A Student’s Guide to Todoist

Your comprehensive guide to avoiding all-nighters and staying (relatively) sane this semester

IIllustration by Yin Weihung

Here’s a scenario you may be familiar with:

In the end, condensing a semester’s worth of studying into a dread-filled 48 hours — or going from choosing a topic to submitting your paper in one caffeine-fueled evening — leaves you with an unfortunate truth: even if you win, you lose. Sleep deprived and with an accompanying eye twitch, you promise yourself to procrastinate less and study more next time.

Luckily, Todoist can help you stick with that commitment.

In between a challenging course load, extracurricular activities, and maintaining a social life, a trusted task manager can act as your constant companion. It will be there to capture your deadlines, keep you organized, and help you use your time wisely in a way that a notebook or sticky notes just can’t. This Students’ Guide will provide you with strategies to get the most out of Todoist as you navigate this semester and the ones ahead.

Structuring your semester

Start off by planning out a structure for your semester.

Create projects for each class

Todoist allows you to organize your tasks inside distinct projects. You can easily organize all the tasks associated with your coursework by creating a project for each class you’re taking.

Often, a class has different components like a lecture, lab, and seminar. Or you may want to distinguish between smaller, one-off assignments and tasks associated with a big project. You can organize these class components into separate sub-projects nestled under your main class project.

Capture all of your tasks, big and small

Now that you have all your classes accounted for in projects, go through every single syllabus and course outline you receive and add a task for each important exam, project, and paper. You can keep track of important deadlines by assigning a due date to each task.

You’ll end up with a clear overview of everything you’ll be responsible for throughout the semester. It may take a bit of time up front, but it will pay huge dividends in productivity and peace of mind as your workload ramps up.

Of course, no matter how meticulous you are in documenting your semester, new things pop up all the time. Todoist’s free apps for over ten platforms — including iOS and Android — make it easy to capture and organize tasks from anywhere. Just take out your phone and add a new task to your to-do list on-the-go, then forget about it until you actually need to take care of it. Keeping track of all your tasks in one place helps clear your mind and ensures that you won’t forget to follow up on something important.

Sync your to-do list with your calendar

Do you keep track of important dates and deadlines with your calendar? You can get a bird’s eye view of your Todoist tasks inside your calendar. The Google Calendar and Todoist integration automatically adds all your Todoist tasks to your calendar and all your calendar events to Todoist as new tasks. Any changes to a task you make in your calendar, such as a date or time, will automatically be reflected in Todoist.

Turn on the Google Calendar integration by navigating to settings and then integrations while logged in to the Todoist web app.

Completing assignments and readings

Break big tasks into more manageable ones

Having a 20-page paper to complete can be daunting. Rather than treating such a cumbersome assignment as a single task, break it down into smaller components. For instance, there’s brainstorming a topic, finding research articles, creating an outline, writing various sections, editing, and submitting.

In Todoist you can break down larger tasks into smaller ones using sub-tasks. To create a sub-task, navigate to a project view, hovering over a task, click on the grey “handle” that appears to the left of the task, and drag it underneath another task. You can also create sub-tasks on your phone by long-pressing on a task and dragging it to the right.

A task that takes 20 hours is far more procrastination-inducing than one that takes 15 minutes. Create sub-tasks to build confidence in your progress as you check them off.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

It’s rare that every single task on our list is of equal importance. Finishing up an assignment worth 30 percent of your grade is typically more important than studying for a quiz worth 5 percent.

Prioritize your tasks in Todoist by selecting one of four priority levels, with 1 being the most important and 4 being the least important. When you view your tasks for the day, your highest priority tasks, indicated by a red ring (or handle on mobile), will appear at the top. To add a priority level, just type “p1”, “p2”, “p3”, or “p4” into the task field.

Get reminded automatically

With so many things to juggle as a student, it’s easy to forget important deadlines. If you have a Premium account, you can have Todoist send you a reminder on your phone, desktop, or email. In Todoist you can set two types of reminders:

  • On a time and date: Todoist will automatically send you a reminder for any task that has a due date and time associated with it. The default setting is for 30 minutes beforehand, but you can change that in your settings to anything you like. You can also set manual reminders for any date and time. For example, you can add a reminder about each paper, project, or exam one week beforehand so you’ll never be caught off guard.
  • At a specific location: You can also set a location-based reminder to get working on your paper once you arrive at a coffee shop or once you leave campus.

Work efficiently

Sometimes you may want to get more specific and provide additional context to the assignments and projects you have to complete for school. That’s where labels come in.

Group tasks across projects with labels like “reading,” “group work,” “writing,” or “research” so you can batch similar tasks on days where you’re focused enough for extended sessions of reading or periods where you’re feeling social for some collaboration.

Alternately, you can group tasks with labels such as “home,” “library,” or “coffee shop” to tackle tasks based on the environments that are most conducive for you. Labels allow you to further categorize your tasks in a way that’s uniquely helpful to your productivity workflow.

Review your progress regularly

One of the best ways to increase your productivity is consistently assessing your progress. Todoist Karma is a great feedback mechanism that allows you to visualize exactly how many tasks you’ve completed over time.

