How Todoist Saved My Freelance Career (and My Sanity)

How I used Todoist to make choices, focus on the essentials, and ultimately achieve career success

freelance career

I know, the headline may seem like I am pushing it (and praising Todoist too much). But if I’m totally honest, the fact is Todoist has been a lifesaver for my freelance career. It’s what ultimately let me grow my operations again, after months of stagnation.

To give you the short version, I recently decided to finally take control of my projects and test different productivity and to-do list tools. After a bit of experimenting, I found that Todoist managed to offer just the set of features I needed. This was the first step in the path to saving my sanity as a freelancer.

But this post isn’t only going to be about me. I’m going to share actionable tips that you can use yourself, thus making your own everyday work more effective.

Therefore, if you’re running a business or you’re a freelancer looking to improve some areas of your work, this post is for you.

The problem of choice

Personally, I believe that one of the main problems in today’s business world isn’t that we lack good ideas, or that we can’t find an effective way to take action. The main problem is that there are so many possibilities out there that we can’t decide what to do first.

And even when we do manage to take action on something, we forget to follow up. So in the end, our projects remain half-done. And when we’re talking careers or business, half-done means not done at all.

The obvious solution to getting a grasp on things (if you don’t want to learn more complicated techniques like GTD) is a to-do list. But a to-do list itself won’t save you. Working with your to-do list is about solving the problem of choice—selecting what to work on from everything on your plate.

The main idea to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t focus on finding new things for your to-do list. Actually, you should attempt to remove as much as possible. Be brutal when selecting what goes on your list and what doesn’t.

Gaining clarity

clarity

The main challenge for me was that my workday wasn’t clear at all. I couldn’t decide what project to work on. Personal projects? Client work?

I needed clarity and Todoist provided it with their home screen with several ways to look at my tasks: “inbox,” “today,” and “next 7 days” views.

I’ve realized that this view is placed there for a reason and that looking at what’s going on in our lives today (both professionally and personally), as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow, is probably the most effective approach out there.

But before you can focus on today, you need to take everything out of your head and onto something, preferably a piece of paper. So what I did was the following (by the way, this is similar to the approach taught by GTD):

  • took note of every project and task on my mind and put it on paper
  • removed the things that I considered unimportant
  • grouped all the other things into individual projects (for clients, my own things, and so on)
  • fired up Todoist and placed the task from every project that I needed to get done first in the inbox

This step alone gave me huge clarity about where I was, where my client projects were and what I should probably do next to move everything forward. Having this out of my head was invaluable. Not having to remember things, and instead having software do this for you is a huge weight off your chest.

Focus on the essential

productivity

The next step is creating your now—the things that need to get done today. And I guarantee that you will be tempted to put more than a handful of tasks on that today list. But don’t!

In fact, having too many tasks on your daily to-do list will only decrease your productivity and make you think that the projects at hand are too complex to get done.

For instance, according to one study, our brains are not fond of big projects, which makes us fail to commit to long-term goals. It’s a lot more productive to just focus on the essential, first-step tasks towards a given goal. What we can do is trick our brains and thus avoid any fear related to the size of our projects.

Therefore, have only five tasks on your list for today. If you have more, you are likely to procrastinate. If it’s less, you can feel like you’re just slacking off and underperforming.

Being able to focus on today without worrying about what will be in store for tomorrow is exactly what allowed me to finally move my projects forward. Instead of worrying about how big a project might be, I could progress on individual tasks, eventually completing the project.

I encourage you to take a similar route. Take small steps, and pick a handful of things to do today. Repeat tomorrow until completion.

Learning how to speed things up

The main gripe I have with productivity tools is that they are often too complex and have too big of a learning curve.

I mean, productivity tools should never become the purpose of our professional lives (unless you work on a service like Todoist). A quality productivity tool transparently lets you do your job in a more effective way.

And that is one more thing that Todoist is very good at. The simplicity of the tool and good visual presentation is one thing, but there are also other mechanisms that can speed up your work even further such as the keyboard shortcuts.

todoist keyboard shortcuts

I know that this doesn’t sound like much, but working with your keyboard rather than your mouse is much quicker. You can just type in a task, press enter, and be done with it.

Another way to speed things up is to integrate Todoist with other tools you use.

Using helper tools

todoist integrations

Finally, let’s talk about some other helper tools that I used and that you can use as well, especially if you’re freelancing:

  • IFTTT (If This, Then That) has a great library of applets that let you hook up Todoist with the other tools you use.
  • Bidsketch allows you to sending client proposals and track if they were read. Also, your clients can sign the proposal right there so you can get to work immediately. Apart from that, the Bidsketch have even made available a set of resources about making client proposals.
  • Tomatoist is a really handy timer for the Pomodoro Technique fans, starting at 25 minutes and counting down. When the buzzer sounds, you take a break. I use this tool whenever I’m not feeling productive. It makes it easier for me to focus on the task at hand.
  • Toggl is another timer, this one for keeping track of your client work. Once you start using it, you will never again ask how long you spent working on a given project. Just like Todoist handles your to-do lists, Toggl handles your time.

The result

You only have one sanity, and Todoist really saved mine. I am now using the tool every day to handle my projects and pick the tasks that I need to get done first.

For me, the number one benefit is that I no longer have to remember things. Instead, Todoist remembers about them for me.

But hey, that’s just me, and I’d love to hear your opinion on this. How do you use Todoist in your everyday work?