Putting the ‘flow’ in your workflow with ToDoist and Pomodoro
One of the most important challenges faced by the freelance writer — and this is particularly true when we’re working on speculative projects without set deadlines — is procrastination. I’ll confess that this is a particular failing of mine, and I suspect that there enough writers in the same boat with me that this boat would give the Titanic an inferiority complex for size.
It’s almost a given, then, that writers in this same set of circumstances in particular, but really any writer with or without deadlines, needs a system of task prioritization and time management that will keep him or her on task and on target.
Today, I’d like to share the system I use to tame the distraction demons and keep my output rolling steady: ToDoist and the Pomodoro Technique, in the form of my favorite timeboxing app, Vitamin R 2. I’ve chosen ToDoist for its intuitive interface and overall ease of use — but because I know that not all writers are Mac users, I’ll also be suggesting some Windows-based Pomodoro apps that I think show the promise of being just as useful as Vitamin R 2.
While these overviews are intended to familiarize you with the basics, they should not by any means be considered exhaustive. There are plenty of folks out there who can do a much more thorough (and probably much more adept) job of explaining ToDoist and the Pomodoro Technique than I can. This is just my quick take on them.
Let’s dive right in.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, ToDoist is an amazingly user-friendly and incredibly scalable task management system which works with many task management models; the particular model I use is the Getting Things Done model created by David Allen. (For those who haven’t yet encountered this system of task management, I highly recommend it for its combination of intuitiveness and effectiveness.)
One of ToDoist’s most outstanding attributes is the fact that is both nearly entirely OS-agnostic (via its availability as a web-based application) as well as being offered in a myriad of software-specific apps. It’s available not only as a web app but with desktop and mobile clients for Windows, Android, iOS, Google’s Chrome web browser, Firefox, Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and OSX.
ToDoist is offered as a two-tiered service: while many of its features are free, a subscription of under $30 per year unlocks an array of Premium features which, in my opinion, are well worth the extremely modest asking price.
The free tier of ToDoist is most useful for the creation of a basic array of projects. Each project may in turn contain subprojects, tasks, or a combination of the two. Tasks may, in turn, contain subtasks, as shown in this example:
Searches can be conducted via Project or Task (which also applies to subprojects and subtasks) as shown here:
Entering a new project or task is simple. To create a new project, simply click the “Add Project” text in the left pane of the app. For a new task, just click “New Task.” Give your project or task a name, give your task a due date (if you have one in mind for it) and you’re set.
One of the other nice things about ToDoist is also one of the more initially frustrating things about it: due dates are entered in nearly natural language. For example, on some writing projects, I like to write at least 500 words every weekday. But “every weekday” isn’t quite what ToDoist wants to hear, instead forcing one to enter the shorthand, “ev weekday.” Fortunately, if you enter a due date in a way it doesn’t understand, it will offer you some tips on how to rephrase the date entry.
For casual use, most people won’t feel the need to ask any more of ToDoist than it offers for free.
The sheer number of features the Premium tier adds to ToDoist is almost staggering. These features include location-based alerts in the service’s mobile apps for Android and iOS, productivity tracking, automatic backups and sync, as well as custom labels and filters which make searching for and focusing on upcoming tasks powerful and intuitive.
But probably one of my favorite Premium features is the ability to add extensive notes, including file attachments, to a project or task. For me, this makes keeping on track even easier, since I can attach works in progress as well as see what it was I specifically intended to do with them next.
Additionally, at $29 per year, the price of going Premium gives you enormous bang for not much buck.
The Pomodoro Technique is a particular method of timeboxing developed by then- university student Francesco Cirillo in the late ‘80s. It was named for a small mechanical timer made to look like a tomato (It. pomodoro) which would Cirillo would set for 25 minute time slices, after which he would take a 3 to 5 minute break. After four of these 25-minute work timeslices, he would take a more substantial break.
The Pomodoro Technique he developed can be performed with any such mechanical timer or, alternatively, with analogous software applications.
My Favorite App
My favorite app in this category is Vitamin R 2 for OSX. Vitamin R can live on the dock or in the menubar; I typically run it in the latter fashion. Compared to most timeslice apps, Vitamin R is extremely feature-rich.
When you begin a timeslice in Vitamin R, you first tell the application what the task is that you intend to focus on:
Then you’re off and running. Some of the advanced features include not only the ability to set the length of each timeslice according to presets, but it also includes the ability to silence applications which might otherwise distract you:
(I have to apologize for the extremely small images of the app itself in the above pair of screenshots; one thing Vitamin R does not like to do, it seems, is pose for pictures.) For more information, search for Vitamin R 2 in the Mac App Store, or visit the developers’ site.
I don’t know of any Pomodoro/timeslice applications for Windows which are quite as powerful as Vitamin R, but there are some good looking equivalents which provide at least the basic functionality you need for this purpose:
One of the best I’ve seen so far is Tom8o, though there are plenty to be found for Windows 7 and Windows 8.
These two applications, ToDoist and Vitamin R 2, are the ones that keep me rolling steady throughout the work day. If you have alternative apps, or alternative productivity models that you’d like to praise, please feel free to engage in the comments.
Until next time: do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.