From keeping track of tasks and appointments to maintaining our personal budget and files, these are the digital tools I use to organise my life.
Life can get pretty chaotic.
From juggling personal responsibilities and dealing with the life admin, not to mention actual paid work, keeping your head above water can be hard.
Digital productivity tools can help bring some order to the chaos that is life.
For a long time, I used a paper planner, but it never really worked well for me. What I love about digital tools is you can use them to schedule recurring events, saving the effort of having to write them out each time, and you can sync your tools across multiple devices, so you always have your calendar, task list and other organisational tools available when you need them.
There are hundreds of productivity tools on the market, and I’ve tried a bunch of them over the last decade or so. In this article, I share the seven digital tools I use to organise my life outside work.
Why I Use Six Digital Tools Instead of One
Some people like an all-in-one system.
If that’s you, Notion is probably the way to go.
Personally, I like to segment my life a bit more. Because I work from home, it’s easy for each area of my life to bleed into one another. Some people use space to separate the various aspects of their life. For example, they might have a home office strictly dedicated to work. Or they might rent a hot desk.
My circumstances make it hard to use space to separate the various areas of my life, so I use digital tools to separate work and life instead.
The other reason I use a variety of digital tools is that they are more feature-rich than an all-in-one tool. I could muscle a note-taking app into task management, but using a dedicated task app is easier.
The downside of using a variety of tools is that it can be costly to maintain multiple subscriptions.
However, the following tools can be used for free, and the basic settings will be sufficient for most users.
Let’s talk Notion first up.
You can organise your life completely using Notion. It’s a powerful app that can do ALL of the things the other apps can do, including task management, calendar management, project management and so on. So, if you prefer one tool only, Notion is the tool of choice.
There are, however, several downsides to Notion, the biggest being the steep learning curve. Out of the box, it’s a blank slate, and you will have to build your systems from scratch or add a premade template (free or paid).
So why do I use Notion?
I first started with Notion to play around with it after seeing the cult following on YouTube about the app. It’s always good to keep the brain sharp and try new things.
After playing around for a year or two, I now use Notion for big-picture planning and personal project management.
It’s where I set my yearly goals, do my quarterly and weekly planning, do monthly reviews, keep bucket lists, do meal planning, and track my progress towards my habits and goals.
If you’re like me and have a lot of interests, want to try many things at once, and take on too much, a Notion life dashboard, master goals list, and bucket list can help you prioritise the things you want to do and plan when you will do them.
Quarter and monthly planning helps you spread out different projects so you can focus on one at a time. Then you can use your calendar and task management tools (see below), to find the time to work through all your projects.
2. Google Calendar
Whether you use Google, Apple, or another calendar app, a digital calendar is indispensable for time management and scheduling.
I use a digital calendar for:
- Scheduling appointments
- Booking in my freelance work
- Keeping track of my children’s commitments
- Coordinating schedules with my husband
- Remembering important events like birthdays and anniversaries, and
- Blocking time for routines and projects.
The beauty of a digital calendar is you can create an alert to remind you of upcoming events and appointments so you never forget. For events like birthdays, you can set reminders far enough in advance to give you time to buy a birthday present.
You can also share your calendar. We have a household calendar that my husband and kids have on their devices, so we are all on the same page with scheduling. While my work calendar is separate (hubby and the kids don’t need to see my work), I view both colour-coded calendars together, which helps me organise work and home commitments.
When scheduling events, I like to attach information to an event so it’s easy to find. For example, when my son has a Scout camp, I add all the information – like drop-off and pick-up time – to the event’s description and attach the PDF packing list. That way, we all have easy access to the essential information; my son doesn’t have to chase me up for the packing list and knows all the details as well. If we need directions, we can also integrate Google Calendar with Google Maps to make it easier to find where we’re going.
Other ways I have used Google Calendar in the past include:
- Keeping track of when bills are due and have been paid (attach the bill for easy reference and record the receipt when paid).
- Keeping track of regular household maintenance tasks.
A to-do list (task management system) is essential for ensuring everything that needs to be done gets done. In the past, I’ve used paper lists, Google Calendar, and other task management software like Trello and Asana, but for the past couple of years, I’ve been using Todoist; it’s my favourite task management software I’ve tried yet, and it’s made my life so much easier. I love it and live by it.
I use Todoist to keep track of all my personal to-do tasks and habits I’m trying to remember. To some extent, your to-do list needs to work in tandem with your calendar because you need to find time to do tasks. So, if one of my tasks is to run an errand, I have to look at my calendar to decide when I’ll get that task done.
