Review of Todoist
Important Note! This review might be outdated. I keep it online for archival purposes, but be aware that some features may have changed.
Todoist is one of the most prominent applications in the genre of task management. It is used by many, and thus often recommended throughout the productivity community.
The web-based service uses a one layout fits anywhere approach with an app for virtually any platform, providing the same appearance and featureset everywhere. It approaches task management rather simple: With fewer features, less distracting elements and a bit of gamification; to be an efficient companion in daily work.
We will take a look at the service to see whether it is a valid choice for your task management needs. Can it compete with other giants in task management?
A web-service with apps everywhere
After being created in 2007, Todoist grew to be one of the most prominent services in the group of to-do list applications.
From the money initially made, the founder created a startup called Doist, a Chilean company with a 50 people strong remote developer team around the world. Along with Todoist, they provide tools for productivity for both personal and team use.
Todoist is a task management application which aims at using a simplistic and easy approach. Rather than delivering a metric ton of functionality, it tries to compete with a smooth implementation of a selected few, necessary, features. Therefore, it comes with a rather gentle learning curve and is usable from the first minute.
They provide apps for 12 different platforms. That includes all major mobile platforms, Desktop systems, plugins for browsers, and also Apple Watch and Android Wear. As it is mainly a web-service, of course it also runs within the browser without installing anything.
As Todoist is a web-based service, there is no need to set up any sync. When logged into the same account, the apps on all devices will remain in sync automatically.
The sync is reliable and extremely fast. It might be one of the best implementations of background push sync in its genre.
Due to the nature of this application, all user data lies in the cloud. There is no support for end-to-end encryption, but Doist promises to take care of a secure handling of all customer data.
It is possible to export backups from the settings menu or API, so users are able to maintain an offline copy of all data, if wanted.
Todoist uses a freemium model. That means, that it can be used for free as much as wanted, but a subset of the features are locked behind a premium subscription.
More concrete, that subscription would be a flat fee of $28.99 per year per user. There is no option for monthly payments. After paying this yearly fee, the account unlocks all extra functionality on all devices in use.
What’s behind the payment wall? Well, there is a handy table on the Todoist website, but it mostly dumps down to advanced usage. For free, one can create up to 80 projects and unlimited tasks using the standard features of Todoist. Most features are available for free, so the service can be tested in detail before purchase.
If paid yearly, one can create up to 200 projects. There are also extra features like labels, reminders, and the function to attach conversations, notes, and files to tasks. Furthermore, various automation related features, like adding tasks via email, iCal synchronization, or project templates would need an upgraded account.
The Todoist team can be reached via email and Twitter, with an about average response time.
There used to be a user forum to discuss and suggest new features. Unfortunately, it has been discontinued, and there is no way to publicly discuss the platform, at least provided by Doist themselves.
While the development of Todoist has been steady, with regular bug fix releases and smaller added features, the development seems rather slow. The developer has been criticized for adjusting too slowly to the users needs. Browsing forums, Twitter and App Store reviews, there have been many repeated feature requests, but very little progress, and many great ideas have unfortunately been often ignored.
Of course, a service with 10 million customers cannot regularly push new updates, if even from a QA standpoint. Too slow development might just be a result from trying to keep Todoist as bug free as possible. Who knows?
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Todoist will be developed for the foreseeable future and continue to be one of the main competitors in its field. The service is growing, the business model seems to make profit, and there are regular maintenance updates fixing all kinds of issues.
Todoist comes with an iconic look. On all its 12 platforms, it looks and feels the same. The UI and menus share the same layout, just adapted to each individual platforms screen estates and needs.
Due to the identical look and feel on all platforms, it also shares the same feature set on all of them. There is no main platform, as virtually all of them act the same.
As noticed before, Todoist comes with a strong sync functionality, and it will stay updated on all devices within seconds. If offline, it still works perfectly and syncs after connecting to a network – even within the browser, thanks to HTML5.
There is support for basic theming. While this feature is rather limited, it allows the user to change the main color. In our screenshots, we chose green to be the main color, but all green elements in the screenshots can be switched uniformly to another color by selecting another theme.
The main layer of abstraction in Todoist are projects, which are implemented as separate task lists. For every project, a distinct task list can be created to keep its tasks separate from unrelated tasks.
