A First Date With Todoist

Introduction

You know the feeling; You're sitting there waiting, your palms are sweating and the more you try to relax the more you get a rising feeling of butterflies in your stomach. You have been anticipating this moment for quite some time with a mixed feeling of dread and excitement: If it goes well you will be exceptionally happy; if it goes badly you will disappointed, dejected, demotivated and you will feel like you can't go on. I can't say that I've ever felt this way about my first time using an app before but I have this feeling now that I'm just about to try Todoist.

Seriously, It's Just an App

A todo list app is not just an app, it is something that has a profound influence on your life and if you commit to it it can be very personal, knowing a frightening number of things about your life. How you interact with a todo list app also says a lot about you, there are no clear best practices that work for everyone so it is important to find something that fits you well.

If you use a bad todo list that doesn't fit in well with your working style it can set you up for failure from the beginning. If you use a todo list app that looks good but you can't trust then you will slowly stop committing to use that app over time. If your todo list app makes it hard to add new items to you will start taking notes on paper and pulling away from the app. If it is hard for you to get a clear view of what you need to do now/today from an app you risk apathy and will probably start to ignore it completely. I could continue to list out all the ill effects of a bad todo list app but that could be a whole blog post in it's own right, lets just say that all of the examples above have happened to me in one way or another. I am also sure that there are many more intelligent and knowledgeable people than myself are spending way more time on these sorts of questions (David Allen, Mike Vardy, etc.)

If you do find yourself using a "good" todo list application, but are using it in a way that doesn't align well with your way of working all of the above risks are still available to you. It is more than just finding the right app, you also have to find the right process that works for you with that app. If this was an easy problem we would all be experts at it.

What's the Big Deal? Can't you Just Switch Again Later?

If you have made it this far I hope that you agree with my thesis that a todo list is not "just another app". If you don't then please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter, I would really like to hear your opinions on this one. Even if you don't agree with me, it's not quite as simple as "just switching" when the new hotness hits the top of product hunt. If you have been using a todo list app for any prolonged period of time you have 2 things that are potentially preventing you from switching to something new: a) Routine and Muscle memory of how you use your current todo list app and b) a huge backlog of tasks that you have recorded. I have been using Asana for a few years and right now I have 350+ tasks over 4 "organisations", any sort of migration process would be a seriously non trivial process.

I am not completely against switching, you will never find something that works perfectly for you in every facet of your productivity. You will also never know that an app will be an improvement until after you have switched completely and committed fully to it. I will always be open to switching my process (I am an early adopter after all) but every time I have switched in the past I have felt a little bit less likely to switch again.

Another issue I have with the "you can just switch again later" argument is that, in reality, there are not that many apps out there that you can switch to. As soon as you start defining a non-trivial set of requirements that you need from a todo app the pool of potential apps goes down dramatically. On the recommendation of CGP Grey and his Cortex podcast I have wanted to use OmniFocus for a very long time but that option has unfortunately been ruled out because I am an Android user (see this explanation by the Omni Group). I use a mac but in this modern wold of "mobile first" I cannot bring myself to only have OmniFocus available to me on my laptop and not my phone.

You're Just Doing it Wrong

If your first thought while reading this is "it's all so difficult because you're just doing it wrong" then I would tend to agree with you. I know have been "doing productivity" wrong for very many years, I have blindly followed a few different processes without really understanding or implementing what I now know to be a common theme between them all: Whatever you do, review and improve it over time.

I have recently started doing some consulting work which has required me to seriously up my productivity and project management game in a very short period of time. That whole process could probably be a series of blog posts on their own, but in summary it has allowed me to start asking the question "what am I doing wrong and what can I do to improve it?". As I mentioned above I have been using Asana for approximately 4 years now, but it has never really fitted me and my working processes. In hindsight the fact that I have never stopped actively looking for a better system in all the time I have been using Asana should have been a tell tale sign that it wasn't working for me. For the record I have nothing against Asana and I still recommend it to friends and clients, it just hasn't worked for me.

So How Is It Going with Your New App?

I don't know, I haven't had my "first date" with Todoist yet (although I'm quite impressed that they have a native Mac app!). I haven't made the change yet but I am quite hopefully because of recent events and some of my process updates.

I have started using Google Inbox ever since they opened it up to Google Apps accounts. I know these features have been available with third party apps for quite some time but simply having the ability to "snooze" an email and mark them as done has changed my life. I will go into more detail in a later blog post so subscribe to this blog or follow me on Twitter to catch the updates.

Conclusion

I don't know what the next few days, weeks or months will bring me in my work or personal life but I do know that overall I'm feeling excited about the possibilities. For any of you that know me well, you will hopefully have noticed that I have been more reliable of late. This is not because of any one tool that I have been using but instead because of the overall approach I have changed towards both my personal and work life.

I have always loved the part of the Agile Manifesto that says:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

I have a lot of people to thank for my progress over the last few months such as CGP Grey, Mike Vardy (and all of his great guests for his podcast) and most of all my current consulting client that has been way more helpful than I think he even realises.