and down. Than can be ordered by deadline, and can often be given a visual cue that they are "urgent" (other than placing them towards the top of the list).
Sharing the load
Online TODO lists can be looked at by several different people, who can then collaboratively tick things as done. Try that with a piece of paper! While this may not apply to your shopping list, but imagine that you have to do a list of things on the house, and you want your wife/husband to be part of the task: you will want them to see it, . This is a huge bonus: imagine that you have a pretty long list, and would like a few people to chip in and get things done. With software-managed TODO lists, you can get them to see your items, complete them, and then mark them as done.
This might be an overkill for shopping lists, but it becomes a huge help for anything bigger than that with more than one person involved.
Software TODO lists will send you reminders, when a task is due. Reminders can come as emails, but even SMSes. This tends to give people peace of mind, especially if the reminders are set to be sent twice -- one well in advance, and one as the deadline approaches.
You won't lose them
Pieces of paper fly away, get lost, get chewed by docs, and so on. Software-based TODO lists will most likely live on some server backed up somewhere on the planet (it doesn't really matter where). This means that you will be less prone to "lose" them (although there is always a remote possibility!).
Online TODO lists will allow you to talk about your tasks with other people involved. If you are organizing a fund raiser with a bunch of friends, you will be able to talk about the tasks at hand, as well as bounce them to each other. This is a huge bonus, and it fits with the concept of collaboration software: people end up communicating about what's there to do, and get things done that way, together.
This is completely impossible with pen and paper.
When is it too much?
While software-managed TODO lists definitely come with huge benefits, there is a point where paper is indeed better: for short-lived, simple, one-person tasks, using software can indeed be a big overkill. Sometimes, a shopping list should indeed be on paper! Sometimes, people get carried away and end up using their complex multi-user multi-project project management software to manage things like shopping lists. In those cases, it's important to remember that there is always the best tool for the job: in some cases, pen and paper really do win.
- TODO list software (main article)