Tag Archives: Evernote

Getting Things Done with Todoist – My GTD Setup

This is a follow up blog post to my previous post: Evernote and Todoist: REALLY Getting Things Done. It was prompted by an interest to setup a GTD workflow using Todoist.

I am a fairly new user of Todoist (web site) – a task management tool that is available across many platforms (one of the reasons I started using it). While I have implemented a Getting Things Done (GTD) framework using the Secret Weapon methodology for Evernote, I have not hitherto tried to do the same with Todoist. So – here’s how I would go about doing this. In general, my approach is to try and keep it simple enough where the framework itself is not a burden – but something that I can evolve as I go.

One of the things that I do, and recommend, is to also maintain a journal to complement / augment your productivity workflow. I use it as a mechanism to reflect on the day and to think about what I need to achieve. This leads to clarity of mind, and a capture of actions that would otherwise slip through the cracks. I use Day One Classic (on my iOS devices) and Life Journal (on my Windows PC) to help me with this.

Important Caveat: One important note about this post – it presumes the use of Todoist Premium. Some of the features called out in this post are available ONLY in the Premium version of Todoist – specifically the following:

  • Adding Notes to tasks
  • Adding e-mail & mobile reminders
  • Labels
  • Custom Filters
  • Task Search

In my opinion, only Labels is a critical aspect of the GTD framework I am outlining below. Right now I am trialing the Premium version (which you will be able to as well – if you complete the 6 things on the list after you sign up for Todoist). In a later post, I am going to try and figure out a way to get this to work without the Labels functionality and see if it still holds up.

imageProjects: I do a few things to keep things simple and organized. I start by defining a few projects. In GTD terms, they are not still projects (which need to be finite and time bound), but we can then get into the ability of Todoist to create nested projects – which will let us create actual sub-categories under these and also projects.

The categories I have are: Work, Personal, Recurring Activities, For Later and Lists of Stuff. I figure that I can track most of my stuff under these categories. Under Recurring Activities, as an example, I put my Daily Review and Weekly Review activities and make them recur – so they show up in my Today list at the right time.

image

Just as an example, I have created the following sub-categories under the Personal category. They don’t have to be sub categories, but I like to keep my thoughts & activities organized. I suggest creating broad enough sub-categories that can then contain specific projects. Try not to go nuts with sub categories. One level should generally suffice. After all – our intent here is to Get Things Done.

So – I then take the next step and create a project. As an example, I am looking into setting up my own domain name for the blog, and having it WordPress enabled. So – that project can be set up under the Personal > Blogging category as follows:

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You start by setting up a top level task (Set up own domain) and then add sub-tasks under it. Again – don’t go nuts with sub task nesting – do what makes sense, and helps you get to the next activity that needs to be completed. Just in case, you are unaware of how to do sub tasks, there is a little 3 horizontal line icon that shows up when you hover over an entry – which you can then grab and move the task (or project) – either sequentially or hierarchically. Play around with the tool – its easy enough to figure out (I think).

So – now you have a project set up – and you have tasks that need to be done. Now we need to assign contexts.

imageContext: An important aspect of GTD, is to establish context for your tasks and activities. And the two most important contexts are When and Where. For this, you need to use Labels. You can set up as few – or as many – contexts as you please. But what I have found is that I generally use the superset I have listed here.

For When, I have set up 7 contexts: Now, Next, Soon, Later, Someday, Waiting, Weekend. I have assigned numbers to them so I can pick them off a list by just hitting a number. Now is things that need to be worked on immediately. Next is what will be done next and so on. Waiting is one that I found that I can use when I have done my piece and am waiting on someone else before I can proceed.

For Where, I have just 5 contexts: Home, Work, Internet, Phone, Town. Home and Work are locations that I need to get activities done at. Town is a catch all for when I am around town and need to get activities done (Groceries for example). Internet is a catchall for aspects related to web browsing, email, etc. And Phone is for making calls.

Just a quick update – if you want to add a Who context to the task, you can either go the route of Labels or if you are like me and have a lot of people you work with, just add a #Name to the task so you know who it is that you are working with on the task. This is especially useful with the 6-Waiting context.

