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Your new personal assistant is a doc. And it’s a dream come true.

Ellen Chisa elevated her to-do system with Coda's Packs

A template from fellow maker Ellen Chisa.

Picture this: You wake up. You open your laptop. Your assistant has left you a comprehensive itinerary for your day — with action items incorporating all the read-but-not-yet-answered emails, time allotted for meditation and , and a bonus addendum containing all the back burner stuff, should you happen to feel exceptionally productive.
Now we’ll reveal the fact that this blessed assistant is actually a Coda doc: An automated to-do list that uses the Gmail Pack to bring your emails, action items, and recurring tasks into one master list. And you can copy this ingenious productivity hack. Right now! For free!
It comes from Ellen Chisa, a startup-founder and seasoned Silicon Valley professional. She’s one of many makers who have agreed to put their personal tricked-out to-do lists in .
Because don’t forget: Your most effective to-do list tool is the one that fits you like a glove. It should cater to your habits and preferences and offset your weaknesses. It exists — you just have to make it first.
You can start from scratch, with the usual building blocks like tables, text, checkboxes — and then over time add on new views and Packs. But the fastest way might just be to copy and adapt a pre-existing tool provided by another smart person, which you can find

The maker behind the doc.

Ellen Chisa, co-founder of Dark
likes making new things. She is the co-founder of Dark, a company empowering the next billion developers. They are starting by making it easy to build backend web services. You could say it’s deployless!
Before Dark, Ellen worked on
, , and Office Mobile. She advises and invests with and . She , , and . Find her on and .
Ellen already had a to-do system built in Coda, but with the addition of the Gmail Packs table, she’s able to add to-dos to her list based on e-mails she’s labeled “todo” in Gmail. Here’s a quick run-through…

It’s more than a to-do list. It’s a *to-do system.*

With Coda, Ellen is able to automate a lot of the manual and repetitive tasks (no pun intended) with a to-do system. The goal of the template is to show you what you need to work on today, and everything else gets put into your backlog.
Creating tasks from email messages is really common and sometimes frustrating. You have to switch tabs or windows to get to your email, copy/paste text, and have to snooze your emails to show up in your inbox again if you want to remind yourself to do the task. To address this concern, Ellen’s template incorporates e-mail right into the doc. Some core features of her template include:
A simple to-do list
“Re-incarnating” recurring tasks
Backlog tasks show up on your to-do list at the right time
Create to-dos based on Gmail messages

Ellen’s to-do list in Coda
Let’s go through each feature one-by-one:

1. Base Model: A simple To-Do list

The core of this doc is a fairly simple To-Do list since keeping it simple helps you stay focused. Ellen tracks the name of the To-Do, a Due Date, a Category (just Work vs Personal), a Who column for the people involved, and Notes.
To-dos to finish today!

2. Recurrence Model: A “re-incarnation” model for handling recurring To-Do items

A challenge with most to-do list systems is how to handle recurring tasks — especially tasks that you need to do every day or every week. Ellen was looking for a way to handle this that is simple, but also adapts to her way of thinking about to-dos. Thankfully, in Coda, you can model most things how you want it to work.
There seem to be two primary patterns for handling recurring tasks:
The Re-incarnation / Single-Table model — Mark certain tasks on your to-do list as recurring, mark them as complete each time they are done, and then set up an that will check each day for tasks that need to be “brought back to life” — i.e. they will be marked as “Not complete” and be made visible in your Today queue
The Templated Task / Separate-Table model — Keep a separate table describing your recurring tasks. Every day, the automation will check if a task with those properties should be added to your primary To-Do table and add them.
Set up recurring weekly and daily to-dos
This automation rule runs every day at 5AM and adds your recurring weekly and daily to-dos back to your main to-do list

3. Backlog Model: Set due dates in the future, and tasks get pushed to your Today list on that date

Sometimes Ellen’s to-dos have a due date out in the future, and she doesn’t need to see these to-dos in her current Today list. These to-dos get pushed to the backlog of items that will get done eventually. The backlog can consist of longer-term projects or simply to-dos that have a due date several months in the future. In the Backlog section, you’ll notice various of Ellen’s to-do list that allows Ellen to filter her list down to a specific column. This prevents her from having to see a huge list of to-dos and instead, can just focus on the Today list.
Using another Automation rule, Ellen can “push” to-dos from her Backlog to her Today list only when the due date is today. This way, she doesn’t have to worry about constantly checking the backlog for to-dos that are coming due. Coda’s Automation feature does that for her.
Backlog of to-dos contains multiple views of Ellen’s master to-do list
Another automation runs every day at 5AM “pushing” to-dos from the Backlog to the Today list (only if the due date is today)

4. Connect to Email: Create To-Dos based on Gmail messages ⭐️ NEW ⭐️

The new part of this template is using the ! Getting things out of Ellen’s email and into her to-do list can be tedious, but is key to staying on top of things, and keeping her inbox clear.
Ellen set this up with a special label called “todo” which she applies to all her e-mail that contains something she needs to do. Those messages sync into the Gmail table, and there is a button and automation that automatically creates to-do items every hour.
The Gmail Packs Table brings in all of Ellen’s e-mail that is labeled as “todo.” Pushing a button creates a to-do based on that e-mail message.

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