How to make Todoist conform to GTD

Doug von Kohorn
5 min readMar 10, 2017

I recently completed Tiago Forte’s course on GTD. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I tried reading GTD several times, but never could actually figure out how to *do* it. In about 60 minutes of video time and 1 week of real time, I had a fully functioning GTD pipeline.

If I were okay with using the ‘Things’ app, I could’ve gone from zero to GTD master much quicker — but I don’t have an iPhone and I wanted something cross-platform. So I implemented everything in Todoist, which doesn’t let you conform to the GTD philosophy as easily. It’s possible — just difficult. And there weren’t many instructions online, so I’m fixing that now. GTD touches all parts of my life, and it’s been a little confusing getting intimate with an App. Time to pick up some Bogost.

Who is this tutorial for?

This tutorial is for those, who, like me, were stuck figuring out how to make Todoist conform to GTD. And also those who want cross-platform GTD support (I have it as a GMail extension, Chrome extension, Mac app, android app). And a simple, beautiful interface. I’m pretty sure you’ll need a paid subscription to make my implementation work (it uses filters and labels). I’m also certain that the productivity gained/freed by switching to GTD more than pays for the yearly cost of Todoist. I’m also assuming you understand the basic tenets of GTD — areas, projects, labels, actionable vs non-actionable.

Overview of the Key Parts

Here are my Areas and Projects (which are nested underneath Areas). A project is “a series of tasks linked to a goal, with a deadline.” Examples include: Complete app mockup; Develop project plan; Execute business development campaign; Write blog post; Finalize product specifications; Attend conference. An area of responsibility is “a sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time.” Examples include: Health; Finances, Professional Development; Travel; Hobbies; Friends; Apartment; Car; Productivity; Direct reports; Product Development; Writing.

So, in Todoist everything is a project, but in GTD there is a project/area distinction. The way you get around this first obstacle in Todoist is to nest projects underneath areas. Easy to do — just create a new project and drag it under an area project (under Creating projects and adding tasks).

Here are my filters. GTD recommends filters by Time, Context, Energy, and Priority. Priority is already handled by Todoist (it provides Priority 4 -> Priority 1). I’ve added an extra two dimensions to the priority, however — important and urgent. This idea comes from the Eisenhower Matrix. The final two are Someday and Waiting. Someday are tasks that are not in my Next queue, but on my mind. Waiting are to remember to follow up with this task — usually in my weekly review I go over these.

In GTD, there’s a concept of Next. I’ve chosen the filter of Priority 3 to represent Next. The default for a task is Priority 4 (the lowest). Anything higher than Priority 3 means I’ve selected the task for today.

Putting it all together

Every day or so, I go through my inbox and categorize the tasks with labels and priority (p4 or @Someday for weekly or monthly review, p3 for next, p2/p1 for today). I also look at my calendar for other things I need to flow around. Sometimes, my tasks have reminder dates — so I also check my today box (which functions as an inbox populated only with reminders).

The pieces are in place to show the Todoist GTD flow. Every morning, I select my tasks for the day using my Eisenhower Matrix filter:

@urgent & @important & p3, @urgent & !@important & p3, @important & !@urgent & p3, !@urgent & !@important & p3

Here’s a screenshot of what the filter looks like:

You can see the time and energy labels below each task, the project or area of the task, and the Eisenhower matrix projection. I go through this list and select maybe 10 or 15 tasks by changing their priority to either level 2 or 1. Afterwards, I apply my today filter:

p1, @urgent & @important & p2, @urgent & !@important & p2, @important & !@urgent & p2, !@urgent & !@important & p2

Here’s a screenshot of the today filter:

And that’s it! I just pull work from my today filter and GTD across any platform :)

Bonus: What are those colors??

I also color code my areas and projects by the three broadest realms in my life. personal, relationships, professional. Red-ish for professional, blue-ish for personal, black for relationships ;). If you check an inbox item off before it get’s processed and labeled, the color is gray. Checking things off from the Inbox is a Bad Habit — trust in your system to bubble up the tasks at the right time. Having a balance between professional and personal seems like a good thing to keep track of, too.

After 3 weeks, I’m pretty happy about my setup. Please leave comments, criticisms, critiques, interjections.