Nathaniel Ward

Why I started using Todoist to manage my tasks

I’m a big believer staying organized, especially the Getting Things Done approach to organization. I maintain a single task list for both work and personal to-​​dos, and make every effort to keep my inbox at zero. And to ensure my task list is always handy wherever I am, I manage it electronically.

Since 2008, I have used Remember the Milk to maintain my task list. It allows me to organize my tasks by project, tag, due date, and location, and its real-​​time sync lets me add and complete tasks from anywhere. Better yet, RTM offers an unparalleled quick-​​add feature: typing in a single field, I can create a task, set a due date, add it to a project, set its location, and assign tags.

Nearly seven years later, RTM offers these same features—and hasn’t really added anything else. Its web app hasn’t been updated since I began using it, though there are indications that a new version is coming eventually. The iOS app has seen just two minor updates since 2012—one to ensure Retina compatibility and the other to fix a bug in iOS 8.

Meanwhile, other task-​​management apps have continued to innovate, and have long passed RTM in terms of functionality. While RTM may eventually catch up, it’s far from clear that it will. There certainly hasn’t been any public communication to that effect: the company hasn’t talked about upcoming features, and they’ve even stopped their weekly tips and tricks blog posts. Unfortunately, all indications are that RTM has fallen behind for good.

Why I picked Todoist

My Todoist task list

Starting last summer, I explored several of the major task management apps. My principal criteria: the app had to offer functionality equal or superior to Remember the Milk, especially when it came to task entry and cross-​​platform sync; and it needed to be regularly maintained and updated. Among those I test-​​drove were Wunderlist, Todoist, Apple Reminders, Asana, and Evernote’s reminders.

After a few weeks of research and experimentation, and after a thorough trial earlier this month, I decided on Todoist, for five big reasons:

  1. Quick-​​add. At least in the desktop and web apps, Todoist’s quick-​​add feature allows task entry without having to use a mouse. On my Mac, ⌘-Shift-​​A is an elegant way to add quick tasks without having to switch away from my current window. Like RTM, Todoist allows me to set most task attributes without a mouse, but it adds support for linking and even text formatting within task names.
  2. Web access and native apps. Todoist offers a robust web app as well as native apps for both iOS and OS X, all of which are delightfully simple in design. Both native apps include Notification Center support, and iOS features like time– and location-​​based reminders are extraordinarily helpful. My tasks sync quickly and seamlessly across devices.
  3. Active maintenance. Todoist regularly adds new features, and communicates with customers about upcoming releases. In just the last six months, Todoist launched features like location-​​based reminders, a new “karma” progress-​​tracking tool, Yosemite support, iOS 8 support (taking advantage of all the new features), and IFTTT integration. They’ve also announced their major initiatives for 2015, giving me confidence that the platform will continue to strengthen and evolve.
  4. The small things. In many cases, it’s the small details that can make or break a user experience. For example, on a recent trip to Dallas, I loaded up Todoist on my phone and it immediately prompted me to switch the time zones used to set my task due dates. RTM’s iPhone app, by contrast, not only failed to adjust time zones but inexplicably showed the wrong day’s tasks when note in the home time zone.

None of the other apps matched my workflow. Wunderlist task entry is clumsy, and the interface is visually off-​​putting; Reminders lacks the features I desired, like subtasks, tagging, and more; Asana is powerful, but it’s really designed for project collaboration rather than daily tasks; and Evernote’s reminders function isn’t really useful for a GTD setup. Federico Viticci reviews Todoist in-​​depth if you’re looking for a deeper dive into Todoist and its features.

After just a few days of using Todoist full-​​time, Todoist has improved my workflow and productivity. I find myself regularly using features like quick-​​add on my Mac and location-​​based reminders on my phone, while the karma tool is a fun way to keep me motivated to stay organized.

How do you keep your tasks organized?


This is the wrong way to measure e-​​mail success

Campaign Monitor explains how it selected its 20 top-​​performing e-​​mail messages:

With lists larger than 100,000 email subscribers and email campaigns that get more than 5% click-​​through rates (CTRs) or open rates exceeding 50%, our Top Performers are great examples of effective email strategy in action.

This assumes the purpose of an e-​​mail campaign is to get an open or a click. In many cases, including for nearly all of those Campaign Monitor highlights, the goal is some further conversion like a sale. Opens and clicks are just the means to an end.

