Using Todoist - Methodologies and Mindsets

I’ve had my go around with multiple task managers. No setup is ideal, but if you can crack some of the methodology behind the tool, you can more easily leverage its strengths.

I landed on using Todoist last year, mainly because it’s the most fully featured productivity tool I can use on both Windows and Mac. I’m stuck on Windows at work for now, and I need a tool I can engage with in the context in which I’m working. I tried OmniFocus on my iPad and the context switching was just too difficult to deal with day to day. And, let’s be frank - sometimes you just need a mouse.

In the last few months, I’ve learned some of Todoist’s paradigms, so I want to share them with you.


Todoist prides itself in its integrations. Being a web app first, it has a lot more possibilities than other non-web softwares like OmniFocus and Things 3.

Major integration players include:

  • IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, and Zapier, which opens a whole world of options to capture tasks in a variety of platforms,
  • Google GSuite, enabling ease of capture from email and calendar integration
  • Slack, allowing entering tasks right from the chat window

Most all integrations involve creating tasks based upon inputs from any source you can hook up to it. We will get into some fun uses of this in a later post.

As with any major web app these days, security is a strong consideration. From reading Todoist’s security and privacy policy, it’s believable the company isn’t doing anything tricky with your data on their servers or through integrations. They may not go as far as other companies do, so take into consideration the necessary security of the information stored in the software before you buy in.

Design Choices


One of the key design choices that both serves and hinders Todoist’s usability is the ambiguity of design.

Todoist doesn’t have a set structure. All of the elements of any task manager are there (tasks, projects, due dates, tags, filters, etc.), but Doist has taken a less opinionated approach to their use.

As a result, you can implement just about any methodology of task management in the software, from GTD to Agile Results and beyond. It’s the most flexible system I’ve worked with yet.

However there are drawbacks to this ambiguity. For example, the Scheduled date functionality serves as both due date and scheduled date. Most productivity folks would tell you never set a due date unless it’s due, and I’m with them. Yet it’s difficult to differentiate a scheduled task from a due task in Todoist. You can’t schedule a task for tomorrow at 2pm to work on it and maintain a due date of April 29th.

In a way, then, this leaves users with a choice — use a due date, or scheduled date? And can you remember what you did on which task?

In my opinion this would be easily remediated by using a start date or keeping a scheduled date and add an optional due date field.


Todoist heavily relies on search. So much so that filters are basically saved searches that use search operators. This will come naturally if you can leverage advanced search in Gmail, Outlook, or any other major productivity app.

Search can thus easily surface tasks with a certain set of tags, or dates, or even from all subprojects. If you can have the patience to structure complex search queries, you can slice and dice your lists in nearly any way.

Nested Lists

The main crux of the Todoist task metaphor is nested lists. Projects can contain parent tasks that contain multiple levels of child tasks. If you need to break out your projects and tasks into very granular detail, the app handles this pretty well. Sub tasks collapse nicely under the parent.

But Todoist currently has some goofy behavior with these nested lists. For example, if you set a due date on a parent task and its child task for today, both will show up as level 1 tasks on your Today view. Expanding the parent task will also cause the child task to show up twice on the list. If this happens multiple times, it can get confusing. The workaround is to put a scheduled date only on the parent task. Doing so allows you to see all child tasks, at the risk of lowering the clarity of the exact task due.

Additionally, Todoist doesn’t handle recurring nested task lists well. When completing a recurring parent task with nested child tasks, child tasks don’t un-check on the new instance. The workaround is to duplicate the parent task and archive the old one as not to affect your Karma score.


Speaking of Karma, Karma is Todoist’s unique way of gamifyijng the task management process. Every task completion and feature use nets you Karma points, as well as hitting daily goals.

I’ve found this feature helpful, as my brain doesn’t like to lose any points! The subtle knowledge of if I don’t do something I lose points causes me to be more aware of the current state of my task list.


The current state of projects in Todoist falls similarly into the ambiguity discussion. Projects can easily be used GTD-style in the software, but, frankly, it doesn’t always feel right.

Instead, projects more easily as buckets for tasks to reside in, utilizing tags and search to surface the needed tasks at the right time. This extra metadata can be extra work, but if you buy into the bucket model, it works.

