ten great apps for getting things done

podium2This is my second attempt at writing this post. The first time, in a quest for ‘objectivity’, I got bogged down in a treacly mix of scoring apps against criteria that were of my own choosing anyway. This time around I am opting for an unashamedly impressionistic approach: these are the task management apps I like best.

They are all compatible with David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology, capable of supporting basic to complex project management and with at least one mobile app (iPhone or iPad, ideally both). Despite meeting those criteria, Things, asana, FacileThings and several other pretty solid apps did not make the grade. Only ten apps will fit into a top–10 after all (I was reasonably good at maths at school).

My ranking is exactly that: a personal top ten, reflecting my preferences (I like a nice UI), my approach to productivity (David Allen’s GTD®), my hardware (I am a Mac user), my needs (as a sole operator I have no need for team collaboration features or enterprise–based software) and my experience (I have tested ~30 task management apps over the past two years).

Granted, my illustration is a bit of a spoiler, but please read on if you want to find out which other apps made it into my top ten. Continue reading

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getting things done with gqueues

GQueues is an attractive and powerful online task manager that integrates with your Google account. Its colourful and easy to use interface is built around folders that contain lists of tasks (called ‘queues’). You can drag and drop tasks, tag them and add notes or due dates. GQueues is highly customisable and can be set up to support a Getting Things Done™ (GTD™) workflow.

The ‘lite’ version of GQueues is free and provides enough functionality to be used for individual task management. The paid version costs $25 per year and adds full team collaboration, integration with Google Calendars and access to mobile versions for the iPhone and iPad and Android phones and tablets. Continue reading

what do you want from a to-do app?

Fools rush in, they say, where angels fear to tread. I thought I would create a diagram, using XMind, a free mind-mapping program, to ‘shortlist’ selected task management programs from a couple of user perspectives.

There are no winners: most of the listed apps have the capacity to boost your productivity enormously. Choosing a productivity app is largely a matter of personal preference – you have to feel comfortable with how data are entered, with the views on offer, with the workflow and the colour scheme. Some of that takes time; an app that dazzles you in the first week may feel suffocating and uninformative once it needs to handle a couple of hundred tasks.

You can question many aspects of my diagram. For example, most of the listed apps support various degrees of customisation; I have only listed omnifocus, gqueues and toodledo as being extraordinarily versatile in that area. For ‘bug free’ I have set the bar equally high.

There are also gaps in my diagram. I have not included apps that I have never explored (call me traditional), nor apps that are primarily geared towards note taking (such as evernote, that swiss army knife of productivity) or team collaboration (such as basecamp or flow). I have not included other parameters, such as whether file attachments are supported. There is only so much that will fit on a page.

My aim in posting this is not to provide complete or authoritative advice, but to provide a couple of pointers for people who are trying to find a task management app that may work for them. I would appreciate constructive feedback!

the ten apps of the high-functioning iPad

Over the past few months several colleagues have approached me after they had bought an iPad. Having just shelled out for their shiny new toy, they were in ‘what now’ territory, that electronic no-man’s land between cupertino packaging and a fully customised device. Some had seen me use outliners and project management software (Merlin 2) and they were keen to start using their new acquisition in the work environment. But what to buy; and how to find good stuff on that seemingly bloated app store?

Everyone’s needs are different (truism alert, ozengo), but the following apps would provide a good start for many users who are keen to use an iPad in the workplace. Please note that I am just an ordinary user, not an expert, and that I cannot accept any liability for any adverse consequences resulting from people using any of the apps listed below (such as the IMF accidentally switching to the drachma, or worse).

  1. Dropbox. An online file management system. Key documents uploaded to Dropbox are available across all your nominated computers and devices. Fast, reliable and free (up to 2Gb, with the option of paying for more storage). The most efficient way of getting files on and off your iPad – a must-have.
  2. Evernote. Write notes or capture them in a variety of ways (photo, email, audio, web-clipping). Your notes can be tagged, organised by category and shared across devices. Excellent search function. This incredibly robust and versatile app is another must-have on every iPad and desktop. The basic version is free.
  3. Pages. Apple’s word-processing software, beautifully adapted for the iPad. Use Dropbox and/or email to transfer files back to your desktop. This app handles basic Word documents and costs around $10 – check the iTunes app store for details. A cheaper alternative is PlainText, a beautifully designed free app.
  4. Numbers. Apple’s spreadsheet software, again beautifully adapted for the iPad. The app handles Excel documents (at least the basic flat files that I use) and costs around $10 – check the app store for details.
  5. Keynote. An excellent presentation package. I use it to draft and edit swish-looking presentations  (which I sometimes, reluctantly, have to convert to the drab corporate look). Like the other apps from the iWork suite this one costs around $10 – see the app store for details – and it handles PowerPoint files.
  6. iBooks. This excellent reader, which can be downloaded free from the app store, divides its ‘collections’ into books and pdfs. By going into your iTunes app and selecting ‘add to library’ from the file menu you can upload all sorts of pdfs onto your iPad. My iBooks pdf collection contains manuals, org charts and even a complete Act of Parliament. A favourite trick of mine is to upload my copy of meeting papers as a pdf. More often than not the papers are no longer required after the meeting and I can just delete them, helping to minimise my carbon footprint. If you need the capacity to annotate pdfs, you may want to consider iannotate ($10.49).
  7. You may need a task management app. I recommend Omnifocus (see previous post) if you are a Mac user or happy to use just the iPad and iPhone versions; GQueues if you need a browser-based app alongside your mobile devices or work in a Windows environment. Both apps are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.
  8. I use iThougthsHD ($10.49) as mind mapping/brainstorming software. Nice graphics, powerful yet easy to use and synchronises with Dropbox.
  9. Calling Soulver ($6.49) a calculator does not do justice to this multi-faceted app. It doubles as a currency converter and does all sorts of magical maths stuff that goes far beyond my needs and understanding. However, the most compelling feature for me is its customised buttons for percentage work (such as % of, % off, as a % of and others). You can also save the steps in your reasoning and calculations as neat little files that can be accessed from the navigation pane.
  10. Finally, every working boy or gal needs a good listing app, if only to combat listlessness in the workplace (groan – sorry). I use my checklists to keep track of committee members, meeting papers, recurrent processes, stuff to pack for conferences or site visits and the like. My favourites are Zenbe ($5.49) and CarbonFin ($5.49). CarbonFin is much more than a list program. It is a powerful outliner that can be used as a simple task manager, including basic project management tasks. It synchronises with a desktop version. In spite of this, I tend to use Zenbe more and it is always on my home page. I love them both.

Using the above apps (and MS-Project/Merlin 2) I manage to do all the work associated with three-day site visits for major review projects that I undertake as part of my job, leaving the laptop at home. I do chuck the wireless keyboard in my backpack if I expect to do a lot of word processing.

Update (21 October 2012)

Just a quick note to let you know that Zenbe appears to have gone out of business and that the app is no longer supported.