Todoist – Keeping all my balls in the air

My job is very much project based. Sometimes I can be working on a single project for many weeks or months and at other times I can be juggling several projects at once.

Early last year, after a string of complex and challenging projects, I started to notice that my time management was leaving a little to be desired as I tried to keep too many balls in the air at the same time. One thing I pride myself on is being reliable so when I found myself forgetting to call somebody back it annoyed me and probably them too. So I made a number of changes to my life and lifestyle as well as paying attention to how I worked.

As I reviewed how I work, one thing I noticed was that I tended to keep most things in my head and for most of my life this had worked fine however as I read various articles on productivity I came across a number that described the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology by Dave Allen and how it could change your life.

I won’t go into the concept here as there are many many websites out there that do just that and review the pros and cons of GTD and to be fair, whilst I contemplated adopting GTD, it seemed too structured for what I needed. One thing I did take away however was the concept of getting everything out of your head and onto paper.

In other words, a To Do list

The thinking is that by writing everything down you can use your brain to do the task in hand and not waste loads of brain power trying to remember what you need to do.

Of course this is 2015, and we all carry our smart phones around so rather than using pen and paper, I looked for an app that would manage my To Do list.

So now would be a good time to describe my setup.

So my smartphone is an iPhone 5S and I also have an iPad Air 2 that travels with me. My work laptop is a Lenovo X230 running Windows 7 and my home desktop is an 27″ iMac thus we have IOS, OS X and Windows. What I was looking for was a To Do application that would run on all of these platforms and sync. Something that worked with Siri would be nice too so that I could just shout out when in the car if I needed to make a note.

I tried various apps. Lots and lots of apps. This is not made easy because unlike Android, the Apple app store does not let you trial software and most of the good To Do apps are quite expensive.

Now there are some amazing software platforms out there with prices to match but to be honest, these were just too complex. Indeed whilst they supported the GTD method really well, I could see the whole To Do management piece becoming all consuming and becoming a task in itself.

Eventually I came down to 2 apps (Todoist and ToDo Cloud) and spent a lot of time debating which way to jump before finally going for Todoist.

  • I preferred the layout of Todoist. It was light and modern where as ToDo Cloud was heavy and dark.
  • Todoist had more apps for more devices
  • On devices where an app was not an option, the Todo web client was horrible
  • Todoist did not have Siri integration (I will come back to this). ToDo Cloud did
  • The cost was similar with a single annual subscription although Todoist also has a free option
  • Both applications used their own sync engine rather than relying on dropbox etc

So the web client was important. My work laptop is centrally managed so by default I do not have admin rights. This makes installing anything difficult. Google Chrome on Windows however has the option to Create An Application Shortcut which will create an icon on your desktop which when clicked will open the web app in a frameless window so it looks just like a native app. Todoist worked really well like this where as the ToDo Cloud app was clunky and nasty. In their recent app update however Todoist have now updated their Windows application and Outlook plugin so that you don’t need admin rights to install them. Brilliant!

Siri was slightly more interesting however I came across a website by Michael Truskowski who had decided to learn how to code in OS X to achieve this. Simply, a script is running on my Mac at home (which is always on anyway) which constantly monitors my iCloud based Reminders list I have named SYNC. If it spots an entry on that list, it posts it to the Todoist cloud and then deletes the entry from the iCloud Reminders app. I too had to spend an afternoon learning how scripting works on Mac but I got it working.

Of course on my iPhone, I can use Siri to add reminders to the list so this is a solution that works really well so now when I am in the car I can just shout out “Hey Siri, remind me to get some milk tomorrow” and within 30 seconds a reminder is in Todoist for tomorrow reminding me to get the milk. Perfect

This of course ties in with the way Todoist accepts input.

Date parsing

You can just fill in various boxes with dates, locations, labels and so on but it also works with natural language so I can just type in “pay the milkman on the 3rd Friday of each month” and it will create a recurring reminder

And of course I can do this on any device I own using an identical interface every time. Suddenly I am getting stuff out of my head quickly and easily and let me tell you, this really does make you feel a lot more in control.

By default, all tasks start in your Inbox. The idea (this comes from GTD) is that at the start of the day, you review your inbox and then go through the various tasks assigning owners, or scheduling them etc. In my case, I review then assign them to various projects, set due dates and times and so on. I can then switch to my TODAY view and leave that open on my desktop all day ticking off items (or adding more) as I go. By assigning tasks to projects or using labels, I am also able to view tasks by project (when somebody asks what do you need to do for project X by example) or date or do searches etc.

Finally there is an element of gamification through the concept of Karma.

You can set how many tasks per day or per week you want to do as a minimum and then you gain Karma points for ticking off completed tasks, completing all your tasks for several days running and so on. If this doesn’t do it for you, this feature can be turned off.

So Todoist comes in a free and paid for version You do actually get a lot of functionality for free including cross platform sync however there are a number of premium features that I really do find valuable and worth the £18 per year I pay.

I am getting stuff out of my head into something I can access from anywhere at any time across multiple platforms. The app itself is fresh and modern and allows me to focus on the task. Unlike some of the apps I looked at, you are managing the task themselves not the app. The learning curve is pretty easy and the application is being constantly developed with regular updates and new features being added.

What works for me might not work for you but if you have read this far, you have probably like me spent many days Googling To Do apps trying to work out which is best. Todoist can be tried for free so you have nothing to loose and if you haven’t used a To Do app before, you will be surprised at the load it can take off your shoulders as well.

Obviously you can find full details at the Todoist website