A Screenshot To-Do System

 

screenshot-to-do

 

When we are making up our own, often hacked together, to-do systems, one of the problems can be: how do we get certain parts of our workflow to “speak” to each other? For instance, how to we get important Gmails onto our to-do list on our phones?

More often than not we have three (or four) systems: a basic email prioritizing system, a smartphone To-Do app, an almost subconscious way of organizing things on our computers, and perhaps even pen and paper, while we work.

One great solution is to utilize a tool that we all have wherever we are working – and we all use – the simple screenshot.

A screenshot works when we are on our email. It works when we are browsing online. It works on our smartphones. We don’t need to open any app for it to work, and it works with just a click. Wherever it goes, it can be automated. And it’s free on all devices.

This guide will show you how to set up a to-do system that automatically collates all your To Dos into one list, where it can be prioritized, viewed across devices, and can link out to almost any sort of media. If you’re anything like me, it may be a long searched for solution to the multiple platform blues.

 

This system uses

  • Any email account
  • A method of quickly emailing yourself from your smartphone (I use the Captio app, however there are many other methods, including Siri)
  • An IFTTT.com account (free)
  • A Dropbox account (free)
  • A home computer or laptop (these instructions use a mac, however they can easily be adapted to any computer)

 

Email Capture

One of the biggest frustrations with email is the inability to arrange important items into a custom, prioritized order. You can star an email in Gmail – but you can’t view these emails by their starred order very easily (say, red, followed by yellow, then by green). Much less any more detail than that.

With most of our tasks coming in today via email, this means we often end up doing the most recent or frequent requests first – rather than the most important, or overdue, ones.

While various browser extensions do exist that address this issue within Gmail (we have tried Todoist, Streak, and others), they are all relatively complicated – requiring a number of counterintuitively positioned clicks and sorting to put emails into customized order.

Until email providers or a smart outside developer can fix this, what we need is to quickly import our emails somewhere where we can easily arrange them into our own prioritized list.

By far the fastest method I have come up with is to simply to take a screenshot of part of the important email, and have that screenshot automatically appear in the right place, on all my computers.

Fortunately that’s easy to do. The screenshot part itself is very straightforward – most of us will know the simple keyboard shortcut to take a grab of a small section of a computer screen (Command + Shift + 4 on a mac).

Email screenshots become small though, and make for very small text to read. There is not much useful about this as a reminder, for instance:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 10.12.03 pm

To get a large, very simple reminder, I zoom in repeatedly (Command + Plus Symbol) on an important part of the message, until it becomes enormous. Seriously, it’s like a 130 year old person reading a screen at this point. (Hit Command + 0 on the mac to quickly return things to normal.)

For instance, say I need to remember to do something on eBay that they just reminded me about, but isn’t urgent. I can use this method to easily make the following sized screenshot, from a regular small Gmail subject line:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 5.58.30 pm

This is now a much nicer reminder to play with. It also works for anything you see online that reminds you of a task.

 

Task Collation

Ok, how do I file, and sort, these new little “picture tasks” I have created? For some people, simply arranging them on your desktop is fine – a magnetic poetry like game of tasks. Keeping your to-do list tidy is also a way of keeping your desktop tidy (which is a double win).

Personally, I rarely even see my desktop, as it is usually covered with many different browser and open app windows. So I changed the default place my computer saves these screenshots to – in my case a special folder called “To Do”.

This lives at the top of my Finder sidebar, like so:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 7.00.41 pm

Note that I also have various sub categories underneath this, and I drag items into these later, to file things according to different spheres of activity.

There are plenty of tutorials on how to make screenshots go where you’d like them to - use google to find one tailored to your particular computer system. Mine used Terminal, but it was as easy as copying and pasting a line of code, and hitting enter.

 

Task Prioritization

Arranging and prioritizing these items within your folder can be done any way you like, of course. I have experimented with the magic poetry method, as well as dropping them all into Sidebar tags (red labled Priority 1, orange labled Priority 2, yellow Priority 3, etc.).

