my writer’s toolkit

Popular wisdom has it that there are two types of writers: plotters, who write backstories for their characters and painstakingly plan every turn in the narrative; and pantsers, who fly by the seats of their eponymous trousers. Read this list, and you’ll probably have a good idea as to what type of writer I am. Okay, smart alecs out there, I accept your point: making a list in the first place is a dead giveaway…

Writing can be a lonely job, sitting in front of that high resolution screen, trying to squeeze elegant sentences out of an unwilling cortex. The apps we use are our toys, imaginary friends who help us get the job done. A bit like the Tooth Fairy, really, but with binary code and passwords.

So read on for a list of my digital accomplices: Continue reading

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does your to do list feel bloated and stale?

IMG_0822bLet’s face it: if you follow David Allen’s sensible advice and collect all your tasks, notes and ideas in a single ‘trusted system’, you will be spending a lot of time interacting with that system, whether it be paper–based or centred around a productivity app. Ideally, accessing that system should inspire you to achieve things. It should be a favourite mental hangout, where you catch your breath, regroup and plan how best to spend the next hours or days of your life.

For many of us, the opposite happens: we dread opening up our task manager as we know we will be confronted with a seemingly endless list of tasks. It can be an overwhelming and disheartening experience. Many of the tasks (‘build cubby house’) seemed fun when you first entered them. Months later, here they lie, these bleached and broken dreams, shipwrecked on the cliffs of distraction, washed up on the shores of procrastination. When it gets really bad, it seems as if merely looking at your task list sucks all the life and energy out of you, like a Dementor in the Harry Potter novels.

So what can we do to keep motivated and energised? What can we do to keep our task list lean, informative, stimulating? We cannot complete all tasks quickly, so how do we prevent frequently deferred tasks from going stale? Continue reading

things 2 and omnifocus compared

The choice between Omnifocus and Things has been a matter of discussion in the mac community for a number of years now. Each of these two task management apps has its proponents and detractors. For some, Things embodies elegance and Omnifocus complexity. However, users who have used both often keep shuttling back and forth, seemingly unable to choose between the two. When using Things they miss the hierarchy of subtasks and subfolders available in Omnifocus. After switching back to Omnifocus, they miss the simplicity of Things and the ability to attach multiple tags to a task. They find being restricted to using a single context in Omnifocus frustrating as it means, for example, that allocating a ‘waiting for’ context to a task means that the original context has to be removed first and possibly reinstated later. In Things you just add a ‘waiting for’ tag alongside your original tag(s). But what a pity tasks cannot be indented…

The recent release of Things 2 for Mac, iPad and iPhone makes it worth revisiting this discussion. Things 2 introduces a number of significant improvements, including cloud synching, a daily review system, improved date picking on the iPad and integration with Reminders and Siri. These new features are described clearly on the Things website; my aim in this post is to compare the current functionality and the respective strengths of Omnifocus and Things 2.

Continue reading

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!

eloping with firetask

Firetask is a promising GTD-based productivity app with the simple ‘feel’ of a traditional to-do list. It has a well-designed beautiful interface and enough functionality to give well-established apps like things and omnifocus a run for their money. I have reviewed the mac desktop and the ipad apps (both version 2.2); there is no windows version.

While firetask is not perfect, it has almost done the unthinkable: prised me away from omnifocus. It has been like a suitor in a jane austen novel: maybe not the most sensible and respectable choice, but irresistible because of its colour and freshness. I want to spend time in the app, and that is a feeling I haven’t had with omnifocus for a long time. So, after a brief stint with the trial version, I decided to throw caution to the wind and to elope with firetask. Will it end in tears? Continue reading