In this blog post I will share the background to how Let's Do come to be and some of the ideas behind it. It originates from my experience as one of the founders of a digital service design agency and from my time as a freelance consultant. Often taking on the role of managing work, and also in the role as an individual contributor.
To-do lists are excellent in their simplicity
I have always been a fan of organizing things using lists of tasks. Like many people, to-do lists are a tool I reach for in many different parts of my life. It gives you a way to visualize what is coming up and a great way to break down complicated tasks into smaller digestible steps. Things just get easier to process.
Over the years, I have used many different task management tools on various platforms to manage tasks and planning. Sometimes, more advanced systems like Jira, PivotalTracker, or Trello make sense. These can be great, but other times you just want a list of tasks shared with other people.
A simple list of tasks is excellent at its core as there is minimal effort needed to understand how it works. It is just a list of things that needs to get done, sometimes together with extra details like due dates, prioritization, or who is responsible for carrying out each task. They are easy to understand, use and follow. And works great in different contexts when shared.
Since Slack was introduced back in 2013, it has become the de facto way to organize and operate for many organizations. I have been part of loads of different Slack workspaces; during my time as one of the founders of a digital service design agency working with clients, contractors, and projects, and during my time as a freelance consultant. Often in the role of managing work combined with the role as an individual contributor.
One thing that I have always come back to in one form or another is that Slack could work great to organize and distribute work. Both as it is where the communication happens and as a platform to build tools on. Your collaborators usually already are in Slack on their own devices and are familiar with the application and its features. It has a standardized user interface with a set of well-known components. With channels, you create clear contexts and processes for communication.
The solution for handling tasks has often been to use an external tool that comes with the cost of switching from the primary communication tool to another tool specifically for tasks. Sometimes it's a good choice, but not always. And when you involve people from another team or organization, they have to get set up in the task management solution. Another more Slack-centric way has been to use Slacks native "Posts" feature, but in my experience, that quickly gets clunky and unorganized when multiple people are involved.
A Slack based task manager
I was familiar with Slack as an app platform from my work with Send It Later. It is a Slack app to schedule and set up recurring messages in Slack that I released a couple of years before Slack had similar features natively. With my experience building Slack applications, I started to experiment in 2021 with how tasks could be managed within Slack using a purpose-built Slack app.
The underlying idea was that as we already are in Slack all day, it could also be good to use Slack as the platform for managing tasks in a team or for projects. After testing a few different concepts, thinking about my own experiences with managing team tasks, and talking with other Slack users, I come up with a few realizations:
- Many teams and organizations create their own processes for managing tasks. They are usually loosely based on an established way, but there is value to making it your own and improving the process as a team. The common need is to have the building blocks/tools to handle tasks, due dates, assignments, etc. The actual process can be difficult to generalize and is very dependent on the people involved with the work and the context.
- Slack apps need to embrace the limitations of Slacks API and Slacks native processes. Trying to innovate within Slack easily becomes confusing if not done thoughtfully and on Slacks terms. When using the tools available in Slack to build apps, keeping things simple and focused is needed to to ensure that features get understandable and useable.
- One channel – one work context. A very common practice is to create stand-alone channels to handle projects or subjects to keep a focus or more easily categorize information and distribute it to those interested in it. The natural context of channels in Slack also works excellent to create a context for tasks.
The first version
Based on these ideas and feedback, I started to build the first version of a to-do manager as a Slack app in the summer of 2021. The first aim was to create the basic building blocks needed to handle ongoing work for a small team with lists of tasks connected to Slack channels. I started to use it to organize the work with the app and for other to-dos in my life. And then, I iterated - adjusting and adding new features, testing changes, and fixing bugs. The app started to feel like something that would have been a valuable tool in many previous situations.
When I got to the point of naming the app, I soon remembered that I had acquired the domain letsdo.io many years ago for a now discarded side project. Now it felt like the perfect name for the app as it is about taking action as a group. And it has half of the word ”to-do” in it.
The work continued, and I got a few users beta testing Let's Do. Soon people I didn't know started to use the app in their organizations to handle tasks. Wow.
In early November 2021, Let’s Do was approved to be listed in the Slack app directory. There has been a steady flow of new user sign-ups and to-dos created since release. It has provided great feedback and validation of my different ideas for a Slack-based task manager. With the basic building blocks in place, the work is now focused on how processes can be streamlined and how the app can be developed to allow it's users to use their time more effectively.
I look forward to continuing the Let's Do story and helping more teams increase their productivity and manage their work.