Are you looking to do more with your Todoist GTD setup? Maybe you want to get more done or be more mindful about your to-do list. You’re not alone and you’ve come to the right place. Todoist is one of the most popular to-do list apps and one of our recommended GTD apps. There are great resources on how to use Todoist for GTD, but most are missing one crucial piece: once you’ve organized your tasks in Todoist, how do you actually get things done. This is a problem with many productivity systems, including GTD, but we have the solution. Here is our Todoist GTD Setup 2.0 to help you help you get (the right) things done.
Todoist and GTD: How to Get Started
Start with a Brain Dump
Have you ever woken up in a cold sweat with to-dos swirling around in your brain? Work and personal tasks, big ideas and new projects all compete for your mental bandwidth. In GTD, these are called “open loops,” and they cognitively weigh you down.
The solution? Write everything down. From tasks you can complete in a few minutes to big, multi-step projects, write everything down. As David Allen said, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them,” and he recommends conducting a brain dump whenever you set up any new system.
You can do your brain dump on paper, in your favorite notes app or directly in your to-do list. It’s easy in Todoist, which has an inbox that allows you to quickly enter items in apps and the web-based app.
Set Up Todoist for GTD
Now that you have Captured all open loops, it’s time to organize your to-do list. Todoist is very GTD-friendly — it has a dedicated inbox to close open loops, allows you to nest Tasks under Projects and has options for context to help better organize your list. With a few small tweaks, Todoist can be ready to help you tackle your to-dos.
Projects and Areas
Todoist supports two organizational levels: Tasks are nested under Projects. For example, “Buy stamps” is a task for your “Holiday Cards” project.
GTD recommends three organizational levels: Tasks are nested under Projects which apply to some Area of your life. Todoist allows nesting Projects within other Projects, so you can follow GTD organizational levels (you can also change the color of the dots, e.g., blue for personal Areas and red for work Areas to avoid nesting).
However, defining something as a Project or Area can be confusing, mainly because Projects can fall under multiple Areas. For example, say you have a Project to build out your home office setup, which will enable you to work more efficiently at home and have space to read and write. Does that fall under a work or personal Area?
To reduce the risk of “over-engineering” your productivity system, look at Projects and Areas as two sides of the same coin for your Todoist GTD Setup.
Projects have a specific goal and/or end-point in mind and can be completed. Think of sending holiday cards or planning for a family vacation — after the holidays or vacation, you no longer need the Project.
Areas are ongoing over time and are never completed. Think of fitness or parenting — even the most fit and best parents among us are never “done.”
Now that you’ve emptied all of the to-dos swirling around in your brain and organized them into Projects and Areas, how do you know what to work on next? In GTD, the answer is Context.
GTD recommends contexts that identify people, places and/or tools needed to complete a task. Examples of Contexts include work, home, call, errand or computer. When starting out, however, it may be easier to keep Contexts simple and refine your process later, if necessary.
In your Todoist GTD Setup, you can create custom labels to add Contexts on the fly using the @ symbol (e.g., add “@High_energy” to the end of a task).
Level Up GTD and Todoist with $10k Work
GTD is an iconic productivity system for a reason: it has helped millions of people put a system around their need to get things done. But it’s not perfect. It is a great approach to get things on lists, but GTD doesn’t help you decide what to do.
In any productivity system, including GTD, to-do lists can become too long, too daunting and too cumbersome. They can become sources of distraction (if I just learn how to tag all my tasks right, then I’ll get everything done), and it’s hard to prioritize when everything feels like a priority. There’s no way to get everything done anyway, and do you even want to when your kids want to play or your spouse wants to have dinner?
Enter: the $10k Framework.
The $10k Framework categorizes based on leverage and skill.
- $10 Work: $10 work is busywork. It’s the productivity version of a donut: it feels good to finish but is full of empty calories. If you can do it hungover, it’s likely $10 work.
- $100 Work: Busywork at scale, $100 work is the home of productivity gurus and tech tools like Superhuman, Roam, Zapier automations and text expanders. Shiny New Toy Syndrome loves $100 work.
- $1,000 Work: This is the high skill work — doing the work your job requires, whether you’re in law, medicine, investments or software development. But there’s no leverage, since you can’t take a year off and collect a full salary.
- $10k Work: As United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” $10k work is hard to describe and is different for every industry and every person. It’s the work that produces zero dopamine and doesn’t pay off for months, years or decades. Some $10k work can include recruiting, training, implementing systems and SOPs, sourcing partnerships or funding and building a defensible brand.
Once you incorporate the $10k Framework into your tasks and understand your energy levels, you can better prioritize what to work on. You can batch your $10 tasks together during the late-afternoon lull or during $10 Tuesdays. You can schedule $10k work during high energy stretches.
For your Todoist GTD Setup, it’s easy to add labels to your tasks using the @ sign. Not only will this help make a long to-do list more manageable, but it will ensure that you’re getting more of the right things done.
Todoist and GTD: The Process
Now that you’ve set up your productivity system and are thinking of your work in terms of the $10k Framework, let’s run through the GTD workflow using Todoist. GTD consists of 5 steps: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect and Engage.
