How I use Todoist to achieve my yearly goals

Monday, January 29, 2018

It's really easy for me to get busy and lose sight of the big picture when it comes to achieving goals I've set for myself. If I don't revisit them often, I can easily forget what it is I'm trying to accomplish.

Over the years I have found that the more I can automate, the less I have to try to remember on my own. This concept is essential to goal setting for me. One way I stay on top of my goals is by scheduling them at the beginning of the year and then automating tasks for myself. Here's a quick overview of my scheduling process:
  1. Set yearly goals
  2. Break down yearly goals into smaller, measurable tasks
  3. Plan a time to complete those tasks and set automated reminders
  4. Complete each task when reminded (or reschedule tasks)
Todoist is my task manager of choice. I like it so much I pay for the premium version, which is $28.99/year (but check out the free version if you're on the fence!). The features I use most that are in the premium version are reminders (the subject of this post!) and comments (you can attach comments/links/etc. to each task). I love that there is a web app AND a phone app, since I switch back and forth often.

I use Todoist for tasks in all areas of my life, but today I'm going to show you how I use it to help achieve my yearly goals.

Step 1: Set yearly goals.

For 2018, I set three goals in each of eight categories. (To read about my 24 goals for 2018 in detail, take a look at my blog post about it here!) So in Todoist I created a project called "2018 Goals", and then eight sub-projects, one for each goal category:

Then I created a task for each goal in the appropriate category. Red circles mean this is a high-priority task!

Step 2: Break down yearly goals into smaller, measurable tasks.

Then I took my broader goals and broke them down into more specific tasks. For ongoing goals, that might be a single task that I complete multiple times. For one-time goals, that involves thinking about what steps it will take to complete the goal and entering each one as a separate task.

Here are my financial goals, for example:

You can see that I broke each of the three goals down into a couple of more specific tasks:
  1. For "Track budget with YNAB", I added a task to update our budget in YNAB. Since this is an ongoing goal, I'll just have one task that repeats daily. (Keep reading to see how I schedule my tasks and set reminders!)
  2. For "Two no-spend months", I set up two one-time tasks to correspond with each month I want to minimize spending.
  3. For "Save for new computer", I added two tasks: One to remind me each month to put $150 in my budget for the laptop I'm saving for (guys, Macs are expensive!), and one to actually buy the laptop I've been saving for. (I won't need that reminder, believe me. I can't wait!)

Step 3: Plan a time to complete the tasks and set automated reminders.

Now that all my tasks are entered, I can decide when I want to complete them. I look at my calendar and try to divide out my goals throughout the year as evenly and logically as possible. My Powersheets provide a nice spread for doing this brainstorming, and you can see from all my arrows and scribbles that I changed my plan a few times before entering my dates in Todoist:

Let's look at my financial goals again:

Here's how I scheduled the tasks associated with my financial goals:

  1. For "Update YNAB", I set the due date for every day. Since I know I like to do this around the same time every day, I added a time to my due date. This means I get a reminder to update my budget every morning at 8:00 AM. When I get the reminder I just open the YNAB app on my phone and review and categorize any new transactions.
  2. For the two "No-spend month" tasks, I scheduled those for the first day of January and the first day of August. That way on the first day of those months I get a reminder and I plan my budget and activities for that month accordingly. You'll notice that the January task is scheduled for the 31st; that's because once I plan the month I don't need the reminder anymore. I could mark the task as complete, but my "no-spend month" isn't complete yet, so I just reschedule it for the 31st and I'll mark it off then. (Or reschedule it for another month if I didn't do so well on my no-spend month.)
  3. For "Save $150 for new computer this month", I scheduled the task for the first day of every month. This helps me ensure I budget the money accordingly at the beginning of each month (before I spend that money other places!).
  4. For "Buy new computer this month", I set this task's due date to December 1, since if everything goes according to plan I'll have enough saved to buy my laptop in December. 

Hopefully my explanation above was helpful, but for me the most helpful thing when trying to think through my goals is seeing examples from other people. So below are all of my 2018 goals (except my work goals) and their associated tasks and schedules in Todoist. I did blur out a couple of dates for privacy reasons, but all of my tasks do have dates assigned to them.

Step 4: Complete each task when reminded or reschedule tasks.

Once I've set up all my tasks and reminders, I can actually get to work on achieving them. I get Todoist reminders on my iPhone and on my Apple Watch, which makes it really hard to ignore my reminders. :) 

You might notice in the picture above that a couple of tasks were originally scheduled for the first of the month but aren't anymore. That's because I got the reminder on the first, but I wasn't ready to complete them. I just rescheduled them for days during the month that I thought were more likely candidates to complete them. I try not to get caught up in completing things on time, but I also try not to reschedule too many times.

I do use Todoist for lots of other tasks, so these end up sprinkled throughout my daily task lists.

One more thing - if you don't use Todoist, you can use this same method with other tools. I have used and can recommend Google Keep, Wunderlist, the Reminders app for iOS, and Remember the Milk, and there are about a billion other options out there.


The initial setup can seem a bit daunting, but the big idea is to simplify your life by setting this up one time and letting the automated reminders do most of the work. I have found this to be extremely effective, and it also really gives me peace of mind to know that I don't have to remember these things for myself.

I'd love to hear about how you use this or other methods for achieving goals!

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