February 6, 2012

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

productivity technology

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