Efficiency and tools to make me more efficient are kind of an obsession with me. To some extent, it might be such an obsession that it might actually stop me from being efficient . I try many many many tools and only a few of them survive for more than about a few minutes and even fewer survive longer than about 2-3 weeks. The ones that stay behind are ones that i dont have to change to adapt to but ones that can easily change to adapt to me.
Todo applications are a great example of this type of tool that has gone through a number of different cycles and i have finally ended on one. Once again, i dont think any of these have ever lasted more than a few weeks and maybe some a few months but here is my take on each.
Palm Pre Todo App
I tried to use the device side todo application for doing all my task management because i thought “Hey its with me all the time why not do it there”. Let me tell you this was a disaster in about a few days. I tried really hard but there are just many issues with the solution:
- You cant access it anywhere but on your phone. While i can type fast there, i can type much faster on my desktop
- Most of my tasks are created while on the Mac and only some are created while mobile
- There is no concept of inbox
- Free form notes are not really supported outside of being attached to a task.
- etc etc..
Things is an application from Cultured Code. The application itself is pretty beautiful and is designed around the concept of GTD. You have an inbox and projects and tags and can really just keep a list of things to do very effectively. They have plugins for QuickSilver and with its Applescript interface you can pretty much push anything into it as a task. In fact, i wrote a couple scripts that move entourage mail into it as a task and also apple mail could be moved into it as tasks as well. Since some of my tasks come from email, i thought that this was a great model because i just had to hit a button and boom the email was now a task and it was cleared out of my email inbox. It was now in my task manager inbox. I used tags and projects and tried to keep track of everything, but there were a couple things that finally made me leave this application.
- It did not have a wireless sync to my phone (Palm Pre) and it was not accessible on the web so if my computer was not with me i was SOL.
- I spent too much time organizing my tasks and tags etc and it was just too much organization for me. Most of this was not because of the time to do this it was because when i created the task i knew where it needed to go but things would change over time and task would change tags, projects and just move around. It was not keyboard effective to really manage a task after it was entered into the things.
- Notes are attached to tasks. They are the connected to tasks. Sometimes i am just taking notes and they will become tasks later but for now they are just ideas or thoughts and i want to keep them in a list.
From here i realized i wanted something that made entering the task easy but also available every. I did some quick googling and found
This app continues to amaze me. It is fast for a web based application and they have a iphone sync app and a mobile site. I built a WebOS application to get my tasks on my phone. It has TONS of plugins for Quicksilver and every other app to get tasks into the system. You can email it stuff with just a forward it to the app and it would show up in the Inbox of the task manager. It is a super duper task and list management service and have used this for a while now. To make it feel more like a local native application, i used Fluid to make it feel like a native application. While it was easy to get things into the list and tag it and manage it there were other issues:
- It was kind of a pain in the butt to share tasks. They have some model of a shared task list and i tried to use it with my team at work (3 people) and it worked but just did not let me select a set of tasks and cut/paste them into an email and send them to someone that was not part of the RTM system. Everyone has to join just for me to send them a task list.
- Since it was so task/list driven there was no place to just take notes that are free form. You can put notes down that are attached to a task but you cant just keep notes. This was one of the same issues i had with things but at this point i did not realize that was the issue
- At the same time i was starting my startup and tied to use this to manage my project schedule. To say the least this is not a tool to do that because it does not have milestones and time tracking is just a secondary thought.
I continue to use this application cause it is so ubiquitously available but i still end up using another tool to perform some of my basic task management. I also use this tool to keep track of things like books to read, movies to see etc. It ends up being a long list of stuff more than a todo list it is more of a list of things to catalog and reference periodically.
Plain Text Files
While i was happy using RTM, i realized quickly that i was still bringing up textedit and just keep a list of items to do with notes and tasks in a text file. I did this when i was starting a project and things were still pretty free form. I kept a list of ideas there or a list of tasks and would take them and send them into RTM periodically. As i did this more and more, i quickly realized that my best todo list was plain text files. They are not as ubiquitous as RTM so i cant easily add to it or remove from it unless i am on my Mac. I have the text files sitting in drop box synced folder so its kinda available just not very easily on my phone. Text files are pretty awesome cause Quicksilver and Launchbar allow me to just add text to the end easily. Moving things around is easy. Sharing it with others is just an email with a cut and paste and indentation works. The things that are missing are the organization of tags and search.
This is an app that i have only been using for about 2-3 days so ask me again in a few days if this is still good. It seems to be pretty perfect in that it gives me tags/search and projects but it is all just a text file. It just feel natural to use for a programmer or someone who just likes to type out what he is thinking. Notes are easily mixed as in plain text files and at the end it IS just a plain text file. My only downside on it so far is that it is not ubiquitous in terms of access. It is a app that runs on a Mac, i need it on my phone.
What i would love is a web app version of Task Paper that works on the web and my phone and also has a desktop app. The text files are just synced and kept easily accessible everywhere. I guess i can either keep hoping or maybe one day I will just end up building this for myself
Sidenote: Many times I use the tools other than the above to do feature/issue tracking. Currently we are using redmine but i have also used jira and bugzilla. They all have their own issues but have different needs/requirements. I think the one that seemed to be the best for my on this front was thymer but I did not want to pay for something when it was in alpha/beta and we are still a small startup.
I have been using TaskPaper for a few weeks now and i think it is something that has become a central part of my tool arsenal for todo management. In the comments, you can see that the author of TaskPaper is also providing a iPhone app and text sync tool that seems to be working pretty well. Task Paper seems to be the solution for my free form thoughts and in general for notes. I am using RTM for keeping track of long lists like “books to read” and we are using Redmine for simple project task management. Thanks everyone for the comments and ideas but these are the solutions that seem to work for me for now.