Why I use Todoist as my productivity app?

Todoist new app logo

Todoist new logo

For about a year, I have been using ToDoist as my GTD/productivity app. My set-up is somewhat schizophrenic (in combinig different approaches to projects), yet working. And after a year, I know this is the app I am definitely going to stay with for the next year.

A skippable intro: What I need from an organizational tool?

I have been a huge fan of David Allen’s approach. This those who have followed my writing/blogging have already known for some time. (And this being  my first English blog, some input is in order for my new English-speaking readers. 1)

GTD teaches user to deal with „stuff“ in managable steps. Starting with collecting over to organizing to actually doing. And finally reviewing.

It’s the GTD apps that make the productivity-porn hype

Many productivity apps has seen the light (many dying as fast) as the GTD book became popular.

Testing. Tweaking. Hacking GTD (usually to fit a concrete app). These became an important topic among GTD-followers. When a GTD-aware person learns I am fond of Allen’s system,  it is as if I wanted to get a question: „What app do you use?“

I am not going to list all the apps I used to fit my organizing approach. It would get scary if I counted the hours it took me to bring data from one system over to other. Yuck!

As an editor of Mít vše hotovo who also wrote reviews, I was  trying to find out how usable these productiity apps were for different organizational approaches.

Your apps have to grow with you

As a user, I had to consider my needs several times. Leaving Outlook in 2011 and OneNote in 2013 as my main organization tools (Remember? Android became useful!) made me switch to GMail, GCal and Evernote.

A new productivity setup was born.

But, as Allen says in his GTD Fast programme, the „The better you get, the better you better get“ saying came through. My duties have caught up with me (well, with my GTD setup) and it was not enough.

(Remember Evernote beginings? The pains without reminders? With SmartSearch that  was actually easy to set up and worked the same through all the systems? You know, what I gripe about.)

And then, it got even more complicated. I switched platforms.

After an unpleasant experience with an Asus Zenbook (W 8.1), I switched to Mac last September.

I found myself working on several platforms: Windows 7 and W 8.1 at work as a teacher and speaker of IT integration in learning kids (spiced with just a bit of Linux), OS X on my Mac. And at the same time using Android 4.1 – .3 on my SGIII and Samsung tablet. (I have left both recently for iPad and iPhone 6+.)

An optimal app meant combination of Android/iOS app, web access and desktop app as a bonus.

And Evernote was not enough

Switching to Mac, the Evernote desktop surprised me. It behaved, well, different on a Mac – and the setup became insufficient to my needs. (These being father of 3, husband, full time teacher, PhD student, IT coordinator dealing with 130+ machines at three different school buildings, speaker for different organizations that bring further education for teachers, part time blogger and a freelance copywriter). (Few blogposts got published this year, but I have co-authored a set of „manuals” on IT in education. (Which helped, as my my writing skills didn’t get so much rusty.))

Hello again, Todoist

Testing several productivity apps in August and September last year (none of which fit my chores), I remembered testing & reviewing one of the earlier versions of Todoist.

It was not an absolute love at first sight then. The app held to its minimalist mantra of simplification which was popular in 2009, but it was not robust enough to handle more complex duties. Well, it was not much more then than a fancy todo list accessible through a webbrowser.

In 2014, I wanted to know whether things changed. And they have. Tremendously.

Todoist has grown into a packed productivity tool, while staying true to its minimalist roots.

What a pleasant surprise!

Todoist allows GTD workflow (to a meaningful measure)

There is a nice description of a GTD setup on Todoist website,

that provides a clear idea.

Using a sofware (or paper-based) tool for your agenda has a catch. Sometimes, you fall for the idea of tweaking and improving (and searching for the best tool ever) instead of actually doing.

Any working time-management strategy requires a mindshift. (I guess  „workflow-management“ is a better term. You cannot manage the given 24 hours a day; all you can manage are the activities to fill the day with).

