Using Todoist - Projects

Using Todoist - Projects

(Justin DiRose) #1

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

Which produces:

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.

Article: Reimagining an App from the Ground Up: Behind the Scenes of Todoist’s Redesign
(Wilson Ng) #2

I wished OmniFocus has templates. I can see why you like this in Todoist. One way I can do this is to copy and paste a project that has been set to on hold. Or I’ll need to create an Applescript, iOS workflow, or Draft action to create project templates. It’s not as easy as Todoist does it. +1 for Todoist.

I haven’t really needed to share lists with others. But I wished there was a way to share TaskPaper lists between Todoist users and other users. Maybe there should be something based on TaskPaper that can easily shared between different task managers. That would be a cool way to deal with it.

We go as simple as we need to get the job done. Sometimes I do get a little tired of all the options that OmniFocus gives me. That’s why I’ve been focusing on simplifying my workflow in OmniFocus.

Thanks for the writeup. It gives me a better idea of how Todoist approaches task management and how I can use its different approach in my use of OmniFocus. Or at the very least, I can be better prepared to use Todoist if I have to join an organization that revolves around Todoist!

(Justin DiRose) #3

That’s an interesting comment because I feel OF’s TaskPaper template implementation is way better than Todoist’s. It’s way more flexible and offers the ability to incorporate variables, which Todoist does not.

To be honest, I’m experimenting with using OmniFocus again, but this time with no custom perspectives unless I absolutely need one. It’s been really refreshing so far.

(Wilson Ng) #4

Oh, I thought the todoist templates would give you variables such as due date - 3 days?

With OmniFocus custom perspectives, I’ll try it out for a month. But if I find that I haven’t used it frequently enough, I’ll delete it. I just redid my daily review workflow and streamlined it from 7 perspectives down to 4. It’s still an ongoing experiment but I’ll see if it sticks.

(Justin DiRose) #5

Kinda. When you create a template from a project, it calculates due dates based on how you had them set in the project. When you import them, it’ll do some simple date math so the dates show up spaced the same. But you can’t set variables for project name, tags, etc. to make the template more dynamic.

(Rosemary Orchard) #6

Regarding the templates: You could theoretically get the same flexibility in both OmniFocus and Todoist with something like Workflow or Keyboard Maestro.

(Andre) #7

Good read.

It’s also a great feature that you can create such templates (and individual tasks for that matter) using natural language parsing, which is something I missed so much when testing OF3 for a wile.

What Todoist could do better in projects is the way it handles tasklists within the project. In your example, “a child task” either gets duplicated or out of context when you use the Today’s view (and it all depends on the due date). That’s why I tend to have the all these tasks as “headers” although gets more difficult to manage. In the past I’ve created such checklists within the comments section but it’s not a great idea.

Ideas to overcome this are welcome :slight_smile: