Did you know that I am the master of executive function? Oh it’s true. It hasn’t always been this way I admit, but about a month ago I got a little carried away looking at my executive dysfunction and procrastination tendencies and decided I wanted to take action.
I’m a sucker for new technology, so I thought I’d try to find some software that suited my needs, and I had a lot of fun with that. And while there were a few programs that could fit, there was one that really stood out for me, and for the last few weeks it’s just been life changing.
That’s really not that much of an exaggeration.
I’m talking about Todoist. It’s so awesome.
The first thing I want to mention is that it is widely available. I have one account that syncs between my iphone, a chrome extension, and the web app. It’s currently available as ten apps (plus the web app): Android phone, Android tablet, iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac, Outlook, Thunderbird, Chrome, and Firefox.
Another really important thing is that Todoist is free on all platforms, but you can subscribe to a premium membership for $29 a year. I have subscribed, and I think it’s really worth it. Is it completely necessary though? Is Todoist worthless if you don’t put down the cash? No, definitely not. The free version is great. It’s not a teaser and there’s a good chance it could be everything you’re looking for. If you’ve got $29 lying around though and you like the feel of the free version, I’d really recommend glancing over the fun stuff that comes with premium. Like I said, I think it’s worth it. But that’s just me.
I’m including a ton of screen shots in this because, well, reasons. (Reasons being that I like pretty things.) I’m going to stick with web app screens for the most part just for consistency, since that’s available to anyone and everyone regardless of phone or tablet or browser or email client, or whatever. Just don’t forget that all those versions exist, and there is unlimited sync across all of them (both free and premium now), and I personally use three separate versions for easy management. Yay!
I don’t work for Todoist, and I’m not interested in telling you that you absolutely MUST subscribe to the premium thingy. But there are some major differences you should be aware of, and before I go into all the details about how awesome certain features are, you should have an idea of what you’re going to get if you’re not even considering paying for it. Behold this here comparison.
Ok let’s actually start now.
When I started looking for executive function/productivity/organization apps, I had a few things in mind I wanted to be able to do, and I wanted ONE APP to be able to handle all of it. Todoist manages that feat…plus it’s pretty. This is what I wanted to be able to do. Needed? No, I guess not. But definitely wanted:
- grocery list – fairly self-explanatory, but it has to be mobile so I can take it to the store
- organizing school - so homework and tests and whatever, but ALSO all the weird little stuff that goes with managing grad school that isn’t actually classwork, which means subprojects and subtasks (lots)
- ADLs (activities of daily living) – recurring tasks are the key here, because I probably need to brush my teeth daily, and reminders would be nice here for things like taking meds at the same time every morning and evening
- housework - everything I need to do to keep my apartment running smoothly, and to avoid cockroaches (ew), and these tasks need to be recurring, but with different intervals, because while I do need to feed the cats every day, I probably don’t need to clean out my closet quite that often
- blog stuff - keep my post ideas organized when they pop into my head, wherever I am, and add notes if I have specific things I want to remember to say, also just basic site maintenance is important, so yeah, subprojects
- pretty - yeah, this was/is really important, can’t help it, it’s probably the most important thing actually
So Todoist fits my requirements, but let me phrase it in another way. Todoist is:
- versatile - with subprojects and subtasks, and few fixed rules of organization
- aesthetically simplistic - so while it’s pleasing to look at (think google-esque), it’s unlikely to be visually overwhelming or trigger sensory overload
- rewarding - the built-in karma system and satisfying ways of marking tasks as complete and then reviewing your productivity really encourages me to get stuff done
- pretty - I didn’t say that already, did I?
No, I’m not going to walk through every aspect of the app, because it’s pretty intuitive I think. That’s really the biggest appeal for me. If you do get stuck, you might want to check out their youtube channel. You might want to check it out anyway just to hear the guy who narrates the short videos. He’s, um, well he’s certainly committed to making Todoist sound really cool.
But here are the features I personally find most awesome, and some ways I’ve figured out how to use the apps that are really helpful, but weren’t completely intuitive for me right off the bat.