Setting Timelines: Tasks should generally have a timeframe for completion – for this to be effective. Todoist does this well.image

On trying to set a date, you are provided with options to pick a date from a calendar drop down, or assign some common dates such as Today, Tomorrow, Next week and In 1 month (those are the icons at the top). Where I think it is REALLY powerful is in its ability to use human language processing of date information. So you can type “Today at 10am” and it establishes the date and time for the task for you. As an example, my Weekly Review task is set up as “Every Friday at 5pm”. If you set a time for a task, you can also set up a reminder in the task (that is the clock icon right under the task). You can also set up priorities for your tasks – although if you are setting up contexts, this should not really be necessary – but could prove useful to some people when setting up filters.

Putting it all together: So – now that you have a task and you have understood contexts and timing, just put it all together:image

You can add a context to your task by just typing @ (or clicking on the @ icon) which provides you with a dropdown of your contexts:image

Just as an example, in the shot above, I have added the context @work and will add the context @1-now to the task above. I can similarly go thru and add a reminder for the task as well as a priority if I so choose. You can also add notes to tasks.

Filters: Filters can be useful to look at specific short lists of things that can bring together multiple contexts as searches.image For example, I have set up a filter here that I can check when I am at Home for all the tasks that are either due today or that are overdue. The query for that would be “(today, overdue) & @home”. It could be a useful tool, I think. I do use such searches in Evernote (a topic for another post) and find them to be useful.

Todoist comes with some canned filters, but I believe that the ability to create custom filters is a Premium feature.

Getting Things Done: There are many (seriously – do a google search) resources around how this works, so I am not going to do a deep dive into this too much. Some key things I think you need to do are:

  1. Touch everything once: It is important that you touch everything that needs an action only once – so that you can be productive. So – it is important that you have a reliable and always accessible system in which you can file things. Todoist and Evernote are excellent tools to achieve this.
  2. Learn about Do, Delegate, Defer, Delete: So everything that you need to deal with will fall into one of these categories. Do if it will take you less than 2 minutes to accomplish. Delegate if someone else can do it (remember to attach a waiting context to it if you need to follow up). Defer if you intend to come back to it later (attach a time context to it). And my favorite, Delete if you do not need to take any action (if you are someone that does not like to delete, you may archive instead – but get it out of your inbox).
  3. Capture Everything: Everything that needs an action from you needs to be captured in your system (in this case, Todoist). Just add it to your Todoist inbox – don’t worry about anything else (contexts, timing, etc.) at this time.
  4. Conduct periodic sweeps: I generally do sweeps every 2-3 hours during the day. The intent of the sweep is to go through the inbox and attach contexts, timings, etc. to tasks. Also a good time to categorize activities and identify projects and break those down. This is also where you may want to look at the Next context and reprioritize some of those to immediate or Now.
  5. Focus on the immediate/Now: Your goal is to clear your Now list – so block off a piece of time (with no distractions – AT ALL) and start working through the tasks on your Now list. Experience the endorphin rush as you check off those tasks. Rinse and repeat.
  6. Conduct Daily Reviews: I set up my daily reviews for the first 10-15 minutes of my day. This lets me gather my thoughts and put together the activities I need to get accomplished that day. It is also a good opportunity to do a review of the task list to make sure there are no pending activities – and also to capture anything else that comes into your mind that needs action. Remember that this is a planning and capture activity – leave the detailing for your periodic sweeps.
  7. Conduct Weekly Reviews: My weekly reviews are the last thing I do in my work week – and I take 30 minutes for it. It helps me review the progress I made this week and helps me plan out aspects I need to get done next week. It is a good time to be appreciative and self congratulatory of the progress you have made – or contemplative of the lack of progress, and the contributing reasons thereof. Basically, you are focusing on strategy, learning and improvement as a core part of this exercise.

Alright – so that’s all I got for this one. I know that this may not be as comprehensive a treatment as some would like – but hopefully I have given you enough to get you started on your journey toward using Todoist for Getting Things Done. I hope you put it to use and conquer greater heights in your passions and pursuits.

I would love to hear about how you get things done, and how you have been using Todoist (or Evernote).

