How to build an automated task management dashboard without code

As a self-employed freelancer working from home, one of the most challenging parts of my activity was being in charge of my own schedule. It meant that I could work when I wanted which is great of course, but also that I could play my Nintendo Switch all day and resort to recurring all-nighters to meet my deadline.

I’ve tried lots of productivity apps and methods to stay on track and measure my output, and even though I’ve now transitioned to a full-time position as a content marketing manager at Didomi, I’m still using my trusted productivity system to measure the time and effort invested in my side projects.

In this article, I want to share this system, and show you how I built a simple automated dashboard to keep track of which projects take most of my time every week/month/quarter.

My Basic Productivity Principles (what works for me)

First things first, you need to figure out what type of productivity method works for you. Does visualization matter to you? Do you like lists? Are you super organized?

After trying pretty much everything you can think of (time-trackers, pen and paper, whiteboards, kanban boards, Pomodoro, you name it) I managed to find what fits me best:

  • To-do lists
  • Dashboards
  • Automation

And that’s about it.

When it comes to productivity (and habits in general), forcing a system that works for others is probably not going to cut it in the long run. A process is only as good as the use you make of it, and if it’s annoying then chances are it won’t stick.

For example, I love kanban boards and I use them extensively for projects. But to create an overview of all my projects, I find it overwhelming. There’s no one-size-fits-all to productivity, it’s all about trial and error here.

Now, let’s look at the tools I’ve used.

The apps I used to build my dashboard

To build this specific system, I really only needed 3 apps: Todoist, Make (formerly Integromat), and Google Sheets. I included Notion as a bonus, but that’s just because I really like it.

To-do list app: Todoist

image of the todoist app on mobile and desktop
(Source: Selena Houle)

For my to-do lists, I have been using Todoist for the past couple of years. Of all the similar apps I tried it’s the one that has stuck with me because:

  • It’s straightforward and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel
  • It’s actually cross-device (with a cool home widget on both iOS and Android)
  • The project > task hierarchy helps me keep track of what I’m working on at different levels
  • The flag system is great to put prioritization front and center
  • Last but not least, it makes a cool little sound when you mark a task as complete ✨

Ultimately I think it’s a matter of UX and UI affinity for me, I’ve tried equally beautiful apps but Todoist sticks out and is the one I’ve kept using and even ended up paying for. Definitely worth the €3/month (although you can use it for free also).

Reporting: Google Sheets

illustration showing a spreadsheet built on google sheets
Source: Geckoboard

What more reliable than good ole trusted Google Sheets to build dashboards and reports? Not much to add here, it’s free and easy to use, with thousands of resources and tutorials available online… easy choice.

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve been increasingly using Airtable these past few years and it has been an amazing tool. But for this specific example, I went with comfort over features #lazy

Automation: Make (formerly known as Integromat)

Example of an automated scenario using several apps on Integromat’s interface
(Source: Integromat)

My number one choice for everything automation has been Integromat for years now. While some prefer Zapier or other (great) options, I’ve always preferred Integromat, which feels both more powerful and simpler to use, a testament to how well crafted the interface and user experience is.

Also, I’ve worked with them and have written a whole lot of content on their blog, so I’m definitely biased in favor of their great team and product.

The company is now called Make, a bold move that I’m excited to learn more about. However, for the sake of this article, I’ll stick with the old interface because I’ve built my process on the original platform and haven’t explored Make yet #lazyagain

Bonus — Documentation: Notion

Visualization of what Notion looks like on mobile and desktop when used as a knowledge base
(Source: Geekzone)

You don’t really need Notion to build the dashboard in question here, but I wanted to add it because it’s been a lifesaver for projects involving other people. Not only is it a super useful wiki tool but it somehow makes documenting a pleasure, which is quite a feat, even for a guy like me who likes to write for no reason (as you might have guessed).

I even build my personal website using Notion, it’s just amazing.

Ok now let’s get building!

Building an automated dashboard using Todoist + Integromat + Google Sheets

Now that we have our tools, here’s the idea behind the dashboard I wanted to build:

I want the tasks that I complete in Todoist to be automatically saved in a Google Sheets document, feeding a dashboard that I can check every month to see what projects take most of my time.
- Me, a struggling freelancer with too many side-projects.

I went ahead and build this in four simple steps:

  1. Configuring Todoist
  2. Building a Google spreadsheet
  3. Connecting the two using Integromat
  4. Cleaning up the data

Let me show you how, step-by-step.

Full disclosure: I am in a no way a no-code wiz or an automation super expert. I’ve tried a few automation experiments in my days and love to play with digital tools, but take this with a grain of salt and/or as a base to build your own (better) dashboards, and feel free to give me feedback!

1- Configuring Todoist

The first step is to understand how Todoist works and to figure out what you want to track exactly. Personally, because I want to be able to get a bird’s eye view of what projects are taking most of my time, I’ve taken particular care in organising my Todoist in the following way:

  • Projects: The overarching categories to identify what I’m working on. Example: Company name, side project name, general focus (“studying”, “Finance and Admin”), etc.
  • Labels: This is how I identify subcategories, under each project. Example: “CompanyName_writing”, “Studying_Japanese”, etc.
  • Priority flag: This could be leveraged in your reports to measure your prioritisation skills.
Task created using todoist highlighting a project “Didomi”, a label “Didomi_writing” and a priority flag (orange)
The project, label, and priority are all set for this task!

