Todoist has been my task manager for some time, and one of the features it offers is the ability to flag tasks as needed. I have avoided using priorities until recently, but I finally figured out how I wanted to use them and have started to add them to my Todoist workflow. One of the key points about using them is that I’ve made a point of using them sparingly, as Gregory McKeown suggests in his book Essentialism.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.” – Gregory McKeown, Essentialism*
Prioritization has gotten out of hand over the years, and the addition of three different levels of priority flags in Todoist could very well add to the problem rather than help get prioritization back under control. For those unfamiliar, here are the types of priority flags in Todoist:
- Red: Priority 1 or P1
- Blue: Priority 2 or P2
- Light Blue: Priority 3 or P3
You could argue that there is a fourth type – an item that is unflagged – but I don’t believe the clear flag is a flag at all. Instead, it’s more of a signifier that the level of priority is non-existent for that task. (To be fair, all tasks have some form of priority, but that’s a topic for another article.)
The great thing that Todoist has done is not endow any of these priority flags with any sort of predetermined meaning other than level of importance. For example, Priority 1 could mean “due today” or “due over the next three days” while Priority 2 could mean “due this week.” It’s all very subjective, which makes the tool all the more personal. That said, if you are sharing projects with others then it’s crucial that everyone be on the same page in terms of defining what each priority flag means for the team.
In my mind, less is more when it comes to using these flags. That’s why I pair up priority flags with Labels and using them in Filters. But I only use these types of Filters for highly important tasks, not urgent ones. For example, I have a label called “@writing” and what I’ve done is created a filter that allows me to be very proactive with my writing tasks. Here’s the search term:
P1 & @writing & 30 days
I also have another filter that removes the priority flag from the equation, but what the above filter does is push the really important writing to the forefront.
I’ve done the same with any sort of administrative tasks that need to be done, as I’ve got an “@admin” label as well. If anything else, the priority flag takes the place of my high energy and low energy labels in these cases, acting as a trigger that trumps energy levels altogether. As a result, when something is flagged as top priority, it gets attention because it is associated with my main work (writing) and I use the flags sparingly enough that I can’t help but take notice.
I have started to use the second priority flag as well, flagging tasks that I want to ensure I keep tabs on and yet don’t have due dates associated with them as of yet. The difference in flag colour is what matters more in this use case than how Todoist treats the flags themselves (red flags are always at the top of any project or filter view in Todoist, only trumped by any task that has a time of day attached to it). Once I assign a date to a task that has a P2 flag, the flag gets removed because the task will show up in a filtered view at that point and that negates the need for the flag. Flagging with that second tier flag also ensures that when I conduct a weekly review that those tasks stand out more, and they need to because with no date assigned to them they can get lost in the weeds.
The key to using priority flags (or flags of any sort) is that if you use too many of them then they lose their power. If you are intentional with their uses, consistent with their uses, and ruthless with their uses, you’ll be able to give the tasks they are associated with the attention that they deserve – and when they deserve them.
I’d love to hear how you’re using flags like this, whether in Todoist or not. Share them in the comments below.