How to Time Block with Todoist and Google Calendar

If you’re looking for a good way to organize your time, “time blocking” can be in incredibly helpful approach.1 As the name suggests, it normally involves visual “blocks” that show how you’ve decided to budget your time.

And if you use Google Calendar, you can start time blocking right there with Todoist and a little initial setup.

1. What Parts of Your Schedule to Time Block

For parts of your schedule that need to be highly variable, time blocking won’t prove as helpful. If you try to create a stack of time blocks that highly variable time, it’ll just get knocked over.

That said, even in highly variable parts of your schedule, you still need to budget your time. You just need to do it using a different method besides time blocking.

Where you do have a known amount of time to budget, though, time blocking can prove hugely valuable. For instance, you might have part of a day that you know you can regularly devote to professional pursuits. If so, that part of your schedule a good candidate for time blocking.

Time blocking can help you get the most out of the time you have. It can also help you see when you might be planning too much activity for too little time.

Time blocking isn’t tied to a specific tool. You can time block quite well on paper. Or if you use a digital calendar, you might want to time block there. At a basic level, that’s as simple as creating an appointment with yourself.

2. Why Not to Time Block with Google Calendar Alone

That’s what I did in Google Calendar for a good while. But I found two downsides to having time blocks in Google Calendar while keeping my tasks for those blocks in Todoist:

  1. I had time blocks on my Google Calendar that didn’t reflect well what was in my Todoist task list. Often, that meant I had too much to do for the time I’d allotted.
  2. I found myself doing duplicate work to show on Google Calendar what I already had in Todoist. That helped with the over commitment. But it also required time managing the system that could have been spent doing what needed to get done.

For me, a great solution turned out to be having Todoist put tasks on my Google Calendar. Then, I could see on my calendar the impact of setting a certain task for a given day. And I only had to manage tasks (and their blocks) in one place.

(If you don’t already use Todoist, you can try the premium version for 2 months for free.)

3. How to Start Time Blocking on Google Calendar with Todoist

Todoist’s Google Calendar integration allows for different preferences in how you want to use the two together. To start, I’ve found it helpful is create a new calendar inside your Google Calendar account (e.g., “Todoist (Active)”).

Then, in Todoist’s guide for setting up a Google Calendar integration,

  1. Follow steps 1–8.1.
  2. When you get to step 8.2, choose to sync tasks from “All projects.” This way, no matter where you file a task in Todoist, it can still show up on your Google Calendar.
  3. For step 8.3, choose to have tasks you create on Google Calendar go to your Todoist Inbox. Google Calendar won’t know what projects you have in Todoist. So, it’s easiest just to send tasks created in Google Calendar to the Todoist Inbox and sort them into projects from there. That said, you can ignore this feature and add your tasks in Todoist only. If you do so, you get the added benefit that, whenever a Todoist task appears in Google Calendar, it will have a link back to that task in Todoist (on the words “View source” at the bottom of the calendar event). That link makes it even easier to reference, modify, or complete the task from your Google Calendar.
  4. For steps 8.4–8.7, I find the following settings a good place to start.

Of course, you can choose different preferences or come back later to tweak them.

Once you have an initial setup for the integration, though, click “Connect” in Todoist (step 8) to complete the process.

4. What You’ll Get after Integrating Todoist and Google Calendar

With these settings,

  • Any time you add a due time to a task in Todoist, you’ll also see that task on your Google Calendar. The due time in Todoist will be the event’s start time in Google Calendar.
  • You won’t sync to your Google Calendar any tasks without a due time (which they’ll all have, by definition, if you’re using them to time block).
  • You can easily change a task’s duration in Google Calendar. That will give you a visual representation of the block of time that task should take to complete.
  • Completed tasks will automatically leave your Google Calendar.

This will leave you with a Todoist task layer that you can then show or hide in your Google Calendar to help what you want to do when. And just as important, it can help you plan what not to do in order to devote more adequate time to higher priority activities.

The settings I’ve recommended above are great if you want to budget the current day or some day(s) in the future. You can still look at your completed tasks in Todoist if you want to see how you’ve been spending your time.

But you might find it helpful to have that record on your calendar. That way, you can more easily look back to see whether any particular project or kind of activity is consuming more of your time than it should.

5. How to Preserve Past Tasks on Your Calendar

If you want to preserve historical time blocks on your calendar, you have a couple options.

  1. You can change the Todoist-Google Calendar integration so that “Completed Todoist tasks” shows that they will “Stay on Google Calendar.” When you complete a task, you can then move that task’s event to a different Google Calendar (e.g., “Todoist (Complete)”) or change its color to distinguish it from the active Todoist tasks on your calendar.
  2. Still have Todoist remove events from Google Calendar when those tasks are completed. And instead, you can use another integration with an automation service like IFTTT or Zapier. These services can watch for when new Todoist events start on your Google Calendar and then automatically copy that event to a different Google Calendar (e.g., “Todoist (Complete)”). Then, when you complete the active task, it will fall off your calendar, leaving just the copied record of your completed task.

I’ve generally found the second method to be the easiest to work with once it’s set up. But the first could work just fine, especially if you do use a separate calendar for your completed tasks and not just a different color on your Todoist Google Calendar.

The issue with using a different event color only is that I’ve found that the integration between Todoist and Google Calendar very occasionally breaks. If you have all your tasks—active and completed—on a single calendar, it can prove harder to set the integration back up without importing numerous tasks into Todoist that already exist on Google Calendar. So, keeping things on separate calendars just helps give you some insurance against further problems in the event you do need to reset the integration at some point.

Conclusion

To reap the benefits of time blocking, you don’t have to use a specific calendar tool or list manager. But Google Calendar and Todoist are both really good at what they do. And using them together can be a great way to time block so that you can take control of your schedule while expending as little effort as possible manipulating your tools.


  1. Header image provided by Android Community

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.13


  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. 

  13. For further suggestions for ways Todoist can help you, see also Fadeke Adegbuyi, “A Student’s Guide to Todoist,” Ambition & Balance, n.d.; Fadeke Adegbuyi, “An Educator’s Guide to Todoist,” Ambition & Balance, n.d. 

Daily Gleanings (17 July 2019)

David Allen shares how he would design software for GTD if he could. And he invites those who are able and willing to take a crack at it. But even for those of us who don’t fall into this category, the sketches may still provide some helpful workflow models for improving whatever system it is that we currently use.


Todoist discusses the “Eisenhower matrix” and provides some helpful step-by-step recommendations for using it with their productivity solution to ensure you focus on what matters most, not necessarily on what’s most urgent.

Daily Gleanings (20 June 2019)

Michael Kruger gives “7 Tips on How to Survive an Ordination Exam.” On reading these suggestions, it strikes me that they are also fairly applicable—some with a little tweaking—to surviving the interview process for a faculty position at a confessional institution.


Todoist discusses how to “eat the frog”—i.e., how to focus on one next high-importance project. There is a general overview of the theory behind “eating the frog” as well as some suggestions for implementing the workflow in Todoist in particular.1


  1. The otherwise helpful essay contains one minor comment with what some readers might consider an objectionable expletive. 

Daily Gleanings (13 June 2019)

Todoist has a helpful guide on getting started with the Pomodoro technique. The guide comments in part:

half of all workday distractions are self-inflicted — meaning we pull ourselves out of focus

It isn’t just the time you lose on distractions, it also takes time and energy to refocus your attention. After switching gears, our mental attention can linger over the previous task for upwards of 20 minutes until regaining full concentration. Indulging the impulse to check Facebook “just for a minute” can turn into 20 minutes of trying to get back on task.

How can we teach ourselves to resist all of those self-interruptions and re-train our brains to focus? That’s where the Pomodoro technique comes in.

What makes the Pomodoro method so effective? It completely changes your sense of time.

When you start working in short, timed sessions, time is no longer an abstract concept but a concrete event.

For more about the Pomodoro technique itself, as well as its integration with Todoist, see the full post.


Peter Gurry discusses some recent work on the Harklean Syriac text.

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.