A project could be, well, a project you are working on (e.g. Productived.net). It could also be an area of life (e.g. Work), or simply a folder for collecting single tasks (e.g. Groceries).
Each project can be flagged with a color, and the interface furthermore allows nesting of projects. Using such a nesting, it is possible to create a hierarchy of projects, like Work -> Project -> Subproject.
Task lists themselves look pretty slick, too. Adding a new task is as simple as typing, and all tasks can be set up with attached meta-data like deadlines, reminders and tagging. As with task lists, tasks can also be nested as needed – giving the possibility of having a hierarchy of tasks and sub-tasks.
For quickly adding tasks, Todoist supports an advanced syntax: Deadlines and repeating dates can be written inline, as Todoist supports natural language detection. A task for Buy flowers for mothers day every year would create a repeating task Buy flowers for mothers day, starting today (with its repeating date today in one year.) The natural language detection works in multiple languages, so even if you won’t use English for your task management, there is a good chance that your language is also supported.
Every task which is not specifically added to a task list or project will be put to a list called Inbox.
Regarding meta-data, Todoist allows to attach a couple of helpful things to a given task:
Schedule One can add a deadline to a task. This comes with a graphical menu with the most important choices as shortcuts. It also allows for entering recurring dates, like due every week. Again, natural language detection helps to smooth out the progress.
Reminder A reminder is separate from a deadline. It would be the date and time, where a push notification will remind one to do this task. A reminder can be a date; but also a location. If so, a location-based reminder will notify of this task on a mobile device, if coming close to the specified location.
Priority A task can have no priority, priority 1, priority 2 or priority 3. While there is not much pre-defined logic behind this, it can simply be helpful to view important tasks at a glance. A priority can be used to specify importance or urgency of a task. It also allows for more advanced custom filtering (more on this later.)
Labels This is Todoist’s answer to keywords, tags, or however one wants to call them. Similar to a priority, it is mostly useful in combination with search and filter purposes.
Notes A task can have one or multiple notes attached. This is integrated with team-based features, as it even possible to chat within the task notes. Furthermore, files, images and voice notes can be attached to a task.
Todoist comes with two main views to work with tasks. They are called Today and Next 7 days.
Previously, the review looked at task lists, which are lists of tasks dedicated to a single project or area of life. Today and Next 7 days in contrast cover a different purpose. They are smart lists, a concept which might be familiar from iTunes or similar apps.
The idea is this: They fill up automatically based on preset rules. For example, all tasks which are due today, or already overdue, will be visible within the Today view. They are still part of another task list, but are simply summarized within the Today overview. This way, one can see at glance, which tasks should be tackled next.
Similarly, the Next 7 days view does the same for the next week – in a calendar-ish overview with all tasks due within the next days.
Todoist does not stop with these previous two smart lists. There is a full subset of features based on this. It is called filters. Below the preset lists, there is a tab called Filters. Clicking on it will open a list of more custom filters.
Using an advanced syntax, new filters can be added. A filter can be described as a sticky custom search; it behaves like a smart list. One can create a filter to summarize something like overdue & @household. This yields all tasks tagged with the label household, which are overdue.
Using these filters, it is possible to customize Todoist for special needs. By combining codewords like created before with a date, using boolean parameters like | and &, or filtering out specific projects and labels, rather complex custom searches are always within the range of a single click.
Todoist has a full sub-category of features and capabilities targeted at enterprise and teams. While these are created with businesses in mind, they can of course also be used with a spouse or friends.
As this website is mostly focused at personal productivity and related workflows, these features were not tested in-depth. Nevertheless, we want to acknowledge the existence of some of these features, as they might still be more than relevant for many.
Multiple users Task lists and projects can be worked on with multiple people. This allows for assigning tasks to a person, and similar related functionality. Users can either have their own Todoist accounts and share task lists between one another, or instead use team accounts (called Todoist Business), which allow for a central payment and a more advanced team-related settings.
If working together, Todoist supports chats and comments within task notes. It is also possible to attach files from the hard disk or other cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive.
Another field, where Todoist can shine, is automation. The service comes with a strong integration into various other services (like IFTTT). It is also integrated into the app Workflow (iOS), which allows automated workflows directly on mobile devices – especially useful if working with an iPad.
