I love organizing my digital (and real) life. To me, there are very few things as satisfying as neat lists, folders, and categories, that I can quickly parse in order to find what I want. While lots of apps offer a decent level of structure and customization on my phone, I still find myself looking at long lists of text-based items more often than I'd like, hoping I'd quickly spot the one I want before resorting to pulling up the search bar and typing it. A few months ago, it occurred to me that my phone has a free and built-in tool that could help me visually mark every item in a list: Emojis. It sounds both silly and obvious, doesn't it?

Why emojis?

Beyond the usual facial reactions and hearts, emojis are an excellent visual tool with dozens of benefits over regular text. Here is why:

  • Emojis are a universal language. You don't need to speak a specific language to understand what a small graphic of a strawberry or a guitar is.
  • There's an emoji for nearly everything. Are you making lists of places you'd like to visit in different countries? Use the flags. Are you sorting your music? Use the different instrument emojis. Do you need to organize your recipes? Go for the food emojis. I can go on.
  • You can combine multiple emojis. When the emoji you want doesn't exist, you can always insert two or more to better represent your item. For me, 🇪🇺 is for Europe, while 🇪🇺🎵 is for Eurovision, and 🇪🇺⚽ for the UEFA Euro. This is Paris 🗼, but this is Parisian bars 🗼🍹. You get the gist.
  • Emojis are available anywhere you can insert text. You don't need a special place or way to add them. Anywhere you can type text (think list titles or items), you can add an emoji before, after, or in lieu of the words.
  • Emojis are cross-platform. Just like text, the flag you add to your Greece list on Google Maps on Android will also be there when you check Maps on your Windows PC, Mac, Chromeboook, or iPhone. Newly-added Unicode emojis might not be supported by all platforms straight away, and some emojis might look a little different between two OSes, but those are small edge cases that don't matter much.
  • Colored shapes can be makeshift categories. If the app you're using doesn't let you assign custom colors to certain elements, you can always add your own (to a certain extent) by using the colored shape emojis. The nine different hearts, circles, and squares can really help you bring some order and visual distinction to any app.

How to organize any list with emojis

I first started using emojis in my Google Maps lists. For each country I've visited or would love to visit, the corresponding list now has both a text title and flag. Other more unique lists have emojis as well, such as 🇪🇸🤵👰 for my honeymoon in Spain. I carried the same logic for my Google Photos albums and Instagram bookmarks, so now everything is easily distinguished at a glance, even in long lists with no or with small thumbnails.

Left: Google Maps listsRight: Google Photos albums.

My emoji craze then carried on to Spotify. I am not a huge fan of the app's design, but at least assigning emojis to my different folders and playlists helps me quickly find what I want. It works quite well if you like separating your music by genre or country/language like me, but feel free to try it out with other organization paradigms.

Spotify folders and playlists.

You could also follow my example and curate some excellent puppy and kitten content on Twitter into lists and pin them to your homescreen to cure your doomscrolling habit, and while you're at it, assign an emoji as their title to add a touch of fun to your Twitter feed.

Left: Twitter lists as pinned tabsRight: Instagram bookmark lists.

And if you have a recipe manager, I recommend adding emojis to your various list titles. After all, you have every emoji you need right there: 🍳🍗🍖🐟🍔🍝🥣🍱🥖🥗🧁🍰🍸...

Yummly recipe lists.

It's not all fun, travel, music, and food, though. Emojis can be very handy for bookmark, task, and calendar management too. If a picture is worth a thousand words, why not add a small graphical icon next to your different projects and to-dos to help visually identify them? Think of the precious milliseconds you can save every time you look for an item! #productivityguru

Left: Chrome bookmark foldersRight: Todoist project and task management.

Some calendar apps like Google Calendar allow you to assign special colors to each event, but if you don't want to bother with that or if your app doesn't offer color customization (looking at you, Microsoft Teams!), you can always add your own color-coded shape to help you spot different clients, assignments, classes, types of meetings, and more.

Above: Color-coded calendar events on mobile. Below: On the web.

Keep in mind, though, that emojis aren't compatible with voice commands, so don't go overboard adding them in places where you might need to invoke something by voice. For example, Google Assistant might have a problem associating your "play my Italian playlist" request with your "🇮🇹" playlist on Spotify. However, it should easily read your next "🎂 Birthday dinner" calendar event. So your mileage may vary according to the app and how you interact with it on Assistant.

I could go on and on describing all the different ways and apps in which using emojis can elevate the experience and help you distinguish items and spot the one you want at a glance, but these examples should be a good place to start figuring out your own use cases.