I couldn’t focus. Period.
My head would swell with the tasks that lived in it.
Strings of words and responsibilities bounced along in my brain.
Without the right systems it was all too easy to procrastinate. I felt about 85% complete.
I was in search of the “right” system.
I tried dozens of project management and productivity tools. There was definitely something out there, I just had to find it.
Then, out of the blue, I found a to-do list program I loved. Or it found me. One of the two.
It is a solution that I am pleased to say has had a huge impact on my productivity. It is Todoist. Or rather the combination of Todoist, Gmail and Google Chrome that have come to be my productivity zen.
What Do You Need?
There are a few tools that are just indispensable for me. Gmail for its powerful search. Chrome for its plugins and sign in features.
Yes, I love Google. But there are a ton of people that feel the same way because it works well and it’s free. So my to-do list program needs to be super Google-friendly.
Keep this in mind as I describe the top functions. Todoist has a big emphasis on simplicity and integrations, so it plays well with others too. But I write this from the perspective of someone who uses Gmail, Chrome, and Todoist in tandem.
The top killer features for me:
- Fast tasks. Anywhere you are on the web or in your email you can add a task with due date and assign it to a project in three seconds or less. It’s amazing.
- To-do anything. With one click, you can create a to-do that links to your current webpage or email in Gmail. It’ll help you reach the coveted inbox zero.
- Find it quick. You can sort tasks by due date, keywords, projects or labels. Todoist makes it super easy to find exactly what you need.
- Simplicity. They have done a great job of keeping the app light enough to be fast. And it includes enough features to tackle almost any task.
Plan and Process
OK, features are great, but alone they aren’t enough. You need an actual plan and repeatable process to make this work. Todoist borrows from GTD and allows you to jump right in.
My to-dos come from a few places. Most often they come from email. Other times they come from face-to-face interactions like meetings or while I’m searching around on the web.
I borrow David Allen’s most important rule to begin with: File it away for later if the task takes more than 2 minutes. In email there’s a one-click option to create a new task (with built-in link) then archive the email. Get it out of the inbox.
A lot of Todoist’s usefulness is its ability to declutter.
When browsing the web any page can be added as a to-do, like a bookmark on steroids. Each task comes with a due date and a project.
Get familiar SMART goals. Include three things with each task:
- A clear description of the task, including specifics of what you need to do.
- An estimated due date. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but give yourself a goal for completion.
- A project for the task. Most of my tasks fall into three categories: daily habits, work and personal. There are subsets of projects under each, but it’s pretty simple. Don’t over complicate it. Color-code your projects for a quick visual way of sorting.
Getting Into a Routine
Now for the not-so-sexy but most important part. Your daily routine can be accomplished in just about any to-do list program. It’s just a matter of doing it.
Every morning spend 10 minutes sorting through your tasks of the day. I click-and-drag them individually in the order I need to accomplish them. By the end you’ll have a list of prioritized tasks for the day.
Do this every day. You’ll be amazed at how few things slip through the cracks. If you don’t, you’ll have an always-growing to-do list on your hands.
That’ll just stress you out, which is the opposite of what we’re going for. So plan a time to go over your daily routine and stick to it. I recommend doing your planning either first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
If you take this time to plan, you’ll have a daily routine for laser focus.
Habits, Not Magic Bullets
Your productivity system comes down to habits. Once you develop them, you’ll be more effective in everything you do. There might be a little learning curve on the way to the promised land.
It’s easy enough to process tasks through email, web and offline activities. It’s easy to set up your projects and labels. It’s hard to do it all day, every day.
Todoist is the only way I’ve been able to stick to it. So here’s my advice to you: Do what works for you. This works for me because it’s simple and fast and lives everywhere I need it to.
Your system is a work in progress. Your final habit is to keep asking yourself how to improve. Keep striving to get better. If you keep asking, you’ll become more productive.