Of course, you also want to make sure the title of each task is thorough, and to add a description and maybe even sub-tasks if necessary.

From then, all you have to do is systematically add your tasks on Todoist, and mark them as “done” when completed. Easier said than done when you’re not used to keeping track of everything, but surely the nice little sound the app makes when a task is done will motivate you to complete more.

2- Building a Google spreadsheet

The headers for the spreadsheet

Using Google Sheets, I built a spreadsheet with the main categories needed for my reports and dashboards, and a bit more just in case I want to add more functionalities later on (better to have too much data rather than not enough):

  • Name of the task
  • Project
  • Label
  • Date added
  • Date completed

The idea is that a row will get automatically populated with this information by Integromat every single time a task is completed.

3- Building the automation on Make/ Integromat

Now on to the fun part.

Scenario created with Integromat using the Todoist and the Google Sheets modules

Heading to Make/Integromat, create a new scenario using Todoist as the main app and Google Sheets as the second app. Add “New Event” as the webhook for Todoist. Basically, every time a task is completed, Integromat will get pinged.

On the other hand, configure the action in Google Sheets as “Add a Row” and select your previously created spreadsheet as the destination. You’ll have to match the columns in the Sheets to the info you’ll collect from Todoist to make sure everything lands in the right place.

There’s a bit of trial-and-error to go through here but it’s really not rocket science, just run a couple of tests and see if the info is correct. It’s part of the fun, you got this.

In the Integromat interface, setting up the Google Sheets module by matching fields with todoist imported data

Once you can confirm that the automation is working and that every task you complete in Todoist is systematically imported to Google Sheets, turn the scenario on. You’re halfway there.

4- Cleaning up the data

One thing you’ll observe is that the data that lands in your spreadsheet is a bit raw. You’ll have to use some formula magic to clean it up if you want plain English, readable results. For example, Projects and Labels will be imported as a string of numbers, and not in the actual name you gave them on Todoist.

Annoying I know.

But the good news is that unless you have a hundred different projects and labels, you can create a simple formula to turn that string of numbers into the actual name in a new column. For example, in my spreadsheet, it looks something like this:

=(IFS(B2=2272691932,”La Bagarre”,B2=2273062917,”Health and Fitness”,B2=2272698215,”Softr”,B2=2272691803,”Integromat”,B2=2280519057,”Didomi”))

I know it might seem overwhelming, but all it does is set up a rule saying:

  • If the number in B2 is “2272691932”, then write down the project name “La Bagarre” in this column instead

It repeats the same thing for every combination of numbers, so the actual project name is displayed in your new column instead of a series of numbers. You can use a similar formula for labels as well.

Once the automation is set up, you can let it do its own thing, and Todoist will feed your spreadsheet every time you complete a task:

Spreadsheet with over 100 lines of data imported from Todoist, blurred to hide the task names
Blurring to protect the anonymity of my projects ahah

As you can see I haven’t even taken full advantage of the list yet. I’ve added a “Month of Completion” column to make it clearer in English and categorize tasks more clearly, but I haven’t matched the labels for example. Data points I’d like to implement in the future include:

  • Label names: Going deeper into each project
  • Priority: Do I tend to complete all urgent tasks?
  • Time to complete: The difference between data added and date completed)
  • Completion streaks: It would be interesting to see if I tend to complete tasks from the same project/label in a row

And many more. With all that collected data, there’s a lot of cool stuff you can do to analyze your work and get more insights.

Final Result: An automated dashboard to monitor your efforts

Dashboard created on Google Sheets showing data covering the past month, quarter and year
My dashboard for Q1 2022

Finally, I’ve created another tab in the Google Sheets document to build dashboards based on the data sent by Todoist.

This is relatively easy to do. Go to “Insert” -> “Chart” and explore the various possibilities available. I’m pretty terrible at understanding data sets and putting together numbers but I’ve managed to build a nice little dashboard for myself, so I’m sure you’ll find your way to do even better. In case you’re struggling, check out this great video with plenty of tips and troubleshooting that’ll help you build something solid.

My own dashboard is relatively surface-level for now but still interesting. It’s no surprise that my full-time job is taking most of my bandwidth, but cool to see that I managed to fit other projects into my weekend.

There are a lot more insights we could draw from something like that, and I hope to dive a bit deeper into it in the coming months. This all started because I didn’t find Todoist reports very useful for what I was trying to see, and turned into a fun little project — which I forgot to track in my dashboard by the way.

For further readings on productivity, here are two articles I recommend checking, one I’ve enjoyed reading and another I’ve enjoyed writing:

Thanks for reading! For more content, find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and of course here on Medium!

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Thierry Maout

Thierry Maout

Jack of all trades, master of some. Vancouver-based, I write about tech, business, MMA and education. Mostly in English, but sometimes in French too.