Doist maintains a REST-based Web API for Todoist, so anybody with programming skills would be able to write their own apps accessing their Todoist data. The API allows full access to any feature of Todoist, so this would allow anything from import/export to data manipulation, and more.
Todoist also supports Send-To-Inbox. This is a feature which allows sending emails directly to the task inbox, which is helpful to set up automated workflows or simply for forwarding emails to the task management app. In addition to a simple Send-To-Inbox address, Todoist also allows to send emails directly to a project. Each project can have its individual email address, so it would be possible to CC emails to a supervisor directly to a specific project.
Last, it is possible to have iCal calendars integrate with the Todoist data. By subscribing to the Todoist calendar in a calendar app, one can see future deadlines and reminders inside the calendar. If using Google Calendar, this feature even implements 2-way synchronization, so changes made within Google Calendar would sync back to the tasks in Todoist.
Todoist comes with a system called Karma. It is Doist’s try on gamification. For each completed task on time, the user will receive points – so-called Karma. After gaining a lot of points, the user will rank up.
There are eight levels, ranking from Beginner over Expert to Enlightened. But the rank will only stay high while being productive! If not completing tasks, the Karma level will slowly decrease, as the account will drop points little by little; especially if there are overdue tasks. This effect can (unfortunately) be seen in our screenshots, as there has been a large break in usage between the testing out Todoist and later on taking the screenshots for this review.
This Karma system comes with daily and weekly streaks: If enough tasks are completed every single day, the streak will stay active, and more Karma points are to be gained. The needed tasks per day or week can be set individually.
This is a fun system, and it can be a great incentive to work and tackle tasks more steadily. It also comes with Todoist’s version of statistics and archives.
Via the Karma menu, it is possible to see the activity of other team members and an archive of who finished what. This, of course, can also be used in solo, as an archive of previously edited and completed tasks. For example, it can show graphical statistics of the most productive week days, color coded by project.
iOS system integrations
On iOS devices, there are integrations into the system for push notifications and background sync. The app also supports standard features like a share extension, force touch and a Today widget for quick entry of tasks to the inbox.
Since iOS 11, there was an update which added capturing tasks via Siri and support for Drag and Drop on the iPad.
We covered all features of Todoist in detail. Before wrapping up, this and the following section will discuss our opinion on this service in greater detail.
This should give a neutral but critical view on its capabilities, and why it might be a good or bad decision to trust Todoist as the main system for task management.
Popular choice for task management
Todoist grew to be one of the main players in task management. It is a heavily used app, both for beginners and power users.
While everybody uses it is not exactly the best argument to choose a tool of trust, it comes with its own advantage: Lots of documentation. Many blogs cover setups of filtering, discussions on workflows, and other ideas involving Todoist and the usage of this service.
With its Web API and other automation tools, Todoist is an app where it helps to have a community creating tools and preset setups.
An easy and open system
The implementation of task management can differ from app to app. This often comes with a steep learning curve. Complex apps often need their own course or counseling to understand how they work. Even many simpler apps might need an hour or two to be fully understood. In contrast, Todoist probably comes with one of the easiest learning curves of all reviewed applications.
Furthermore, Todoist comes with a freemium model. While some features are locked behind a paywall, the majority of the service can be used completely free. That makes it even more accessible for many users, who might feel expensive apps are not worth it for their task management needs.
With 12 supported platforms, there is probably no situation where one would wish Todoist to be available on yet another platform. It runs everywhere – no locked into the Apple ecosystem, or only available on Windows. Use any device – Todoist will probably be available in some form or another.
Last, something big for more advanced users: Todoist comes with great capabilities for automation. It is integrated in numerous other services, can work with tools like IFTTT (Web) or Workflow (iOS) and even comes with an advanced Web API. This allows for automating the creation of tasks based on events like calendar entries, mentions in other apps, and more.
This website mostly targets personal productivity. Therefore, services and applications are rarely tested with team capabilities in mind. Even this review passed the team-based features rather quickly.
Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning if you are in the position where sharing task lists might be helpful. Even out of a company, it can be used to share tasks with a friend or spouse.
After going through all the good things in Todoist, let’s take a quick look about things, which are not implemented as greatly.
Writing this section has actually been tricky, as most features in Todoist are well implemented. There are rather few obvious drawbacks. In essence, there is a single deciding factor which will probably determine whether Todoist is a deal breaker or an extremely well implemented companion.
