To-Do Dilemma: One Year Later
I’ve had a couple of emails now asking me where I’ve ended up on the subject of task management since my last post. It’s a good question, so here’s my answer…
I’m still using Things. Actually, that’s a misleading way of phrasing it; I should say, I’m back to using Things again. Here’s what happened.
Shortly after my last post, I went a bit crazy and started trying out all of the available GTD options in the world. Happens to all of us at some point, I suspect. I learned that it’s very easy to find rip-off apps, very easy to find blind clones, and very easy to find broken or bloated attempts at solving the problem of managing your tasks. I was left with the conclusion I started with: it’s damn hard to find a good to-do management system. Bloody hell.
But I didn’t despair, and one day a colleague of mine off-handedly introduced me to something called Flow. Now Flow I hadn’t heard of before, but it’s essentially a very robust web-based task management environment that features all the goodies I loved from Things, all the syncing I loved from Wunderlist, and extraordinary collaboration tools. The catch, as you might expect, is that it isn’t free. Not even close. Their current pricing clocks in at $10/month, or $100/year. Educational discounts are available, but it’s still very pricey.
Nevertheless, I signed up and used Flow for quite a number of months—very happily, I might add. It didn’t have a native iPhone app at the time (does now!) and it didn’t have a native iPad app (still doesn’t!) but since it’s entirely web-based, it was perfectly usable from any internet-enabled device, so I can’t say it was an issue. Also meant that sync wasn’t a problem. You may not find a more robust task management system than Flow, to be honest. Especially if you spend some time browsing the available features and getting to know the collaboration features. Delegating tasks, discussing them (with real-time typing indication, like a chat), attaching files, sharing task lists, activity feeds, notifications…combined with a powerful set of task tools including repeat tasks, monthly views, lists, and folders make Flow a force to be reckoned with.
I should also mention one of the only competitors that gives Flow a good run for its money: Producteev. They recently refreshed their branding and they offer a nice, free, and multi-platform solution that should be more than sufficient for most people. I happen to not like Producteev, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why for you…something about the experience of using the app just didn’t click with me. I kept bumping up against aspects of the design and workflow, and I need my task management system to disappear, not keep poking me in the face while I’m using it.
But wait, you cry, you said you’re using Things again! Yes, I am. After some time spent using Flow, I began to notice the same problem I had with Producteev…the experience wasn’t seamless. The web-based design was a joy to use on my computer, but the iPad performance (which I do much of my task-wrangling on) was glitchy and unconvincing. The fact that an iPhone app emerged was a great boon, but ultimately it didn’t solve the issue.
At about the same time, Things sent me an email inviting me to their cloud beta. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it does exist. Though I believed it must be myth, I can reliably report to you that it exists and it was worth waiting for. Things, which I always considered the most intuitive to my workflow (the ‘Focus’ categories are genius), now does the primary thing I was missing before: instant, seamless cloud syncing across all my devices.
And here’s the best part: Siri/iOS 5 Reminders integration is now a reality! Things will now pull all your iOS 5 Reminders into your Inbox, so you can just dictate tasks to Siri while you’re on the go, and then the next time you’re in Things, you can drag & drop them from the inbox to turn them into appropriately categorized to-dos. Wicked.
What’s missing now? Only a few things, for me. Specifically:
- Basic collaboration features. Nothing fancy, but task sharing/delegating would be great, and now that they’ve built an account-based cloud architecture, I see this being an easier thing to tackle.
- A month view, like Flow has. That was a huge help in seeing the distribution of tasks long-term; certainly more intuitive than a plain list of them in that case.
- Natural language New Task creation. Using Siri on the go is great, but when I’m on the computer or on my iPad, creating a task is still just too tedious—even with the global Quick Entry, it takes too much clicking around to make and properly categorize a new task. Let me do it just by typing, like I can when I’m creating iCal events in Fantastical.
And that is the story of how I danced around, got frustrated, and finally made my way back to Things. I wish I could say I’m confident that the folks at CulturedCode will start to move faster with updates and releases, but the truth is they don’t seem like people in a hurry. That being said, the product as it is now (in beta) does exactly what I’d always hoped it would, and it does it brilliantly, so (barring the requests above) I am perfectly satisfied. And productive.
On a parting note, I should address poor Wunderlist. I haven’t neglected them, and in fact I’d still probably recommend them over Things to anyone beginning their hunt for a to-do solution, but for me Things continues to win out. However, that isn’t to say that I’m not very excitedly testing out the new Wunderkit beta—not quite sure how useful it’s going to be for me, but it’s a new toy and I’m loving it, so what the hell.
So that’s me—if you have some time, drop me a note in the comments and let me know what your to-do journey has been like so far? We can do this every year and see what happens.