light and fluid: asana and todoist compared

copyright Ozengo 2014Some task management apps seem inspired by steampunk: bells and whistles, lots of brass, faux leather, wood veneer and plenty of levers to throw. Others are light and fluid, almost zen–like in their barely there simplicity. Do not underestimate these ethereal apps, dear reader, for they may have a lot of potential bubbling away under the hood, ready for you to unleash.

Okay, that was fun. Down to business now: today I’ll be comparing two slender high flyers:  Asana and Todoist.

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managing a high volume of tasks in omnifocus 2

The first principle of David Allen’s Getting Things Done™ (GTD™) approach to task and project management is that you should capture every task or project that comes into your head in what he calls a trusted system.

For me, Omnifocus has provided  that trusted system since 2009 and the rollout of Omnifocus 2 for iMac in June 2014 has further strengthened what was already a powerful, versatile and reliable app. The two most compelling features of Omnifocus 2 for desktops are the review function and the Forecast view—both adapted from the groundbreaking iPad app.

The downside of following the great GTD™ guru’s advice to the letter is that you end up with a lot of ‘stuff’ in your trusted system. My Omnifocus file typically holds around 700 entries in some 60 projects. Not all of these are to–do items in the narrow sense: some ‘projects’ contain lists of books to read, movies to watch, places I’d like to travel to. Including these makes the file bigger, but also ramps up the fun factor: I do not just fire up Omnifocus when there’s another bill to be paid…

So read on if you are interested in the strategies that I have developed to manage a high volume of tasks in Omnifocus 2.

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asana goes from strength to strength


In October 2012 I first wrote about asana, praising the browser–based task management app for coming close to delivering on the developers’ vision of frictionless productivity. Since that first review, asana has gone from strength to strength, refining its user interface and adding tons of new functionality.

If you want a walkthrough of asana basics, you may want to read my earlier post first. If you are ready to explore what is new, just keep reading. Continue reading

nozbe and zendone revisited


Early in 2012 I reviewed Nozbe and Zendone, two browser–based task management apps that are steeped in David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology. Since that time, both apps have continued to improve. Nozbe has added new functionality and overhauled the user interface of its suite of apps. Just today they rolled out version 1.8. Zendone, which was still in beta at the time of my first review, has gone gold, produced apps for the iPhone and Android and added significant new functionality and polish to what was already an excellent tool.

Nozbe and Zendone are very similar. They are both developed by software developers with a clear commitment to GTD® and to ongoing quality improvement. They lead the field in terms of integration with Evernote. For what it is worth, I have tested 28 task management apps over the past two years and Nozbe and Zendone both figure in my virtual ‘top–five’. This is a gentle review therefore, a comparison of two very capable tools.

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facile things teaches you GTD

FT banner

David Allen’s Getting Things Done® is a broad approach to personal productivity that invites you to examine your aims and objectives at a number of levels. What is your vision for your life? What sort of a person do you wish to be? What are your long term plans? What about your plans for the next three to five years? Cascading down this hierarchy of priorities will eventually lead you to the level of projects and tasks: what action do you need to take next, in the physical world, to make your vision or dreams come true?

Many productivity apps that are inspired by David Allen’s GTD® approach conveniently ignore the broader dimensions of productivity and provide a tool for dealing with the mechanics of GTD: projects, contexts, tasks and, if you are lucky, a process that supports the weekly review, a key feature of GTD®.

You will find no such reductionism in Facile Things, the brainchild of Francisco Saez, a Spanish developer. Fire up the app in your browser and it will invite you to reflect upon your purpose, vision, goals. From there flow areas of responsibility, projects and finally, actions. The various dimensions of your planning can be accessed at any time by clicking the ‘perspectives’ heading in the menu bar. Continue reading

pagico’s productivity platform

Every now and then, good things can come from checking your Twitter account. The odd bon mot from the irrepressible Stephen Fry or, in this case, stumbling upon a little productivity gem. Pagico is the handiwork of a small development team based in Japan. The developers describe their product as ‘a comprehensive planner that manages notes, tasks, files, projects and contacts’. It supports individual planning as well as team collaboration and is available for Mac, Windows, Ubuntu, iPhone and iPad.

Pagico is a desktop app that has been around since 2007. It is rich in features yet also somewhat idiosyncratic. It took me a while to find my way around the app and how workspaces can be configured, but it was worth the effort. Pagico has some unusual features: it lets you manually rearrange your tasks on a ‘dashboard’ that looks like a Gantt chart; and it can turn your project steps into a slideshow. Pagico at times feels like a mix of IQTELL, OneNote, MS-Project and KanbanFlow. That is not to say, however, that Pagico is derivative; it has its own intrinsic logic and is an original, versatile and beautifully executed app, particularly on the iPad and the iPhone versions. Interested? Let’s have a closer look… Continue reading

IQTELL’s beta as a GTD-compatible task manager

In my previous post I introduced you to IQTELL’s virtual workspace, which brings together all your calendars, email accounts, contact information, tasks and notes into the one gargantuan browser-based application.

In this post I want to use a couple of screenshots provided by the IQTELL team to zoom in upon one of those areas and take you on a tour of IQTELL as a task manager. Continue reading

IQTELL’s virtual workspace: productivity heaven?

