How to use Todoist for Getting Things Done (GTD)

I’ve probably tried close to 100 productivity apps. I just can’t help myself! Todoist is one of my top choices and it’s been my daily driver for 2021. In this tutorial, you’ll learn why and how to use it to create your own GTD inspired setup.

To get started, log in to your Todoist account. If you’re seeing some placeholder items inside of projects, labels, or filters – just delete all of those. We’re going to start from scratch here. Each chapter has a video that I recommend watching if you want to see it in practice with more detail.

🤔 Understanding Todoist’s terminology

Let’s learn about the main taxonomies that Todoist uses. The Inbox is the place where you collect anything – any new ideas, thoughts, actions, etc. The Today list contains any tasks that have a date associated with them that is today. You can interpret ‘today’ either as a due date, like a deadline, but it can also be a start date. The Upcoming list is just a sort of calendar (you can actually sync it with your own calendar) and it will show any tasks that have a due date set in the future. Inside of Projects you can set up various lists. Inside of those lists, you can set up collections of Tasks (with varying Priorities) that may lead to a desired outcome, i.e. a project. Labels on the other hand are more like tags that you can associate with any individual task. Filters allow you to combine Tasks, Labels and Priorities in various ways.

On the right hand, you’ll find an option to quickly add a new task which by default will land in the inbox. You can also earn and track your Karma points, which give you a score based on the your activity level inside of Todoist. It serves no practical need and I never use it. Near it, you’ll also find the option to access help, like the Help Center, Blog, and various templates. Todoist’s keyboard shortcuts are useful to memorize for using the software more efficiently.

📥 Capturing new Input to the Inbox

You’ll always want to make sure that nothing even remotely relevant escapes your memory. This is why having an easy way to capture is essential. Todoist has an easy-to-use inbox built into it by default and it is also the default place where new tasks will land. All you have to do is 1) press + button 2) enter any input 3) done.

If you want to capture a specific web page like this one, use the Todoist browser extension. Press it, log in if you have to, and then select Add website as task. It will save the title of the page as the task title and turn it into a clickable link.

The same is true for email. To forward an email into your Todoist inbox, select the Todoist add-on, and from there it will take the email headline as the title (though you can edit it on the spot).

Todoist integrates well with social sharing functionality, so whether it’s in your browser or a mobile device, you can save virtually anything to Todoist with it.

Speaking of mobile, Todoist has a great app with widgets, which allow you to press one button capture to your inbox, as well as lists displayed straight from the home screen. I have a phone context list that I can see without even needing to open the app, removing yet another barrier to take action.

🔀 Organizing your System

Now let’s set up the infrastructure for our system with lists and labels. I’m not a fan of Todoist’s name for the Projects taxonomy. Lists would have been better because that’s what they are and they don’t have to be limited to projects alone.

That’s why I recommend creating a separate My Projects list, and mentally renaming the original Projects to Lists. In addition, you’ll want to create a list for Agendas, Someday/Maybe, Routines, Reference, Areas of Focus, Goals, Vision, and Purpose. If you don’t have Todoist Pro yet, upgrade now as you’ll be limited to just 5 lists otherwise.

Pro tip: spice up your lists by adding an emoji to the title!

Next up is labels. Create a label named next and a label named waiting, as well as various labels indicating time estimates like <10_mins. Do what works for you. I enjoy color-coding my labels. Next gets green (as in green for go), waiting gets red (as in red for stop and wait), and the time estimate labels I make orange out of habit.

You can nest lists. Under My Projects, create a Standalone items list, and separate lists for any multi-step projects you may have. Use my templates for parallel & sequential projects to help you get started.

Add any reminders by using the reminder functionality for any associated tasks for things you need to see at a particular time. Fill your Agendas list with talking points or questions for people or meetings as needed. Fill your Someday/Maybe list with incubated/bucket list/not now-items (I actually call my Someday/Maybe lists Not Now lists).

For routines, add any recurring tasks in there. Todoist understands natural speech, so if you type every day it will automatically set to repeat daily. Play around with it and you’ll be surprised how much it understands.

Within any of the lists, play around with the views (list vs. board) and sections to organize them.

📝 Processing from the Inbox

Now that your inbox is filled up and your lists are ready, it’s time to go over the process of.. well.. processing. Here’s where you’ll heavily rely on correctly using labels. Apply the next label for next actions, time estimated labels, as well as a label specifying which context the task needs to be performed from. If you haven’t done so yet, go and create separate labels for all your contexts now, or just do it whilst processing – Todoist will add them for you.

To easily access next actions with a specific context, create filters the context name and the following filter search query:

@Next & @CONTEXTNAME

Add them to your favorites for even easier access.

For reference material, you can use Todoist’s non-completable tasks functionality by adding a * and a space in front of the task title. Unfortunately, this does not work for items forwarded via email, though.

🔎 Reviewing & Reflecting

Use the same non-completable tasks to fill your higher horizons lists. What are your areas of focus, vision, and purpose?

For Goals, I recommend using regular tasks with deadlines, but relying heavily on sub-tasks to break your goal up into achievable pieces.

For your Weekly Review, you can download my template and import it. Archive when done (as with any completed project). This will keep your system clean.

Todoist is well thought out, intuitive, and complete. It can serve as your productivity hub if you apply some creativity, as I hope this tutorial has shown. If you need any help with getting set up, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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