How to Capture To-Do’s in a Realistic Way

December 4, 2023

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I do NOT break out my calendar every time I get an idea of something I need/want to do and find the perfect home for it in there. That’s just not realistic for me – or, likely, you. Let’s talk about what to do instead. 

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Full Transcript

Episode 32. Capturing To-Dos

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey, hey, and welcome back! So, today, we’re gonna talk about capturing to-dos.

What Capturing Tasks is Not – 0:33

What I first want to establish is what it’s not. I think a lot of people, when they hear me talk about using a digital calendar to really lay out everything you have going on, bring your plans to life, all of that, in some ways they assume that I also, when I have an idea or I remember a task or something along those lines, I get my calendar out, whether it’s my phone or online and find the perfect place to put that task in my calendar. I want to fully assure you that that is not what happens.

Most of the time, I do not put things directly into my calendar. It would slow me down too much. It would probably distract me, to get my phone out and dig in and all that kind of stuff, too often. It’s also just not the way my brain works. My brain still — as I’ve said before, I’m a paper lover. My brain still goes to paper and pen when I’m trying to capture to-dos. So I really want to establish that. I don’t want you to be concerned about using a system like The Bright Method or just going all in on a digital calendar. You do not need to assume, then, that every time you have an idea or, again, remember something that you’ll have to pull out your calendar and find the perfect home for it.

So now that we’ve established what it’s not, let’s talk about what it is, and how we capture tasks, obviously, depends mostly on the context that we’re in. So are you sitting at a desk when the idea comes to you? Are you driving in your car? If you have kids, are you carrying a kid around or dealing with children? It really depends on — where we are determines how we’re gonna capture a task and then bring it to life.

Capturing Tasks While Sitting at Your Desk – 2:07

So let’s first talk about if you’re sitting at your desk, what should you do. Some people do like getting out their calendar and putting it in there. I don’t typically do that, but I just want to throw it out there that if you do, more power to you. Keep going for it. I, as I said, kind of just jot things down paper and pen all over the place. It’s obviously preferable to have one legal pad, which I usually have some legal pad going, and if I can think of it and look for the legal pad and write it down in time, then I’ll do it there. But, candidly, I don’t trust my brain for anything. So as an idea comes to me, I will just even write in the margin of a piece of paper that happens to be on my desk, the idea.

My biggest priority in those moments is get the idea down, because what I have learned over time is that my brain cannot be counted on for anything. Even if it’s a three-point idea, by the time I get to the third point, I’ve written the first two down, I will sometimes forget the third point. I’ve learned that my brain cannot hold onto information for very long.

So, for me, the top priority is write it down no matter where I write it down. If I’m having a day where there’s really just one legal pad on my desk and I can kind of capture to-dos there as they come to me, awesome. But that’s not the top priority to me. The top priority is write it down no matter where it is.

Other people do like using an online task management tool. So if you don’t want to write with paper and pen, some people use something like Todoist. Some people use Microsoft To Dos or Tasks. It kind of confuses me which one they’re called. I think it changes by the context. But you can just capture the to-dos however you want. The main priority here is capture it in writing, whether you write it down or you dictate it, which we’ll get to when we’re talking about being more on the go. But when I’m at my desk, usually it’s writing it down somewhere. For me, it’s paper and pen, really, wherever I’m writing. And then for other people, it can be on an online platform.

Then, at predetermined intervals (and this might be weekly for you, it might be daily, it might be a couple times a week), you want to remind yourself, using your calendar, to go get the action items from all the places that they might exist. And so, we’re gonna talk more about that because I want to go through how to capture to-dos on the go to help you know that we can accommodate different scenarios because, as always, time management has to be realistic. We find ourselves in different scenarios, and how we can capture to-dos is different. Obviously, when we’re sitting at a desk and we have paper and pen next to us versus when we’re driving in a car and get that idea.

But to wrap up this point briefly is, at predetermined times, bridge those action items into the calendar, and that’s when you’re sitting — I really do this at a desk. I do not use a phone app for this. I don’t recommend it. I really like sitting down at your desk when you have a little bit of breathing space, you can pull up your calendar, see it in that week view, and then start plotting out your tasks that you jotted down into later today, later in the week, later next week, even a couple months from now.

Capturing Tasks On The Go – 5:18

Turning to when you’re on the go, and this might even be on the go in your house. So let’s say you’re not sitting at your desk. You are doing laundry or you’re cleaning the kitchen, and you’re on the go there or you’re really on the go, like you’re in the car, you’re out somewhere, you’re grocery shopping and you have an idea, whatever it is, an idea comes to you. In those scenarios, if I have paper and pen nearby me (like, in the kitchen I have little notebooks), I will jot down. Again, I like writing. So for those out there, just know that I have a stack of little notebooks in the kitchen, and I use them all the time to just scribble down ideas that come to me or things like that.

If I don’t have a notebook near me, like I’m driving or something like that, I really rely on Siri. I’ll say, “Siri, remind me at 7:00 PM tonight to do this.” As I’ve mentioned in past episodes, Siri’s not super great at capturing what I meant. Half the words are gonna be wrong, but if I talk long enough, usually there are enough right words in the mix of words that show up that I can cobble together what I meant.

So, when I’m on the go or I have a kid in my hands or I’m walking my dog and I don’t really want to sign into my phone and then get distracted by a thousand things, like I’m trying to be in nature but I want to capture this idea, I’ll say, “Siri,” or I’ll hold down the button and say, “Remind me in 15 minutes,” when I think I’m gonna be home, “Remind me in half an hour,” when I think I’m gonna be home, “Remind me at 7:00 PM tonight,” once my kids are asleep and I’ll probably have a little bit more time to myself, to do XYZ.

Often, it’s worth noting I’m not actually gonna do the thing in the 15 minutes, the 30 minutes, or even 7:00 PM tonight. Those are just times where I assume that I’ll be back at my desk and, again, can bridge to my calendar at that point.

Bridge Tasks Into Your Calendar – 7:09

So we’ve captured the to-do, whether it’s on a notebook in the kitchen or Siri or some other comparable thing where you’re dictating on the go. If you want to do a notes app, feel free. If you’re not a dictating type person, you don’t think that’s gonna work for you, if you have a notes app on your phone that’s like tasks or to-do lists, it’s essentially creating a to-do list and you would just jot things down, then again what we need to do though is bridge them into the calendar. And so, that’s where I want you to think about what’s that predetermined interval that works for you, use your calendar to remind you, and list out where you need to look.

So if you email yourself, remind yourself to go look in the emails. If you use that phone notes app that we were just talking about, remind yourself to go look at your phone notes app. My Siri, when I say, “Siri, remind me…,” is linked to Apple’s reminders, and yes, there’s an alert that comes up on the lock screen just to tell me, when I told it to remind me, “Remind me to do this thing,” but often, they disappear. I can’t figure out the rhyme or reason of how long they stick around. Some feel like they stick around forever, and some disappear. So I really open up the whole Reminders app and pull out all the action items and pull them into my calendar.

At that point, just to clarify, I check those things off. Yes, I haven’t done them yet, but they are now in my calendar. I don’t need them in the Reminders app cluttering things up in there. Similarly, if I wrote things down on a to-do list on my desk or I wrote it on a piece of paper in the kitchen, what happens, just to tell you all the full details that are probably boring, is I’ll put that notebook on the stairs. Then, when I go upstairs to my office, I’ll carry it with me and then I can just know that that notebook is there. I’ll bridge those action items into the calendar, and then usually I just throw away that piece of paper. I’m not keeping the notes. Once they’re in my calendar, they’re in my calendar, and we’re good. Some people like having kind of a master to-do list, but then they also bridge it into the calendar. And if that is you, that’s totally fine. Just know you can still use this system.

What we want to do, though, is ensure that any task that lives on that list also lives in the calendar. What I don’t want to happen is that you get to some free time or even white space in your calendar, and you think, “Ooh, I’ve got to go check that task management tool and make sure that there’s nothing in there that I need to do,” because using this Bright Method system, everything in there is already in your calendar. It has its protected time into the future. So if you run up on your down time and even white space, you don’t have to go look elsewhere for the things that you need to do. It’s all been bridged into your calendar.

Capturing Tasks While Lying in Bed – 9:51

A final scenario here that I didn’t really touch on, and candidly, I’ve kind of gone back and forth with this over time, is when you’re in bed – when you’re lying in bed and those ideas come to mind. If that happens to you frequently, I would keep a pad of paper and a pen by your bed. The reason I say that is because I find that, often, the stuff that keeps me up at night, if I can just get it out of my head and written down and know that future me tomorrow will have the note of what I need to do or an argument I wanted to make in a legal brief or things like that, if I could write it down and get it out of my brain, then my brain would quiet and be like, “Okay, we’re good. We can go to bed now.” Where if I didn’t, it’s almost like I kept ruminating on it to try and engrave it into my brain so that I would remember the next morning. It was never gonna happen that way.

So I just share that, that if you are someone who lays in bed at night and often is kept awake by logistics, thoughts, or arguments you want to make in your legal brief or the ideas of what you want to present in that presentation coming up or anything like that, really try and keep a notebook by your bed and then, again, you’ll just bridge those things into your calendar when it makes sense. It could be the next morning. It could be later that week. Often, the things that keep us up at night, we’re like, “This is so important!” And then in the morning we’re like, “Yeah, I mean, it’s valuable,” but probably not as important as we were thinking it was or as urgent, I guess is what I should say. And so, it can really be handy to have that.