It’s pretty simple to make a list of plain old to-do list type tasks (think grocery list or books-to-read list), but it’s pretty critical for me to have recurring tasks. Todoist has a pretty complex (in a good way) system of letting you tell it how often you want to do things. For my ADLs, everything happens every day, and some of them (meals, meds, etc.) at a certain time.
I took this screenshot right after I took my morning meds and marked it as complete. So when I looked at my ADLs project, the rest are all due today, but “take morning meds” is set for tomorrow.
For these daily tasks I just type every day into the due date box, but see the ones with times? Those just look like every day at 12:30pm or whatever you want.
Of course some things don’t need to be done every day. Well, most things. This is my “bedroom” subproject:
I still make my bed every day, but I only change my sheets after 14 days (I changed them yesterday) and while I organized both my closet and my dresser yesterday too, they won’t fall on the same day next time – thank god – because the first happens after 50 days but the second happens after 30 days. The time gaps are mostly arbitrary (I know I need to deal with my dresser more often than my closet), but I designed them just so that they would seem sort of randomly distributed, so I wouldn’t face a lot of days where I had to just clean the whole house. Of course, if that’s what you preferred, that would be pretty easy to arrange.
Also, I have it so I clear the bedroom floor after 3 days and vacuum after 15 days because I want to make sure that every day I vacuum I’ve cleared the floor! That’s how that works, right?
Oh, and notice how I keep saying “after” instead of “every”? Like, I said every day but then after 14 days. Todoist distinguishes between the two words and it’s great! Using “every” means it will happen that often no matter what, so I pay my rent every 1st of the month. But “after” means it will happen that many days after I did it last time, which means if I do something a little late (or early!) it doesn’t get all weird. So I don’t want to take my trash to the dumpster every three days, it would probably be better to do it after three days.
And when I mention doing things early, just for the record, it’s easy and Todoist can adjust for you. Just find the task in its project list and select “do it today” in the drop down menu to the right. It gets added to your list for today and rearranges all future occurrences. Very helpful for when the trash gets smelly after like, one day. Yay!
This is a premium feature, but it’s pretty cool, and definitely a must for me. When I think about my ADLs, you can see that the highest priority tasks are taking my meds (red) and then getting adequate nutrition (dark blue). I’ve put all those on timers to help me out. So I take my morning meds every day at 10:30am. I have it set for Todoist to send my phone a push notification, but you can choose email or text instead if you prefer. It sends the reminder half an hour in advance, so I actually list the times as about 30 minutes after when I would like to do each task.
Like I mentioned, it’s premium only, but there isn’t a huge difference between these reminders and just manually setting an alarm on your phone. I prefer these because they are reminders instead of alarms, so like, no snooze – which is my downfall in life – and because if I swipe it open they take me right into the iOS app and I can mark them complete.
HOLY CRAP BEST TIMING EVER. Really. I just got a reminder to drink a Boost. That’s cool. Here’s a screenshot:
So the deal is, yeah, you could just set an alarm, but these are good too and they don’t clutter your alarm settings on your phone. They don’t get mad at you if you don’t do them right then. And if you’ve done something early and checked it off your list, it won’t remind you at all.
Subprojects and Subtasks
Todoist lets you have four levels of projects and four levels of tasks. This is awesome because it means I can get a good at-a-glance look at how much I have to do for school, or I can take a closer look at what I need for a specific class.
Then within a project (or subproject) I can break a task down just as easily. For instance I know that for an upcoming test, my tasks look like this:
So “Exam 1″ is a task, and then the chapters I have to read are subtasks, and “Hanen” is another subtask under Chapter 9 that I have to look into further. Oh and yes, that’s Hanen as in the autism therapy. Just…yeah. Not even a little awkward.
I like that when I complete subtasks under a larger task I can still see the completed tasks, they are just faded and crossed out. Usually Todoist clears away completed tasks after giving you a minute to undo an accidental checking off – and that’s very nice and uncluttered – but this way when there are lots of components to one thing, I can see clearly what kind of progress I’ve made.
