You feel like you have a million tabs open in your head, and your mind is always swarming with every little thing you’re trying not to forget. Your brain tries to helpfully remind you of things you need to do when you can’t actually accomplish them, so you tuck them away for later and tell yourself you’ll do right it after this. You feel overwhelmed just trying to keep track of everything, and like a flake because something always falls through the cracks.
Just because that’s the ways things have always been, doesn’t mean that’s the way they should be. As your life becomes busier and you have more things to remember, this system breaks down, fast. You need a better system than your brain to retain all those little tasks.
Todoist and the GTD Method
I started using Todoist at a recommendation from Brad at ChooseFI and I don’t think it’s exaggerating to call it life-changing. Todoist is a free app for Android and Apple and there’s a desktop version you can download also, so you can access it everywhere.
I know what you’re thinking, I’ve tried to-do apps before and they work for a little while, but eventually things always go back to the old overwhelm. That’s because you aren’t doing it right.
I tried using Todoist and various other checklist apps, but nothing every stuck permanently or made a lasting difference. So what’s different this time around? I applied the GTD Method. Learn more about The Getting Things Done Method here.
In short, the GTD Method comes from a book of the same name by David Allen. I’ve broken the method down into 4 C’s: Capture, Clarify, Categorize and Choose Your Next Action. You can learn how to apply the method to your papers here, and to your emails here.
Let’s get started!
Just like your physical inbox captures all your papers and your digital inbox captures all your emails, Todoist is our mental inbox to capture all our thoughts and tasks. Anything that pops into your head that you need to do and can’t do right this second put it in Todoist. Or anything that you just want to remember, put it in Todoist.
Since you’re just getting started with Todoist, take a few minutes and brain dump all the tasks and thoughts you want to remember you have swirling around. Don’t worry if more pop into your head later, just keep adding them as you think of them. Add in any Next Actions you had written down from decluttering your physical and digital inboxes.
Now that you’ve brain dumped all your thoughts and tasks, clarify if they are one-time things or recurring. I never remember to clean up after my dog, so I have “pick up dog poop” as a recurring task every couple days.
Also, clarify if any of your tasks are actually projects. Projects don’t have to be big monumental things, they’re anything that takes more than one task. For example, getting a hotel for your next vacation would be a project because you need to research hotels, then narrow down what you find, consult with your husband to decide on the final one, then look for the best deal and finally book the hotel.
More on that in the Choose Your Next Action section, just identify what tasks are actually projects for now.
Next, you want to set up your “projects”, this is Todoist’s ways of categorizing. My projects are essentially different realms of my life, plus actual projects, as we defined earlier. These are my Projects. (insert screenshot)
If I have time, I categorize my tasks or thoughts as I add them. If not, set aside a few minutes each day to go through your inbox.
After categorizing, you can schedule what day you need to accomplish your task. If you upgrade to Premium on Todoist you can even schedule times and get notifications when you need to accomplish a task.
If you want to get really fancy, Premium will allow you to add labels. You can create any labels you want, but I suggest labeling tasks according to the location they need to be done (home, online, work, etc) and how long the task will take (5 min, 15 min, 30 min, 1 hour, >1 hour). So when you’re sitting at the doctor, instead of using the free wifi to peruse Facebook, you can look under your “5 min” and “online” labels to see what you can get done. No more wasted pockets of time!
Choose Your Next Action
Now that you’ve captured, clarified and categorized all your thoughts and tasks, it’s time to get really specific about what needs to happen next.
Look at each item in Todoist and make sure it’s as detailed as possible- turn it into a project and break it down into multiple steps if you haven’t already. David Allen says,
“Typical things you will see on a to-do list: “Mom” “Bank” “Doctor” “Baby-sitter” “VP Marketing” etc. Looking at these often creates more stress than relief, because, though it is a valuable trigger for something that you’ve committed to do or decide something about, it still calls out psychologically, “Decide about me!” And if you do not have the energy or focus at the moment to think and decide, it will simply remind you that you are overwhelmed.”
So ask yourself, “What’s my next actionable step?” for each item and record it in Todoist.
The weekly review is what keeps the GTD method running smoothly. Once a week brain dump any thoughts you’ve failed to record. Go through each project folder so you can see what’s coming up. Expand and clarify any tasks that need more detail. Tweak any categories or labels that aren’t working for you. Tweak your recurring tasks if they’re recurring too frequently, or not frequently enough.
Capture all your thoughts and Clarify if it’s a one-time task, recurring, or a project. Then Categorize your thoughts and tasks and get as detailed as possible Choosing Your Next Action.
It can take a while to get into the habit, but every time you think, “Oh, I need to remember…”, or “I can’t forget to…” put it in Todoist! As your mind starts trusting that you’ve actually recorded things in a safe place, it’ll stop exerting so much energy trying to retain and remind you.
As your habit develops you’ll be amazed at how much free-er your mind feels and how less overwhelmed you constantly feel. Unfinished tasks create “open loops”, as David Allen calls them. By recording them it helps the brain stop wasting time and energy keeping track of them.
Your brain will have more room to daydream about the things you actually want to be thinking of and you never know what brilliant ideas will pop into your head- that you’ll of course capture in Todoist.