I often, especially if I’m home alone — again, my husband’s an ER doctor, so he’s often gone. If I’m home alone what I’ll do is use Siri also. The reason for that is just I do keep my phone by my bed. I know we’re not supposed to, but it is what it is. I will use Siri to do that so that I try not to see the light of my phone. I’ll flip it over, the light’s shining down, and I’ll have Siri capture it, and I’ll put it down. The exception to this is if you are very stressed out about something that you know needs to happen tomorrow.

Let’s say you’re lying in bed and you remember this thing that you know isn’t in your calendar, you know you need to complete it by 10:00 AM the next day, it’s really stressing you out, that’s the only exception that I would say that it’s worth opening up your phone, opening up your calendar, calendaring when you’re gonna do it, rearranging your day to see that it can still work, and then you can go to bed. I know it’s not the greatest thing to look at your phone right before bed, as you’re lying in bed trying to go to sleep, but I do find that the stress element of, “Oh, my gosh, I really need to do this tomorrow, and I’m stressed out that I’m not gonna have time to do it,” all of that’s gonna keep you up already, so if you can get your calendar out and see that it can still work, then that will be valuable even if it takes you a little bit longer to fall asleep because of the light.

So I just wanted to share that one because, yes, it’s not good to have your phone in bed, but also, it’s a bit of these things don’t happen in a vacuum, and if you not being able to calendar when you’ll do it and see that it can happen in a realistic way will cause you stress that will also keep you awake, then let’s solve for that stress so that you can go to sleep.

To Recap – 13:00

All right, so, to recap, when we’re capturing tasks, the priority is, one, get it written down somewhere. If you’re at your desk, paper and pen or a task management app, or whatever you do. When you’re on the go, use Siri to capture it. Even if you’re not the one writing it down, it’s then written down. However you want to do it, prioritize writing it down somewhere. And then, step two is, at intervals that make sense to you, get those action items into your calendar and remind yourself where those action items live. Have a little bullet-point agenda. Where do you look for action items? Is it in specific notebooks? Is it on legal briefs or legal pads on your desk? Is it in your email? Is it in your phone notes app? Is it in your reminders? List all of those things out so that you don’t, one, forget somewhere to go look and, two, get antsy that you’re forgetting somewhere to look. You can always modify these over time.

If you’re like, “Oh, I never used reminders, and now I do,” you should add it as a line item in there. It’s really, really handy. Again, make it easy for future you. Make it easy so that she’s not the one remembering and trying to figure out where all the places are that action items live. Just help her out. Tell her where to go, and be realistic. You’ll hear me not say have one place where you write notes. Have one place where you do this stuff. Sure, in an ideal world that would be awesome, but we live in a reality. We live in the real world, and I would love all my stuff to end up on my legal pad that I love to write to-do list-type stuff out on on my desk, but more than half the time I’m not by my desk. I’m not by that legal pad. It’s not gonna work.

So really be open to the reality of where you naturally go when you’re trying to write notes, and then just remind future you, when it’s relevant, to go look at all of those places so that you can capture the to-dos from all those places and bridge them into your calendar at that point. This is the way that I have found is best balanced between reality and still getting everything into my calendar so I can see how I’m gonna bring it all to life.

All right! I hope that was helpful for ya. It’s a bit of a short episode, but hopefully jam-packed with some good stuff for you to consider. And, if you like practical strategies like this, I think what’s important to note is I’m not telling you anything probably that’s blowing your mind, but I do try to make it practical and implemental, if that’s a word, actionable so that you can go bring it to life for yourself. I think so often in time management, we know a lot of this stuff, but we struggle to actually implement and make it work for us, and that is what we do in The Bright method. I really help show you how to bring a lot of these strategies that you might have heard of before, or maybe you haven’t, and you might have tried them before, or maybe you haven’t, but really help you bring them to life in a way that really molds to you, that you find realistic, that you find doable and motivating, and that’s what I love doing.

So if you’re interested in working with me and learning and setting up The Bright Method for you, know that my next program is in late January through mid-March of this upcoming year, 2024. Enrollment is open now! If you want to learn more, go to www.kellynolan.com/bright. You can also send me an email with any question you have. It’s ke***@ke********.com, and I would love to help you know if it’s the right fit for you. I fully get that time management is personal, and I want you to feel confident that this system is really something you’re interested in, you can see the potential, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel using it, and that’s what I want to help you figure out for yourself.

All right, so check it out! Know that my next program won’t run until late September of 2024, most likely, so fall of 2024. When I say most likely, I mean I think I’ll start it in late fall. It will not happen before then. So I hope that you join me in this upcoming January program. It’s really fun. It’s weirdly fun. Time management sounds so dry, but you’re here, so hopefully you enjoy this to some extent. This is what it feels like on the inside and just more strategies, more practical stuff and bringing it to life.

So I hope to see you in there. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll catch you in the next episode!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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