A Couple Years with Todoist

December 7, 2018 • #

For all of the todo list apps out there, I’ve only seriously tried a couple of them. After using OmniFocus since its first version, I switched over to Todoist a couple years ago. There are many I haven’t even tried, but I’ve always tried to stay focused on doing the tasks rather than fiddling with my system. It’s especially ironic with productivity apps to be constantly messing with the workflow in search of some kind of optimization. As Tom eloquently put it a few years ago: “todo lists don’t make you productive.”

While I’m fully aware of that fact, the main value of a todo system for me is to have a container for ubiquitous capture, in GTD parlance. All of the knobs and switches with various tools — projects, contexts, due dates, start dates, priorities — don’t help with the core initial problem of getting the things in a single place. The second need (again, a simple one), is a straightforward interface that simplifies continued review.

So it needs to be as easy as possible to:

  1. Capture new things
  2. Review said things regularly to slot them into my plan

It turns out that most apps are at least passable at item two; it’s the first that can cause problems depending on preferences, work style, and day-to-day activity. I love having a notepad and pen for writing and sketching as often as I can, but I just don’t reliably have it with me enough to use for collecting things that need doing.

The number one advantage I quickly discovered with Todoist over other options is its cross-platform simplicity. Because of it’s web-centric architecture, it has a wide array of integrations with other services. It also has native mobile apps for any platform, a web app, and a desktop client (wrapper around the web app). This kind of “available everywhere” foundation forms the first basis of a good productivity tool. As the saying goes about photography: “the best camera is the one you have.” I treat productivity apps the same.

I don’t have too fancy of a setup with projects or contexts. The main way I use the app is to get things into the inbox as quickly as possible, then review and sort things into their proper places as often as I can. Usually once per day I’ll run through the inbox and file things off where they belong, or delete them if I’m actually not going to commit to them.

On the capture side, items get into the inbox one of three ways:

  • Cmd-Shift-A quick add shortcut on the Mac
  • The Today widget on my iPhone
  • A Today workflow from the Shortcuts app I called “Dictate to Inbox

The dictation flow is one of my favorites. I’m not a fan of the full Siri integration since I have too much trouble invoking Siri and getting the initial command to go from speech-to-text correctly. The Shortcut method makes it one swipe and one tap to invoke, and still leverages the Siri dictation piece. The problem with the full integration is it misunderstands the initial directive that I’m trying to make a new todo for the inbox, and will mistakenly call someone or look something up on the web (the ultimate useless cop-out from Siri that no one ever wants).

Todoist has a “karma” gamification component that I wish I didn’t enjoy as much as I do. Being motivated by artificial points rather than the importance of the work itself isn’t really what you’re going for with a productivity tool. But it adds a psychological gratification element to checking things off the list. I’m an advocate of keeping the end in mind, so if the means (ticking boxes for points) keep me actually doing the work written down on the list, then it works.

I’d like to try the sharing elements, so far I’ve only used it solo. Todoist isn’t great for general list-making (though it can do it if needed). Colette and I still use Wunderlist for groceries and shopping. There’s still not a better simple replacement we’ve found yet. It’s possible that a shared project in Todoist could do the job and is something I’d like to try.