How the GTD to-do list planner Toodledo makes me a better husband

How the GTD to-do list planner Toodledo makes me a better husband
Image by Joanna Malinowska

After trying to use Outlook tasks to organize my to-do lists in a “Getting Things Done” compliant way for five years, I switched back to the GTD focused online productivity tool Toodledo. Yes, it’s one more tool in my arsenal, instead of simply using Outlook and Exchange Server for everything: emails, calendar and tasks. But Toodledo works so much better for me. Read on to learn how this GTD to-do planner makes me not only a more relaxed person, but also a better (which means: less nagging) husband.

You think the headline is a clickbait title to lure you? No, I’m really serious about this. Using Toodledo again for a few weeks actually made me feel more relaxed and made me act less like an annoying nagger. More about this at the end of this article. Toodledo does this by giving me the confident feeling of being in control. This is very important for a control freak like me. (And by the way, if you think the title is sensational … well, fortunately you haven’t read my first idea which was “How Toodledo leads to better s…”—you can guess the rest. That would have been gonzo.)

Toodledo review in a nutshell

For those of you who don’t know Toodledo: It is a powerful, online to-do list tool. Because Toodledo offers a lot of features geared to David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, it is particularly useful for people who use the GTD productivity method. But even if you don’t organize your tasks according to GTD, Toodledo can be the right task list tool for you. The reason for this is its flexibility. You can use the GTD features—but you don’t have to.

Screenshot of one of the list views in my Toodledo account, using the “grid” display option with almost all available fields activated
One of the list views in my Toodledo account, using the “grid” display option with almost all available fields activated. But don’t be put off. Usually you don’t need this overwhelming display option very often.

In simplified terms the task list part of GTD encourages you to not only jot down a to-do list item, but to characterize it using various criteria. For exmaple, a task can require a specific location to be completed. (You can’t plant flowers in your garden while you are sitting at your desk in the office.) Or it requires a certain tool to be at hand, e. g. a telephone or a computer. A task can be one step in a multi-step project. It has a current status indicating its progression, like “next action”, “planned”, “waiting”, “postponed”, etc. And of course a task can have a priority, a due date and a start date.

Toodledo has input fields for each of these criteria—and a few more not mentioned above. So if you want the full-fledged GTD experience, Toodledo provides you with everything you need. However, if only a few of these task characterizations are useful for you, you can simply hide those you don’t need. This results in a much cleaner interface.

There are four other sections (“notes”, “outlines”, “lists” and “habbits”) in Toodledo which I won’t discuss here, mostly because I don’t use them by now. But have a look at their short introduction video to learn more about Toodledo’s full range of functions.

Toodledo Productivity System Overview

What I like about Toodledo

Besides the general GTD orientation of Toodledo there are four features which get me enthusiastic about the tool every time I use it:

  • Sort tasks by their “importance”
  • Hotlist
  • Reliability and ease of use on every device
  • Browser integration

Let me explain each of them in a few sentences.

Sort tasks by their “importance”

Screenshot of the sort options menu in Toodledo
Sort options menu in Toodledo

When looking at a list of tasks, especially if it is a long list, sort order is key. Toodledo offers you a three level deep sort order configuration. So far it’s more or less the same thing I had with my former Outlook tasks. But Toodledo’s sort options offer you not only all of the fields you are using, but also an additional entry called “importance”.

Sorting by importance triggers a little bit of magic in the background. Toodledo uses the different fields which indicate importance (like priority) and urgency (like due date and status) to calculate a kind of weighted combination. The result is a classification called “importance level”.

The great thing about this importance level: You don’t have to ransack your brains over urgent—but not necessarily important—tasks versus important—but not necessatily urgent—tasks anymore. A lot of productivity experts wrote a lot of guidelines on how to deal with this problem. But with Toodledo’s option to sort a to-do list by importance it’s super easy because the tool decides for you which task you should attempt first.

My recommended sort order for most of the list views is:

  • Level 1: by importance
  • Level 2: by due date
  • Level 3: by folder

This way the tasks I should take care of first are displayed at the top of the list. So I can just work through the list from top to bottom because I can trust Toodledo to tell me what to do next.

Hotlist

Screenshot of Toodledo’s Android widget
The hotlist view is perfect for Toodledo’s Android widget.

The idea behind Toodledo’s “hotlist” feature is quite similar to the idea behind the importance level, which I described above. It’s all about taking the hassle of to-do list maintenance off your shoulders, so you can concentrate on processing your tasks—instead of rearranging and sorting them to find out what to do next.

The Toodledo help section explains: The hotlist is a special section that lists tasks that Toodledo thinks are the most important. It contains tasks that are due soon, as well as tasks that have a high enough priority, star or status. That pretty much says it all.

The hotlist view takes the sorting by importance even one step further. (You don’t necessarily have to use the “sort by importance” option in your hotlist view. But they make a perfect team.) The hotlist hides all tasks which are not relevant right now, so you can focus entirely on what has to be done next. It is one of Toodledo’s features I use most often. And the hotlist is also perfect for Toodledo’s Android widget. This way I always know which tasks I should attend to today—with just one look at my phone.

Reliability and ease of use on every device

One thing I really didn’t like about Outlook tasks was the fact that the lists looked different on different platforms. And it was complicated. Always. To have a bit of GTD structure I used a combination of folders (for some of the status variations like “next actions”, “waiting for”, etc.) and categories (with different prefixes to mark contexts, projects, etc.). Then I created different views to be used with different folders. It worked—somehow, but it was not great. Since categories were used for more than just one “dimension”, tasks tended to appear more than once in a grouped list view.