This post, dear reader, commences as a tale of mystery. A dark tale of late night tweets and skype calls across the continents. It all started with a tweet inviting Ozengo to become a beta tester for something called ‘IQTELL’ and proposing ‘a private session’. Now Ozengo knew about cold calling, but was new to the world of cold tweeting. Or should that be #coldtweeting? Anyhow, Ozengo’s curiosity was piqued sufficiently for him to fire up his trusted mac to unleash some serious research upon this whole IQTELL proposition.

It turned out that the IQTELL crowd claimed to have developed ‘a single, fully integrated application that allows you to manage all your needs‘. Ozengo’s initial response was one of scepticism. Most things that sound too good to be true are just that. However, it being a cold and rainy saturday morning in Melbourne, Ozengo looked further afield and came across consistently positive comments about this fledgling beta on user forums. Could this be true, a browser-based application that provided integration with your email, calendar, contacts and Evernote? That was steeped in David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology and fully customisable?

Having signed up as a beta tester, Ozengo set to work, quickly and methodically, and this is what he discovered:

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zendone: ‘a beautiful productivity tool for getting things done’

Zendone is an elegant new productivity app that provides seamless integration with evernote and google calendar. It is so new, in fact, that it is still in beta; the version I tinkered with was 0.7.5.

the zendone homepage with its slightly steampunk bumblebee

Setting up your zendone account involves providing an email address and creating a password. You are then ready to use zendone as a straight task manager. The multiplier effect for this app, however, comes from combining it with evernote and google calendars. Preparing your evernote account for zendone integration involves setting up a default folder in evernote called ‘@inbox’ and another one called ‘archive’. The zendone preferences pane and some preloaded ‘tutorial tasks’ guide you through this process. Zendone also creates new calendars in a nominated google calendar: one for each area of responsibility (e.g. work, home) and one for completed tasks.

Any tasks that you create in, or email to your evernote account, appear in zendone’s inbox within seconds. The inbox is where you collect and process your tasks. They can be delegated, allocated to a project and given a context, a tag or a completion date.

elephant meets bumblebee: a task created in evernote shows up in the zendone inbox

The user interface is clean, elegant and logical. A limitation with how you describe tasks is that the repeat function at present only provides ‘every‘ as the frequency option. I would also like to see an option to restart a task from its completion date (you make a mortgage repayment every month but you may decide to clear your gutters after three months). There is also no option to enter task duration (like in omnifocus or toodledo); and the absence of that parameter means that you cannot bring up a list of brief tasks (though creating a context for these could be a workaround). The zendone team appears to be thorough and responsive and I hope that these minor issues can be addressed in the final version.

The next phase in David Allen’s Getting Things Done™ (GTD)™ process involves reviewing and organising your tasks. In zendone, new tasks are added at the bottom of the respective list. I could not find an option to sort tasks automatically by due date, but you can drag and drop them to sort them into an order that makes sense to you. The navigation pane can be hidden from view and you can click underneath a project list to show completed actions for that project.

The zendone ‘review & organise’ pane. Note the filters in the navigation pane on the left.

The main functionality I miss here is the capacity to have nested tasks (as in omnifocus, toodledo and todoist) and the capacity to save project templates or to schedule reviews (as in omnifocus).

The ‘do’ view is again clean and uncluttered. You can choose to see all your priority tasks (marked with a chunky big star) or only those of a particular area of responsibility (such as work or home). You can also filter tasks by context. No demoralising sea of red here: overdue tasks have three discreet red dots in front of them. Two panes at the bottom of the screen can slide open to show recently received and/or completed tasks.

Zendone’s ‘do’ view.

There is much to like here and the app keeps getting better: the zendone team rolled out functionality improvements twice in the four days it took me to review the app and write this post. This is a great app if you want to add a productivity dimension to your evernote and/or your google calendar. Zendone is a delight to use even though its functionality is more limited than that of omnifocus. On the other hand, it is easier to pick up than OF. While omnifocus is fairly expensive to buy, zendone will not be a free app – there is talk about a ‘reasonable’ monthly fee.

Personally, I find using a calendar for task management suffocating (but you can disable the evernote and google integration if you wish). The main dealbreaker for me is that zendone will only run on ‘a modern version’ of chrome, safari or firefox. For me, that means I would only be able to use the app at home. It won’t run in safari on my iPad 2 (OS 5.0.1) and at work the network is still using internet explorer 6 (mordac alert for all you dilbert fans out there).

Finally, I just wanted to make clear that I have no commercial interest in zendone (or omnifocus) and that I am not an expert in productivity apps – just an interested user. And to you folks out there at zendone: congratulations on your achievement and please feel free to post a correction in the comments section if I have misrepresented any aspect of your work.

Update (28-09-12)

Version 0.8.0 of zendone was released in July 2012, rolling out some significant enhancements:

  • actions can now be grouped in the ‘review & organize’ view
  • a ‘next task’ filter enables you to view only those tasks that need to be completed in order to move each of your projects a step forward
  • you can now bring up next actions in the ‘do’ view and decide which ones to add to the starred items of your focus list
  • zendone now has a fast and accurate search function.

You can find more detail about these changes on the zendone blog.