Introduction: Use ToDoist App to Improve Daily Habits and Self Care
Author's note: This Instructable was written and published by our Making and Tinkering Programs Manager, who's personal Instructable account we co-opted. He is now publishing personal Instructables over at member ID MechaNickW.
Boy, the past year has been a wild ride, eh? Keeping up with regular good habits that improve your mental and physical health has been an even bigger challenge than normal. There is a lot of information out there about the benefits of regular sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet. I'll link to a couple of those resources throughout this Instructable that have been helpful for myself, but I mostly wanted to share about a technique that I've been using since the middle of the pandemic to try and keep up with good habits on a daily or weekly basis.
I'm someone who doesn't do well with daily journaling or filling out health tracker apps - I've tried and I just don't keep up with them after about a week. I do, however, use a to-do app for organizing a lot of things in my life - from work projects to personal projects to grocery lists. I won't say I'm obsessed with it, but I am pretty diligent about using it for keeping up with work and general tasks. When I was flagging a bit during the summer peak of the pandemic, I thought that I might try hacking the app that I use all the time - ToDoist - to help in keep up with better self care. It's been very successful for me personally, and I hope this will help someone out there like me who's good with to do lists but bad with other types of self-care motivation. This Instructable will be specific to this app, but I'm sure there are ways that you can hack your favorite to do app in a similar fashion.
This Instructable is entered into the Self Care Challenge, so if you find it useful or inspirational please give it a vote! Please note I am in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the ToDoist company, just a regular user of their product, and that all screenshots and videos in this Instructable were created by myself.
- A computer or mobile device
- The ToDoist app or web interface, or similar to-do app of your choice
- An email address to sign up for a free ToDoist account
- Motivation to improve your daily habits!
Step 1: Sign Up for an Account and Download App
If you already have an account with ToDoist, fantastic. Otherwise, go to their site at www.todoist.com and click on the "Sign Up" button. Enter a valid email address and create a password. Then, either download the desktop version on your computer, the app in the iOS or Android app stores, or continue to use the web interface. As with most apps of this variety, your account will sync all of your items across multiple devices. For the simple stuff we are using this for, you do not need to pay for an upgraded account, just get the free one.
Step 2: Create a New Project
I use the "Projects" feature of ToDoist for various things I'd like to keep separate, track and add tasks to complete. For example, I have a project for my work under which I have separate sub-projects with various things to do for separate grant-funded projects I'm working on at the time. I have one for home, where I put things that I want to get done around the house or in general. You can share projects with other people that have an account, so my wife and I share a grocery list and add things as we need them, and tick them off when one of us buys an item on the list. And of course, one for "Daily/Weekly Habits".
Click the + sign next to "Projects" and name it whatever you choose - I chose to go with the obvious name of "Daily/Weekly Habits." You can choose a color to color-code them if you desire.
Step 3: Add Some Daily Habits You'd Like to Accomplish
Now for the hardest part - what are some things you'd like to do every day to help with self care? For me, my list is generally as follows:
- Read (a book or magazine)
- Exercise (doesn't include my daily bike commute to work)
- 20 situps and 21 pushups (see what I did there?)
- Good Sleep (at least 7 hours of sleep opportunity)
- House or Personal Project (hobby electronics, house repairs, telescope making, whatever)
- Meditate (at least 5 min)
- Time Restricted Eating (see more below)
- Brush Teeth AM and PM
- Be Focused and Present at Work
- Fill Out Daily Habits and Put Away Phone (to make sure I fill these out each day and put my phone away about 2 hours before bed so I don't doomscroll all evening)
I don't have all the information in parentheses above written in the app, those are just my general guidelines for being able to tick off this item as completed for the day. I'm a big believer in science-based methodologies or reasons for adopting many of the above habits. Some books and resources I've found useful are as follows:
I used to be one of those people that said, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." That is, until I finally came around to the proven concept that "sleep hygiene" is important for so, so many things in our lives. There's a fantastic book by the neurologist Dr. Chris Winter called The Sleep Solution, which really cemented this change in my life and has lead to much better mood regulation, productivity at work, and a host of other benefits. It's worth a read or just check out his interview on the fantastic podcast Ologies with Alie Ward (sometimes NSFW, FYI).
