Not posted to a how-to site

This was originally written by request for a how-to site, however, that site kind of went down before I got it in to them, so I’ma post it here. 

There is always going to be something about picking up a pen and crossing something off a list. You may own a tablet, smartphone, laptop, netbook, and desktop PC, but when it comes down to it, you still like to use that paper and pen. Why? One reason would be simply because it’s satisfying. But mostly, our reasons vary. It’s because you don’t have to keep an app open all the time, cluttering up your taskbar or using up your phone’s memory. Because you can’t stand it making your tablet constantly pop up reminders. Because whatever device you use, it won’t be on the one you have with you. Because it’s not convenient.

Because you can just stuff a piece of paper in your pocket.

And that’s the kicker. The one bad habit we all need to kick – stop stuffing little pieces of paper in our pockets. It’s bad for the environment, it gives off a bad impression if you ever have to pull something else out of your pocket, it’s messy, the ink runs and stains our clothes, and at the end of the day there’s a big wad of paper in your pocket made up of the dozens of notes you’ve had to make all day.

And really, all of our problems with the idea of going paperless are easily solvable. There are plenty of apps that run in the background, that will sync across multiple devices so you always have it with you, that could be just as convenient as paper if you gave them more than a half-a-day’s try.

Well, except that the better ones, like Remember The Milk, all cost money these days before they’ll do anything cool. And there is no frustration level like the frustration of using a new free application that everyone’s raving about only to hit a pay wall five minutes in because you added a task on your tablet and why exactly isn’t it showing up on the website? Oh for…that’s $25 a year? What’s the point then?!

Uninstalled and back to paper. Didn’t even last ten minutes.

The obvious answer here is Google Tasks, which auto-sync to any device without too much trouble and which will sit next to your Google Calendar. Chances are you already use GCal or GMail, so the idea of using another Google product isn’t unfamiliar, but there’s a very big problem with that for me: it’s literally just an add-on. It’s not a full, developed list application. I can create tasks. Not multiple lists for multiple things, I can’t make a grocery list with it, and no one can add to my list with it.

For easily shareable lists, there’s Microsoft OneNote if everyone’s on the same network, but that doesn’t work if you’re working with someone across the country on a project. That only works if you’re doing a grocery list with someone across the house.

Google Docs can work for the aforementioned project, but it’s a bit glitchy in its syncing, and at that point, an email would do it.

And none of these will put the grocery list you have on your computer onto your phone or tablet, so it’s really not as convenient as paper in the end.

No, my answer is highly unconventional, but has worked wonders for me.

I instant message myself.

This may sound very strange and a bit weird, but it works. I always have my phone with me when I’m out and most lists are made on my computer when at home. So I simply created a second Google account and linked it to my phone. I make a list and send it to myself, and there it is when I’m out and about.

Likewise, if I’m checking something out when out shopping, for example, I want to make sure I get the best deal on a new set of RAM chips, I can easily send myself the information in an IM, as if texting a friend, and have it there, waiting for me when I get home. This has the added benefit of being a reminder when I get home to look up the information, because the window’s at the front of my screen, blinking in the taskbar to remind me that I have a new message.

For long-term lists, I simply open the mail account attached to my phone and create a new email – and never send it.  Saved as a draft, it’s forever editable, and will be there on both the computer and phone whenever I need it. I can check things off by bolding or italicizing them, and I can always add new items to the bottom. Using this system, I have room for infinite lists, always available on any device. I can easily sign into the list account on any computer or tablet, so I can always get to my lists wherever I am and with whatever device I have with me, so that I’m never wondering what I was supposed to do.

It also makes sharing lists easy, as you can copy the current version into a new mail and send it out to whoever you’d like (I never send the email I use as draft list, because then I’d get confused as to which one is the more up-to-date version).

The beauty of the system, though, is that if for some reason, you happen to hate Google, you can use it with any other email system, including your own domain-based webmail. As long as you have two accounts, with a draft system that will not delete items, all but the instant-messaging portion will easily work. And if you want the IMs, there are dozens of ways to add that in – hotmail, AOL and yahoo all have IM systems for phones and tablets that you can use to talk to yourself and keep track of your grocery lists.

This is the easiest way to ditch paper – using something you already have without having to learn a whole new program, you can ditch paper forever, just like me.

Most of the time. Kind of.

I barely use paper for lists anymore, I swear it.

Except last-minute grocery lists, I mean, that’s just silly to open an app if I’m just running out for a few things…


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