June 5, 2020

Task Management System

For this post I wanted to move onto probably the most important aspect of any productivity system… the task list. A task manager is deceptively simple, yet the linchpin of any productivity workflow.
This category is flooded with tons of apps to help you keep your tasks organized. Most of them are similar, but they each have their own nuances. People typically have to try a few before they find one they really like.

I have played the to-do app game for a long time. I have switched my system at least 10 times over the last 15 years. I have created complicated hierarchies of projects and sub-projects. I have tried to build my own systems out of note taking apps or plain text editors.

About 5 years ago I started using Todoist and it has stuck. I have paid for a premium account for the last 3 years mostly to support the developers. The free version of the app is full-featured enough for most peoples’ needs.

Todoist is extremely flexible, but can be very simple if you want it to be. It works across any platform you can think of, which was important to me. I think it looks nice. It has proven to be a very effective tool at accommodating how I want to look at my tasks. It has allowed me to refine my system over time and create something that is comfortable and effective.

In Todoist I have built my trusted system. It is the first time I have ever felt like I had a good way to keep things under control.

I add tasks and thoughts to the Inbox all day long. I have a routine at the end of my day to process that inbox and categorize items appropriately. This follows Getting Things Done® - David Allen’s GTD® Methodology. I don’t necessarily follow it exactly, but it is a great philosophy to have have behind your task system.

I use a pretty simple project structure that aligns with areas of my life. I’ve found this system works best for me. I used to have a much more complex set of nested projects, but I have found that tagging is a better method. When I process my inbox I will move the tasks to the appropriate project/area and tag it so my filters will treat it appropriately.

With a task system I feel like you should use the mantra, “As simple as possible, but no simpler.” For some, a hand-written task list in a notebook is good enough to be their entire system. I still commonly use pen and paper to write out my tasks when I am feeling overwhelmed. The act of putting it on paper makes it better somehow. However, everything eventually goes into Todoist where I can make sure it gets prioritized and completed.

Favorite Features

My favorite features of Todoist are the language processing for task creation and the robust system for repeating tasks.

Language Processing

The language processing means it is extremely simple and fast for me to create a task and make it due at any time. I’m also able to quickly add tags and assign to projects all from the task entry box. Other apps were cumbersome. You had to use many taps/clicks and enter different menus and interfaces. Creating a task felt… bad. Todoist makes it clean.

For example, the other day I was talking to my employee and he gave me a heads up that there might be potential issues with a report when we switch years. I quickly opened Todoist and typed “Check on the Numbers report to make sure years are accounted for correctly Dec 1”. That created a tasks in my inbox. I could have simply added “#work” to categorize it in my work project, but I can easily do that later.

In just a couple of seconds I have ensured that I will see that task at the appropriate time in the future and be able to engage the right people. That ease and reliability makes Todoist so valuable to me.

Reoccurring Tasks

In my time using other task apps I always felt a friction between “normal” tasks and all the reoccurring tasks that I want to keep track of in my life. The first thing I did with Todoist was set up an extensive system of all my reoccurring tasks. This is made up of things like annual home maintenance and automotive tasks. I have all of my monthly payment due dates and annually reoccurring subscriptions.

It has a great feature where you can set a task up to reoccur a set duration from when you completed it the last time. This is great for home maintenance items like cleaning the washing machine or changing my air filters. Having all of those things in one system gives me a lot of peace of mind.
Todoist makes it simple to spin up projects quickly and archive them when they are done. I’ve created a new section called “Focus” where I can line out a project that I don’t want to get lost in another section. I find it easy to make Todoist work for me, and that is why I have stayed with it for so long.
I’m sure many other todo apps are just as good, but I not planning to experiment with anything else. I am happy with Todoist. A couple notable ones that I haven’t tried are Things & Omnifocus. I believe both of those are Mac only, so it is a non-starter for me. Microsoft bought Wunderlist and has created their own todo system. I have played around with it a little bit. It seems pretty basic and right now I have no reason to change over.

Todoist is lacking one thing that I would like to have in my task system… a kanban view. I’ve heard there is an update coming that will allow to manage a project via kanban, but I have no clue when we will see that. For this reason I still use Trello from time to time. I like the card visualization. For certain types of projects it makes it easier for me to conceptualize and execute.

New App

I’ve recently gone down the Notion rabbit hole. People have used it to build out their entire task management system but I don’t think I see the benefit to that. I do like the kanban board view and might start using it to replace what I’ve been using Trello for in the past. I am sure I will post more about Notion. It is an interesting app that can do so many different things. For me it is the best app that I’ve used for making personal databases. I will share more about how I am using it to organize and log several things in my life. I’ve quickly the value of the app.

I don’t see Notion altering anything about my Todoist or task management workflow. I used to try to organize goals in Todoist, but it never worked well for me. Notion is going to be a place where I can organize long-term goals and a “someday-maybe” list.


This post has turned into somewhat of a Todoist ad, but I want to make it clear that the tool or technology don’t matter, as long as you find something that works for you. For many people a pen and paper is sufficient for a task management system. The most important thing is to create a trusted system where everything can go and there is a framework for keeping it organized and prioritized.
It has taken me years to get into the habit of writing down every single task into a single inbox. It took me even longer to review that list and categorize it in a way that I could ensure the important things would get done.

I don’t know if there are any shortcuts to creating the habits and discipline, but it is really freeing to know that you can trust all of your important tasks are out of your head. I would highly recommend it.