How to use Todoist to decrease anxiety and focus on what matters.

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I've written extensively about why and how to use paper, pen, and technology to implement David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology in your life. 

Doing this isn't just about get more done. It's mainly about decluttering your mind, gaining greater clarity around what it is you need to be doing right now, and obtaining a clear sense of where you're going. By emptying your mind and getting everything into a system you trust, you free up mental space for deeper prayer, creativity, thought, and contemplation. You also find yourself with more time and energy.

Often, the ambiguity around our work creates the deepest level of anxiety. 

"I sure hope I'm not forgetting something." 

and 

"What should I even be doing right now?"

are both thoughts preventing us from moving the ball forward on the projects and things we care about most.

A tool I use as a part of implementing GTD in my daily life is Todoist. Todoist is simply an action and reference list system with a mission to help users become more productive and free. The platform allows you to organize tasks and information under different projects, labels, and filters with the option to view this information in time-related ways, too. 

Todoist helps clear your head and organize your life.

"I sure hope I'm not forgetting something" becomes "I know I'm remembering everything." 

"What should I even be doing right now?" becomes "I know what I need to be doing today."

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when using Todoist to help get the most value.

Record more than you think you should

When you realize you need to do or remember something, put it in your inbox. 

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As you're getting started, put absolutely everything in here. 

It may seem cumbersome, but learning to create an external brain requires flexing new muscles and developing new habits. Even if you know you'll remember to bring the book back to the library on Friday, you should still record the task. If you leave a meeting and understand you're responsible for emailing the attendees a recap of who is responsible for what action steps, put it in your system. If you think you should call your friend to catch up, record it in your inbox. 

On a daily or weekly basis, process through your inbox and assign everything in your inbox a project/focus area.

Todoist allows you to get things into your system in easy ways. 

You can use their smartphone app, Alexa, their desktop app, or web extensions to record action steps or key pieces of information. You can add things directly for Gmail or Outlook. You can ask Siri to add something for you.

As you're getting used to using Todoist, the key is to record everything. You'll be amazed how refreshing it feels to open the application and see all you needed to remember for a day. You'll also feel relieved when you realize you would've forgotten about some of your tasks if it weren't for the system. 

Recording everything makes you more dependable, too, because you can better complete things you committed to by the agreed upon deadline.

As you're recording things, you can take advantage of Todoist's smart dates. The tool makes it possible to simply type, "Call Brian back tomorrow," and a due date appears for the next day. This applies to recurring dates as well. 

If it has more than one step required to complete, make it a project

A large part of the Getting Things Done methodology is making sure your action steps are different than your projects. 

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"Clean out the garage" isn't an action step. It's a group of actions steps. Therefore, it should be a project. Make a heading called "Current Projects" and then make all of the sub-projects items that take more than one step to complete. 

Within each of these projects, define the specific things that need to happen next for the project to be closer to completion. For instance, under the "Clean out the garage" project, you might have the step to "go through the tools in my toolbox and put the ones I don't use anymore in a bag to be donated." 

The key is to get as granular as you need to with your action steps under projects that encompass the entirety of what you're trying to do.

Todoist makes organizing projects easy by giving you the ability to create a hierarchy. You can put projects under "Current Projects," but you can also create a hierarchy of "Personal" and "Work" projects, too.

Getting projects and specific action steps articulated clearly helps chip away at the ambiguity surrounding your life and makes us more able to approach our lives with a healthier mind.

From Todoist: How to best use projects

Go premium - labels change the game

You can get value from the free version of Todoist, but going premium is absolutely worth it. 

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Premium gives you access to features like labels that make your system more functional for day-to-day use. Without labels, you're constricted to putting a due date on a task, but it's challenging to see that task before the day it's actually due. Many of your tasks don't have a specific due date but need to be done as soon as possible. Labels allow you to meet both needs--seeing the task and the due date before the task is due.

Here's how I use labels according to GTD:

Each label represents a context for doing an action (Computer, Phone, etc.)

When a task is sorted from my inbox:

  • It's given a label if it needs to happen as soon as possible and a date if it has a due date

  • It isn't given a label if it needs to happen on a specific date, but not before

Each day, I focus first on the things showing up in my "Today" view. These tasks represent things that either need to happen today or are due today. Everything else is based in labels, actions I can work on now but don't necessarily need to be completed now.

One of the best labels you can add to your system is the GTD approach to tracking the things you've delegated out to others with the label "Waiting."

For any task located in any project that someone else is responsible for, you can add the "Waiting" label and see all of the delegated tasks for all of the projects in your life within a single view. 

You can regularly review this list and follow up on things as needed. This label alone is worth an upgrade to premium as it allows you to know who is responsible for what and how you need to keep things moving.

Giving your tasks labels allows you to batch them in powerful ways. Sporadically switching between different types of tasks takes far more time than batching similar action steps. 

For example: sitting down to write all of the thank you notes in your "Notes" label at the same time a couple times per week is far more effective than writing one or two every once in a while.

From Todoist: How to best use labels

Filters are your friend

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Todoist filters make it possible to go even deeper than labels, check your work, and keep a holistic view on your life. For instance, filters allow you to make sure every task in a shared project has actually been assigned to someone. They allow you to see any of the next actions that are due this week or month. You can see the things you're waiting for that you need within 30 days. 

You can practically customize these filters to do whatever you want them to do.

Because GTD is all about putting next actions on lists rather than arbitrarily assigning them dates to show up on your calendar at some point in the future, you want to be able see the next steps on your projects in strategic ways. 

Filters offer one of the best ways to do this.

One of my favorite filters is "High priority next actions." 

This filter shows me any of the next actions I've deemed as highly important. When I go to map a day, I can see these tasks at a glance. Some of them may not be due for a couple weeks, but they are highly important and deserve first dibs on scheduling time, attention, and energy for completion.

From Todoist: Filters

Use templates

Todoist allows premium users to create templates out of projects and lists that can be imported into new projects. This feature has many implications, most notably the way it saves you an incredible amount of time.

Each week, I have an .csv file saved on Google Drive that I import into my "Weekly Life Leadership Tasks" project. These tasks need to be done by the end of the week, but they don't need to be specifically done on Sunday. With this in mind, each of the lines within the spreadsheet includes a task with its specific label(s). All of the tasks I want/need to do on a weekly basis then get automatically assigned their specific contexts. If I don't get to a task during the week, I'm reminded on Sunday as a final check that the task still needs to be accomplished.

Templates can be used to drag in packing lists for trips, work assignments you do frequently, grocery store items, etc. Less time retyping tasks and less anxiety around having to remember each of the steps or items in a list or project frees up your mind for more meaningful things.

From Todoist: A whole new way to create and share Todoist Templates

Let lists take the weight off your shoulders

Atul Gawande wrote a powerful book called The Checklist Manifesto. In it, he argues one of the most effective tools saving lives in hospitals, keeping skyscrapers from falling, and ensuring pilots do the right things to fly planes is a simple list. 

Keeping things out of your head and in a system you trust is a foundational principle of Getting Things Done--and it's a freeing way to experience the world. Lists keep you from forgetting the obligations you bring with you everywhere you go. Often, our worry is a symptom of the thousands of undefined tasks bouncing around in our brains. Defining the ambiguity in a tool like Todoist provides more clarity and certainty.

Many great to-do list managers exist, but after trying several methods, I've landed on Todoist. Remember, this isn't about getting anything done. It's about getting the right things done for the right reasons.

Quality over quantity.

Keep making meaningful progress on things that matter.