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

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.

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

setting up a GTD workflow: evernote or zendone?

One of the core principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done™ (GTD™) approach to task management is that you need a ‘trusted system’ for capturing all the information, ideas and tasks that come your way. Evernote is eminently well-suited for the ‘collect’ phase of the GTD process: it provides an intuitive, versatile and robust repository for every shred of information that you may wish to collect, whether that be a business card, a recipe or a web page. You can sort your information in folders, tag individual items and retrieve your information thanks to a lightning-fast search function. Evernote is zenlike in its simplicity, but can it be adapted to support the more complex phases of a GTD workflow? Will it help you process all this information, organise tasks and review priorities? Can it help you to get things done? Or are you better off co-opting a custom-built application like Zendone, which was designed to provide a task management overlay to help you work with the information stored in Evernote?  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!

nozbe launches desktop versions

Today marks the launch of new desktop versions for windows and mac of the nozbe productivity app. This post is a fully independent review of version 1.00 of the mac desktop version, which I am running on os 10.7.3  (lion).

Nozbe is the brainchild of michael swilinski of apivision, whose website describes the software as a ‘web-based time- and project-management application for busy people and teams’.

Nozbe has been available as a browser-based app for five years. More recently, the company released apps for the ipad and the iphone. The desktop version can be downloaded for free from the nozbe website. It works faster than the browser version and lets you work offline. Continue reading

integrate evernote with your to-do list

Most to-do lists nowadays provide the capacity to attach a note to a task. These notes can vary from a couple of lines to extensive web clippings or file attachments. The gold standard these days seems to be whether the productivity app provides integration with evernote. I will look briefly at four that do: omnifocus, nirvana, nozbe and zendone – although ‘integration’ seems to mean something quite different in each case.

A word of warning: this is a rather dry, technical post and if you would rather bail out now I am happy to direct you to a very funny post by a fellow blogger who recently shared his anxieties about niches, target audiences, flagging readership and the like. I can relate to that – my WordPress country stats show me I am yet to make headway into South America, China, Africa and Iceland. Most places, actually. Where are you folks?

If you are still here, thank you. Here we go: Continue reading

ozengo’s productivity principles

Zen is not commonly associated with productivity. However, as a western buddhist working in a large organisation I was able to draw on the clarity, simplicity and integrity that  characterise zen in refining my work habits. Other sources of inspiration over the years were stephen covey’s seven habits of highly effective people (1989) and david allen’s how to get things done – the art of stress-free productivity (2001).

The list below shows what works for me – some steps, strategies and workarounds I have developed for tackling complex projects.

articulate your vision

  • think big, describe what your dream looks like, where you want to be in five, ten years’ time
  • do not let your thinking be constrained by current practices, resource constraints or technical difficulies at this point
  • once you are satisfied with the vision you have articulated, embrace it and and start living accordingly

translate your vision into a broad plan

  • identify what needs to happen for your vision to become a reality
  • start grouping these change areas into domains (for example, research, skills or product development, strategic alliances)
  • identify opportunities for learning and collaboration for each of these domains (for example, online research, formal study, finding a mentor, informal networking)
  • do a ‘skills audit’: can you do this by yourself or within your current team configuration?
  • identify your personal supports: who is already on your side; with whom can you share your progress and frustrations?
  • talk to people – they may come up with great suggestions or point out a ‘blind spot’ in your thinking
  • develop an indicative timeline and costing
  • remember the saying: ‘a vision without action is a daydream; action without a vision a nightmare’

Continue reading

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.