Using Todoist and Trello to beat Procrastination

A while ago I wrote a blog post titled Confessions of a Procrastinator. My goal was to do a follow up which I was going to attempt to post as YouTube video… but I found myself tripping up too much with the recording so it’s back to the written word. Besides, there are tons of good YT videos that exist already to showcase the features of both tools.

In this post I just want to cover off two free web-based tools which can really help to organise your day-to-day and more long term goals.

Todoist

Todoist is available on the web and on mobile and offers a very simple checklist with some powerful features. It’s a good place to start if you want to get better at organising the day-to-day things. I used to use Outlook folders and flags to manage everything and I have to say this is a crazy amount better with a more satisfying feeling to completing tasks.

Once you sign in, you can simply start adding tasks. You can schedule, reschedule, tag and assign to projects. There are some newer features I’ve seem some YT videos showcasing filters, but I don’t currently use them – for me the key is to keep it light and low pressure.

If you’re a serial procrastinator with a disorganised and messy mind like me, you want to keep it simple using the schedule and reschedule options. I can’t emphasise enough the importance, for me at least, of keeping it low-key, low pressure. The moment I start using too many features, and fall behind on one or more tasks, the more I’m going to drift away from the ‘rigidity’ of the platform.

The best thing about Todoist is the ability to reschedule – large checklists can become a massive demotivational driver. You actually want to use that reschedule feature in order to clear off the mundane non-urgent tasks… to prioritise the more urgent tasks.

If you’re trying use these apps to overcome procrastination and put some order in your life, keep it simple. Don’t pressure yourself, if you don’t get a task done, reschedule it for the next day, or even the next week. Of course, some stuff have hard deadlines- and for those, you can use the app as intended – to remind you of that deadline approaching and focus on getting it completed whilst rescheduling the others into the future.

The best thing about Todoist is the ability to reschedule – large checklists can become a massive demotivational driver. You actually want to use that reschedule feature in order to clear off the mundane non-urgent tasks (but still keeping them active somewhere) to prioritise the more urgent tasks. Using the “Today” view therefore allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day without the judgement of a list of stuff you didn’t get done.

But what about the larger tasks, or projects, that require multiple tasks to be completed?

Trello

When it comes to larger projects like writing and publishing a book, buying a car or setting up a website, you don’t want to add these to Todoist as a single task as it may likely take days to months to complete. If I find I have a task on Todoist which is sitting incomplete for a while, it’s usually because their are multiple steps associated, so I move it to Trello.

If you’ve been in business a long time you may have heard the question “How do you eat an elephant?” or the expression “boiling the ocean”. In both cases, trying to complete a monumentous task in one go is going to lead to failure and demotivation, particularly for the serial procrastinator.

As with Todoist, Trello offers a very simple, easy to use interface with some powerful features. It’s important not to get lost in those features and instead take a simple laid-back approach.

After saying I wasn’t going to create a YouTube video, I do think a demo says it best, so here’s how I have it setup. Having read some more professional blogs online, it seems I’m on the right track with the science and psychology of it.

After all that, I’m not perfect at this process by any means, but I’m a big believer in the advantages of technology to improve our lifestyles and standards of living, I just wish I could go back 10 years and introduce myself to this stuff earlier.

The next generation will never know the hardships of the Outlook To-Do list!

Confessions of a Procrastinator

Got the Boost, but not the Bottle

Many years ago, someone relayed a story to me of a friend of theirs who had fitted their Vauxhall Nova with an Nitro boost – this was back in the 80’s when Vauxhall Nova’s were the car of choice for boy racers and modders before the Corsa. He explained to me that the boost worked through plugging in a nitrous bottle, and that once you pressed the button you could get maybe 10-12 seconds before the boost ran out (or so that is what I recall). Either way, it was very easy to use up a full bottle very quickly and apparently the bottles were prohibitively expensive, therefore this friend hardly ever used the boost. Instead he got a sticker made for his car – “Got the boost, but not the bottle”.

Perhaps I’m not unique in this, but I feel like I squandered my 20’s on self-indulgence and FOMO.

I’m probably at the most productive time in my life right now, I’m doing a lot of self-study and implementation too. In the last 10 years a massive amount of opportunities through technology have opened up that never existed before. Many jobs of the past have been lost to automation, yes, and there’s no such thing as a job for life anymore, but the jobs of the future haven’t even been invented yet. The work I do now barely existed at the time I started university almost 20 years ago.

That said, I still look back on the last 20 years with a taste of bitter-sweet. Perhaps I’m not unique in this, but I feel like I squandered my 20’s on self-indulgence and FOMO. I had some of the best events of my life – I travelled, got married, started as a consultant – but at the same time many of the ideas I had in my head, and the opportunities to make money, passed me by. I had ‘the boost but not the bottle’ as it were.