Just as you don’t measure the success of a store by how many people come in the door, you shouldn’t measure an e-​​mail campaign by how many people open or click.


Why you shouldn’t try to copy the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Every time a fundraising campaign makes the news, nonprofit boards start asking “why can’t we do that?”

It happened after the Red Cross’ success raising money through text-​​to-​​donate after the Haiti earthquake.

And it’s sure to happen now that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has drawn more than $100 million for the ALS Association in just a month.

You should resist the pressure to mimic the Ice Bucket Challenge. And you should resist the “weasels” who will try to sell you a viral campaign. Here’s why: (more…)


That’s not a story you’re telling

Marketers should tell stories. That’s the best way to engage our customers. But too often, we create content that’s not a story—there’s no protagonist, no drama.

Paul VanDeCar elaborates:

But the “stories” on their websites weren’t so much stories as statements of feeling or timelines or sequences of events. Those all have their place, but they’re not stories, and they typically don’t grab people in the way stories do.


Use psychology to help your customers relieve mental burdens

Here’s some fascinating behavioral research:

Through the experiments, the researchers homed in on a hypothesis: People appear wired to incur a significant physical cost to eliminate a mental burden.

In particular, Dr. Rosenbaum said, people are seeking ways to limit the burden to their “working memory,” a critical but highly limited mental resource that people use to perform immediate tasks. By picking up the bucket earlier, the subjects were eliminating the need to remember to do it later. In essence, they were freeing their brains to focus on other potential tasks.

Savvy marketers will use this knowledge to help their customers relieve mental burdens.



The case against marking form fields as required

To boost response to online forms, Anthony at UX Movement suggests indicating which fields are optional rather than which are required:

Marking required fields enable [sic] users to do the bare minimum to complete your form. They’re going to put more importance on required fields and fill those out first while ignoring the optional ones. Why would they spend time on optional fields if they can fill out what’s required and move on? However, if you use voluntary over-​​disclosure to your advantage and mark optional fields only, users won’t feel the need to take shortcuts.

Worth a test.


The three things you should do before you run an online test

A/​B testing is a powerful way to improve your online marketing.

But more important than any improvement you might get from testing is what you learn from your testing that you can apply in the future. That means the process behind your test is critical.

You should take these three basic steps before running any test:

1. Choose what element of your program you want to improve

For example, you might want to strengthen your e-​​mail newsletter or your donation page.

2. Identify how you measure success

You don’t run a test just to see what happens. You’re trying to improve something. What is that something?

So if you’re optimizing your newsletter, what’s the goal of the newsletter? To drive someone to your website, perhaps? Or what’s the goal of your donation form? To capture the most gifts or to capture the most revenue?

You will then measure your test results based on this goal.

3. Develop a hypothesis about how you will improve that measure

This step is critical. With a clear hypothesis—“more links in my newsletter will drive more traffic to the site,” for example, or “less clutter on the donation page will lead to more gifts”—you have a testable proposition. Your test will either confirm or reject your hypothesis, and you can apply that lesson in the future.


In defense of flexible office space

The debate between fully-​​open and fully-​​enclosed work spaces misses the point, David Craig argues. What really matters is flexibility:

The bigger flaw, though, in recent criticisms of open workplaces is the underlying idea that there’s only one choice: open or enclosed. Work is invariably a combination of individual work, collaboration, coördination, creativity, and other things, all of which can take a variety of forms, sometimes in just one person in one day. As research done by CannonDesign with 14 organizations over the past year has shown, the average employee does want fewer distractions, but they also want 35% more frequent interactions within their teams; they want more energy and buzz in the workplace than less, but they also want the flexibility to escape to a quiet place from time to time. What they definitely don’t want is one space that’s just open or just enclosed.

This is very much in line with what Jason Fried and David Heinemeier write in their book Remote.


Clarity trumps design

Jason Fried explains why he prefers simple, text-​​based web designs to slick interfaces:

None of which is to say that a text-​​heavy design is the right solution for everyone. But I’ve always found it interesting that some of the most popular sites on the Web–Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, Wikipedia, to name a few–are often very heavy on the text and very light on the imagery. These sites won’t win any design awards, but they seem to communicate very clearly to their intended audience.

At the end of the day, you’re designing for your customers, not for other designers.