This post wasn’t going to come so soon, but I’d decided I wanted to do a spring cleaning of my Todoist setup, and so here it is in its unrivalled beauty. This is a format that has worked for me for the past 3 months (thank you for hauling me to Todoist, @Aankita Mukherjee!), but will now have to change with my workload. 🙂

To give you some context, I bought Todoist in July 2017 after I realized I was missing out on tasks left and right – there was really too much to remember. The nature of my work is such that at any given time, I am:
a. Waiting on someone’s action/reply
b. Inundated with small details such as change requests/admin
c. Handicapped by a brain that is preoccupied with churning new ideas rather than committing resources to current ideas

And so started my journey with Todoist.

In the past few months, there have been a few changes to my workflow, mostly when I discovered a function of Todoist that I hadn’t before (read about some power user tips here), such as:
a. Doing braindumps throughout the day into Inbox, which made actually getting tasks out of my head much easier
b. Using labels to indicate energy levels, actions and manpower
c. Using filters to add an Eisenhower’s matrix to my to-do

I’ll also go through the shortcomings of this particular format, so stay tuned!


Theme

Theme-wise, it’s really up to you. I’ve chosen Graphite as my theme since I have Premium, but I also really like Noir, Todoist and Neutral. For me, it’s about choosing a non-intrusive colour that will keep my focus on the tasks at hand. Of course, you might want to choose a colour that sparks joy – that always works!

Projects

Before my recent change in work-scope, my work was most centralized around functions in the team. I handle Talent Ops, PR / Marketing, Business Development, Content and Finance in the team, so that’s how I broke it up generally.  Other than that, I have ICO for all related work including research, 2359 which is more Consultancy-type tasks, tasks for my Virtual Assistants, recurring tasks to build habits, Harvard for coursework, and personal errands.

All these are colour-coded with colours that best represent that particular item – NOT at random. For example, our official Botbot.AI colour is royal blue, and so that’s what I used, but for ICOs, turquoise makes me think of curiousity, and virtual assistants enable me to do more things so that’s a pleasing green. Of course, Harvard is associated with books – which would explain the brown colour. Ultimately, it’s what would allow me to draw the quickest associations with that given project.

Labels

Currently, I use labels to tag tasks with specific traits that might help me in deciding when, where or how to do it.

Here, I filter for energy levels (@high.energy, @medium.energy and @low.energy) for days when I just need to trudge through and keep hacking away at problems. It helps to keep me on the move even when I’m completely drained, and makes the best of energy spurts. The rest refer to actions, such as @waiting that is tagged to a filter called Roadblocks that I spend 20 minutes daily chasing for updates on, @talkto and @coachfor for conversations that I need to prepare for (yes, I’m an introvert), @15mins for tasks that I can complete in that time just to get myself into the zone, @delegateto / @assignto that help me track which tasks I’ve given away, and @email is just a rarely-used label that I use to make sure my in-email actions don’t overflow.

Filters

Here is the beauty of the whole method at this point to me – incorporating Eisenhower’s matrix.

The idea of using Eisenhower’s matrix began from this article about productivity methods and I wanted to make it a point to clear something that was important and urgent, so that I could move towards my goals (important tasks) one day at a time, rather than focusing all my time on the urgent tasks.

I’ve filtered this according to the following syntaxes:

Filter NameSyntax
Quadrant 1 - Important & Urgent(overdue | today |tomorrow | 7 days) & (p1| p2)
Quadrant 2 - Important & NOT Urgent(no date) & (p1 | p2)
Quadrant 3 - Not Important & Urgent(overdue | today) & p3, p4
Quadrant 4 - Not Important & Not Urgent(no date) & p3, p4

I’ve found that in using this system, I end up only clearing tasks from Quadrant 1 – which is fine, it’s helped me progress a lot in the past few months, but it also makes me a bit afraid to go into the other quadrants because I’m sure there’s a lot of decaying tasks in there. Yikes.

Roadblocks is a filter that’s tied to @waiting, with the syntax 7 days & @waiting. I mainly use this to keep a log of the things I need to pester people for.

Upcoming Conversations queries @talkto, @coachfor and is a running list of upcoming conversations that I need to prepare for, so I can mentally steel myself and get an agenda ready. (Talking without an agenda is a HUGE waste of time. More on this in another post.)

Other’s Action filters 7 days & @delegateto and is a tracker of sorts for my direct reports, so I know what I have assigned and don’t come off as a completely callous supervisor. Small impressions matter 🙂

Someday Somehow currently dredges up everything with no date and is something I created recently for me to track some tasks that might have been dumped in as ideas, or projects that would be good to complete but are not a priority right now. The idea is to check back every quarter to make sure these things make their way into my real to-do lists daily, and get done in due time.

A quick snapshot of what my task list looks like – yes, a lot of these are overdue, it’s been a crazy week with too many meetings.

Ideally, on a breezy, sunny morning, I should wake up, roll over in bed, pick up my phone, have a quick browse through my messages, and then go into my list and see this:

That has yet to happen, but we’re getting there, we’re getting there.

Speaking of getting there, a quick note on Karma.

There was a long period of time where I actually killed Karma on Todoist and just lived with the number of tasks completed. My rationale was that it was stressing me out rather than pushing me to do more (I’m not motivated by achievement) and so if it doesn’t spark joy, I might as well keep it out of sight and out of mind. Yet when I reactivated it for fun, I realized that it kept some pretty key insights – a data tracker of how productive I’ve been, and it does assure me after a long week that yes, I did finish some pretty concrete things, thank you very much. And if my score trumps or matches the previous week’s, I allow myself a cup of coffee 😉

Shortcomings

Many people use Todoist as a GTD companion, and I don’t, mainly because I think that’s a bit too much work for me. I need something lightweight that visually organizes what I need to do in alignment with my week’s priorities, something that’s quick, elegant and intuitive that I can use to accelerate progress toward my goals. That is the goal of any to-do list app I take on, and Todoist has done this just fine.

Some of the things that I’d like to change in my next setup:

  • Breaking down tasks – ideally tasks should be one-action, not multiple-action, so I need to be more proactive about putting things in Inbox and then breaking them down appropriately.
  • Using sub-projects to create more accurate representations of my work footfall – my work is now slightly more project-focused, so there needs to be some representation of that.
  • Standardizing my deadline policy – do I tag deadlines as the final date by which something is due, and then add reminders? Or do I add deadlines as the date by which I expect to have it completed ahead of time, with the real deadline in the task name itself?
  • Standardizing my priority policy – what is a p1 task and what is a p2 task? As you can see I use p1 quite generously. Maybe I should keep it only for things that are on fire, and p2 for the rest. This needs some trial and error.
  • Using Todoist to track goal progress – a lot of my personal goal items are not here yet, and I want to put them in here so that they’re on my radar and I can build towards that.
  • All my personal tasks are marked p4 because I don’t want to be thinking about them at work (very different from other people, I know) and that means that I miss out on things like credit card payments fairly often.

In a very long nutshell, this is my Todoist setup for Sept 2017, a format that would most likely work for people who take on many hats at work and deprioritize personal tasks. In my next setup post, Filters will likely be a lot more advanced (still having trouble with complex syntaxes) and my labels will be used much, much more. I’ll also try using Todoist as a habit tracker. Let you guys know how that goes when it happens. 🙂

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