Notes and Attachments
Ok yeah, this is another premium feature. What can I say? I think notes are useful for so much. You can see the note bubbles in that example of subtasks. I include a note to mention which pages or chapters are relevant, or anything else that doesn’t really need to be its own task, or just needs some specificity that I don’t want cluttering up my list.
But they are awesome for organizing blog stuff!
This is what my “post ideas” subproject looks like:
Consider that a special glimpse at what’s to come. Or something. I don’t know. They are just ideas. But notes are really useful here. The last item is called “Things I Wish People Didn’t Expect Me To Defend” which I’ve started writing and I’m having fun with. It’s basically just a big silly list. I keep coming up with things to add on, but I don’t want to pull up the actual post to edit every time, especially if I’m busy, and I don’t want to have 33 subtasks. I mean, yeah, not ok. So I add notes! The layout is preserved and clean, but everything I want to say is in there (and backed up, because Todoist does that).
Here’s a look at my notes for this post:
You can’t see it in that example, but you can also add formatting to notes (like bold and italics) and you can even attach documents or pictures to a task. I don’t really use the attachment feature often, but it’s nice if I have a particular image I don’t want to forget about when I publish a post.
Karma and Visualizations
At first I was threatened by the idea of karma. The fact is I didn’t notice it was there for about a week. And then I found it lurking up in the top right corner (you can’t see it on the iPhone app currently) and I freaked. Oh no! Punished for being unproductive!
Oh well yeah, sort of. But really it’s way easier to gain karma points than to lose them, so in the end you (maybe I should just say “I”) feel like a winner.
You gain karma by adding tasks, completing tasks, or using “special features” like notes or labels (which are not premium, btw). Or by using the community support page or the vote page, both of which are pretty cool brainstorming fun times.
You lose karma by postponing tasks or by having tasks that are four or more days overdue. So yesterday, I’d put of a couple things for eight days and a couple for six and I think some for two and three, and I just couldn’t deal anymore, so I dealt with everything. But really, if you have a busy day or two and you just can’t get around to some stuff, don’t worry. No karma lost. Karma is realistic. Karma doesn’t hate you.
And seriously, you get so many more points for adding or completing tasks than having overdue tasks it’s like…kinda dumb. But awesome! Dumb but awesome! Because it is so much win!
Look how pretty that is! Ok, my line graph got a little rocky for a couple days, but I pulled it together in the end. The colors of the horizontal bars, if you’re wondering, correspond to the assigned colors of projects and subprojects, to give you an idea of what you’re spending the most time on. Of course, they don’t represent time, just number of completed tasks, but you get the idea.
And if that’s not pretty enough, you can go to “View All Completed” and then VISUALIZE!!!
I think some of the graphs are free and some are premium only, but whatever. I don’t even care. They are so cool. I wish they weren’t black, but I’ll deal. I still love them.
I don’t know if you’ve caught on, but I’m a pretty visual person. Things like this are the selling point for me for just about anything.
A Final Thought
There’s plenty more I could go on about, but I’m at like 2500 words and I feel a little silly getting so happy over a to-do list. You understand though. I know you do.
I want to mention this one other thing though. Just one thing.
If you subscribe to premium you are given the option to import your project feed to iCal or Google Calendar or some other calendar programs.
Sounds cool, but…I wouldn’t. I mean…yeah. Just don’t.
Well, if you can figure out how to do it without having your gCal explode with full-day events telling you to brush your teeth (and all your other daily tasks that maybe you don’t want to see expand so much that you can’t actually see the calendar part of the page), then go for it, and let me know how you did it.
Ok that’s all! Yay! Now I explode and take an exam on apraxia and dysphagia and other neurological motor speech disorders…AND THEN I WATCH AMY AND FIK-SHUN WIN SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE SEASON TEN WITH PATRICK WHILE I SHOVE LOTS OF BAD-FOR-ME FOOD IN MY FACE!
(Gotta have priorities.)