Time to try a new task management application

About a year ago I started using an iPhone 3G and had to find replacement applications for a Sony Clie NX-70 Palm based device I had been using for 5 years (yes, it was and still is really that good).  The Datebk5 app I had been using was pretty nice and the iPhone was missing a heap of capabilities in comparison, most noticeably in task management.  So after learning about the Getting Things Done (GTD) system from David Allen’s book a year earlier, I bought OmniFocus for the Mac and then the iPhone.  In a nutshell, GTD advocates you list “projects” you are working on (e.g. “submit ACME proposal”, “clean garage”), “contexts” in which you can do things (e.g. “on the phone”, “email”, “writing”, “running errands”), tag all your tasks with these two attributes and place them in an order in which they need to be done (e.g. “write proposal” followed by “buy envelopes” followed by “mail proposal”).  This allows you to focus only on the next action required instead of on the inifite amount of items most of us have in front of us at any given time.  By staying focused and making small progress daily and not becoming overwhelmed by the big picture, you have a greater chance of “getting things done”.  The idea of “contexts” is that you when you decide it time to make phone calls, you look at your “on the phone” context list, and start doing things on it, regardless of project.  Its a relatively simple system, but I’m not sure it works for everyone.  I tend to not really think in contexts, and thus task management systems based around GTD (like OmniFocus) start to get in your way.

So after using OmniFocus for a year and generally not really enjoying the experience, I’ve recently starting using the web-based ToodleDo app, along with its corresponding iPhone app.    ToodleDo lets you use many of the methods of the GTD system (it has contexts, and folders, and status, etc.) but is flexible enough that you can only use what you want.  I have to say, I’m enjoying it much more (and its much less expensive too, as in free for the web app and only $4 for the iPhone app, compared with nearly $100 for both OmniFocus products if you get them at full price).  I think the feature of ToodleDo I like the best is the “hotlist”, which is a compilation of items you have deemed important via priorities, due-dates, flags, and so on.  It cuts across projects and contexts and is just a nice list.  For those of us that don’t think in pure “project” or “context” terms like GTD advocates, this simple feature alone is really useful.   And the bonus is, all your tasks are on the web, so you can find them from any computer.  Hooray for competition.

4 thoughts on “Time to try a new task management application”

  1. Nice one. I switched from OmniFocus to Things.app recently after I found two things that I couldn’t get over with OmniFocus. The first, and most important, was OF’s insistence on forcing its own UI conventions on users while ignoring standard OS X UI conventions (enter was new item, esc was enter, sorting lists was weird etc). I really did try with OF, I downloaded their screencasts and spent over an hour watching them… twice… but still, every time I opened the app it was like learning it again from scratch as everything seemed so unintuitive.

    Things.app has been the complete opposite, it is a friendly citizen in the OS X UI world and has just enough features to be powerful and stay out of your way.

    A web based app sounds compelling, as Things doesn’t yet support OTA syncing which is a must for an iPhone task management app.

    There were two things that the OF iPhone app certainly deserves credit for – its use of GPS (“I have a hardware store context, where is the closest one” or “You are at the shops, here’s what you need to do” and the sound recording as it was a nice way to get recordings sync’d to your mac OTA.

  2. I looked at Things too..it looked nice, but Toodle Do is treating me well right now. And the sync between web and the iPhone app is fast and perfect. OmniFocus sync via WebDav was cool, but slooooooow.

    Plus since your data is in the ‘cloud’, you can get the new iPhone notifications from their servers straight to your iPhone even if the app isn’t running. Sweet

  3. I use Things as well. It’s not bad for my work flow which is:

    1. Enter an item
    2. Ballpark a date for when I need it done.

    Pull tasks off my Today queued (sorted by due date)
    If I can’t do something, ballpark a new date.

    I thought I wanted this to be a web app, but it turns out that I’m on my box all the time anyway that it’s no big deal. If there’s one feature that’s compelling it would be pushing/syncing with my Google Calendar so I can get the entries on my phone, but it’s not a deal breaker.

    There’s an app called GQueues which comes pretty close to replacing Things. Someone also cloned Things for the web, but I can’t remember the name of the app at the moment.

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