Once upon a time (err, earlier this year), in a land both very far away and always in our pockets—the Internet—I was starting to run a very serious risk of screwing up my career because I couldn’t keep my schedule/plan/goals straight. I was balancing four jobs—failing miserably at the one I cared most about—and even though I was lucky enough to work from home for all of them and set my own schedule, I was starting to drive myself a little crazy, always worrying that I had forgotten to do something, or send an email, or check on a project. Somehow I managed not to drop any balls besides my own writing career, but I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth.
One of the hats I wear is doing most of the organizing and administration over at Patchwork Press, including coordinating with our authors and running our internship program. Thanks to an amazing team, we had some really great things coming up, but they were larger scale projects than what we were used to, and even before we jumped in it was clear that we were going to need a better organizational system than the endless email chains we were trying to maintain.
I stumbled across Todoist on a few lists that were covering all of the many project management/organizational apps that are out there now, and seeing nothing but great reviews. Not only did it seem to have what I was looking for, but it also featured a gamification element, which is something I’m known to get a little bit obsessive about. So I made an account. I also made an account with a couple of other similar programs, but it’s clear who the ultimate winner was. But to each their own, so I’ll leave links to a couple of ToDoist alternatives once I’ve finished yammering about this. Within a couple of days, I had created a few different projects, separating out each of my different jobs, my personal life/chores, projects that didn’t quite qualify as work, and a section for all things Patchwork Press, which I quickly had my business partner Erica join, as well as four of our interns. A week after that, Todoist was about on par with Twitter for my most visited website. It had officially taken over my life.
I should probably note here, that some of the features I’ll be talking about below are premium features. But I jumped on board and bought a year’s worth of premium by the time my one month trial of premium had run out, which I started about a week into when I was using the program, so I’m not entirely sure which extra features belong in which category. By all accounts, Todoist is still fantastic without premium though, so even if you’re not looking to invest money into something like this right now, it’s still worth looking into. Now, onward!
How it works is simple. On the left hand side of your screen is a list of your projects—although they act more like categories—which can be color coded and sorted into sub projects. Within each project you can create an endless list of tasks (and sub tasks, breaking down anything you need to get done into more manageable steps). For each task, you can assign a deadline if you want to. Also, if it’s a project open to other people you can assign specific tasks to specific people. In this the most useful thing for me is recurring deadlines. I need to write in my writing journal every three days, I need to post a Building a Book video every Wednesday or Thursday, I need to pack for a trip to my parent’s house next Friday, I need to organize my closet… eventually. No deadline on that one. Todoist takes care of all of this, and then gives me a daily breakdown of what needs to get done each day, and what’s coming up in the next seven days. Awesome! But a lot of productivity apps can do the same. Where Todoist really won me over is what it can do with the tasks I’ve already completed.
In the top right hand corner of the web version of Todoist, there is a magical button. Right now, mine reads 9267, which is my Karma score. Karma is what the program awards you with for getting stuff done, and even creating tasks counts as getting stuff done, because knowing what you need to do is absolutely part of the battle. As you gain more Karma, you go up in rank, which doesn’t really mean anything… unless you want it to. This is where the gamification comes in. Like a character in a video game, doing tasks will level you up. You can see your results right in front of you. Every day, good or bad. You have levels to aspire to, that you can only reach by getting more done. Maybe this approach doesn’t work for everyone, but it definitely does the trick for me.
The Karma system also offers up more practical information. Click on your Karma score and that button will open up a whole rundown of your productivity. You can set goals for how many tasks you want to accomplish every day, and every week (you’ll get extra Karma for hitting those goals, it also keeps track of your daily and weekly ‘goal hitting streaks’. And by color coding your various projects, you can see a bar graph of every day in the last week, showing you how much work you’re getting done in each area of your life/career.
Take it a step further with the visualize button, and a pie graph will show you your time spent on projects over two weeks, a month, six months! You can quickly see if you’re sinking a lot of time into something that isn’t paying off, or neglecting another area. That same section can also show you a productivity tend, and even average out your results to show you which days of the week you tend to be the most/least productive. All great information to have when you’re trying to get organized and deciding to be better. I can only hope that the team over at ToDoist will continue to expand on the information they can show you. Although, to be fair, there are features like labels, filters and reminders that I’ve barely even started to explore yet.
Final point—how I use Todoist to help reach my writing goals.
500 words. Every time I write 500 words (toward a W.IP. Blog posts, emails, and the like don’t count), I get to check off that I’ve done just that on Todoist in my writing category. I have a default, daily remind to write 500 words—and I haven’t missed a day writing at least that since I implemented this on April 1st—but once I do that, I go ahead and create a second, non-repeating version. If I write another 500 words, then I get to check it off again. Rinse and repeat as much as I can in one day, because writing is the most productive thing I can be doing for myself. I’m still coming up off a long stretch of barely writing at all, so once I’ve done this for a while, I’ll probably increase my minimum to 1000 words a day, but for now this system is working exactly how I need it to.
I also use Todoist to help me with other aspects of my writing life. What are my next steps in publishing a book? When do I need to have a manuscript to a beta reader by? When do I have to get beta notes back to someone else by? There’s room for all of that in Todoist and everything else in Todoist. And every minute I don’t have to spend figuring out what needs to get done is another minute that I can spend writing. A win, win, win, win, in every corner of my life.
No matter how you choose to use ToDoist—or any productivity software—having it there as a backup, alone, so you never have to worry about what it is you are forgetting to do, is worth the time it will take you to learn the program and get into the habit of putting all of the things you need to get done into the program.
Before, it felt like I spent more time trying to get organized than I was ever actually getting anything done. Now, not only am I getting more done—mostly because I want to see my task graphs continue to grow—but I’m always aware of what else I need to do, what the priority levels are for those tasks, and what projects are upcoming, that I can even potentially get a head start in. Add in a whole new level of being on top of my chores, personal projects, and even things I’d promised to do to help out other people with their projects, and it’s fair to say Todoist changed my life. For the better, in case that wasn’t abundantly clear.
ToDoist – https://todoist.com
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