The crux of every good productivity software is the ability to handle organization in an effective and flexible manner.
As we discussed last time, Todoist is a highly flexible task manager. It has its caveats, but Todoist’s flexibility allows for a lot of different approaches.
How Todoist approaches projects is no different.
Todoist uses a set of colorful dots to denote different projects. Projects can be nested within each other, much like OmniFocus uses folders to contain projects.
However, projects function more like containers in Todoist than true projects. Projects cannot have a due date, only the tasks within can. Projects cannot be stalled, on hold, or deferred like other task managers.
That’s not a knock against Todoist by any means. It feels like these features were omitted very intentionally to reduce complexity. However, if you’re considering Todoist for your task management needs, take this into consideration.
There are three main ways I’ve seen Todoist projects function as containers.
Projects like buckets
When I started using Todoist last year, I treated my projects like buckets. I had a handful of high level projects (Work, Home, Side Projects, Lists), and from there I stuffed every task for each area into that project.
I essentially tried using it like Evernote - have a handful of notebooks and surface the information you need through tagging and other metadata.
This approach works very well in Todoist if you can meet a few criteria:
- You don’t have a lot of tasks and simply need somewhere to loosely organize them, or,
- You have lots of single tasks or tasks with some subtasks (akin to Single Action lists in OmniFocus), or,
- You function well with lots of tags, filters, and use search to surface tasks.
I functioned moreso in the top two criteria versus the third for a period of time in my usage. Since you can’t denote due dates on projects, you’re forced to use parent/child relationship tasks to describe “projects” with a specific due date.
Projects like outlines
There are occasions where each of us has a sequenced list that needs completed on a semi-regular basis. My #1 offender: packing lists.
Todoist projects come in really handy when you need to put a regular list somewhere. It gets segmented from the rest of your tasks as to avoid confusion. Additionally, once you create the list in a project, you can save that project as a template for next time. Upon import of the template, Todoist will calculate due dates based upon the difference of dates in the original project (i.e. if Task 1 is due 4/30 and Task 2 is due 5/2, Todoist will calculate a 2 day difference on due dates for those tasks the next time the template is used).
Some powerful features in these task outlines are the ability to parent/child tasks, and the ability to create tasks as headers.
Parent/child tasks are pretty common in task managers, and we’ve discussed them a bit previously. What’s unique to Todoist is it feels almost entirely built around the outline system. When I structure projects, I feel like I’m working in an outline. OmniFocus has a similar feel, but OF has obfuscated it a bit with all the extra options and features you can configure with each task.
A unique option to Todoist is the ability to create headers. Have a section in your outline that doesn’t need to be completed, or you simply want to organize it better without having to check off extra tasks? Create a header task and child everything under that.
To create a header task in Todoist, start the task with an asterisk.
* Here's my task header
Between task templates and the ability to create detailed outlines with headers, Todoist has the capacity to handle recurring projects with lots of details very well if that’s what you need.
Projects like shared lists
Todoist stands out from most of its competitors with its ability to handle shared lists with other Todoist users.
I personally haven’t dug into the usage of this much, as I haven’t had the need to use shared Todoist lists. However, take the capabilities of the above two sections, share them between people in two different accounts, and you get a useful tool to leverage collaboration and list-making amongst a group.
I’ve honestly found it difficult to implement projects as defined in GTD in Todoist. Instead of creating a project in Todoist, you almost need to create a parent task in a project “bucket” and create the subtasks needed to complete that project. From there the “project” can have a due date, tags, and a priority flag.
If you’re willing to think a little outside the box of other task managers, Todoist can still be highly effective at tracking your projects. However, you may need to be okay with a long list of “project” tasks in a few buckets to be able to sort through them effectively with the correct metadata, especially if projects need due dates.