How Todoist Can Support Your Work and Life

There are a myriad of productivity tools available.1 Each has its own distinctives and claims to being better than its peers.

Ultimately, all of them need some kind of method in their use to really be helpful. And you should choose whatever methods and tools work for you.

After all, you got into biblical studies because you were interested in the biblical text. You didn’t get into biblical studies because your key interest lay in productivity tools and methods.

Tools and methods are only means to an end, and you should treat them as such. But because they are means, they can support for your progress toward the goals you are trying to reach.

For me for the past few years, this has largely involved Todoist used broadly according to the principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

If you already have a different system that works well for you, that’s great. Keep going!

If you’re searching for a system or tired of fighting your current system, you might find what follows especially helpful.

Here are eight reasons from my experience that Todoist might be the tool for you.

1. Todoist is flexible and simple enough to handle work, school, and personal material.

The more systems you have the more questions you have about where something might be. Then the whole bundle of systems becomes more complex and time consuming to manage.

So when you’re deciding on how to manage your commitments, it’s important to look for ways to condense everything as simply as possible into as few places as possible.

You can probably think of a time when you forgot something like “Get bread at the grocery store.” Then you had to make a second trip and lost time to use to “Write that literature review.”

Or maybe “Get bread” wasn’t it. Maybe it was “Rotate the tires.” You missed that repeatedly and then got to spend time replacing tires instead of preparing for class.

Or maybe you didn’t have a complete inventory of your school obligations. So you got “surprised” by a deadline you actually knew about much earlier.

You then had to cram it in last minute. As a result, you ended up being less present when you were with your family or missing an opportunity to serve someone else.

Because we’re whole people, our personal and academic lives are deeply intertwined. What affects one affects the other.

So if you can remove clutter, complexity, and confusion in either sphere, you’ll be doing a favor for the other as well. And Todoist is one tool among many other options that can help you do this.

2. Todoist offers a feature-full free version.

As with many apps, Todoist is available on a “freemium” basis.

You get certain features for free just by signing up. Other features you get when you become a “premium” subscriber.

The free version of Todoist allows however many installations you want on your different devices. It also allows up to 80 current projects, wide flexibility in scheduling recurring tasks, Google Calendar integration, and some helpful Gmail integration (more on these last three below).

3. Todoist offers a comparatively cost-effective premium version.

If you want the additional features behind Todoist’s subscription wall (e.g., comments, labels, enhanced email integration), current pricing for Todoist premium is $36 per year (US).

This means Todoist premium returns quite a lot of value by comparison with other subscription-based tools.

And if you click through this link, you’ll get a free two-month trial of Todoist premium. You won’t be asked for any payment information unless you decide you want to keep Todoist premium at the end of your two-month trial.

If a free or already-fully-paid-for solution works well for you, that’s great. But next to that, Todoist’s relatively lower rather annual subscription rate is definitely a plus.

4. Todoist allows you to schedule recurring tasks for the y-th day of the week each z-th month.

This one might be a bit geeky. But there are certain things I want to do remind myself to do on a monthly basis.

It’s surprisingly hard, however, to find productivity solutions that allow you to say “Check the tire pressure on the car every month on the second Saturday” or “Every first Monday in November, remind key people of my schedule around the annual SBL meeting.”

Besides Todoist, there are definitely other solutions that allow you to do this. But I’ve been surprised how few platforms include this feature.

For me, it’s an important one to have to minimize the need to regularly reschedule things manually that come up on the wrong day.

5. Todoist integrates with Gmail.

Gmail now includes a “snooze” feature that can be immensely helpful when you want to get a message out of your inbox and back in at a later time.

Taking this functionality one level farther even in the free version, Todoist provides a Gmail extension that allows you to add a Gmail message to any Todoist project.

With the Gmail extension, Todoist will store a task with a link that will take you directly back to the relevant Gmail conversation.

For premium users, Todoist also allows you to forward messages from any email client and have them attached to a particular Todoist task or project.

Each of these features can be a helpful way of stacking the deck so your email will return you the most benefit for the least amount of effort spent managing it.

6. Todoist premium allows labels.

In Todoist, each task goes in exactly one project. But each task can have multiple labels.

So labels can be a good way of pulling together different kinds of similar work across their various projects.