As for "time-restricted eating," this is a habit I picked up over two years ago that I've been able to stick to relatively well, and which has been enormously beneficial in a number of ways. I don't like to proselytize about such things, but it is worth exploring if you haven't heard about it. What convinced me was the book The Circadian Code by Dr. Satchin Panda. The book has a lot of very interesting information about our circadian rhythms and some great summations of contemporary science in this field. Very basically, you eat whatever calories you're regularly consuming over a 10-12 hour block during the day. For me, that's finishing dinner by 7:30pm and trying to eat breakfast about 8:30am - that's it. There's active scientific debate about the merits of this, and maybe it won't work for you personally or will be too hard but it's something I've benefitted from immensely and helps me with many other areas of self care.
In terms of sticking to and creating habits in general, Atomic Habits by James Clear gave me the kick in the pants to start being better about my daily habits and regular self care in the first place. If you're looking to make better use of your time or improve your skills with something through regular practice, there are a lot of good tips and methods to adopt in that book or his regular free newsletter.
Step 4: Set Your Habits Up to Recur Every Day
Now, for my favorite feature of the ToDoist app for this application - setting up your list to recur every single day (or weekday or Wednesday, etc). I spent a bit of time trying to figure this out, and then realized that it's one of those things that are so simple to do it seems counterintuitive. Within your daily habits project, click the big + sign up in the right hand corner (or type the letter q to quick-add) to create a new task. Start typing your habit - I used "Drink 3 Liters of water" here as an example. To make it recur every day, simply type the phrase "every day" afterward and it will highlight that text in red to indicate that it wants to schedule this task to happen every day. Then click the big red "Add Task" button and you are set.
You can also type things like "every weekday", "every weekend", "every Tuesday", etc. Even something like "every month" works. You can tell the difference between regularly scheduled, non-recurring events and recurring ones by the little arrow circle next to ones that are recurring. I'll note that there is a backend feature that recognizes days/dates when you type which is by default set to on, but you can turn off - if you've done so, you may need to switch it back on for this to work.
Step 5: Complete Your Habits, Track Progress, Revel in Improved Life
Once you've created your list of things to do every day or week, it's time to get them done! Once you've finished a task, simply mark it as done. It won't go away, the recurrence will just update from "Today" in green to "Tomorrow" in yellow. I've found it helpful to remember that yellow is good here - it means you've completed things that day and won't have to worry about them til tomorrow.I found it helpful to create a task that reminds me every day to fill this list out at about 8:30pm. It's satisfying and motivating to tick things off throughout the day as you complete them as well. I also try to plug my phone in and leave it alone for the night at that time, which is a helpful technique for going to bed at a reasonable hour.
If it's been awhile since you've done something, it will indicated the date it was last due and show it in red. This is a good reminder to self to work on whatever it is that you haven't completed. Don't be too hard on yourself - just recognize this as an area you may want to focus on. Many of these tasks should be pretty simple to finish in a regular day, but sometimes life gets in the way or you get busy or it's just too hard to find motivation and that's okay - self care is about realizing what you need when you need it, and sometimes that means skipping some things because you need something else!
Another feature of ToDoist I will mention is the "Productivity" section that shows you how many things you've finished each day, and allows you to set goals. Since I combine this with a lot of other tasks and projects for work and life, it's not a great way to track my regular success with daily habits and I'm not sure if there's a way to parse the completion of tasks from separate projects. But, it's nice to see when I've been more diligent with tasks and adding/completing them in the app in the past.
Good luck and take care of yourself out there!
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