Todoist and me

A few people have asked me about Todoist recently, and I found that I was evangelising them more and more. People seemed to be interested to hear how I use it, so here’s a post outlining how I get the most out of the platform.

The first thing to say is that whilst Todoist is a great platform for free users, it really starts to shine once you upgrade. At £25 per year, it’s a steal. I’ll wait here whilst you go and do that.

Project setup

Todoist has several ways to organise the things you need to do. At the core of it all is Projects. You can have as many or as few as you want, but I’d suggest something that looks like the following (I actually have way more projects):

·
|-- Actions
|-- Gifts
|   |-- Dad
|   |-- Michael
|   ·-- Mum
|-- Movies
|   |-- Maybe
|   |-- Someday
|   ·-- Soon
|-- Personal
|   |-- Family
|   |-- Finance
|   |-- Fitness
|   ·-- House
|-- Work
|   |-- Boring Work
|   |-- External Agency 3
|   ·-- Secret Project
·-- Writing
    |-- Blog
    ·-- Other Site

As you can see, I use Todoist for lots of different things. I use it to keep track of things I need to do and need to write, as well as gift ideas for birthdays and movies that I want to watch.

Again, once you create your projects they’ll be empty initially. That’s ok, as we’ll fill them up very soon. For now though, let’s take a look at the default folders.

The Inbox

Inbox is a folder that confuses a lot of people. It’s not designed to be used as a folder as such, but more as a dumping ground. Whenever I’m out and about and I remember something, it goes into my Inbox. Whenever I’m in a meeting and a point is raised, it goes into my inbox.

Think of your inbox the same way you treat an email inbox. Things arrive there before being categorised and actioned. I tend to work through my inbox once or twice per week, making sure that everything is in a position to be actioned.

Today

The today list is pretty useful. It shows you everything that is due today. At the end of each day I go to this tab and make sure that everything is either checked off or I move it to the next day, ready to take another shot at it.

Next 7 days

I really don’t see the point of this screen. Sure, it could be useful if you don’t have may tasks but for me it’s too overwhelming. I don’t care about what’s coming up in 5 days. All I care about is today and tomorrow.

Labels

Labels are a premium feature, and are at the core of my system. I use the labels in Todoist as a set of contexts. Whenever I’ve got a minute or two, I can easily find all tasks that I can do right now.

To do this, I use a set of labels that looks like this:

  • home
  • morning
  • night
  • work
  • outandabout
  • phone

Whenever I’m creating a new task, I tag it with the relevant labels for when I can action it e.g.

Put the bins out @home @night

Filters

Once my tasks are tagged up, I can start to create filters to show me only what I need to see right now. Here are my core filters:

  • Wake Up! : (@home & [email protected]) and (today or overdue)
  • At Work : (@work) and (today or overdue)
  • Errands: @outandabout & (today or overdue) Before Bed : (@work & [email protected]) and (today or overdue)

I used to use Things, but seeing a reminder to put the bin out all day wasn’t useful to me. That reminder was only useful in the evening once I was home from work but there was no way to say “this only applies in the evening”.

Using a combination of labels and filters, I can show only things that are relevant to me right now.

I also have a few other filters that help me keep on top of things that I’ve forgotten to categorise.

Today no label: (no label) & today

This filter shows me everything that doesn’t have a label (and such I have no idea where I should be doing it). I can add labels to all items in this filter to make sure everything has a context.

Prioritise me: (no label or no priority) & tomorrow

This is one that I check each evening. I’m usually quite good about adding labels and prioritising tasks when they leave my inbox, but sometimes I forget. This filter helps me make sure everything is prioritised correctly.

Hitlist: (p:actions) and no due date

Finally, I have a hit list. This shows all tasks that I need to action that don’t yet have a due date. This usually contains things like “Look into test-kitchen” and “Sort out iPhoto library”. Tasks that need doing, but they don’t need to be done by a certain date.

Putting it all together

You’ll need to see what works for you, but this framework’s done wonders for me. Once you’re all set up, follow these steps and you should be able to keep on top of everything:

  • Twice per week, sort through your inbox. Categorise or delete
  • Make sure everything has a priority
  • Add due dates where relevant
  • When you open a view, press P to sort by priority

Periodically review everything and delete those things you’ll never do. Being overwhelmed by too many things to do is a real danger.

If you can’t do something today, use the snooze button. Mark it as due tomorrow or next week. Don’t delete it! If you delete it it will disappear forever.

Finally, repeating issues are your friend. I’ve created entries such as Put the bins out @home @evening every tuesday, and every week it reminds me. Be especially careful not to delete these ones, as it deletes every instance of the item, not just this one.

There’s even more to Todoist that I don’t currently use – reminders, location alerts, project templates. I check my lists as a habit so I don’t need a lot of these, but if you think they’d help you to remember to use the tool, give them a go!

Wrapping it up

So, that’s how I use Todoist. If you find a different system that works for you, let me know! I’ve been using this system for a few years across multiple different tools, but I’m always open to trying something new.

Michael is a polyglot software engineer, committed to reducing complexity in systems and making them more predictable. Working with a variety of languages and tools, he shares his technical expertise to audiences all around the world at user groups and conferences. You can follow @mheap on Twitter

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