However, in my experience, the bucket model breaks down when you hit a certain numerical threshold of tasks. To combat this, I’ve either needed to break out pieces into projects or parent/child tasks (organize), or reduce the total number of tasks (eliminate).


Even though the design choices often add to ambiguity and complexity in the app, they lend to Todoist’s flexibility. You can literally throw just about any approach of managing tasks at it, and it will do just fine. You just have to work within the constraints. But the constraints are much broader than, say, OmniFocus 2. I’m a believer in opinionated software if it makes life easier. Usually, strong opinions in productivity software are great to start, but can hamper iteration and efficiency later if you discover you don’t work well with that mode.

Todoist is what I’d consider “lightly opinionated” software. They have a general framework, but the feature capability is broad enough to accommodate many styles of use.

OmniFocus 3 may rival Todoist’s flexibility with the addition of tags and nagging reminders. However, one area OmniFocus will be lagging behind is cross-platform support. Unless you’re willing to work with a limited web browser version or manage tasks off an iPad, Todoist is basically the best option out there if you need to use Windows or Linux.

Next week we’ll take a look at projects within Todoist and how I use them.

Interesting. Now I can see why Todoist is not so well defined and gives it a great advantage. But I think the same issue happens in OmniFocus. It’s so ambiguous that beginners who don’t have a workflow/system already in place will have difficulty.

Things 3 appears to be geared to setting people into a certain path. It’s great for beginners who just needs a template to work from. But the ability to have saved searches or perspectives is severely lacking in this app.

I think native apps are starting to tap in now. I haven’t had the need to tap in but this post says it is possible.

Things 3 and OmniFocus can probably be better when Apple decides to enhance the share sheet options in iOS on each of these days.

Hope to hear more about this in a future post! I’m interested in hearing more about this workflow.

:+1: Omni’s direction doesn’t address any Android or Windows solution. But it looks like the web is the way to go.

I think the web browser version of OmniFocus 3 will be a limited first release. Omni needed to just get it off the ground and launched first. When demand grows, they’ll mostly likely re-iterate and add features. This was similar to Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. The first release was a bare bones basic foundation to get people up and running. Over the years, most of the features from Final Cut Pro 7 have been re-introduced. Final Cut Pro X has finally surpassed FCP7’s feature set and its new code allows more extensibility that couldn’t be achieved under the old code base.

But it looks like we’re all turning to the cloud for app services now. The traditional stand-alone app no longer cuts it in today’s world.

There is a third party Android app that interfaces with the OmniFocus database. So there’s that option.

For now, I’m OK with bringing my iPad to a Window environment. Context switching only happens to me when I need to open OmniFocus. Otherwise, I already prevent context switching by writing out my 3 big tasks for today and printed out one or two big projects on to paper. I’m rarely going back to my iPad when I have my legal pad in front of me.

for now, we need a mouse… Who knows what the future will look like?

I wished I could do this but I’m not even gratified by “checking off” tasks anymore. I’m so busy just trying to move on to the next task. But I do like the idea of gaming the system. I tried Habitca to gameify my habits but realized I don’t even care. I might have to try this once again. I think gamifying works best with routine tasks such as watering the plants, doing the weekly review, etc.

Thanks for giving us a look into the world of Todoist. Looking forward to seeing completely different workflows outside my OmniFocus comfort zone.

I think the big knock against OF is it has so many features it’s hard to know where to start.

Yes and no. Being able to tie in via URL scheme is a whole lot different than web APIs. You can automate a lot more creation and management with API access. Todoist is kind of there but not quite either.

Is it possible to turn this off? I feel like this would eventually become a nuisance.

I would probably just ignore it. I can use the parts that work for me and ignore the parts that don’t work. Sometimes it helps to put certain features aside for another day to explore something like karma.

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Yeah you can definitely turn it off.

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But you can set multiple reminders. You can set a due date for the 29th April and then a reminder for tomorrow at 2pm. In fact the reminders function is an oft missed strength of Todoist. You can set due dates only when necessary and set multiple reminders per task. These can bring the task to view so you can ask yourself if anything needs doing without the heavy red colouring of many apps.

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That’s very true. I didn’t use reminders much at all. They’re not exactly forward facing in the app. I still feel the ambiguity of the design choices here still makes the app a little confusing around this feature. Functionality-wise, the app is pretty solid.