Using Your Notes App to Manage Your To-Do List

The humble to-do list doesn’t just have to be the honey-do list -- it could be so much more! ...Did we lose you? We know, you’re asking, “why would I want to make my to-do list longer?”

Because “replace dented living room baseboard” or “complete plant boxes order for Sarah Sanderson” is more complicated than a single line in a list implies. You need to take advantage of some kind of note-keeping system to keep track of tasks, deadlines, supply purchases and orders, inspiration pictures, calendar reminders, client preferences and requests, and delegation of other work. It’s a lot.

Luckily a system for keeping track of all the moving parts to a project doesn’t have to be expensive or even cost anything at all. Your cell phone or laptop already has what you need, which is a built-in note-taking app. Check your phone, you may have Apple Notes, Samsung Notes, Google Keep and Google Tasks, or Microsoft Onenote (depending on what kind of phone you have) downloaded already. You might have to look in your apps folder in your phone settings.

Managing projects and tasks can get complicated quickly. In fact, there are whole degrees you can get in project management! So needless to say, there are many different models and workflows you can implement. But many of those are meant for big, multinational companies. Let’s see what we can do with a simple notes app. In the images below, I am using Google Keep, which is downloadable on any device.


First thing -- the notes app should easily organize your tasks into a list of items that you can check off (or just delete) as you complete them. This feature could be a simple bullet point list or even an actual checklist that gets crossed off when you click it. If nothing else, you can use your notes app to create a new checklist for each project you’re working on, so you can keep track of your progress so far and what needs to be accomplished next.

Take it to the next level -- If you want to get fancy, organize your to-do list by urgency or priority. Some tasks are just more important than others. Create a system for showing priority with exclamation marks or asterisks or some other symbol. And as your project evolves, some tasks could increase or decrease in priority, so your system could reflect that too.

Notice that adding asterisks to the list on the right allows you to quickly gauge your next steps based on how important the work is.


The benefit of using your cell phone for your to-do list is not just that it can be taken with you on your way to the store. But you can embed more than just text into your list! Consider other types of information to add:

  • Text Formatting: Use bolded text, italics, text color, highlighters, tables, and titles to convey specific information that makes sense to you and organize your work. Maybe you italicize text that has been delegated to someone else and you bold tasks that need to be done right away.
  • Photos from your phone: Take a photo of a specific type of screw and embed it in your list so when you go to the hardware store, you can make sure you buy the exact same type.
  • Images from the internet: Include pictures you downloaded or screenshotted that serve as inspiration or include important information you need.
  • Links: Copy and paste links to websites you need to access again or frequently.
  • Drawings or sketches: Instead of typing out measurements the long way, just sketch them right into your list! The visual will be a lot easier to understand anyway.
  • Voice recording: Record your meeting or phone call with your client and embed that recording right into your list. You’ll never forget what they said exactly, and they’ll be impressed you remembered so many small details.


One of the most basic features that will come in handy is a nesting system for your notes. This just means you can organize your information into groups, like you would organize notes into folders or notebooks. Most note-taking apps have this feature. Make a new folder for each new project and then you can keep your call notes, tasks, pictures of receipts, and budget all in one place.

Take it to the next level -- After you created a few notes and lists that have worked well for you, create a template for each one! Make a blank checklist, budget tracker, and contact list. Then you can copy the list and have it ready to go for your next project.

Take it to the next level -- Your notes app may also have a function that allows you to tag or label your notes. Use these tags to organize your notes into specific kinds of projects (construction vs. repair), organize based on client (family vs. friend vs. customer), organize based on priority (highest vs. medium vs. low), or organize based on final deadlines. Then you can sort your notes and more quickly find exactly the information you need.


You may already use your calendar or reminders app in your phone to help you remember important meetings or even your wedding anniversary, but you do not have to necessarily switch between your notes app and calendar app to give yourself reminders to send an invoice or call your client to ask a question. Many notes apps either have reminders built into them or they integrate seamlessly with the reminder apps you already have. Check your app for buttons that look like a bell (like in Google Keep) or click the share button (on Apple Notes) and click Reminders to have your phone remind you of a task deadline.

That said, not every notes app has a reminder function. You may have to use a calendar app in conjunction with your notes app by manually re-entering tasks from your lists to your calendar.


