10 Silly To-Do Hacks That Make You Less Productive

People do the craziest things. But when they do, there’s a reason. In developing Handle, we did extensive user research to understand the ways people manage their to-dos, emails, and reminders.  We had a good list to start (Handle was started to solve our own pain) but the more people we met, the longer it grew. After speaking with more than 1600 people over three years, here are our top 10 favorite ridiculous to-do hacks. Identities have been omitted to protect the guilty. The good news? Handle was designed to manage the important stuff whether it originated from your brain or your inbox so you can focus without worry.

1. Mark as unread

Yes, you already read the email, but you are marking as unread because you know it will force your attention to return to it. Touching the item so many times wastes precious time and mental energy. This is why “mark as unread” does not exist as a feature in Handle. 

2. Sticky note on monitor or phone

You’ve got plenty of screen space and hard drive storage, but the constant distractions make you try this physical, non-scalable method. But the reminder isn’t time or place sensitive, so you waste focus on it when you can’t act. Eventually if you leave it there long enough, you’ll ignore it completely.

3. Self-addressed email

If your inbox is the most consistent place you put your attention, then it’s quite practical to send your future self an email! This takes more time than necessary, and then the important idea swims with the rest of the junk.

4. Flag & Star abuse

Emails that get flagged or starred are often promptly ignored, or never seen again. Some tools have more star colors than you know what to do with, so they become meaningless.

5. Open windows on the computer as a to-do list

That kind of digital clutter can create it’s own set of distractions. It’s not prioritized and it can be hard to find what’s most important. And what if you close a window by mistake or your computer crashes?

6. Keeping it all on your brain

As David Allen says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”. If you don’t capture it, the Zeigarnick Effect will ensure you get nagged, creating further distraction. Or worst, you will forget entirely. Remember the proverb “the shortest pencil beats the longest memory.”

7. To-dos in paper notebook along with all meeting notes

Just writing things down isn’t enough to make sure they get done. Many people have 3-4 active Moleskine notebooks at a time. How do you find your to-dos?

8. Transcribe paper lists

Paper lists of to-dos that you cross out and copy to new page each day wastes time that could be spent elsewhere and to-dos blocked in time or place still must be reviewed.

9. Apple Reminders/Google Tasks

Most basic to-do “apps” lack the right features to be part of your regular workflow. This is where to-dos go to die.

10. To-do app of the week

Every time one gets too full, throw it out and start over! When you don’t have the right features to organize your attention on only what’s most important today, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and declare “to-do bankruptcy.” 

Handle is the solution.

Handle is here to rescue you from these terrible habits that are sapping your mental energy and productivity. You can capture a to-do from an email with a swipe, and set a reminder so you see it again at the right time or place to take action. Organize multiple to-dos into projects to help you make progress on your long term goals. Your timeline will show you only what you can do right now so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

Because everything is in one trusted system, you won’t have to resort to these ridiculous hacks anymore. Handle your first 50 emails and see how much better you feel working off your to-do list rather than out of your inbox.