The (Literally) Game-Changing Productivity App: Todoist

Allison Nguyen
4 min readNov 10, 2020

Self-improvement takes courage … or at least slightly more effort than setting a goal and allowing ourselves an easy way out of “tomorrow is a new day.” Take it from the 80% of Americans who fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions by February of every year. Or the 95% of students who never finish a Codecademy course. Or worse yet the >99% of users who don’t complete a lesson on Duolingo. As Atomic Habits writer Jame Clear can more eloquently explain, “Your actions reveal how badly you want something. If you keep saying something is a priority but you never act on it, then you don’t really want it.”

I started to despair over my own seemingly incorrigible habit of sleeping too late at night. Did I really want to stop hitting ‘snooze’ every morning and groggily log into Zoom just a minute before class starts? I guess not. But before I gave up hope completely, the universe/a suspiciously targeted and timely Apple Search ad answered back with what would become my latest obsession: Todoist.

Todoist is a productivity app that helps you organize and track your progress on tasks. At its simplest, you can add a task, label its priority, and satisfyingly cross off each one for completion. The system is built to handle any kind of to-do from a personal daily vitamin reminder to larger scale project management goals. To the delight of Type A’s everywhere, additional features give Todoist an edge over the iOS standard Reminders app, including collaborative team inboxes, ability to denote sub-tasks, and tagging for ease of search.

Though if that still sounds unremarkable, I totally agree with you. Where the magic actually happens is how Todoist can turn something as boring as making your bed everyday into something thrilling and fun.

Gamification is Todoist’s game-changer.

Thanks to Todoist’s Karma system, every single task has a purpose beyond just doing the task itself. Every single task completed is valued as a point that adds up brilliantly into tangible badges of accomplishment. Crossing off your latest workout suddenly gets you closer to becoming a fitness expert while finishing your monthly book goal sets you on the path to enlightenment. Now you can approach any mundane task, like folding laundry, as an adventurous stepping stone toward becoming a ‘Grand Master.’ It’s semantics, it’s motivating, and it’s going to change your life.

What’s shockingly underrated about Todoist is how well it understands human nature’s love of winning and the power of micro-tasks. Or per another James Clear nugget, “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” Karma offers exactly the continuous building blocks of checking off micro-tasks to keep people motivated and want to become better. The hyper-transparent Karma trend is a displayed dopamine rush of how much we’re succeeding at life. And by this feedback loop, we truly feel that we can take on anything.

But what happens once I’m ‘Enlightened?’

Here’s where Todoist can solidify its future: personalization. ‘Expert’ and ‘Grand Master’ are nice titles and all, but how much do they speak to what I’ve actually accomplished? Todoist can reinforce its stickiness by introducing personal badges based on what you’ve really done — examples: ‘Bookworm’ for the well-read or ‘Finance Guru’ for remembering to add to savings each paycheck. This plays especially well for tasks focused on self-improvement, which is particularly important to help us enrich our lives, contribute better to society, and find more satisfaction with ourselves.

Afterwards, what’s better than showing off all your hard work? The next level of Todoist’s gamification should incorporate a social media aspect (like Facebook milestones) and/or accountability buddies (like MyFitnessPal). We are motivated by others, whether through direct support or comparison. Todoist has an opportunity to continue pushing us further to complete tasks by engaging our friends (and our foes).

And with these potential Todoist updates, perhaps I’ll finally work my way to ‘Morning Person’ after all.