Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Technology Wish List, Revisited

I have at times in the past written about how I try to employ technology as a useful servant—hopefully without inadvertently letting it become my master. (I will let those who know me best decide whether I fulfill that second aspiration.)

Here’s my latest quest: A task management application that really works for me.

Before going paperless in my personal organization aids some nine years ago, I was as devotee of the Franklin Planner, and particularly fond of its task prioritizing tools (ABC-123). Then I used the FranklinCovey add-on with MS Outlook happily for several years, until I moved into an environment with an Exchange Server, and everything seemed to be constantly going to hell. So, about a year ago, I went Outlook-free, and have never regretted my decision.

What do I miss about my former arrangement?

  • Outlook is visually attractive—nice “eye candy.” Very little else comes close on that score.
  • Outlook is integrated—tasks, calendar, contacts, email, and notes, all on one screen, with databases that are on friendly speaking terms. However, integration may be more attractive in concept than in practice. I have grown completely accustomed to moving between various tabs in my browser to access each of those functions, and it really isn’t a bother.
  • The classic F/C ABC-123 task management, combined with MS Office’s feature-rich dialogue boxes.

I’m currently using ToodleDo as a task manager (having earlier spent a few weeks with Nozbe). What I like about it is that it is feature-rich, performs quickly and reliably, and is inexpensive (I have a premium account, but the free one is quite robust).

But here’s what annoys me about ToodleDo:

  • The interface is just plain ugly. There’s no kinder way to say it.
  • The interface is awkward in that it takes up the whole width of my browser window. So unless I want to take the time to resize the window every time I click on my Tasks tab, I am forced to put a whole lot of unnecessary mileage on my mouse. Added up, this consumes time that can begin to be called “serious.”
  • I’m not fully in control of what I see in the main view (“Hotlist”). It uses a sophisticated algorithm based on start date, due date, and priority to determine what shows up. Sometimes stuff is there that I don’t want to see, and sometimes (not often) I’ve missed a task that I did want to see. This is not a huge problem, but a definite irritation.
  • No drag-and-drop to re-prioritize or change start date.
  • I can’t click on any given date and see what tasks are going to be active on that date. This means that I can’t refine my next day’s tasks the night before; I have to wait for them to show up in my Hotlist the next morning.

So here are the specs for the ideal task management app that I haven’t found yet:

  • It must be web-based. I have made the mental transition to cloud computing, and there is no going back.
  • It must have an iPhone version to which it syncs automatically. (The iPhone app doesn’t need to be all that great; mostly I just want to be able to add a task when one occurs to me.)
  • My task planning is driven by Start Dates. (Due Dates are of only marginal importance.) When I enter a task into the system and give it a start date, I want that task to go away and hide until that date, at which time I want it to show up conspicuously.
  • Along those lines, it would be nice to be able to drag a task to a date on a calendar to assign a Start Date.
  • There needs to be some way I can functionally emulate the ABC-123 prioritizing I like so much.
  • I’ve grown fond of being able to tag tasks with categories (aka Folders), and being able to sort them by those categories when I want to.
  • The same goes for Contexts (in the Getting Things Done sense), but this is not hugely important.
  • It must have the functional ability to create Projects, and then to break those projects down into Tasks.
  • Sharing is not a big deal. In fact, it’s no deal at all. I can take it or leave it, but don’t want to be distracted by it.
  • The visual interface doesn’t need to be a work of art, but it should be elegant, classy, and perhaps even customizable.

Any ideas out there?

3 comments:

Nicholas+ said...

Take a look at "Remember the Milk" - it works well on the web, will sync a task list to iCal (which will let you drag a task to the calendar), has an iPhone app, etc.

It's less GTD centric than what I use (omnifocus) which I think is what you're looking for too.

Dan Martins said...

Thanks, Nick. I have indeed taken a good look at RTM. It has most of what I'm looking for (despite a completely dorky name!), but the deal breaker is that it is due-date oriented, whereas what I need is something start-date oriented. RTM lacks (so far as I can tell), the ability to even assign a start date. Hence, my main view would be cluttered by tasks that I don't want to have distracting me yet.

Anonymous said...

Have a look at ToDo for iPhone and iPad. Syncs both to Macs and PCs (for those who still cling to them). Looks like it fits and exceeds all your criteria. Here's the link: http://www.appigo.com/todo