Few projects are entirely done by one person. Or at least, done on time. We all rely on others to help complete tasks that sometimes we are not qualified to do, we don’t have time for, or we are just simply better off letting someone else do so we can focus on more important things. The benefit of many of the built-in notes apps on your phone is that you can sync them to the cloud. You can share access to your notes with others typically through a sharing function (which might be found in a settings menu). By adding others as collaborators, they can edit your lists to clear items they complete or just check in on the progress.

Take it to the next level -- Some apps will allow you to convert your lists into documents or PDFs. If you are going to share your list with someone who does not have the same phone service provider or who might prefer to print things off rather than read them online, consider converting your lists into a more universally readable format.


The purpose of this blog post is to show you that you don’t necessarily need fancy apps (especially ones you have to pay for) to keep organized. No need to relearn a whole new user interface and memorize the different functions. But sometimes you want the extra features or you just do not like your notes apps. Here are a few of the most useful apps for task management you can explore.

  • Free and paid subscription plans
        • Create lists with start and end dates and add sub-tasks to each item. Estimate the duration of each task to help you plan your work days.
        • Assign tasks to collaborators and add comments and attachments to help them accomplish their work.
        • Tag tasks with their completion status, priority, or project.
        • Use a calendar view and budget summary to keep track of time and expenses.
      • Clear
    • $5 purchase price (one-time)
          • Only available for Apple products (iPad and iPhone)
          • Create simple lists without the distracting bells and whistles of useless features.
          • The user interface focuses on simplicity, which means you can easily see what needs to be done next. This may be the most useful app for those just starting out and who are working by themselves.
        • Evernote
      • Free and paid subscription plans
            • Utilize one of the biggest apps in project management -- this means there’s a good chance your collaborators know how to use this app and there’s tons of tips online
            • Organize your notes with tags and attachments, and then organize those notes into notebooks and then into stacks. Include tables, links, pictures, etc. in each note.
            • Sync between their mobile app and desktop app so you can stay up to date.
            • Evernote integrates well with Google, Microsoft, and other services to help you send emails, edit documents, and add reminders on calendars no matter which product your client or collaborator is using.
          • Todoist
        • Free and paid subscription plans
            • Create to-do lists that quickly integrate deadlines, tags, filters, and into projects. Each task can also have sub-tasks and priority levels.
            • If you add deadlines to each task, you can utilize their Today feature that pulls all tasks from any list or project that is due today (and within the next 7 days) so you can keep on track of all your projects from a bird’s eye view. 
            • You can also add collaborators, get notifications, and use progress visualization to keep track of how the work is going.

          IN REVIEW

          The to-do list is never so simple as a short list of actions to complete. Fixing a shelf or building a whole new one is really a whole series of tasks, both simple and complex. And when you are working on multiple projects at once, it’s easy to forget your place or get stalled because you have forgotten an important step or just don’t quite know what exactly to do next.

          You don’t need to spend money on expensive software if you are looking for a way to use your computer or phone to help you stay organized. Take advantage of the built-in (and free!) notes app. It might already have every feature you need: making checklists, adding pictures, links, and sketches, organizing notes into folders, creating reminders, and sharing your tasks with others. Let your phone do what work it is already programmed to do; no downloads required.

          Your system for keeping track of projects will evolve as you realize what works for you and what doesn’t. And eventually you may start to explore other apps that help you stay more organized as your business grows and projects get more complex. But if you’re looking for simplicity, start with what you already have!


          Have other questions about building your maker brand and business? Subscribe to the Business for Makers Blog and Business for Makers Podcast for insights and tips. Tune to Sawdust Talk on IGTV Live on Wednesdays at 10 pm CST to hear from makers about their projects and business and meet some great members of the maker community.

          By the way, once you get your business name, you’ll need T-shirts to show it off! Check out to get your maker business’s name and logo on a shirt, hoodie, or hat.


          Scott Chervitz is owner of George Supply Company, dedicated to helping woodshops build their brand. See more at You can reach him at, on Instagram at @GeorgeSupplyCompany or Twitter @ScottChervitz

          Brian Chervitz, M.S., is an Associate Instructional Designer at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus.

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