But that was just Outlook on my notebook computer. None of the custom list view configurations, which my whole system relied on, were available in the web version or in my Android app. (I use Nine which is one of the best apps to get most of your Exchange account on your Android smartphone.) To be honest: I never found the tasks I was looking for. The same held true for entering new tasks using my smartphone. It felt complicated and somehow not really reliable.

Toodledo is the complete opposite. It just works. Everywhere. If you set up the web app to use only some of the criteria fields for tasks, you see the exact same fields in the smartphone app—just as you would expect it. Jotting down a new task is a simple, straight forward thing. That’s why I tend to enter more new tasks using my smartphone than I did while using Outlook tasks.

However, there are two aspects of the smartphone app which are in need of improvement. The sorting and filtering configuration you set up is not synchronized between the web app and the smartphone app. Since I rarely change it, setting up both apps the same way is only a one-time task. But it doesn’t match the “same interface evererywhere” experience you have in other respects. The second thing I miss in the Android app is the collaboration feature. You cannot assign a task to or share a task with a collaborator. Since my wife now uses Toodledo, too, this is something I’d really like to see in the app. My workaround for now is a separate folder called “Tasks to be assigned to Lilli” which I use as a temporary storage and which I have to process every time when I’m back at a computer with access to Toodledo’s web app.

Browser integration

Screenshot of creating a task with “Add to Toodledo” for Chrome
Creating a task with “Add to Toodledo” for Chrome

Using the Chrome app Add to Toodledo on a desktop computer or using Android’s share functionality (with the Toodledo app installed) lets you create a new task referencing the web page you are currently browsing. This is a great feature for me because I don’t need Pocket anymore to save articles I want to read later. Of course, Pocket has more to offer than just bookmarks of pages you want to visit later. But I never made much use of Pocket’s easy-to-read view or the ability to download content in the Android app to be able to read it offline.

Now I can save links to content I want to read or watch later directly in Toodledo with a few clicks. In addition, I can now prioritize my reading list items as well as add specific contexts. For example: I usually add the “smartphone” context to articles about digital marketing, but the “desktop computer” context to articles about web development—because there is a chance that I want to have a closer look on bigger code snippets or try out things on my own—which is something I don’t want to do on a small smartphone screen.

And the husband story? Here it is.

My wife always used to say that to-do lists were not her thing, especially digital ones. I tried to get her to read David Allen’s Getting Things Done book at least a dozen times over the last nine years. Without success. It is not her thing, and that’s OK.

So I communicated by speech to ask her to attend to certain taks, like “can you please clear away [whatever was left lying about] so that I can clean this room on the weekend.” (I’d like to note that I never exact anything from anybody which I don’t exact from myself, too.) Being a bit of a control freak this presented me with a problem: If my wife said “yes” but didn’t do it right away, or if there was no fixed deadline, chances were that nothing happened for a few days or weeks. Nothing of importance so far. But esepcially if it was a houshold task, the fact that nothing happend catched my eye day after day. That is a real pain for a neat freak like me.

Since I am an impatient person (Queen’s I want it all and I want it now is one of my favorite lyrics lines for a reason), I find it annoying if a task remains unfinished. That’s why I write things down in form of a to-do list. This way I can be certain not to forget anything, even if I cannot take care of it right away. So I always wondered if my wife had intentionally not attended to an unfinished task or if she simply had forgotten. To be sure, I asked her. Usually again and again if there was no visible progress regarding a task. I know, I can be very nagging if I can’t see any progress. Of course she had never forgotten a task. Sometimes she just changed the order of priorities because it made sense.

Problem identified

It goes without saying that my wife was not exactly happy about being repeatedly asked if she had forgotten this task. And that task. Oh and that one, too …

You know the line happy wife, happy life. I had to find a way to be a less nagging husband—to have a happy life—, while at the same time making sure that the tasks were not forgotten and properly executed.

Clip from: Jeff Allen - Bananas - "Happy Wife, Happy Life"

Basically it was very easy: If I could be sure that a task cannot be forgotten, there was no reason to nag my beloved wife about this task. I was sure that a to-do list, which we both have access to, would help. Unfortunately my wife was not a big fan of to-do lists.

Problem solved

I told her my idea and that I was just about to transfer my own to-do list from Outlook to Tooodledo—a tool which offers exactly the collaboration features I had in mind.

The nice thing about Toodledo’s collaboration feature is that you have two options:

  • Either you share a task with your collaborator. In this case the task appears in both Toodledo accounts and each of the collaborators can change or complete the task.
  • Or you can re-assign a task. If you do this, the task disappears from your task list. But if both collaborators grant each other access to their task lists, you can check the status of the tasks you re-assigned simply by having a look into the collaborator’s to-do lists. There is also an option to receive notification emails for re-assigned tasks.

In my opinion this is a big advantage compared to the way Outlook handles task assignment.

But back to the story. To put it in a nutshell, my wife agreed to give it a try. I set up both Toodledo accounts, transferred my task lists, set up some tasks in her account and installed the Toodledo app on her smartphone, including the home screen widget. Then I demonstrated her the basiscs of how to use Toodledo. We had an intense look at the settings of her account, so she could decide which fields and features she wanted to use. The result was a very lean and easy to use field setup.

To my surprise it worked. My beloved—former “to-do lists are not my thing”—wife is now a convinced and satisfied Toodledo user! She likes the simplicity of the tool and uses it every day to organize what she wants to get done.

And the nagging? It is replaced by an occasional “Honey, let’s have a look at our to-do lists and see what we both can achieve this weekend.” It works. We are both more relaxed while being more productive. Using Toodledo and putting trust in the reliability of our task lists made our life a little bit better, I’d say.

What are your experiences with productivity methodologies, task lists and to-do apps? I look forward to your comments using the social media links below.