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Too Much to Do? Technology Can Help You Organize Your Lists

An app allows you to have the same info on multiple devices, share with your spouse

Seniorman checking shopping list on his smartphone

Getty Images            

En español | You pride yourself in being organized. And with that comes lists — oh, the lists.

You've got your shopping list; a to-do list for getting things done around the home, perhaps; and maybe work-related priorities you want to tackle.

Lists are good. But with technology, lists can be great.

Now is the time to organize and digitize all of your lists and have them synchronized between all your devices so they're always accessible and up to date on whatever screen you're in front of. Unlike paper, your notes can remind you to do things at a specific time or place.

Your smart speaker can help, too. You can get going quite easily.

1. Collect your notes

If you're already using a program or your phone's Notes section to create your lists, great. You're off to a good start.

But those still using scraps of paper should take the plunge to organize your thoughts and start using one of the many amazing apps — shorthand for application and what we used to call a program — that are recommended below. I know it's a tough transition at first because with handwritten notes on paper, you can make those satisfying checkmarks with a flourish.

I get it. But once you get a taste of the benefits of a digital list, you won't want to look back.

If your to-dos are on paper, simply gather all the lists you've created and bring them into one place.

Now decide on a list app, which can be intimidating, but we've highlighted some of the best ones below. And no, it doesn't really matter what kind of device you like to use because the apps likely will work on all of them.

Evernote app on smartphone

Piotr Swat / Alamy Stock Photo

2. Choose a list app

Many of the list apps you can choose from will work with Android devices; iOS, which powers iPhones and iPads; MacOS; and Windows PCs. Along with lists, these apps are also ideal for ideas, notes and reminders.

A few good ones:

• Evernote is a handy app for organizing your lists, copying websites, pasting photos, recording audio, sketching diagrams and typing notes. All notes automatically synchronize in the cloud, so it's easy to access your info anywhere — such as starting on a smartphone but continuing on a laptop.

You even can take a picture of book or magazine text and convert it into editable text. This is a great way to save content and make it searchable by keyword.

The basic version of Evernote, which allows you to use it on two devices, is free. But premium plans with advanced features and additional cloud storage start at $10 a month.

• Similarly, Microsoft's OneNote is a popular tool for creating and managing your lists, as well as the several other uses for having a convenient digital notepad, such as jotting down a million-dollar idea.

Like Evernote, all your notes are synced wirelessly; therefore, you'll always be working with the latest version of your list. You can save photos, such as something you saw on Pinterest; scan business cards and documents; and sketch ideas straight into OneNote.

As with Evernote, you can share lists with others. Both apps support collaboration.

While free to start, a free Microsoft account is required to use OneNote. You can pay for additional cloud storage if you want it.

Many other to-do list apps, including Any.doGoogle TasksTodoistWunderlist and Remember the Milk — cute name, no? — will do the job. While they may vary in features and interface, most are free for basic functionality and are synchronized across all your devices.

3. Tips to managing lists

Regardless of which app you go with, the following are a few tips for getting the most out of your lists.

• Organize your lists by segregating what they're for. The words “orange juice” on a shopping list shouldn't sit alongside paint chit colors for a potential bathroom renovation.

You can create different lists for different purposes, or if you prefer it, a color-coded master list. You can move items on a list around using your mouse or fingertip if you want to prioritize an item by placing it on top of a list. In some cases, you can increase an item's font size or make it boldface.

• Be sure to update your list. In an app, you can “X” it out, which might put a line through it, or you can have it deleted once you've performed the task.

Since it's synchronized, the item also will be crossed off when you open the app on another device. Or if you share a list with someone, such as a spouse, it always will be updated.

Person using Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet computer closeup of a hand with a stylus pen isolated on white background

Oleksiy Maksymenko Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

• Pick up a stylus pen from your local dollar store if you like the feel of handwritten notes. You can use it to write notes on a smartphone or tablet, and many list apps will not only let you keep your handwritten notes as is but also digitize them for you.

Some phones, like Samsung's Galaxy Note family, already have a stylus included. It's tucked under the phone.

• Take advantage of tech-only features. Unlike paper and pen, list apps often can nudge you to do something.

For time-sensitive notes, add a reminder or alarm and choose a time to be notified. The process will vary slightly depending on the app you're using, and it can be super handy for tasks like ordering blood-pressure meds from the online pharmacy every 90 days.

• Let your list comparison shop. Some shopping list apps, such as the free Flipp, will look for the best prices on items you want to buy. For example, type in “toilet paper” it will look for the least expensive prices around you and show you which location has it.

You also can browse through circulars for stores in your neighborhood and tap what you're interested in for it to be digitally clipped and saved elsewhere in the app.

• Use your smart speaker to its fullest. Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Nest products also can create and organize lists.

You can tell Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri to add an item to a shopping list and then ask to hear what is on the shopping list. It also works on your smartphone, too, by calling up notes or lists merely through speaking into your phone.

Personal assistants even can give you reminders by location, such as saying “Siri, when I get home, remind me to check to see if we need more milk."

Allow time to get comfortable

Whether you're new to creating and managing lists or simply want to jump on the digital bandwagon, technology can help you stay organized on all your devices. In most cases, the service is free or close to it.

If you're not sure which app to go with, spend a couple of days to play around with the features and see whether you like its interface. If you feel as if something is missing, poke around the Options or Settings menu before uninstalling the app to see if what you want is there but not activated by default.

Through trial and error, you'll no doubt find something that works for you.

And hey, if you're using a list- or note-taking app you would like to share with the rest of us, please comment below. Tell us what you rely on and why.

Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast, Tech It Out, aims to break down geek speak into street speak.

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