As a productivity coach to extremely busy CEOs, executives, small business owners, sales reps, and stay-at-home parents, I have found a common thread that unifies us all. That thread might be somewhat surprising. Ready? We all lead busy lives, we all have multiple roles and responsibilities that have next actions and projects, and we all want to have clarity, focus, and a Zen-like feeling of bliss that comes from dealing with what life throws at us.
This is where Todoist comes in for my clients and me. Todoist is the symphony to the cacophony we face through app developers every day. Its deceptively simple interface serves as an implicit and gentle reminder to enjoy the white space, both in the app and in our lives. But more than an app, Todoist provides a systematic approach to deal with the multiple input streams that hit us every day.
Let’s take a look at some practical applications and examples of how I’ve used Todoist personally and with my productivity clients. Irrespective of whether you follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done (“GTD®”) time management methodology, I will illustrate how to leverage Todoist by going through each of the stages in the GTD workflow.
David Allen talks about the benefits of having what he calls a “ubiquitous capture tool” to get all of the random action items out of your mind and into a tool that is available everywhere you are. Todoist shines in this area because the app is available on your phone, tablet, and computer regardless of operating system, in your browser, and it can sit alongside some of our favorite email programs.
Let’s talk about how to capture information from your head and into Todoist. The program has an “Inbox,” just like your email program; which is a perfect place to do a “brain dump” of everything that is on your mind that needs to get done. You simply type a task, hit enter, and move on to the next task. It’s flawless precision is what’s radically enticing. Don’t worry about dates, projects, or who needs to do the task– just get it out of your head!
If you are driving and something comes to mind, you can add it using either Siri on the iPhone or Google Now with Android. In Todoist Premium, each project, including the Inbox, has a custom e-mail address. At a minimum, be sure to add this e-mail address to your contacts as “Todoist Inbox”. If you’re on your iPhone, ask Siri to send an e-mail to “Todoist Inbox”. If you’re using an Android, it is even easier. Simply say, “OK, Google Now. Create a note: Call Dave to check on the status of the contract.”
If you’re using your phone, adding tasks with the Todoist app is very simple: just hit the plus sign and go. You’ll designate where it needs to go later. If you’re on an Android, I will admit the process is even easier as Todoist can reside at the top left hand side of the status bar, constantly inviting you to quickly add a task and go. There is also a home screen widget on the Android that provides you with a customized view of your tasks so you don’t even need to open the program.
Once you’ve gone through this process of adding tasks, it’s time to process them. What is this task? Is it actionable now or someday? Does it require creating a new project? Is it something that you can delegate? In Todoist, you can either drag it an existing project, drag to an existing label (both will be discussed below), or you quickly type it in. You can easily assign both due dates as well as an assignee (another wonderful feature discussed below).
There are two main ways to organize your next action items in Todoist: project and labels. The best way to organize your projects is to create master projects that represent your roles and responsibilities in your life; i.e., Family, Work, etc. From there, create “sub-projects”, which represent the various areas within each one of those. For instance, in “Work” you can have: “1:1 Meetings,” “Clients,” “Marketing,” “Sales,” and “Budgets.” Under “Family”, you can have: “Groceries,” “Wife,” and “Kids.” There are other projects you can put in there as well such as your 3-5 year goals and life goals you’ve set for yourself (you’ve thought about those, right?).
The second way to organize within Todoist is using labels. I will again note that whether you follow GTD or not, there is a logic to designating whether your task is a phone call, an e-mail, something that can only be done on your computer, an errand that you need to run, or its a task that you’re waiting to hear back from someone. My suggestion is to always keep it simple and have labels such as “call,” “email,” “computer,” “errands,” “someday,” and “waiting.”
Though this is not part of the GTD workflow, it’s important to point out that the ability to collaborate with others in Todoist is central to the efficiencies it creates and it is typically through the organizing stage that you would assign someone to a task. To the right of the project name, there is the very familiar and universal “share” icon that we see in almost every app. Click it and you can share with anyone; the “assignee” would have to join Todoist if they are not already a user. This has been critical to both my clients and me. Some of my clients share projects with their assistants. Plus, while adding notes, you can also upload files and photos for others to review; and including adding a link to a shared note in Evernote. I will add that even if you don’t collaborate on any project at all, having this notes section within Todoist will certainly help you keep yourself accountable as well as you will most certainly see the benefit of keeping yourself up-to-date as to the progress of any given task!
Getting everything into Todoist is only three quarters of the battle. To win the productivity war, you must constantly review your tasks. I recommend both daily and weekly sweeps of your tasks. I liken the act of conducting a daily review of your inventory of tasks to going into Google Maps and getting directions to your destination. You wouldn’t get into your car and just try to wing the directions to a new client meeting, would you? Then why do it to yourself with your tasks. Create a roadmap of the few things that must absolutely go right for you that day.
At the end of the week, do another sweep, but this time, add to it any new tasks and projects that came up as a result of your meetings throughout the week that you didn’t yet add. Take off any tasks that you may no longer need. Look for tasks in your 3-5 year goals and life goals that you can add for the week ahead. Review all of your someday and delegated tasks and make appropriate decisions that will help propel things in the right direction.
Lastly, all of this would be for naught if you didn’t actually get these things done! If you’ve properly captured everything on your mind and into Todoist, processed those tasks accordingly and organized them into their designated projects as well as assigned specific tasks to others, reviewed your lists daily and weekly, you will have no problem at all, with the help of Todoist, to get everything done.
In the end, when you check off that last task for the day, there is this psychological relief that both my clients and I feel. This is symbolically reflected in the app as well by a photo of placid scenery behind a giant checkmark with a message just below it to go on and enjoy your day. Yet, another reminder to be mindful of the present and encouragement to do what the tag line on my website says: succeed at life, live your passion, and love what you do!
Daniel Gold is a productivity coach, keynote speaker, author, and podcaster. He is most well known for his eBooks, Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, Simplify your Life with Springpad, and Make it Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook. Daniel is also the co-host of the GTD® Virtual Study Group podcast.