How I Organise my Work (With Todoist)

A few years ago I found an app called Todoist. Before that, I was trying to organise my life using plain old pen and paper. It wasn't working. So I did what any (geek?) would do, and turned to software!

I've tried many, many ToDo apps, across all the major platforms (Windows, Android, yes even iOS), but I always return to Todoist. It supports virtually every platform you can think of...

And the guys at Todoist are always on hand to solve any issues or questions you may have. They were also one of the early apps to embrace Material Design on Android, something that gained them an "Editors Choice Award" in the Google Play Store (no mean feat, around only 60 apps of the 1.6 million available have been awarded such an honour). And did I mention they also support Android Wear? Like I said, I'm a big fan of their work! :P

But I digress, you're here reading this article to learn how Todoist (or even simply GTD or todo software) can help you, as it has me. In the following paragraphs I'll explain how I use Todoist to support me in my working life, and how it helps me get more things done quicker. Some of these principles could be applied to other apps, but for obvious reasons I'll be using Todoist to describe them. And honestly, I'm not sure why you would bother using any other app, the number 2 app in this category for me, Wunderlist, doesn't even come close, and that's without even mentioning the Microsoft acquisition!

Core Features

My use of Todoist makes use of all four of Todists central concepts; Tasks, Projects, Labels and Filters.

Tasks are single items consisting of a string of text at a minimum, but may also contain labels, a project, a due date, a priority, comments, reminders as well as subtasks. A task may also contain multiple other sub-tasks.

Projects are logical groupings of task, that can contain both sub-groups (up to 4 levels) as well as tasks.

Labels are additional "tags" that can be used to provide some metadata to a task (think of twitter hashtags).

Filters are ways of filtering tasks based on a set of pre-defined attributes.

Projects

I use Projects to group my tasks into relevant groups. My general rule of thumb for creating a project is:

  1. It has a lifespan of hours/days, as opposed to minutes.
  2. The "project" may or may not have a clear end.
  3. It is an event that has some work associated with it.

These Projects (or "groupings") allow me to quickly see all tasks related to that particular piece of work or objective. I don't tend to use the Projects view of Todoist much, as most of my tasks are built in such a way that I always know what I need to be working on in the near future. However the task views inside the app show the project next to each and every task which helps add some context to individual tasks.

Labels

Labels are where Todoist shines. They really drive my use of Todoist and help me make sense of all the activities I need to complete. My use of labels revolves around the following concepts:

  • Current task(s) I am working on
  • Energy required to complete
  • If the task is for someone else
  • How long it will take me to complete

Now/Next/Pinned

@Now

I attach the label @Now to the task that I am currently working on. At any point in time, only one task should ever have this tag (and conversely, all completed tasks should have this tag when I hit the done button). This allows me to stay focused on the task at hand, and not get drawn into doing other small things that delay me completing that particular piece of work.

If something else more important does pop up, the label is removed and the new task is promoted to the @Now label.

@Next

I use @Next to contain a smaller set of tasks (one or two max) that I want to work on after completing the @Now task. Again the aim of this is to achieve some level of focus and understanding about my work stack.

@Pinned

Tasks with the Pinned label aren't really tasks at all. I use this label to store small chunks of information about work that I don't want to forget. I try to use this label as little as possible, on the basis that everything I want to do should be expressed as an action (as a task).

@Energy-Low / @Energy-High

I can't remember where I picked up the Energy concept, but it's a label that every task I create is given. It refers to the amount of "life-force" it will take me to complete the task. You can think about it in this way, things I enjoy doing take little energy from me, whilst things I do not enjoy doing take a lot more energy to complete.

This helps me get through more tasks as I can tailor my work against my mood. Monday morning when I'm fully refreshed from the weekend? Ripe time for @Energy-High tasks!

NB. Todoist contains an auto-fill feature when you type the @ symbol. This displays all your created labels. So when I type "@E", it lets me quickly select one of the two labels to reduce the number of keypresses.

