How To Use The Action Method With Todoist

Behance’s popular Action Method online service shuttered on June 1st. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Action Method, here’s a brief rundown, courtesy of Lifehacker:

“The Action Method proposes that you leave every event, whether it’s a meeting or a brainstorming session, with a set of concrete tasks you can perform, called ‘action steps.’ Each item is its own to-do, and they’re kept separate from ‘references,’ or the materials you need to accomplish those items.”

The Lifehacker article also notes that many productivity apps can be adapted to work with the Action Method. While Behance suggested a couple of decent services that can be used as successors to their web app, they didn’t mention my new task manager of choice, Todoist, as one of them. And Todoist can really work well in terms of setting up a basic framework that supports the Action Method.


This is typical for any system, where you can set up projects where tasks will be assigned. With the Action Method “action steps” serve the same purpose as tasks, and get assigned to projects. In Todoist, simply create projects as you usually would to set up the basic framework for implementing the Action Method.

This is where the colour-coding feature can come in handy. You can assign colours to projects that are current (I usually colour these green), projects that are on hold (I usually colour these red), and projects that are yet to be moved on (I usually leave these the default colour of grey). Colour-coding allows you to see at a glance what projects are active, and you can also move around projects to get a better view of what you need to focus on regularly.

Todoist also allows you to layer projects within one another, so you can create a larger project to represent an area of responsibility (much like David Allen’s GTD methodology — and the book Getting Things Done is now available to digest quicker than ever through Blinkist) and then place related projects inside of them.

Action Steps

Action steps are, as mentioned, tasks. As with any capturing of tasks, you should make them as actionable as possible by starting off each of them with a verb. Since these are single action steps, they can be done without having to be broken down any further. In Todoist, you can add labels to these if you’d like (to act as contexts), but labels are going to be your best friend for the next component of the Action Method.


References are items that are directly related to projects, but aren’t actionable. In order to differentiate these from action steps, it’s best to label then in Todoist with the label “@reference” or something similar. Since todoist allows you to have multiple labels per action step, you’ll be able to assign context to references as well. The key to making sure that references are useful in the Action Method approach is to assign them to projects as you enter them.

Backburner Items

Backburner items are items that are on hold, but might be something you’ll work on later. If you’re more accustomed to GTD, then these items would be much like the “Someday/Maybe” context. In Todoist, the best way to deal with backburner items is to create a big project and name it “Backburner” and then place any future action steps and references in it. Then when you’re ready to take those things off of the backburner, move them to the appropriate project. You can also create smaller projects within the Backburner project (as outlined above in the “Projects” section) so that you can bring entire projects off of the backburner as you’re ready to move forward with them.

The Action Method works well for a lot of people who are just beginning to explore task management because it is simple and scales well. Julien Smith has been a long time practitioner of the Action Method, and the approach is described in great detail in Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen. If you’re a Todoist user and are looking for a productivity methodology that is simple to set up and doesn’t have a steep learning curve, then the Action Method is definitely worth a try.