GTD Step 1: Capture
The key to Capture is to get everything into a central inbox with as little friction as possible. Todoist has a handful of features that make it frictionless to centralize your to-dos. You can:
- Save entire websites, add highlighted quotes or capture ideas with the quick-add feature in the Todoist extension for Chrome, Firefox or Safari.
- Add tasks using integrations with Gmail, Teams, Slack, Outlook and more.
- Forward emails to create tasks via a custom email address related to each Project.
Todoist uses natural language processing for task entry, and it integrates with your favorite voice assistant. Simply type or say “Call Sarah about babysitting today at 4pm” and Todoist automatically creates a task with a reminder for 4pm:
GTD Step 2: Clarify
Once you have Captured everything, the next step is to answer, “What does doing look like?” Decide whether each item is a Task, Project or Area. And remember: it’s fine to get close enough. Ensure that each step is actionable, a single task and starts with a verb. “Taxes” is not a task — “Collect W-2s” and “Send tax documents to accountant” are concrete, actionable tasks.
Some items aren’t actionable and can be removed from your to-do list. Maybe you read a great article or want to learn Mandarin someday: in Todoist, you can create a digital library and a Someday/Maybe list and come back to these items later.
GTD Step 3: Organize
Often done along with Step 2, to Organize means adding additional information to tasks to know when to do them. After adding tasks to the corresponding Project or Area, you can add additional info such as:
- Label for $10, $100, $1,000 and $10k work.
- Label for energy level, depending on whether a task requires high or low energy.
- Due dates, but be sure they’re real due dates.
An important aspect of GTD is to always know what next action moves a Project forward. In Todoist, you can do this one of two ways: either add a label (e.g., “@next”) to a task. You can also use Todoist’s built in priority flagging. By default, all tasks are given the lowest priority level, or p4. Assign a task as priority level 3 by typing “p3” when entering a task, then adjust your filters and views to have your tasks show up by highest priority (the blue checkbox below).
GTD Step 4: Reflect
If you’ve ever hit Friday afternoon and thought, I was busy all week but I have no idea what I accomplished, you may have never gotten to GTD Step 4. Without reflection, it’s easy to get caught up in the familiar game of whack-a-mole. $10 and $100 work make you feel productive in the moment without making progress towards your bigger goals.
You’ve Captured, Clarified and Organized your Tasks which means your Todoist GTD Setup is nearly done. All you need now is an execution plan. In any successful productivity system, a weekly review is a must. Often done on a weekend (maybe at your favorite coffee shop or pizza place), a weekly review allows you to reflect on the past week, map out the coming week and check in on your dreams and longer-dated priorities on your Someday/Maybe list.
To perform a weekly review in Todoist:
- Set up a recurring task with a reminder for your weekly review. Using Todoist’s natural language processing, you can type or say “Perform weekly review every Sunday at 8am.”
- During your weekly review, click on “Completed” tasks to see everything you accomplished that week. Think about how you spent your time and whether anything fell through the cracks. If anything did, be curious and compassionate with yourself, reflect and use it to improve your system.
- Click on “Upcoming” to see everything assigned to the coming week. Compare to your calendar to your tasks and make sure you have your time allocated. Move tasks around as necessary.
- Check in on your dreams and long-term goals. Plan time during the upcoming week to make progress on what’s most important to you.
- Plan for some $10k work every day.
- Create a checklist (in Todoist or elsewhere) for your weekly review. You will have a runway to start your review every week and a consistent process will ensure you don’t miss anything important.
With a plan to reflect on productivity, you will become better at the how and the why of productivity, and you’ll finish your week knowing you made progress on what’s important to you.
GTD Step 5: Engage
You Captured everything you have to do. You Clarified and Organized, and you Reflected to make sure your week is set up to do the right things. What’s left? As Nike has said for decades, just do it. At some point, you have to buckle down and do the work.
You will have a mix of $10, $100, $1,000 and $10k work, but make sure to have a $10k task every day. It’s how you make progress towards those important-but-not-urgent tasks (h/t to the Eisenhower Matrix) and avoid the $10 and $100 task trap, which leaves you exhausted but unfulfilled.
Todoist offers powerful ways to see your tasks. The simplest is to click “Filters & Labels,” where you can see all of, you guessed it, your filters and labels in one place. You can then click into each to see all tasks that fit the criteria. So, if you want to see all of your tasks tagged as $10k tasks, click the $10k label. You are then able to group and sort to further refine your view.
Beyond the default filter and label views, this Todoist GTD Setup allows you to become your own filter wizard. You can filter all your tasks by different selected criteria in a combination that works best for you. For example, if you want to find all tasks tagged with $10, $100, $1,000 or $10k, click on “Filters & Labels” then click to add a filter. You can name the filter then add the query criteria. In this case, using your @label criteria and the | symbol (which means “or”) will return all tasks with the specified labels. You can then use the same grouping and sorting options to refine your view.
Then once you’ve put a plan in place, just do it.
Whether you’re a Todoist and GTD guru or a complete newbie, following these steps in your Todoist GTD setup will help you get more of the right things done. And if you’re looking for more strategies to win your day, check out our collection of best GTD tips. Or how about exploring a GTD setup in Notion?