@.x.mins

Key to my task structure is an understanding of how long I expect a particular task to complete. I use the following breakdowns:

  • @.5.mins
  • @.15.mins
  • @.30.mins
  • @.60.mins
  • @.90.mins

Ideally the 90 and 60 minute labels should be empty. If you're familiar with User Stories, I'd say these tasks are like "Epics" existing on my backlog, and really should be broken down into smaller tasks before I attempt to work on them. Broken down, or potentially expanded into a "Project".

I use these labels and look at the time I currently have free. For example if I have a meeting in 10 minutes I'll look to pick one or two 5-minute tasks to quickly close off. Whereas before this sort of organisation, those 10 minutes may have been completely lost as I attempted to look into a 60 minute task (which would have gotten nowhere in that short time).

N.B. I use the label nomenclature to quickly let me select a time label in a task by only typing "@." then selecting from the list of times.

@Waiting-For

Sometimes, I cannot begin a task until someone else has done something, or provided me with some key information. This is blocking me progressing with another task so accounting for it is useful. I only attach two labels to these tasks, the @Waiting-For label and a @p.fname.lname label.

This lets me know that the task isn't dependent on anything I can do, as well as who I am waiting for (very interesting viewing when the tasks build up for a particular person!).

Filters

Filters are the gem of Todoist. I use filters to drive my task list in a few different ways. The list of filters I use is loosley based on the labels I describe above, here are the main ones:

1. Daily Driver

Query: @Now, @Next, overdue, today, (@Pinned or @Waiting-For), tomorrow

This is the default screen I see when I open the Todoist app. It show me my immediate tasks and the order in which I should perform them, as well as the tasks I am waiting for others to complete. It's a catch-all, and as the name suggests drives my daily work.

2. Overdue

Query: overdue

This lists purely those tasks with an end date that has passed. If' I am organising myself properly, this filter should always remain empty.

3. Waiting For

Query: @Waiting-For

This shows me a quick view of all the items I am waiting for other people to complete. Along with the created date of the task, I can see how long I have been waiting, and that may prompt me to chase the action point up.

4. Less Than x Mins

Query: (@Energy-Low and @.x.mins), (@Energy-High and @.x.mins), (!@Energy-High and !@Energy-Low) and @.x.mins

I have 5 filters here, each one mapped to a specific time related label. The query groups all tasks within a specific time against the Energy label. This essentially allows me to pick a task based on both its time and energy-draining level.

5 . Draining

Query: @Energy-High

A list of all activities that will drain my energy. If this list has many items, then I should look into why I am not actively looking to complete the "harder" tasks. Some of the additional meta-data against each task could help to provide the answer.

For example, if many of the tasks are related to the same project, why is that project so draining? This can help me tackle any such issues with projects or pieces of work.

6. Fuelling

Query: @Energy-Low

Tasks that give me energy! I enjoy completing these tasks, they re-energise me and help me tackle the more draining tasks sooner. In a perfect world all my tasks should have this label :)

Miscellaneous

There are some other neat features of Todoist that I use actively as well. Recurring tasks, reminders and templates to name a few. I'll give a little bit of insight into how I make use of these features below:

Recurring Tasks

These are tasks that recur over some period, be that days, weeks, months or years. I make use of this feature in a few ways. I have a recurring daily task scheduled for 9am entitled "Arrange Tasks for Day". This is an important part of my workflow and sets my list of work items up for the day so I can focus on doing instead spending time during the day figuring out what to do.

Templates

Templates are a great feature of Todoist that allow you to create a Project structure, and then export it as a saved template. You can then import than template as and when you need to. I use it for specific tasks that have a set list of actionable items. For example one template I use is for when a new starter joins my team. There are a number of tasks that must be completed such as building tours, building passes, desk reservation etc.

New Task Workflow

I hope the above doesn't make it sound too complex, because it isn't. When I have a new task to do, this is what I do:

  1. Click the shortcut key programmed into my mouse to add a new todoist task.
  2. Type the task description.
  3. Type @. and select a time.
  4. Type @E and select an energy level
  5. Select the day I expect to complete it.

And that's it. The rest is all managed through the predefined filters.

I hope that the insight into what works well for me will give you some inspiration in creating a structure that works well for you. Feel free to try and replicate my process, or take some bits and integrate them into your own ways of working.

If you have your own way of doing things, let us know in the comments!