Can a Productivity Nerd Live Without a To-Do List?


I don’t know. But I’m going to try.

I got rid of my to-do list app.

I got rid of my very structured, carefully crafted, categorized, systematically-designed, and perfected to-do list app.

I’m not going to say which app it was (you can probably look at my older posts and figure it out if you really wanted to) because it is absolutely not the app’s fault.

Let me be very clear: it’s a wonderful app. It might even be too good. Through no fault of the app, I came to depend on it too much. I could barely move without running back to the app and checking things off.

But why? What was wrong with your carefully crafted to-do list?

When I say “to do list,” I don’t mean a short list on a Post-It note stuck to my computer. This list had well over 100 items on it. Most were just ideas for tasks I wanted to do someday. And when you’re an unstoppable hurricane of project ideas like me, those tasks add up. It got out of hand.

I’ve recently been dealing with an addiction to being busy (more here and here) and I decided to take a break with my to-do list app for the sake of my mental health.

I’d open up my to-do list app and see a shit ton of tasks in a big long list as well as the number of tasks lined up, waiting, in my various projects. These numbers triggered my anxiety a little bit each and every day until, finally, on my 31st birthday, I started crying while walking the dog.

What I thought was productivity was enabling my addiction to being busy.

What’s your new productivity system?

I’m very much of the opinion that the mind is a good place for ideas and a terrible place to store them—I totally agree with productivity expert David Allen on that one. So I couldn’t just delete all my stuff and try to remember everything. Hell no. I’d go bananas.

Everything I had in my to-do list app went into one of these three places, depending on the task.

  • birthdays and events are now in the default iPhone calendar
  • smaller household tasks are in the default iPhone Reminders app
  • everything associated with a project (blogging, freelance writing, novel, author promotion, etc.) is now in Evernote, now tagged and set with a reminder if needed

Evernote as a Task Manager

I’ll probably write a post about this after I’ve tweaked my system a little bit. I’ve never used Evernote as a task manager before, just document storage, and it’s been such a different experience.

So far, so good. Very, very good, actually!

How Evernote helps me focus:

There is no list. By design, I can’t see a list of what I have to do. I can only see the note or a handful of notes of the project I’m currently working on. By tagging only the ONE project (“todo”) I’m working on at a time, I’m able to focus better and not worry about the other tasks I’m to do next. It’s been a game changer.

Yes, I could easily switch to my “backlog” tag and view my upcoming stuff but… I just don’t. I don’t need that right now. It’s out of sight, out of mind and that’s where I need that to be.

For me, just not seeing this upcoming/to-do later stuff is an important factor in simplifying and de-stressing. I can’t see them without searching them out. Thankfully EN’s search functionality is second to none.


Wow. Reminders and a Calendar. How innovative…

Hey now. I never said I was reinventing the wheel here.

I make sure to set multiple reminders on calendar items (birthdays, social, etc) and I like how Reminders work for household stuff because I don’t have a long list to go look at every five minutes. The tasks come to me.

I mean, I could technically put my household tasks in an Evernote notebook and set up reminders in there but I do a lot of professional-type work in Evernote: blogging, freelance blogging, novel writing, etc. Getting a red notification dot over the Evernote app icon means something different than getting a red dot over the Reminders app. I like keeping those two parts of my life separate.

So, it’s good?

I know it’s only been a few days but I feel confident in saying that not having a singular to-do list has made a positive impact on my life. I truly feel more focused and calm. I wish I’d done it sooner.

I’ll be writing a blog post about my Evernote system sometime before the end of the month so keep your eyes open for that. You can make sure not to miss it by signing up for my new monthly newsletter!


Have you ever gone to-do list-free? Do you think you could manage without one?


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Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.


  1. Annie
    March 10, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    This struck a chord with me. I thought for a while that I should have everything in one place but then I’d have a notification badge telling me I had 24 tasks and be unable to differentiate between the mundane chore type stuff and the more meaningful or creative project stuff.

    I re-downloaded Due (the app I use instead of Reminders) and put all my mundane stuff back in there – things where I need someone to remind me, but not to factor in when planning my day. And I feel so much better now!

    I still have a to-do list to review, but it only has meaningful things I should or might do now or soon – not the chore-y stuff and not the someday/maybe list either.

    I hope your new system helps you!

    • Jilly
      March 10, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      “I’d have a notification badge telling me I had 24 tasks and be unable to differentiate between the mundane chore type stuff and the more meaningful or creative project stuff.”
      YES! Exactly!

      Due looks soooo pretty and sleek. I may have to check it out because Reminders is really ugly. :\ Thanks for the tip!

  2. Annie
    March 10, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    Oops sorry! Try to resist the shiny! In all seriousness Due is a paid app (albeit a one-off) and while it’s good there are also free options. For example Calendars by Readdle is free, syncs with the iPhone Calendars and Reminders, and looks pretty nice.

    • Jilly
      March 11, 2019 at 12:12 pm

      Can you create repeating reminders with Due? It’s a little pricy (especially after the US/Canadian exchange rate) but I may check it out anyway? It seems much quicker and smoother to check off reminder-type tasks after they’re completed which definitely appeals to me. Reminders is a multi-step process for NO reason. ugh.
      I’ll also check out the calendar app as well. Thank you so much! 😀

  3. Annie
    March 12, 2019 at 12:08 am

    Yes you can although it’s a bit fiddly to set them up – I don’t think it’s any less fiddly than Reminders on that front!

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