Doing with Todoist

As I mentioned before  one of my biggest worries about leaving iOS behind was the absence of an Android version of OmniFocus. Having used the app for years, I really came to rely on it for all aspects of my life. Complex, multi-month work projects, shopping lists and everything in between.

One month in to life in the world of Android – rocking a Samsung Note 3 and a Nexus 7 – and I can honestly say I shouldn’t have given the jump a second thought. I don’t miss OmniFocus a bit and have found an excellent replacement in the form of ToDoist.

Another GTD bore?

Before talking about the app in more detail, maybe it would be useful to expand on my obsession with ‘to-do’ apps.

I’m not a naturally organised or conscientious person. Really. Left to my own devices, my life would collapse around me in the pile of unpaid bills, gone off food and lost jobs, while I’d bumble along hoping things would work themselves out and an upcoming week would magically contain two extra days for me to ‘catch up’…

Reading ‘Getting Things Done’ a few years ago was quite an eye-opener. In the true sense of the word, it was life-changing, in that I changed a lot about my life – including organising myself better, to take off some of the pressure.

I’m not evangelic about the GTD methodology as I know it doesn’t work for everyone or their personal circumstances. But I still try to stick to some of its principles. Including getting ’stuff’ out of my head and into a trusted system. There’s little point in using my brainpower (what little there is) remembering to remember things and wondering what I’ve forgotten.

This is where OmniFocus was fantastic. An app present on all the platforms, it was where I could jot down things I needed to do just to get them off my mind. This represents the very tip of its functionality – you can organise your actions into projects, assigning deadlines, locations, contexts and so on.

You can, essentially make it as complex as is helpful for you.

On the tube, I’d have a thought about something I’d need to do later that day. A quick note in OmniFocus on my iPhone and it was off my mind. Which is a lot easier than spending the remainder of the day with a little voice whispering inside your head, trying to remind me of that semi-important to-do.

Basically, I wove OmniFocus into both my work and personal areas of life and used it to good effect with several other apps, including the Mac Mail app and Evernote.

The thought of daily life without OmniFocus was the kind of thing to leave me in a cold sweat. That’s why I didn’t upgrade the app on my iPhone when OmniFocus 2 was made available – based on the fear that a bug would somehow wipe my OmniFocus database clear and leave me with an horrific blank slate.

Interestingly, when I started to use ToDoist, I was left with that same bank slate, as I couldn’t think of an easy way to import all my OmniFocus data. This wasn’t in any way horrific, it was actually a great relief.

I didn’t type in all my OmniFocus actions and projects – instead, I reviewed them and only added anything to ToDoist that was absolutely important and likely to ever happen.

This reduced the number of projects on my list by half. I’d obviously been over-egging the OmniFocus pudding.

A little bit about my set-up

Firstly, I set up my projects in ToDoist based on four spheres of my life: family, personal, wellbeing, work and professional. (Obviously, these make sense to me and may not work for everyone).

“Family” includes things like birthdays, family events and so on. “Personal” includes shopping, personal finance, travel, household stuff and my social life. “Wellbeing” includes anything health-related or fitness-focused.

“Work” contains the projects I’m paid to complete (simples), while “Professional” is more about CPD, training and various psychology conferences I attend and professional societies I’m a member of.

ToDoist enables you to colour-code projects, which excited me more than it really should. Honestly, when you’ve got lots on, a quick glance at the small coloured dots associated with these areas of life can be very helpful in cutting through the ‘noise’.

Under each of these role-level projects, I set up multiple sub-projects. And some more under them. But conscious of my OmniFocus set-up,  I really tried to avoid over-complicating things and to just keep it nice and simple.

ToDoist allows you to do two more very GTD-centric things with your actions: assign them a priority and ‘tag’ them with a context. There are four built-in levels of priority (again, each colour-coded) and I’ve set up a series of contexts that I’ve grown comfortable using, like: @Home, @Office, @Online, @Errands and so on. Again, in the move to this new system, I drastically reduced the number I had been using in OmniFocus.

All of this means that you can search your projects and actions looking at things in terms of their place in your life (role-based projects), relative importance or urgency or the context in which they need to be completed. This really is GTD made flesh.

The ToDoist advantage

In the month I’ve been using this system (it’s more than an app, really), I’ve noted the following things I really like about it.

  • The interface is clear, uncluttered and easy to navigate. Regardless of which device I’m using or wether I’m accessing it online, the interface is consistent and very very easy to use. The contrast with OmniFocus here is striking. ToDoist has far fewer icons, buttons and obvious bells and whistles. Much, much easier on the eye.
  • Colour-coding is surprisingly helpful and something I’ve come to rely on. I never attempted this with OmiFocus (and I’m not sure it’s even possible?)
  • You can set up private email addresses to mail yourself actions, which helps with attaining the legendary “Inbox Zero”, but you can do this on a project-specific level. This means as emails come in, you can amply forward them to one of your ToDoist email addresses and they get turned into actions with a given project. Needless to say, my “Inbox” email address was added to my contacts app within seconds.
  • The fact that you can access it via the web is fantastic. OmniFocus meant reliance on one of my iDevices to access my data. ToDoist means I can get to my projects via any web browser on any computer. Much more flexible and a very useful ‘Plan B’ if I was somehow separated from my phone or tablet.

One thing I definitely miss from OmniFocus is the built in “Review” feature, where it guides you through each live project to allow you to update it and keep on top of things. According to GTD lore, this should be conducted (in-depth) on a weekly basis, to allow you to scan your environment and add more actions to your “trusted system”.

There isn’t an automatic way of doing this and no handy “Reviewed” button in ToDoist. But I’ve carried on regardless just doing it manually. It works, it’s just not as satisfying as the OmniFocus method.

The personal perspective

I hope nobody thinks this represents some kind of attack on OmniFocus. It’s an excellent tool and one that saved my bacon more times than I can remember. But in my move to Android, I’ve noticed that I was over-complicating its set-up, something OmniFocus’s flexibility makes all too easy.

The fault was mine, not the app’s.

I think if you’re going to use a GTD-type app to organise yourself, you have to enjoy using it. I definitely enjoyed using OmniFocus and would still recommend it to people in the iOS universe who had a solid grasp of GTD principles.

But to be frank, I enjoy using ToDoist more because it’s snappy, pleasing to the eye and (at least in comparison to OmniFocus) quite minimalist.

The acid test? In a month of using this new system, I’ve yet to drop any important balls. It’s doing what it was designed to do: freeing up my headspace for more important things.

If you’d like to learn more about the app and what it can do, check out ToDoist.com and their videos on YouTube, like this one:

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