For instance, I have a label that’s “@Email.” So when it’s time for me to work on email, I can easily pull together all the email I need to do.

Or, I have another label that’s “@Research.” I apply this across all the reminders I have for the different projects I’m working on.

Lately, I’ve also been more intentional about following David Allen’s advice about having a “waiting for” list. These things I need to not forget about but can’t act on again yet. I’m waiting for something from someone else (e.g., in an email reply) to be able to take a next action.

So I have an “@Waiting_for” label in Todoist that collects these items and allows me to review them regularly, see what has or hasn’t come in, and follow up where needed.

7. Todoist premium allows filters.

In Todoist, a “filter” is essentially a saved search. Filters allow you to pull together custom lists of tasks with different criteria.

You can structure filters however you like. But I’ve built several to go along with the different time blocks I typically have throughout a given day or week.

For instance, I may have time blocked off for focused work. I could then use a “focused work” filter to pull together all the tasks due today and labeled either “@Research” or “@Class_Preparation.”

Or, since I have an “@Home” label with things personal things I need to do when I’m away from the office, I can use the filter today & [email protected] to give me a comprehensive list of everything I need to do on a given day before I leave the office (i.e., when I’m not at home).

8. Todoist integrates with Google Calendar.

Google of course has its own Tasks and Reminders features that integrate with Calendar. But these are pretty limited and so haven’t been as useful as Todoist in my experience.

So it’s nice that Todoist also integrates with Google Calendar so that you can see your calendar and Todoist tasks all in one place. (Again, simpler and fewer places to look is better.)

For instance, Google Calendar integration makes it easier to see the time blocks I’m dedicating to certain specific tasks.

Having a time slot set aside for “research” is good. But it’s also easy to assign more to a time block like that than you can really accomplish.

Putting specific tasks on your calendar might help you see better where you’re inadvertently doing this.


However you manage your commitments, you need to use the tools and processes that work for you.

One of the standout features in the “Pro Tips” series is just how simple are the systems of some of the most productive biblical scholars.

So you don’t need anything fancy. You definitely don’t need something just because it’s a shiny app that has gotten great reviews.

You need a system that helps you keep up with your commitments and then gets out of your way.

If you’re still searching for what this may be for you, definitely consider giving Todoist a try. Sign up is free, as is the “premium” feature set for the first two months.

  1. Header image provided by Todoist. 

Daily Gleanings (11 June 2019)

Michael Thomas discusses the importance of sleep for knowledge work through the lens of a couple key anecdotal narratives.

Todoist has published a helpful introduction to “GTD practices and what [they] think is the most intuitive way to implement the[se practices] in Todoist.”

The essay comments, in part, that “the key to GTD isn’t the techniques or tools you use to execute tasks but rather the habits you employ on a daily basis to think about and prioritize your work.”

Of course, as we’ve mentioned before, any approach to productivity properly needs to start with the question of whether something actually deserves to be done at all.

So, you might want to out something into your GTD system to get it off your mind. But having done that, you might then simply want to delete it if and when you realize it isn’t actually something you need or want to do.

Scheduling focus

The folks at Freedom have a helpful tutorial about “how to be more productive in the afternoon.” The same principles, though, will apply also to the mornings or whenever one’s preferred time is for focused work.


For additional discussion of Freedom, the significance of focus, and the importance of guarding it, see Focus—there’s an app for that. For more information or to try Freedom, see the Freedom website.

Ode to to-do lists

Kristina Malsberger discusses managing oneself and one’s commitments amid what can be a hectic whirlwind of incoming information and requests. According to Malsberger,

there’s a simple, centuries-old solution: the daily to-do list. Sure, checklists have their detractors—folks that claim they constrain creativity or induce undue guilt—but when done well, a to-do list functions like a trusty aide-de-camp, greatly improving your ability to remember, plan, and prioritize.

Malsberger then provides several practical recommendations about using and managing to-do lists. Among these are not “treating your to-do list like a junk drawer for all your ideas, wishes, and reminders.” Instead, a someday-maybe list that’s regularly culled for dead wood is much more helpful.

For the balance of Malsberger’s reflections, see her original post on the Dropbox blog. For discussion of someday-maybe and other types of helpful list ideas and workflows, see David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (rev. ed.; New York: Penguin, 2015). See also other discussion of productivity-related matters here.