Two years ago, some friends were talking about their task management software. They were using Asana. I spent a bit looking into it, and saw no value in what seemed to me like electronic checklist. One of the most productive people I know lived by handwritten to-do lists on yellow pads, and so the concept of typing your checklist seemed, at best, unnecessary. I wasn’t against to-do lists, I simply didn’t see why I should use software for it. I thought it was silly.
But in the 2016 New Year spirit, I read a book on productivity by Tim Challies and adopted his productivity management system for a while. (I am about two months in now.) I had the same reaction this January when he suggested using a task management software: Why use software to do what I can just as easily do with a yellow pad? I made a decision to simply go with it, and I’ve been using Todoist every day for about 45 days now. And I can’t imagine going back.
If you’re like me, and wonder why you would even bother, here are eight reasons I love using Todoist. I would imagine most of these functions are available on Asana or any other similar system, but I’m not writing this to compare one software with another. Rather, I’m trying to show you why I was wrong to think handwritten list was just as good. So here are the eight reasons I love using Todoist:
- Easily defer tasks to later, and forget about them until then.
I assign myself daily tasks with about the same restraint as a relapsing tween at Golden Coral after a week of fat camp. I can probably count on one hand the number of workdays that I accomplished all the tasks I thought I would be able to fit into that day. Every day at 4pm feels like a 4th down and 25 yards: it’s time to start punting. Maybe as I mature, I’ll master the art of forecasting better, but unless you can perfectly predict your to do list every day, you’ll love the ability to click on a task assign it to tomorrow, next week, next month, and then forget about it. It will show up on your list again at the appointed hour.
- Reorganize and prioritize tasks by dragging
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to write before word processing software. Most blogs, essays, or e-mails I write will not be complete before I reorder some sentences or paragraphs with a cut & paste. Similar to that, the 6th item in my daily 10 minute workday routine is “Chose: today’s top tasks.” So every morning I look at the list—a mixture of punted tasks from previous overambition, new unloaded tasks and recurring tasks—and I spend about 1 minute dragging them around into an organized list. Sometimes I rank them by importance, and other times by order I will tackle them (which is usually, but not always, the same). The best way I could do this on paper is with a lot of arrows, scratching, or re-writing.
- Integrate with e-mail or Siri to create tasks instantaneously.
If I get an e-mail that is a task (either an assignment or an involved reply) I make it a task in Todoist with about two clicks. In almost every case, I then immediately archive the e-mail to get it out of my inbox, because the e-mail inbox is a terrible task manager. Don’t believe me? Which of these 8 reasons in this post can your e-mail inbox facilitate? Also, if I’m driving in my car and realize there’s something I need to do, I simply tell Siri to remind me to do it, and it shows up in Todoist.
- Quickly sort by kind/project when you need to focus on one area of life.
I have one Todoist account that covers every area of my life: work/church, personal life, family, friends, broader ministry. But when I’m at the church office, I often don’t want my list of personal/family tasks showing up. Or I might want to focus for a while on a specific project. So if I only want to work on my teaching tasks, or my writing tasks, in one click I can make everything else disappear until I am ready to resurface.
- Use tags to add layers of filtering for specific opportunities
Certain tasks require certain occasions to take the next step. Maybe I need to be at a certain place, or be in a meeting with a certain person. So I use tags in Todoist (the only reason I pay the $2.50 a month for premium subscription) to quickly sort through all of my tasks when those occasions arise. So the next time I see Keith, I open the Todoist app on my phone, select “Keith” and then I only see the things I need his input on. I can do the same things with “office” or “library.” I also use the tag “waiting” for all the things that I can’t move forward on until someone gets back to me. Part of my daily 10-minute morning checklist is to open my “waiting” tag, and decide whether I need to send a reminder to someone.
- Always have it with you or accessible via the cloud
The reason #5 works so well is because of #6: it’s always with me. Because Todoist syncs with all my devices, and can be accessed online from any browser, I’m basically never without it when I need it. That was not true of my yellow pad. It doesn’t get lost, and it’s always up to date.
- Easily show/hide subtasks for larger projects as needed
Some tasks are complex. I have some larger writing projects that I am working on that I have broken down into multiple subtasks. So I am working on an essay on the power of satire and comedy to rally people, and it is involved. I can defer the “Write: Satire Essay” task to my next free day, but when I arrive at the library on Friday, I drop down that project and find that I can accomplish one of the subtasks, “Get: Aristotle’s Poetics” and close that drop-down menu when I am ready to move on with other things. Then I defer that project to the next time I can take a whack at it.
- Auto-recurring events
This is maybe the biggest game changer for me. I am decent with weekly rhythms, but not everything in life fits into a weekly cycle. I’m pretty horrible at remembering anything that’s not weekly. Todoist is wonderfully power at customizable recurrences. So I can make a task like, “Recite: 1 Corinthians 14 every 10 days for 9 months” and Todoist will remind me at those exact intervals. I want to keep coming back to it periodically for a while, and 10 days seemed like an adequate interval to not lose the work I invested in memorizing it. I have some tasks that are only for Mondays through Thursdays at 10am, and some are weekly, others monthly, some on the first and third Wednesdays. Your yellow pad can’t do that.
Burn your yellow pad. Get a task manager like Todoist (or Asana, or another similar product). If you think of other reasons other than the ones I mentioned, leave a comment. Also, I haven’t looked into competitive products, so I’m interested to hear from anyone who has compared tasks managers to one another.