Evernote and Todoist: REALLY Getting Things Done

I am one of those people that bought into the whole GTD (based on the bestselling book Getting Things Done by David Allen) thing. I like the whole concept of mind-as-water. Where things are not lurking at the back of your mind at all times – but are filed in some reliable and accessible system where you can get back to them and address them. Where the context of the task is just as important as the task itself. Where things are never too big because you can create projects and break them down into manageable tasks. Where the deep (oh so sweet) satisfaction of checking off things spurs greater productivity.

But for the longest time, I struggled with this – from an implementation standpoint. The book talks about using cards and folders to manage the system. Which is great if you live in the 1900s. But it seemed primitive to me in today’s world where we are always connected, always online, always digitally enabled. Alright – if you don’t own a smart phone, you might want to get one – you can thank me later.

One of the other things that I do, and recommend to everyone, is to maintain a journal to complement your productivity workflow. The reflective brain dump is a useful process as part of getting things done and I use my journal as a mechanism to reflect on the day and to identify things that I need to get done – and things I have achieved. This leads to clarity of mind, and a capture of actions that would otherwise slip through the cracks. I use Day One Classic (on my iOS devices) and Life Journal (on my Windows PC) to help me with this.

When I was at Dell, I took this course wherein they applied the whole GTD thing to Microsoft’s Outlook. It was absolutely fantastic – because most of us have email open all the time – and it is just easy to create tasks on the fly, schedule tasks and do daily reviews with great ease. And it worked great as long as I was at Dell – and using Microsoft Outlook. When I changed jobs, I was forced to use the abomination that is Lotus Notes (oh how I hate thee – but more on that later). So the whole GTD process broke down for me.

I started looking for ways by which I could get stuff out of my head and get back to GTD via some sort of replacement system. I struggled with various task management tools (at one point even using desktop sticky notes).

The thing is, for the GTD process to work for me, a few things are essential:

  • The tool I use is ALWAYS available (online, offline, web, mobile)
  • It should allow me to create items for follow up from email (UPDATE: this is now a premium feature – which saddens me as this was a critical feature that was downgraded)
  • It should let me set up projects and break those down into tasks
  • It should have the ability to establish due dates and reminders
  • If necessary, it should let me collaborate with others
  • An ability to help me file and tag things and also prioritize tasks
  • Have a safe and reliable sync system across everywhere I used the tool

What really ended up working for me were 2 things – both with their pros and cons, of course – but both effective.

Evernote: If you have not signed up for it, please do yourself a favor and do it. It is a free tool (well – you CAN buy premium subscriptions if you want, but don’t have to) and has SO much value and in SO many different ways, that you’ll be thinking how you lived without it. (If you don’t mind, please use the link at the beginning of the paragraph – it gives both of us free Premium access for a limited period of time). Anyhoo – I am a big Evernote user, and I of course am always looking for ways I can get the most out of it. So I was ecstatic when I came across this web site that helps you GTD using Evernote. It is called The Secret Weapon. I am not going to spend too much time outlining what it does – since the site does a spectacular job of that by using easy to follow videos and the like. Evernote meets all of the criteria I listed above (and then some!) – and it works great to do what I need it to do. I do think that this is one of the (if not THE) best ways to implement GTD digitally for free.

Evernote

Todoist: This is a very cool task list management system – if somewhat lightweight. The free version of the tool meets most of the criteria I listed above – and the rest of the criteria can be met if you sign up for their premium subscription. The ubiquity of the tool – and its sheer simplicity – lets you get up and running with task management in no time. I came across this post (Why I Left iCloud Reminders for Todoist) on Zite – and that’s when I started using it. Oh – and it has this feature called Karma – which is basically gamification of sorts whereby you earn Karma points for using Todoist – it just keeps things interesting. Give it a try – I think you will like it.

UPDATE: I have created a post about how I would implement Getting Things Done using Todoist.

Todoist Screenshots

Both tools have solid offline applications for Windows/Mac, browser plugins for most of the major browsers, and solid apps for iOS (which is what I use – but I think they have apps for Android as well). Like I said – ALWAYS available.

Oh – and if you want to kick it up another notch – check out IFTTT which allows you to do some super cool things with these tools. I might even do a dedicated post on this later…

So – tell me – how do you get things done? Do you have any other tools or systems that you use that you are so excited about that you would want to tell everyone about it? Let me know in the comments…