This new mindshift should make you actually work. You shouldn’t just organize your stuff into nicely crafted, well-defined cathegories and drawers and labels and (please add in whatever you do to procrastinate over your tasks).

What makes Todoist special?

Meet the INBOX

As any true GTDoer will confirm, capturing is the most important part of dealing with stuff. The inbox then makes the place where your tasks enter your system.

Todoist offers a well-thought „inbox“ feature for that matter.

You can add stuff to inbox using several means:

  • from a native/web app,
  • via Android widget (works magic),
  • via iOS „so-called but not fancy“ widget in Notification Center that slows me down (not the Todoist’s problem, but Apple’s),
  • Chrome and Firefox plugins,
  • Outlook, Postbox and Gmail integration.

You can even send/fww e-mails right to Todoist. (The Inbox gets its separete e-mail address to which you can e-mail from approved  addresses.)


As someone who deals with 100+ projects at a time, I think the PROJECT part of Todoist is it’s only downsize. (Remember, if you have more than one next action to finish a task, it’s a project in GTD.)

A free(mium) member gets 80 active projects. This is not enough for a decent productivity setup of a someone who often burns midnight oil. (But a minimilist simplifier may find this number as just enough).

A premium member gets up to 200 active projects. 200 is enough even when you want to differentiate among projects with areas of responsibility. (Another GTD-term. Whatever a „theme“ you deal with on a regular basis in life gets labeled. There are „home“, „school“, „PhD studies“, „copywriting“, „speaking“, „publications“ and others). I use Level 1 project for „the area“; subprojects (up to level 4) as standalone projects.

Similar way of organing is often used when an app is not created as a GTD app (e.g. Producteev, Doit.im and others). And yes, it can get messy. And quite soon. But a tree-structure can be set with just a mouseclick/tap, so it’s no pain.

A project in Todoist is sharable. It has it’s own unique e-mail address which allows e-mailing tasks directly to projects. (It is kinda non-GTD step and I have never used it. But it just sounds as a cool feature if you’re collaborating on projects).

Project allows basic operation. You can

  • share it,
  • add some basic color,
  • place it within your project masterlist (using a „parent“ project), – inspect completed tasks,
  • and add several tasks at once (this I use when brainstorming projects).

Meet the Tasks

The tasks pane in Todoist does not differ much from other apps. And it provides similar functions (like Producteev, Doit.im, Things, OmniFocus, and a ton of others).

In Todoist, you add date, priorities, repeated tasks, labels (see below) and notes.

Premium members get the ability to add attachments to tasks.

Useful when copywriting for clients who don’t trust online collaboration on documents. (Not cool, given the fact that I teach document sharing & collaboration to 10-year-olds in my class projects).

What Todoist excels at here is the thrive for maximal simplicity on all OS systems. Many of those „productivity“ apps shock the user with so many options when adding a task. There are time sets, start/due dates, labels, colors, projects, subtasks, priorities, emoticons, team-members etc. to add. Which often leads to interruption from what you are working on (or procrastinating in worse case scenarios). Wrong!

Collection is about speed and getting back to whatever you are doing. It’s not about messing up with options.

In Todoist (and now also in others, to be fair), you get a hotkey combination or a widget to add a task description. Need more? Ok, there are other options, like dates, priority, labels, reminders and notes. But these all are decently greyed. Hotkeys (and inbox) are about fast collection. Need to change a task-priority? A context? Use a dropdown menu when sorting the inbox.

Depending on your set-up and kind of work you do, I believe that even a Free user gets enough active tasks. There are 150 per project against 200 for Premium to organize things in an effective way. There is also a way to set subtasks using just tap/mouse within the task. (I am not going futher this path, for it is not the way I like.)

Meet the @labels

If nothing, then it’s the contexts that made GTD approach widely popular. (Allen did not invent the concept, he just used it – because it works magic).

