I'm an action-oriented fella. I like my lists, particularly if they say "To Do", "Action Items", or some similar verb. This way what needs to happen next is already partially thought out, you can see at a glance what actions to take, and stuff doesn't fall off the table (unless you want it to).
Let me state right here and now that, I really want to know What Do You Use? to keep track of your TO DO items? I'll tell you what I've found below, but I'm still searching for ideas that work.
In this pursuit, for the last 5 yrs or more I've been looking for an effective way to keep track of my task lists. Some of my favorites to date have been my own database app, a little notepad, a simple single-sheet of paper, and MS OneNote. Reading Getting Things Done only encourages this behavior. In my job as a Release Manager, I'm the "execution expert" responsible for tracking 101 things for my team. To date, I haven't found a single satisfactory way of doing this.
So a brilliant idea hit! Why not search online for the perfect piece of software (duh!!)! This post is a journal of that investigation.
- Must: Be Easy, Fast, and Simple to Use, This means easy on the eyes, nice UI design, hot-keys for everything, etc
- Must: Support folders/hierarchies to easily categorize tasks
- Must: Filter list to exclude completed items
- Must: Be avalible offline, this excludes live server-based apps
- Must: Be a Windows client w/ a full GUI (no web apps like Task Freak, Backpack, Google To Do, King Design Tasks, or Ta-da Lists)
- Doesn't Need: Sync to a mobile device
- Doesn't Need: Sync to other apps (like Outlook)
- Doesn't Need: Support for teams, bug tracking, resouces, scheduling, helpdesks, etc
- Like to Have: Print to folded paper aka "Sync to Paper"
- Like to Have: Saves in an XML file format for easy custom parsing
- Like to Have: Easy keyboard access w/ global hotkeys for rapid access
- Like to Have: A notion of time, when something's due, reminders, timeline view, etc.
Here are my quick reviews of the (23) apps I've tried. The top 3 are my contenders that I'll have to try using for a while longer to pick one, and the rest are in descending order (best to worst to n/a).
- * TaskPilot Pro Definitely a full-featured task manager! By far the best feature set and nicest user interface. Extensive task options. Amazing GUI. Supports folders AND task hierarchy (as well as categories). Import/Export from Outlook. It even has built-in customer feedback submission! Just missing a few quick usability features like ESC to minimize, global hotkeys, and minimize to system tray.
- * FusionDesk Awesome GUI (it has an Ribbon type menu)! Fast and easy to use with a good feature set. Even has several export options including an RSS feed.
- * Swift To-Do List Real nice user interface. Simple & easy. Supports folders. Minimizes to the system tray and has a global hot-key to add a new item. Not as feature rich as TaskPilot Pro, but definitely the easiest, nicest, and quickest to use.
- MyLife Organized Real easy to use! Tasks ARE the hierarchy (tasks can have subtasks). Very easy to add tasks, edit, and check off.
- MindJet MindManager Good for brainstorming and general categorization of thought, but breaks down quickly as a total task management system.
- Microsoft Team Foundation Server Heavyweight for basic personal task tracking, doesn't support work item hierarchy, requires a server, and the GUI client is heavy.
- Microsoft Project Great for scheduling & resource management, but overkill as a "simple" task organizer. Comes across too busy and doesn't directly address personal task organization as well as the top three apps in this list.
- Microsoft Outlook Definitely improved since 2003, but very flat list oriented.
- Microsoft OneNote Quick and easy for note taking, but the task management is very basic.
- Microsoft Word Practically a text editor when it comes to tasks, but with the right macros, can provide an entry level task system.
- Microsoft Excel A classic favorite of many, but there could be so much more functionality from an app dedicate to tasks. Really overkill for most task taking and no simple linking/attachment ability.
- Product Studio PS is a tool internal to Microsoft that we used to use to track bugs (before VSTS). It allows custom forms and fields, but requires a live connection.
- VIP Simple To Do List Easy to use interface, nice grouping, but only supports categories and not actual folders or task hierarchy.
- EasyTask Manager Very simple. Missing a lot of "basic" functionality like right-click support.
- Checklist A real simple basic flat list w/ categories. Only special features are support for a server and it is very quick to enter new tasks.
- What To Do A very simple flat list task tracker. GUI hurts my eyes.
- Quick To-Do Pro A basic task tracker. No folders or hierarchy. Just a simple tracker.
- InfoStore Pro A simple list maker. Supports folders. Useful for any type of list, including tasks. The user can define the fields. Not optimized for tasks, but good for generic lists.
- Easy To-Do Another basic flat To Do list. GUI needs improvements.
- Orbisoft Task Manager Not a nice GUI design and designed for team task management.
- Taskline Its a plugin for Outlook, I want a standalone app
- LivePad A competitor to Microsoft OneNote, this app is really focused more on taking notes than tracking tasks.
- General Knowledge Base Just overkill, not a task tracker.
- EssentialPIM A compete product to Outlook, does tasks, but overkill for primarily task taking (and as is expected, the task taking is basic).
- VIP Task Manager Professional Required a server connection when I installed it. Didn't try any further since this is already overkill.
One app to keep an eye out for is iScrybe. It is an online-offline AJAX powered very innovative personal information management system that may rock the world of PIMs. I'm waiting to try out the Beta.
What Do You Use?
Okay, enough about my investigations, when it really gets down to it, I'm interested in what is working for you? What is your task tracking load (10-20 active tasks, 20-70, 70-200, 200+)? What method is dynamic, easy, flexible, and convenient enough to keep up with your active busy life?
I'd be so exciting if I can really solve this Life Hack. Wow, the potential unleashed would be amazing! Your help would be hugely appreciated. Thanks 🙂
It's been a year and in that time, I've learned a lot. Thanks to the many great additions in the comments, I enjoyed tying some of them out. My favorite was Swift To-Do List, but I've since moved to using Microsoft OneNote using a Stream of Consciousness pattern. I've found that archiving old items takes work in most task apps, and over time almost 50% of my tasks need archiving. Using OneNote, I just create new lists one after another in one long stream. Right-clicking just about anywhere (tabs, text, etc) in OneNote 2007 lets you copy a URL to the clipboard, then just assign a hotkey to it using AutoHotKey, and you've got one-key access to your favorite lists. (Jan 5th 2009)