Both worked ok. In the end I reverted to a method I have used forever for important files - simply adding a number of asterisks (or spacebar hits) to the start of a file’s name, keeping them sorted by their file names (asterisks and space bars naturally appear before letters).

I also created a customized text backdrop, to remind me to keep my system neat, and also balanced, by completing one category of job per day. At most I try to keep five items in here, and I try to complete all of these five in a day. The rest are sorted into categories elsewhere until I need to pull another one out.

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 7.03.17 pm

Note I have a bunch of different types of files and folders here – more information about that later on in this guide.

 

Adding Jobs on the Go

If I think of something to do, say, during lunch, like many people I use my Captio app on my phone to send an email to myself, with just one tap. There are other, voice activated methods that are even quicker. However Captio also lets me add images (and, yes, screen and camera shots) easily, too.

These go to my email account, but importantly these don’t now need to be manually moved into my special to-do folder. They are all important, so the process can be automated, this time using IFTTT (a free service meaning If this, then that).

A Dropbox account does the magic of making files appear on your home computer or laptop. You can get a free Dropbox account here. Simply make your To Do folder a Dropbox folder (by dragging this folder into your Dropbox folder). Then use a Gmail to Dropbox recipe to link the two together.

I made a sample recipe you might want to use, to start off with:

IFTTT Recipe: Create home .txt files from Smartphones connects gmail to dropbox

This recipe looks for emails from a certain address (for Captio it’s captio@boonbits.com), which IFTTT then converts into a .txt file. The content of the email becomes the new file name.

Now your computer folder will have quick and workable reminders sent from your smartphone. Like this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 6.15.05 pm

 

I personally don’t like underscores, so I add hyphens between my words, so they appear like this (a very slight visual improvement, I feel):

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 6.15.27 pm

If you wanted to be fancier, you might be able to setup a script to change underscores to spaces, hide the .txt extension, or change the default icon to a to-do item like icon. But so far this works just fine for me.

 

Extra Fancy Fine Tuning

Instead of using screenshots for some items, why not use whole folders as reminders – so you can easily begin work? Or the actual files you need to work on themselves?

Even nattier – why not (for online tasks such as online banking, plane reservations, or even emails) drag the URL of the webpage you want to link to into your folder. If you highlight it correctly first it will create a web shortcut (a .webloc file), like so:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 6.20.16 pm

Again you could customize these default icons, so they look more like to-do items. But usually I don’t mind the compass. It tells me I don’t have a speed bump between now and actually being able to begin work on something.

For even greater motivation, I have sometimes made custom icons that match the monetary value of my tasks, like so:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 6.24.42 pm

 

I have happily used this for many months now, and don’t see a single app beating it for a long time. The individual customization options are endless – much more than with any external To-Do app, which I love. I can screencapture anything, as well as using any type of file or folder as reminders. I can arrange my items in any way I wish. And it all works with a simple keyboard shortcut (or simple dragging and dropping), from wherever I think of things.

 

Pros

  • No annoying problems linking emails to To-Do apps
  • Free, no paying for “extra features” like most email extensions
  • Friction free: adding new jobs, arranging them, and working on them is easy
  • Names of important things to work on become “tangible objects” to interact with
  • Link to URLs, files, or folders from your To-Do items
  • Endless personal customization is possible
  • Linked to Dropbox, so you can view items anywhere
  • Largely automatic – it just works

 

Cons

  • This takes a bit of setting up, and for the various icons to look as you would like them to.
  • Smartphone viewing is less intuitive than on dedicated to-do apps. However, this may not be a major concern if you spend most of your time by your desktop or laptop.
  • This one could be fixed by Apple: please let us arrange files better. Finder items should be able to maintain a neat grid always, even as we  custom drag and drop them (like Google Keep).

 

Variations

  • Use this in combination with a smartphone app – dedicated to jobs you know you need to refer to on the go (shopping lists, etc.)

 

Our Rating

A really great, frictionless system, that solves many common to-do annoyances.
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Your Thoughts

Have you tried this system? What are your experiences working with it? Any pros, cons, variations, or tips?


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