Being unorganized is debilitating. Trust me. I’ve been there. I mentioned a few days ago that I wanted to lead into the New Year with a few posts about productivity. If that’s not your thing, I totally understand, but I’ve become convinced being organized is an important quality to learn for just about every area of our lives.
If you’re anything like me, though, it’s easy to get lost in the internet vortex of productivity apps and products. That’s why I’ve decided to simply pick one and go with it. I’m sure I may find another tool in the future that meets my needs or develops into the “perfect” system, but my experience is the “perfect” system does not exist, and having a system at all is more than half the battle.
Today, we’re talking about my to-do list manager of choice: Todoist. I’ve only recently worked out a more comprehensive workflow that includes a to-do list, note taking app, and a more comprehensive project manager (I’ll share more about workflow later), but Todoist is the Inbox for every task warranting more than 2 minutes of my time. This follows the principle of the in-basket developed by David Allen in Getting Things Done. While I don’t subscribe to his entire system, the idea of having a dedicated place to get tasks out of my brain and into a system is invaluable.
One of the things that drew me to Todoist was the simple interface. It has plenty of functionality without seeming complicated. Some of the other apps I’ve tried make adding a task more trouble than it’s worth. A to-do list should be simple, and Todoist is just that. There are premium features ($29/year), but a basic account is free, and the user interface is intuitive making adding tasks a breeze. In addition, Todoist starts as a blank slate that allows you make your task hierarchy or projects as simple or complicated as you’d like.
When I look for just about any software or application, it is important to me that it be able to cross platforms seamlessly. I think Apple products are great, but I don’t buy in to the proprietary nonsense many companies seem to subscribe to. I have a Macbook Pro and an Android phone, so I need my programs to play nice. Todoist hits a home run in this category as it can run on just about every device imaginable. Not only are there mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows mobile devices, there are browser and Gmail plugins along with standalone applications capable of being downloaded directly to your Mac or Windows computer. On top of that, they all sync in real-time. That’s a win-win for me, and it made Todoist stand out in the crowd.
As I mentioned, Todoist’s ability to run on many platforms brings a necessary level of convenience, but it doesn’t stop there. With a plugin for my Chrome browser, Gmail window, and an “Add Task” command in the drop down menu on my phone, adding a task from virtually everywhere is easy and quick. I can add a website to a “Read Later” project or simply drop an errand into the Inbox to sort at a later time. With so many ways to get to my list, I am more likely to use the product. For me, that’s a big deal.
I won’t go into all of the different features here. You can see those on the website. But suffice it to say that a robust search feature, the ability to create sub-projects and tasks, and a simple system for adding due dates are just a few of the selling points of the Todoist system. Add to that sharing, labels (premium), and notes (premium), and I really can’t complain much about what Todoist can do. While there are still a few suggestions I might have for making it a better user experience, the actual function of the program is top-notch.
So maybe I’ve convinced you to give Todoist a try. Maybe not. Either way, I hope that you’ll choose some method of task dumping and stick with it. There are plenty of articles out there (like here and here) about the importance of getting tasks out of your brain and into your system, so pick one. If you do happen to choose Todoist as part of your system, however, here are just a few tips that are worth considering.
Use your Inbox.
This is the secret sauce of task management. Dump tasks here even if you aren’t ready to give a due date or add it to a specific project. Then, make it a habit of reviewing your Inbox at least daily to filter through it and add any necessary information before moving the task to the appropriate project.
Depending on your work situation, you may get away with projects entitled Home and Work while adding sub-projects for any specific longer term projects that come up under those categories. For me, I have four separate categories for work along with Personal, Someday, and Templates (see below). Create a system that works for you, but don’t get caught up in adding projects for projects’ sake. Simpler is better.
Always add a due date.
Even if you’re not exactly sure when you will complete a task, add a due date anyway. This will allow the task to show up on your Today list at some point in the future to remind you to either complete the task or postpone it to a later date. Thankfully, Todoist allows you to search all of your projects for tasks that have not had a due date assigned which is probably a worthwhile exercise once a week or so just to make sure nothing gets missed.
If you want to unlock all the functionality of Todoist, spend the less than $3/month to add tags, notes, reminders, and more. I’m not big and forking over a lot of money for productivity apps, but for less than a cup of coffee per month, this is a price point I can feel good about.
Obviously, this post has centered on a particular task management tool, but I would contend there are plenty of workable strategies as long as you are faithful to the implementation. Todoist isn’t perfect, and there are definitely some functions I’d love to see them add, but I needed to commit to one tool, and this was the one for me…at least for now. I’ve listed a few of the other tools I’ve found below that may be worthy of your consideration. Feel free to share some of your tools and strategies in the comments. I’d love to hear what is working for you to help you get more done and be freed to do what you really love.
Any.do – I love the look of this little app. It’s clean and extremely mobile friendly. I’ve watched it add a few different features over the last couple of years, and keep being drawn back to it. One thing I actually still use Any.do for is the call back feature. Every time I miss a phone call, the app prompts me to either “Call Back Now,” “Remind Me in 15 Minutes,” “Remind me in 1 Hour,” or “Ignore.” It’s a great way to remember those phone calls that I used to forget.
Wunderlist – I’ve downloaded this one multiple times, and it’s another great cross-platform, free option. For some of you, it may be just what you’re looking for. Not to mention they are about to reveal version 3 which looks like it could be really nice.
Things – I actually haven’t used Things, but I’ve seen it mentioned multiple times by Mac lovers. Because I’m not about proprietary stuff, it is not an option for me, but if you love all things Mac and never plan to change, Things may be worth a look.
Pen & Paper – There is definitely no shame in taking an old fashion approach to lists. I often find myself using Post-It notes on my desk as my pre-Inbox before actually transferring individual tasks into Todoist, and I know there are a lot of people out there who still prefer this method. If that’s you, just make sure that you have a system in place to process all those notes so they don’t end up all over the house with no real plan to complete what needs to be done.
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.”
– Tim Ferris