Where Are The Wise Men?

Mike's Ramblings

Category: Apps

The Todo App Crisis

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I don't do very well without a Todo list. I can't figure out what is next if I don't have something written down. I then get caught in the moment -- or do nothing and just mess around. To make it worse a piece of paper doesn't work at all for me. I will lose it, and it's really hard to re-prioritize it. Or remove. Or even read it (my handwriting is terrible). I need an app, or a system that feeds into an app, that is in front of me all the time.

For quite a while I was a fan of RememberTheMilk. I used it everyday and I was a paid member. The problem was that the service hasn't really improved in the past few years. I mean, look at the blog -- it hasn't been updated in December, and most of the entries last year are their Tuesday Tricks (which were handy, but they haven't continued). It makes me worried about how much longer they were going to continue.

And then I built my own cloud server so it didn't make sense to put my most important day-to-day items in the cloud. So I moved to Todo.txt and that worked for a while. I loved the fact that it was in text! The problem was Android. I had SimpleTask Cloudless installed which worked really well. Except that how SimpleTask parses tags and contexts is opposite of how the projectview plugin works. This drove me a bit crazy.

I went without a list for while -- that's not a good thing for me. Lots of things fell through the cracks. For a while I researched OmniFocus and found a couple Android apps that interface with it. I got Focus GTD and I really liked OmniFocus but I couldn't get OmniFocus and Focus GTD to sync back and forth on my ownCloud server via WebDAV.

And then I found deal for Todoist -- six months of Premium for free. Todoist is like an evolved RememberTheMilk -- location alerts, lists within items, and custom filters along with due pages, labels, projects. and repeating tasks. It's quite nice.

Earlier in March my Premium ran out. I looked at what I used and figured out that I didn't use a lot of the functions of premium -- except for notes within tasks (I used that for shopping lists). Most of what I used was the same thing I used Todo.txt for! So I switched again. But first I had to figure some things out.

I ended up grabbing the contextview and the projectview scripts and simply renamed them. Luckily I still had the rest of my configuration laying around. I put up my config on github. All my scripts are stolen from other projects -- read the ReadMe.

The problem with all of this turned out to be, ironically, SimpleTask Cloudless. It didn't display updates on my Android! FolderSync worked fine, updated the file, but SimpleTask refused to re-read it and/or redisplay. Not sure why. Googling around showed that no one else seemed to have that problem but I certainly did. Not having this work on my phone is bad. Though my main place to enter tasks are on my Mac, the main place where I mark things off (and, more importantly, where I see what I need to do ) is on my Android phone and tablet. Grr..

So I went back to Todoist -- the free version this time. Not as many alerts and no notes, but it worked... for a while. But I was still dissatisfied with it. Mostly because I had all my data on someone else's servers.

I thought I was just going to have to sit and deal with this fact and then I remembered I still had OmniFocus. Others seemed get those Android apps working -- why not me?

So make sure that I had the latest ownCloud installed, updated to the OmniFocus and re-installed Focus GTD on my phone. An upgrade of ownCloud seemed to fix whatever WebDAV problem prevented OmniFocus from syncing on my server. And... suddenly, it's working fine.

Entering items into OmniFocus is a dream. It seems a little complicated at first, but you can throw it into the Inbox and drag it around for a Project later. I've already made more lists of "things to think about" than I ever did in Todoist -- I think the app is more intuitive and lends itself to that (probably because it was made for GTD in mind).

Focus GTD picks things up well. It has the same look at the iOS version of OmniFocus -- so it has Inbox, Forecast (which I think is brilliant on both desktop and mobile). I have it sync every 1 hour -- and it syncs! And I can force a sync (which is great).

My only problem with Focus GTD is that it doesn't have a widget. What I like to do is to display my todos on my home screen so they are in front of me when I look at my phone. So now I have to start the app when want to look at it. This is something I can live with -- I mean at least the app updates. There is another Android app for OmniFocus integration called Quantus Tasks. It's a quite a bit more expensive, and has a few more features that would be nice. But there is no evidence there is a widget and the developer hasn't responded to my tweet to them about it.

My favorite function of OmniFocus is the Forecast view which puts a calendar view along with you items that have due dates (which, for me, is most of them). I hooked up our family calendar to the Mac's Calendar app and boom I see all our calendar items in with my todos. This is great where I can not only seen everything (calendars and todos) but adjust my todos based on how busy a day is.

So while I store my data, what happens if OmniFocus goes away? I looked at what it saves on my ownCloud -- it's simply a bunch of XML files. That I can live with in case OmniGroup suddenly drops into a crater.

This is the end of this part of my road in "how to stay organized". Maybe I will actually keep OmniFocus and Focus GTD around a while.