In this early part of the new year, many people are looking to improve their task management. A friend is looking to upgrade from the stock notes app and sent a request around to see what others were using. He also promised to send around the compiled results. If he keeps his promise, I’ll post those here (with his permission of course). What follows is not only what I’m using, currently, but how I got here.

How one organizes one’s tasks is largely matter of personal preference. Firstly, one of the most important things about choosing a task management method is not to get bogged down in analyzing different methods. The next thing to consider is any sort of methodology you’re using such as GTD. If you are, you’ll want to look for a system or application that supports that methodology.

When I started using GTD, I used Outlook Tasks. Not because I liked Outlook, but because it’s what I had and it synced to my Palm Pilot–and later, my Treo (did I mention that I’ve been doing this for a while?).

When I changed jobs and went back to using Macs exclusively, I started using Omnifocus. I like it a lot, and it checks off all the items on my needs list (see below), but it might be overkill for some people. It’s designed for doing things in a GTD style, if you’re not using GTD, it might even be a little cumbersome. It’s also a Mac/iOS app, so if you’re on another platform, Omnifocus isn’t for you.

When I was looking for something other than Outlook, this is the short list I was using to evaluate task applications. Perhaps this list will be helpful in your own search.

The most important features of a to-do application (for me):

  • Sync and/or availability on all devices, work computers included. I couldn’t do this at one of my jobs, which wasn’t great.
  • Ability to future date tasks. I us this a lot, especially for infrequently recurring tasks.
  • View by context. this is a GTD thing, I like being able to call up tasks by context sometimes, e.g. “Phone”.

Somewhat less important to me, but really handy:

  • Ability to see the day’s completed items This is sort of a motivational thing that is easily lost when one stops using a paper to-do list
  • File attachments
  • Task & Project notes

2 thoughts on “To-do and Task Management

  1. I have continued to work diligently on testing out task list / to do applications. To date, these are the six I’ve tried (and I’m including OmniFocus even though it wasn’t recent because I think I have enough experience to know what it can do), and this is the preferred order so far:

    1) Toodledo — extremely powerful, but simple enough to use in a basic way; good training videos

    2) Wunderlist — best for free usage; has sub-task support that is better than Remember the Milk (“RTM”)

    3) RTM — sort of a toss-up with Todoist (the latter of which has a nicer interface), because the RTM iOS app is actually pretty nice once you start using it consistently; the huge issue is that the free version permits syncing only once per 24 hours, so unless you pay, it’s really useless

    4) Todoist — really great interface and design for heavy usage, but terrible handling of sub-tasks

    5) — probably the cleanest, and if I only needed to keep simple grocery lists and personal around-the-house reminders, this is what I’d use; but the interface is not intuitive on iOS or the browser version; it also lacks a lot of the more advanced features that I intend to use the To Do app to manage (i.e., personal project management of both work and personal tasks as well as reminders, errands, and “someday” items)

    6) OmniFocus — unfortunately, this is still an Apple/Mac-only program without web-based access, and therefore is not helpful for a person who works in a locked-down PC office environment

    In short, even for GTD devotees, Toodledo can accommodate it (e.g., contexts and location).

    And although Toodledo is among the least aesthetically beautiful, it’s incredibly functional and powerful. For example, you can set “optional” tasks and optional recurring tasks. For the former, it’s things like “there’s a MoMA event on Feb. 25th that I might like to go to if I’m free” — and if it passes, Toodledo automatically just removes it because it’s irrelevant and it was optional. But some things are weekly tasks that, if the week passes, you want to keep but don’t want the lingering outdated item. So for the latter, the program just advances the deadline. An example might be “Complete weekly journal entry” — something that you’d like to do, but it’s fine if you don’t. It also handles items that recur at irregular intervals (e.g., Clean coffee grinder every four months.)

    That’s the update so far…

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