To further clarify, appointments go into my calendar. For example, I treat going to the gym as an appointment because I need to block out a chunk of time for it to happen.
On the other hand, taking my vitamins is a habit that goes into Todoist, so I don’t forget. If I get to the point where I remember without looking at my to-do list, I will delete it (not every task needs to go into Todoist – I don’t need to be reminded to clean my teeth or make the kid’s school lunches, for instance).
If you think of the pebble in the jar metaphor, the time blocks in my calendar are the big pebbles in my day, and the tasks in Todoist are the small pebbles that can fit around my time blocks.
Even though they are ‘small pebbles’ compared to work time blocks, they’re still important. It’s important that I work towards my goals, remember to drink water during the day, take my vitamins, pay the kid’s pocket money each week, and clean the toilet regularly. By putting the tasks into Todoist, I never have to waste mental space trying to remember to do everything. The tasks in Todoist are things I need to remember, but haven’t yet developed the habit of doing them without reminding.
The interplay between tasks on my to-do list and finding time on my calendar happens during a weekly review (about 30 minutes) and my daily review (about 5 minutes). That’s where I look at the upcoming week or day, review my commitments, goals, and tasks, and plan my schedule, slotting tasks where I can. The quick daily check lets me catch things that pop up each day.
One of the great features of Todoist is its inbox. I use the quick capture widget on my phone to quickly add tasks I need to remember as they crop up during the day. During my daily and weekly reviews, I can go through my inbox of tasks and schedule them so they happen.
I use the priority flags slightly differently than intended, similar to Carl Purlein’s Time Sector System. I use the red flag for my MITs or ‘most important tasks’ of the day. The yellow flag represents the things I want to get done by lunchtime, like putting on a load of washing or drinking water. The blue flags are things I want to get done in the afternoon, and the white flags are evening tasks like writing in my journal before bed or doing a five-minute meditation.
4. Google Drive
Google Drive is my filing cabinet. Online, accessible from multiple devices, and with the ability to scan paper files directly into their relevant folders, this is the tool I use to organise almost all of my files (although I keep sensitive files with personal information offline, despite the claim that Google Drive is secure, just in case).
I use Tiago Forte’s PARA system to organise my digital files. PARA stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives.
The Areas section is where I store household documents and other information for the ‘areas’ in my life, like my budget (see below). It’s also a good place to store checklists for things you do regularly, like travel packing checklists.
I use the Projects area to store information for a current project, like a holiday. Resources might include PDFs I want to read or have read, and other stuff I want to keep that isn’t directly related to an area or project. And archives are for everything that is no longer currently relevant but that I don’t want to delete.
It’s useful to have digital files easily accessible across devices and logically labelled and stored so they are easily found.
5. Google Sheets
A budget is super important for managing your personal or household goals.
I keep our household budget in Google Sheets, similar to this one. Yes, many apps nowadays make budgeting easier, but using a spreadsheet is a system that works for me. At some point in your life, you realise you’ve reached the age where you just prefer ‘old school’. A spreadsheet is fully customisable and makes it easy for me to keep up to date with our savings goals.
With this savings spreadsheet, I can see at a glance if we have enough to cover bills, how much we have saved towards our goals and how much we have to go.
I also have a sheet that summarises our net position (assets minus debts), a sheet that I keep track of subscriptions (because boy, can they add up!), an emergency budget with expenses cut to the bone if SHTF, and a house-buying/mortgage calculator linked to our budget so I can run different scenarios (did I mention I was once an accountant?).
6. Google Keep Notes
Google Keep Notes is not the best notes app out there. It has none of the bells and whistles of apps like Evernote or Obsidian. But with its quick-capture widget on my phone, its ability to share notes with others, and its integration with Google Home, Google Keep is a quick and easy way to capture thoughts and other important notes.
I use Google Keep for:
- my shopping list
- our meal plan
- gym workout
- passing thoughts, I want to remember
- anything else I want to quickly store for later
Our shopping list, meal plan, and gym workout are all pinned to the top of the app for quick reference. Apart from these three things, the other notes are meant to be temporary – I don’t use Google Keep to store notes permanently. If I’ve clipped a recipe, for example, it goes onto our meal plan, and if we like it, it will go into my recipe database in Notion.
The above six apps aren’t the only tools I use to organise my life. I use plenty of digital tools for work, like project management software (ClickUp) and for my PKM (Obsidian). But when it comes to staying on top of important tasks, schedule, budget, filing, and fleeting thoughts, these tools have been a lifesaver for me.
What digital tools do you use to run your life?