Here are a few things Karma can do for you:

  • Set productivity goals for your day and week: Todoist Karma lets you set daily and weekly goals for the number of tasks you want to complete. You’ll accumulate Karma points for each time you meet your goals. It’s a fun way to gamify your productivity and motivate yourself to get started, even if it’s just one task. Simply having a target can help you build momentum as you go from one completed task to ten.
Tip: As students, it’s common to do large chunks of work over the weekend. Todoist’s default Karma settings has Saturday and Sunday as “off days” so they don’t affect your streaks or Karma. Adjust your Karma settings and goals so they coincide with the day you’re the most productive.
  • Review the number of tasks you’ve completed over time, color-coded by project: At a quick glance, you can observe how productive you’ve been for a given time period, which projects demand the most work, or where you might need to refocus your energies.
  • View all of your completed tasks: An objective list of how much you’ve done can defeat the lingering feeling of not doing enough, or drive you to do more.

Studying for exams and writing papers

Keep all the info you need with your tasks

Some instructors are renowned for never breathing a hint about what might be on your exam. Others drop clues that can inform how you study and where to place your focus when preparing for an upcoming midterm or final. If a professor drops a clue into your lap, write it down! Navigate to the relevant task and type their insight into a task comment for reference later.

You can also record voice comments. Rattle off notes to self on areas where you need to focus your studying. For instance, talk through something you might not understand by pretending to teach it to someone else aloud. Listen back to see if it makes sense and track if your explanation gets stronger over time.

If you’re writing a paper, you can keep your research organized by saving notes and links in task comments.

Attach the files you need to get work done

Attach anything from practice quizzes to class notes to rough drafts to tasks associated with an upcoming exam or paper. Easy access to all the relevant documents can save you hours of time when you’re ready to get to work.

You can attach items to your tasks from:

  • Your computer or phone’s file storage or your Dropbox or Google Drive accounts: Attach all your notes and rough drafts to the relevant tasks so you can find them again quickly.
  • Photo library (mobile apps): Can’t keep up with your professor’s speedy handwriting during a lecture? Snap a picture of the board and attach it to a task. Prefer brainstorming with pen and paper? Take a pic of your notes and attach it to your “create an outline” task.

Save websites to come back to later

Links to important resources for your upcoming paper or research project can easily be added to Todoist using the Todoist extensions for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.

With this tool installed, when you find a great source for your history assignment, you can simply tap on the extension button, select “quick add task, and “add website as task.” A new task will appear in the project you selected with a link right back to the resource so you can easily find it again later.

Build strong study habits with recurring tasks

Research has shown time and time again that information is best committed to memory when there are gaps left between periods of study. Opt out of last minute cramming sessions and aim for shorter periods of studying over time with recurring tasks in Todoist.

Create repeating tasks that will keep you ahead of the curve throughout the semester. Here are a few examples of what that might look like:

  • Review anatomy flashcards every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
  • Meet with archaeology study group every Tuesday at 6 p.m.
  • Read through art history lecture notes every night

Todoist’s smart quick add will automatically recognize the due date as you type it in and schedule your recurring tasks accordingly. Whenever you complete a recurring task, it will automatically reschedule for the next due date.

Working on group projects

Sharing projects and assigning tasks

Make team collaboration for your next group project seamless by sharing a project in Todoist. Sharing a project allows all your teammates to view and edit aspects of a project and assign tasks accordingly. Your entire group will be able to see which tasks remain, who they’re assigned to, and when they’re due. This can go a long way in reducing friction and miscommunication and free you up to work more efficiently.

To get started, create a new project for your group, click on the person icon in the top-right corner, and enter the email addresses of the people you would like to invite to a project. They will receive an email inviting them to view the project in Todoist. Then simply create tasks, add due dates, and assign them to the right person.

Turn emails into tasks

Communication breakdown is one of the top reasons a group project can go off the rails. Even with a group of four, emails can go unanswered and concerns can go unaddressed. Schedule emails as tasks to stay on top of your inbox.

Download Todoist for Gmail or Outlook and turn emails into tasks from right inside your inbox.

Keep communication organized with comments

Better yet, stop using email entirely and move all your team communication to comments attached to specific tasks or projects. You’ll be able to choose which teammates you want to notify and those people will receive a push notification once your comment is posted. You can also upload and share files with the group so you can easily give feedback on each other’s work.

Finding balance

Remember, prioritizing for school also means striking a balance with all the other important things in your life including your relationships and health. Aiming for a 4.0 or writing the perfect grad school application at the expense of your wellbeing is a sure-fire way to burn out fast. Tips for beating burnout include taking breaks throughout the day and minimizing the use of your digital devices.

Luckily, the same Todoist features that you use for staying on top of school can also be used for striking a healthy balance. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Create projects like “social” and “entertainment” so these areas of your life remain top of mind.
  • Create recurring events for activities like cooking, exercising, and reading non-school related material.
  • Prioritize tasks like spending time with friends.

If you have tips that have helped you as a student, we would love to hear about them! Tweet us @todoist.

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