Achieving Nirvana

Part of me blames my upbringing, I was given too much freedom growing up – not enough discipline or structure… I wasn’t made to do household chores and I outside a being sent to bed early on occasion, I was never grounded. These things I was proud of as a punk teenager… now all I see it tragedy and missed opportunity. However, I also firmly believe in revelation and mind-renewal, or brain rewiring. You can’t be blamed for where you’ve come from, and you can’t change that fact, but you can change your future. Once you have a realisation and reach the point of understanding, you realise it’s your responsibility from there, you can no longer lump it on your family, your friends, your school, your work. For me, it’s just that the realisations came long before the call to action.

One of the things I’ve come to understand about myself is that I’m a bit of a ‘big-picture’ thinker – I have many ideas – books, applications, occupations, games, political actions – but don’t necessarily like to bog myself down in the details. Consequently lot’s of ideas, for projects, for starting businesses, for investments, but the moment I sat down to plan on starting just one of those things, and doing some research into what it would take – I lost interest. Towards my late 20’s I started to force myself to focus on an idea and actually begin to work on it, but this developed into another problem. Once I got over the initial research and planning, I found I could focus intensely on a project for a great period of time, continuously working on it in all my spare hours… and then what would happen is I would become slowly seduced by other new interesting ideas, and it would only take one missed evening of productivity and bang, production would stop.

So I had put a major amount of effort into something, I had gotten to about 25% or 50% of the way through and then completely lost interest – it was back to the doldrums and lack of motivation. Too many ideas in my head, not knowing where to start, and not wanting to go back to this other thing I’d started. It’s thoroughly demotivating – if you’re a perfectionist, like my wife, you may understand the feeling of not wanting to start something because of your fear of not being able to complete it. But I did find a way out.

Working with Seasons

You’re probably familiar with the term ‘creature of habit’ – humans are creatures of habit. I notice that most people like to have routines, they form habits around things without even realising it – the way they eat, drive a car, what they do on their weekends. I think I may be broken in some way (being raised by a diagnosed bipolar schizophrenic can do that) and I can’t stand routines or habits. Once I start feeling comfortable in something, it kind of makes me uncomfortable – like when you’ve been sitting in one position for too long. I constantly seek new things.

Then another amazing thing happened, I realised that my mind is like a seasonal worker.

Part of my problem was that I recognised this as unconventional, I hated that I couldn’t focus on just one thing to completion. I thought for the a long that it was a problem that needed fixing (I just didn’t have a clue how), but instead I started to come to another realisation about myself -and it started with acceptance of how my mind works.

Once I had accepted that this massive burst of focus was a thing, and that the next project I start I was going to work as much as I could, but accept the fact that I will eventually lose interest – I could in a way plan for it. I could ensure that whatever I’m working on, I build in plenty of notes and break points so that if I decide to come back again and pick it up – it would be easier to do as I had prepared myself.

Then another amazing thing happened, I realised that my mind is like a seasonal worker. I haven’t quite figured out the logistics yet – but like a farm, or tourist destination – I started to refer to see projects as seasonal of intense bursts of activity. Not only did that free me from the guilt of abandoning a project (instead it’s just the end of the season) it gave me the motivation I needed to pick up a new project and continue to do something. It also meant that I found myself returning to older projects that were once abandoned, because I’d given myself permission to return to that project from ‘last season’.

Teaching myself Discipline

If we were to view the journey of my own self improvement as kind of a project in itself – this last section would be the bit that I haven’t quite finished. I did intend to write one post which would go into some of the methods and tools I use to avoid procrastination and inject some discipline, but I guess the writing took a different direction and I’ll have to do a follow up.

It is of course no good simply just to give oneself permission to engage all kind of projects and abandon them willy-nilly – all that will produce is clutter in your life and in your thoughts. So along with the freedom of treating my mind like a seasonal worker, it also means understanding seasons are cyclical. I give myself a break to leave a project for a season – but that means that I will come back to it. I haven’t got this perfected yet, but in the case of writing books for example (I have written a whole library of 1st chapters), the season is ‘writing’ and therefore rather than start a new book, a new story – I must return to the old one. By forcing myself into this seasonal mindset – I did manage to publish one book, I managed to self study and certify in ITIL Foundation, and I managed to start a company. I am currently the closest to finishing a new fictional novel than I have ever been and the company will be bringing out an online text editing platform soon.

So it’s like a bargain I’ve made with my grey matter – it gets to be a seasonal worker –  I get to determine the seasons in a way. In the next post I’ll follow up with some of the methods and tools that I use to keep myself on track.