iJoel @ Work

Managing Cyclic Projects

Tech Departments that work in schools (as well as just about anywhere), always have projects: migrating to a new system, updating servers and network equipment, unboxing thousands of iPads/Chromebooks, etc. In schools, many of our projects are very cyclical - things we do in the summer, things we do just before school starts, things we do over Christmas break, things we do at the end of the school year. Here is how I use Todoist to manage cyclical projects:

ToDoist Templates vs Copied Projects

Templates: ToDoist has a built in mechanism for handling templates, and it works well when using the Templates that Todoist host themselves, but I don't find it very useful for my own templating needs. The official ToDoist Templates are designed to give users a framework to start a specific type of project and they have an advantage over your personal templates: they are presented to you on a nice website that includes screenshots and descriptions showing you what the template is designed for.

Your own templates have none of that. When you create a template in ToDoist, you just get a weblink to that template that you then have to keep track of. None of the completed tasks are included in your template, so you can't take a well-developed project that you have been working out of and save it as a template. Once the template is created, you can't actually see the project/template name or the structure and contents of the template. Sure, you can document all of that information and store it a note file, but that is extra work. Those issues alone are reason enough to look for another solution, but the biggest issue that I have with the ToDoist templating feature is that you can't easily modify a template. To "modify" a template, you have to first find the link to the template, then import the template as a new project, make your changes, and then finally save it again with, you guessed it, a new weblink that you have to keep track of somewhere; oh, and don't forget to delete the link to the old version of the template! Yuck!

Copied Projects: What I do to work around the limitations of the built-in templating feature is create a project that I intend to use as a template, then place that project in a "Templates" project at the bottom of my Project's list. Finally, I use ToDoists's Copy Project feature to make a working copy of that project. This workflow provides several advantages over using ToDoist's Templating feature:

  1. I can keep my ToDoist Project Templates in ToDoist instead of behind some random web link URL

  2. I can see the entire structure of my template anytime I want

  3. I can quickly and easily modify the template anytime I want

Here are some examples:

Project Templates

Here you can see my Templates project (for all intents and purposes a "folder"), where I keep all my master "template" projects. Normally this project/folder is collapsed so all of the "templates" are not visible and cluttering up the sidebar. This Templates project/folder is at the bottom of my Projects list.

I use the Copy Project feature to make a copy of the template project whenever I need to start another project. On the copied project, I replace the word "Annual" with the current school year and then drag it to the top of the Projects list (see below).

Typical Project Copied from Template

Here is a typical project copied from my master template projects, showing the name change to indicate the school year. Larger projects will have a link at the very top which will take you to the project's Google Drive folder.

After making the copy, I go back to the master template and look for any tasks that have a Due Date, and I roll those dates forward a year so it is ready to use next year.

I then review the tasks, share with the team, and mass-assign tasks to team members.

Template Maintenance

Projects and procedures change and need updating over time. When you are working on an active project that was copied from a template and you add new tasks/procedures or delete tasks that are no longer relevant, you should go to the corresponding master project and add or delete tasks from the master template project too. This will keep your templates current. The ability to easily update a project template on the fly is a key advantage over using ToDoist's built-in templating mechanism.

Yearly Master Roadmap Overview Project

One of my templates is my Yearly Master "project" which I use as a roadmap throughout the school year. It serves as an overview of everything that my department does in a typical school year, month by month, starting with summer break in June. Note that this is just a roadmap that lists projects that need to be done. It is more of a "guide" than a working project with tasks. A given project's actual tasks would be located in a separate project shared with the team.

I use ToDoist Sections to organize projects and tasks by month, and it contains entries like "Image iMacs", "Print iPad Labels", or "Rollover ClassLink Enrollments".

I don't share this project with my team, I use it as a managerial tool so that I don't forget something like a federal report that has to be filed in September, or to know that we have to start thinking about iPad Collection in May. The idea with this particular "project" is twofold:

  1. To make sure that I don't forget to do something

  2. To be able to glance ahead a few weeks to remind me of what the department should be thinking of next

It comes in handy when planning and when trying to stay afloat during overwhelmingly busy periods, like just before the start of a school year.

I will typically mark tasks in this Yearly Master project as "done" as soon as I share the actual corresponding project with the team. In other words, not when the actual project is done, but when I have "activated" the project or directed my staff to start working on the listed project.

I place this project at the bottom of my Favorited projects, right above my synced Calendar project.

Expanding ToDoist with Related Files

As I indicated above, larger projects will have a link at the very top which will take you to the project's folder in Google Drive.

It's easy to create that link by pasting an URL in the task field and then placing your task name inside closed parenthesis, like this:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/longscrambledlinktoyourfolderorfile (Project Links)

You can also get fancy by including an asterisk around your task to make it italicized, and by adding a link emoticon - it makes the task stand out a bit from other tasks:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/longscrambledlinktoyourfolderorfile (*Project Links* đź”—)

In schools we typically work in thousands. Thousands of users. Thousands of devices. We use Google Sheets to supplement ToDoist and track progress on tasks that involve multiple processes on thousands of devices (see above). Each row will be a device or room that needs to be done, and each column will represent a process that needs to be done on that device. I usually also include calculated fields at the top of the columns that calculate the number of remaining devices for each column/process. I use a separate tab/sheet for each school building, and then a summary tab/sheet that displays the progress district-wide with percentages complete. We obviously link these tracking spreadsheets in a corresponding ToDoist task, and the file itself also resides in the project's Google Drive folder, which is linked at the top of the project in ToDoist.

Examples of Project Templates that I Reuse Every Year

Each of these project templates might include dozens and dozens of tasks and subtasks. Several tasks include links to procedural documentation and due dates.

  • Orders & Renewals

  • Desktop Imaging

  • Mobile Device Collection

  • Mobile Device Deployment

  • Server Updates

  • Network Updates

  • Asset Recovery

  • Rollover Online Portals & Forms

  • Staff Move/Adds/Deletes

  • Update Documentation & Technology Resources

  • New Staff Onboarding

  • Clean Projectors

  • Rollover Applications and JAMF EDU profiles

  • Erate Application