Limited in its core features
Todoist is an app which shines in its simplicity and almost minimalistic approach to task management. Unfortunately, that paradigm is not exactly compatible with a lot of more complex workflows.
For example, Todoist is missing a variety of features which would be considered useful for GTD based workflows. Todoist claims, that GTD works with their system, and they provide a guide for that. The guide can be followed to implement some basic GTD workflows, but it will feel lacking compared other apps which are tailored more closely to GTD workflows.
There is no good way to review future tasks and organize large databases of tasks. The gamification feature gives some great insight on previously done tasks, but there are no dedicated features to plan ahead and review the current state of each project. In our mind, this is a major disadvantage to more complex apps like MyLifeOrganized and OmniFocus 2; but this, in essence, is just a trade off of simplicity and complexity.
Similarly, it misses features to put tasks and projects on hold. There is no waiting context and also no support for defer dates. This makes Todoist very clunky if dealing with a lot of tasks, as the concept of a next action list is not available. While it could be manually implemented with custom filtering, it will not work as native as if it would be integrated functionality.
These features are useful if working with large databases and tasks far into the future. If task management is used to plan the current week, none of this is needed and Todoist is a great choice. But, if task management is used to plan ahead the next quarters or years, these features are almost necessary to win the fight against the masses of ideas and thoughts for future projects.
So, in summary: If you have a couple of projects and task lists with tens of open tasks, Todoist will be a great tool, shining with its simplicity and easiness. If you however are working with a large database of hundreds of tasks/projects and convoluted workflows, the limited functionality might sooner or later be an issue. This should at least be considered when choosing the trusted system for task management.
Other minor nitpicking
There are a few other things, which are worth mentioning, but might be considered nit-picky. Therefore, we will just skim through them at a glance.
As discussed above, the development of Todoist has been rather slow in the past. Doist has been in critique of slow development and not adjusting to the needs and suggestion of its users. That being said, Todoist still receives very regular updates.
Next; with supporting 12 different platforms, Todoist can not fully adjust to all of them. Especially the desktop and browser clients all feel the same and integrate into each system rather poorly. The mobile applications feel good, and they support the latest features of each operating system. It is a web service foremost, and will not look as native as other apps directly developed for a operating system will be able to. This means: No native UI controls, no support for OS level scripting languages like AppleScript, and so on.
Last, due to the nature of this service, all user data lies in the cloud. Not necessarily a drawback, but something you should be aware of, in terms of privacy, especially if handling sensitive data in the tasks.
Todoist is one of the most prominent services in task management and that has a reason. The application is working very nice on all platforms and brings a beautiful minimalistic layout. It is easy to work with and brings gamification features to make it rather fun to use for a productivity app.
There are many positive things to say about Todoist as it does many things right. For a simple approach to task management, there are few reasons to look further. It is definitely one of the apps everybody interested should at least try once.
As one of the few reviewed applications, Todoist comes with team-based features. Working together on the same projects and tasks has rarely been easier, and it is a feature where this service can outshine a lot of competitors.
After all the praise, some words on a major drawback: The limited GTD capabilities are a let-down and probably the deciding factor on whether Todoist can work for you or not.
There are no features helping with hiding future tasks, putting things on hold, or reviewing projects in a regular manner. This makes working with next action lists a little cumbersome due to information overflow. If having invested in the GTD methodology and related mindsets, Todoist might lack a few major features which make it harder to work with.
Here, a Web-based service targeting GTD like GTDNext might be more applicable. You could also go for a more complex application like OmniFocus or MyLifeOrganized. This is a simple trade-off between simplicity and complexity, so there can not be a real winner.
Which paradigm do you prefer for your productivity needs? Does Todoist feel like a fit for you? How do you apply your workflows with it? Let us know in the comments. Please share the post if it helped you!
- Popular choice for task management, so many resources on the web
- Rather minimalistic approach to task lists
- Many supported platforms and same look & feel on all of them
- Support for team-based features
- Freemium model which allows free usage for many people
- Gamification with collecting streaks and karma
- Easy to automate using various APIs and integrations
- Limited GTD capabilities
- Non-native feeling on all platforms
- Few new features over the years
- All data in cloud might be privacy issue for some uses
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