As I prepared for working life beyond my current role, I realised I needed a proper way to organise the things I needed to do. That, I thought, meant some kind of project-management tool and a quick exercise in testing out some of the options out there. Todoist won out – here’s why:
1. It’s great for one person but looks like it will cope with more
Most project management tools are in large part about collaboration. They recognise that most projects take a few (or many more than a few) people, working together, to accomplish. They build out from there. It means things like project and task assignment, communication, document and file-sharing, status updates and so on are key and built in. That’s all great except when the core functionality needs to be about just one person setting tasks for themselves and, critically, establishing (and being reminded of) when they need doing.
Todoist begins as a task-management system for one person to establish and update all the things they need to do and then organise, visualise and update them better. At the premium level, which I soon jumped to (chiefly so I could get reminders and add notes and files to tasks), you can share and assign projects and tasks with others, which might well prove useful as what I do next [hopefully] grows, but I haven’t tested that yet.
2. I like notes – I LOVE notes – but it turns out I’m more about the to-do list
People operate in different ways. I have always worked off to-do lists; for the day, for projects, for things in general. Break something down into tasks to be done and tick ’em off. Always. At the start of this process I knew instinctively this was what I was looking for but was diverted by the term ‘project management’, which was leading me to tools like the above and not ‘to-do list’-style systems.
But I also like notes. It’s likely this is journalist-ingrained but I always take notes during [work] conversations. They’re just part of the process of processing; noting down things I think are important, either to go back to later in that conversation without interrupting and breaking the immediate flow or to remind myself later of what was discussed. That being the case I had a good bash with Evernote, which is a cracking system and great for pulling together all manner of ‘stuff’. But a. I didn’t need notes organisation, I needed task organisation and b. typing (especially on a phone/iPad) is slower and more intrusive than a pen and paper – it still seems rude and distracting to do it and it just takes longer than opening up your note pad.
That meant I should stick with my trusty pen and notepad for note-taking and bag me a list-system and that meant goodbye and sorry to Evernote.
3. It wasn’t just about work, it was about ‘jobs’
Ok, so it’s not just ‘work’ that needed organising. The list of jobs at home that hadn’t been done while with my nose to the Exponential grindstone was dauntingly extensive. And, let’s face it there’s at least 67 things I’d always rather be doing than DIY. The list of things that need doing at home is also more subject to change and revision than any work project. Just the list of groceries and other assorted objects that need acquiring for the house for some reason is a living organism.
That meant a to-do-list system because I could also organise all the things I need to do at home. ‘Next time you’re out can you get a…’. Every time that’s now said, the answer is yes – it goes straight on my Todoist app – and in the appropriate shopping list that I check whenever I’m near or in the appropriate store.
And, as for the DIY, well the security light on the side of my house hasn’t worked for two and a half years. I fixed it this weekend because a. I was reminded to buy one when I was next in a DIY shop, b. I’d set it as a job to do one particular Saturday (and always knew that was what I was aiming to do that day), then c. ticking off a task on Todoist is strangely satisfying – it makes you want to get stuff done.
But all those jobs aren’t ‘projects’, they’re just stuff that I need to be reminded to do – and that was another vote for a task-management system, not a project-management one.
4. To be useful for work, tasks need to be divisible and re-divisible
I was recommended another to-do list-type system in the guise of Wunderlist. I actually downloaded it – it’s got a great look, feel and UI. But I soon discarded it in favour of Todoist. That was because I thought it too hard to sub-divide tasks, which is really important for genuine ‘projects’. In Todoist I can call something a task that is actually a sub-category of an ongoing project and which itself has completable tasks inside it. There seems no end yet to the level to which you can sub-divide a task or project into more manageable little jobs. At some point it’s useful to change a task with multiple levels of sub-task into a project but that’s all simple and straightforward too.
Now, on another inspection, Wunderlist looks like it enables all this too so is definitely worthy of investigation for others but it didn’t feel like it at the time and I guess that’s what matters – even though that is just the kind of vague feedback I’d hate to have to figure out if I was a UI designer.
5. Being human
Being human, I sometimes don’t get some of the stuff done I planned to. Sometimes you can’t, sometimes you just fancy doing something else. Todoist is built to handle all that, especially when it comes to changing the dates of when you mean to do something, but in other ways too. So, if you didn’t get something done that day you can drop it into tomorrow’s list of stuff to do (or next week’s or any other ‘human date’). But, if you did complete (or successfully postpone) all that day’s planned tasks, it tells you you’re done and says to enjoy the rest of your day. It’s a machine I know, but I quite like the permission.
So, there we have it. One of the joys of getting back on the road of self-employment is the time and freedom to explore new tools and ways of working and learn new things. A task management system was the first thing on my mental list of things to do. Now that I have Todoist, my mental list of things to do is real, visible, accessible and manageable. So thanks to them for that and let me know if you’ve tried anything the same, similar or completely different.