In short, a context in GTD is a specific situation when resources  (time/people/tools) become available to act on your tasks.

The basic idea: structure any todo-list to sort your tasks accordingly. Why getting a reminder to buy yoghurt for kids when sitting in your office, right?

I am not a developer, but I guess Context-based calendar oriented todo-list must be a pain to create. Many of the apps I have aready used failed in this area quite miserably. Not the Todoist.

The concept of labeling and then filtering your labeled tasks works magic. Each context (a place, people, agenda-items, anything) gets a label. And you can use these lables to filter your tasks.

If you are deep into contexts, you can move your labels up and down. If you are working with many places (and tons of people as any teacher does), the list of contexts gets messy. Todoist allows you to add more than one label to a task (not GTD-like, but useful, sometimes several contexts overlap).

With labels in Todoist, I miss the ability to organize them into clouds/groups (like in Evernote).

Beware: there are no labels for free users. And „no labels“ limit (after a month trial) turns Todoist into nothing more that a dull to-do list. Which sucks.

Meet the Calendar

Back in the days, calendars often turned into wish-lists more than actionable to-do lists. (I’m not going to get into longer argument here, and save it for a longer post, so bear with me. Adding a date to an agreement with no deadline does that.)

Don’t get me wrong, date is important. But it is nothing more than another context. It’s a situation in time when resource „time“ or „deadline“ becomes available or necessary to meet).

Nowadays, depending on what you do for living, situation change rapidly. (Not long ago, my plans for the day went sideways when a client informed me in the afternoon that they needed a different copy from what they asked for at 10:30 that morning.  And in school, it happens on a daily basis. Time to renegotiate schedule.)

Business shifts, work schedule must shift accordingly.

Many of the productivity apps work within their own calendar. Others (including Todoist) allow you to sync time-sensitive tasks with your calendar app.

I am not sure if Todoist fixed problems with Google Calendar API that it used to have last summer. I switched to .ical export, so my tasks appear almost immediately in my Calendar on all my devices. (It used to be once in a day when Todoist synced with GCal last year.) I set a time-oriented task – and it appears in my iCal as a new calendar event. Period.

However, the event has to be changed in Todoist. I miss the opportunity to check-off my tasks in calendar, I miss changing time/notes from the iCal (like by moving upward/down in the day). That would be cool. But nothing’s perfect, eh?

(Be careful, calendar sync and reminders are only for premium users.)

Many systems, one Todoist to rule them all

Some apps differ system from system. Not Todoist. Windows version equals Mac OS X app. Android and iOS offer the same setup. (Thanks to its widget, Android app allows adding new tasks to Inbox much faster.) Yet, what you set on Windows, works on a Mac app or in any browser. That is something that does not work with Evernote. (As the UX/OS changes, the options behave in a different way in browser and in the apps an all systems I checked.)

Meet other features that make Todoist exceptionally useful

There are loads of ways to integrate Todoist to your productivity set-up. It offers prioritizing task (4 levels, color-differentiated). You can base reminders on time and location (only premium). You can have e-mail or banner notification (on iOS and Android).

Todoist can archive your projects in a backup; it can create project templates (in a .txt file that you import).

There are many recipes for IFTTT integration to automate. And a whole chapter can be writen about „todoist karma“ feature that allows you to review tasks and track your progress. (Truth be told, it bullies you a bit to work, too.)

Need to know more? Check the versions page.

So, where’s the catch?

The only issue here (with my friends) is the price. One year premium costs €23 (€6 discount Sept 2015!). Some folks just don’t get it.

Considering the benefits Todoist brought me last year, €23 is a no-brainer to pay. In short:

There are many tools like Todoist, but none of them fits me this great.

  1. In my non-teaching gigs, I used to be an editor-in-chief of a personal productivity webzine Mít vše hotovo and took part in publishing Czech version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done book. I was using various productivity oriented approaches before landing at GTD and have been using it since 2006. ↩︎

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