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’re trying to reach.

For me for the past few years, this has largely involved Todoist used broadly according to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology.2

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

As Stephen Covey puts it,

Your planning tool should be your servant, never your master. Since it has to work for you, it should be tailored to your style, your needs, your particular ways.3

So, if you don’t have a solid system or you’re tired of fighting with the one you have, there are 8 reasons Todoist might be the tool for you. In particular, Todoist has

  1. Enough flexibility and simplicity to handle work, school, and personal material,
  2. A feature-full free version,
  3. Labels,
  4. Filters,
  5. Flexible scheduling options for recurring tasks,
  6. Integrations with Gmail,
  7. Integrations with Google Calendar, and
  8. A cost-effective Pro version.

1. Enough flexibility and simplicity 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. And it’s costs start to outweigh its benefits.

So when you’re deciding on how to manage your commitments, it helps 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. While on that second trip to the store, you lost time to use to “Write the 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 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. Todoist can help you accomplish this.

2. A feature-full free version

Like 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 “pro” subscriber.

The free version of Todoist allows however many installations you want on your different devices.4 It also allows up to 5 current projects, file attachments up to 5 megabytes, up to 3 saved searches (or “filters”), labels, wide flexibility in scheduling recurring tasks, Google Calendar integration, and some helpful Gmail integration (more on these last three below).

In the past, Todoist held certain features (e.g., labels) back to distinguish the free and paid plans. But the free plan now includes just about all the features the “Pro” plan does (reminders being the main exception).

This change puts the main difference between the free and Pro plans in terms of quantity. A key example may be how the Pro plan allows for up to 300 active projects, but the free plan only allows up to 5.

Though, on the free plan, you can still create 20 “sections” inside each project, which alone gives you up to 100 different buckets to sort your commitments into.5 And for a sense of scale, I have under 40 active projects and could probably even stand to condense them some.

All of this means that Todoist’s free version gives you a very wide range of features just for signing up. So, if you don’t already use Todoist, you should definitely dip your toe in with the free version to see first-hand how Todoist might work for you.

3. 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 use a Todoist label as a way of keeping a “waiting for” list. These things I need to not forget 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.6

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

More importantly, this label helps me ensure I don’t drop the ball on something just because I forgot about that commitment while I was waiting for something I needed to continue working to complete it.

4. 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 as an example, I have an @Home label that I add to personal things I need to do when I’m away from the office.

With that label, I can then use the not operator (!) in 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).

Todoist’s free plan limits you to 3 filters. But you can still search Todoist in more than three combinations (not unlike how you can add multiple sections inside each of the free plan’s maximum of 5 projects).7

For instance, if you have an @Home label that you use like I do, you can search Todoist with the query today & [email protected]. Once you run the search, you’ll see everything that’s due today and doesn’t have the @Home label.

You can then bookmark that page in your browser. Or you can copy and paste the URL (which should be something like https://todoist.com/app/search/today%20%26%20!%40Home) into a comment in Todoist.

The workflow’s not as smooth as using the built-in filter feature, but it can gets the job done.

5. Flexible scheduling options for recurring tasks

This one might be a bit geeky. But there are several things I want to do remind myself to do on a certain day of the week in a month.

It’s curiously hard, however, to find task managers that will give you the proper dates for things that occur on a specific day of the week but a different date in a given month.

For instance, you might want to

  • Check the car’s tire pressure every month on the second Saturday. Or
  • Every first Friday in November, communicate about my plans for the annual SBL meeting.

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

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.

6. Integrations with Gmail

Gmail includes a “snooze” feature that can be immensely helpful when you want to get a message out of your inbox for now but bring it back at a later time.8

Taking this functionality one level farther, Todoist integrates with Gmail in two ways.9 The first is a Gmail extension (Chrome, Edge) that allows you to add a Gmail message to any Todoist project. There’s also a Google Workspace Add-on that works in other browsers and mobile devices (except iPad).

Using either extension, Todoist can create a task that will link you directly back to the relevant Gmail conversation.

In addition, Todoist now also allows you to forward messages from any email client and have them attached to a particular Todoist task or project, even if you’re on the free plan.10

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.

7. Integrations with Google Calendar

Google of course has its own Tasks and Reminders features that integrate with Calendar. But these are pretty limited and so for me haven’t proven as useful as Todoist.

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.11 (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.

Depending on how you set it up, the Google Calendar integration can also help you keep a running log of what you’ve done. That way, you can occasionally look back and see whether you invested too much or too little time in various activities.

8. A cost-effective Pro version

If you want the additional features behind Todoist’s subscription wall, current pricing for Todoist Pro is $36 per year, or $4 per month (US). This means Todoist Pro is quite cost effective by comparison with the subscription plans of similar tools.

For instance, reminders aren’t available on Todoist’s free plan. But I’ve started to find them increasingly helpful to surface things at particular times—even if those things don’t exactly need to be done at those times.12

If you decide to try Todoist Pro and sign up through this link, you’ll get a free two-month trial of Todoist premium.

Again, if a free or already-fully-paid-for solution works well for you, that’s great. But next to that, Todoist’s comparatively low annual subscription rate is definitely a plus.

Conclusion

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.

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

You just 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 “Pro” feature set for the first two months.


  1. Header image provided by TechCrunch

  2. David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin, 2015). 

  3. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 170. 

  4. Here and below, I’m primarily digesting the content of “Pricing,” Todoist, n.d. 

  5. What’s Included in the New Free Plan?,” Todoist, n.d. 

  6. For further discussion, see Allen, Getting Things Done, 153–54. 

  7. For details about searching Todoist, see “Introduction to: Filters,” Todoist, n.d. 

  8. Snooze Emails until Later,” Gmail Help, n.d. 

  9. Use Gmail with Todoist,” Todoist, n.d. 

  10. The New Free Plan.” At the time that I’m writing this, the main related help article still shows email forwarding as reserved for Pro and Business plan customers, “Forwarding Emails to Todoist,” Todoist, n.d. But that page will doubtless get updated in due course. 

  11. Use Google Calendar with Todoist,” Todoist, n.d. For information on Todoist’s more limited “feed” integration for Google and other calendar providers, see “Use Todoist with Your Calendar,” Todoist, n.d. 

  12. Though, as with much else, the free plan gives you what you need to assemble similar functions yourself. For instance, with reminders, you could use something like Google Calendar to prompt you about items in 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.