GTD: Todos, Task managers… iPhone, desktop, cloud… no perfect solution

Objective: I would like to mange my Getting Things Done (GTD) using a task manager (or todo manager) that:

  • Most of the inputs will be on my mobile device: now an iPhone, but in the future probably android.
  • That it can be done offline on my phone when I am roaming, it is synchronized.
  • Synchronization is done to:
    • Desktop client (Mac mainly, but PC too): so not a stand alone phone program
    • Cloud (using specific service or using Google docs or Evernote) – ideally a free cloud service that would sync mobile with desktop clients
    • Syncs due date tasks with my google calendar and iCal (using busyCal in mac it does not matter as I use google calendar). Most of the solutions offer due dates for the todos but in their own calendars… but I already have a calendar, I don’t want to use theirs.
  • It is simple: todos, with a note, due dates, recurring todos and tagging. I don’t need fancy priorities, focus areas and so.
  • That can manage projects which are basically an indented todo.

I have tested a wide variaty of iPhone apps, web apps and desktop apps, and believe it or not, I did not find the perfect solution…

Scenario: I use now Google apps: my domain with google. Email, Calendars, Docs and tasks. I have an iPhone connecting with Google apps using Exchange.

I have a Macbook pro (main computer) a windows XP laptop for travel, and a windows 7 computer. At work I have a PC (so I live in a browser, chrome synchronizing bookmarks with xmarks).

In the past when I started (just after reading Getting Things Done from David Allen) I decided to use an custom approach for managing my todos.

Reviews:

Things

From Cultured Code, it was the first GTD program I used. It is available for the Mac (not PC) the iPhone and now the iPad. You can sync all of them with the Mac using bonjour (wifi) which might not be available in your office.

I love the look and the way it works. It has a very clever way of tagging stuff and and filter stuff by tags. You can add due dates, recurring stuff and so. It was perfect except for one key thing… I could not access to my todo’s in my work place. No cloud, no PC no nothing.

This was the reason to leave it, but if they would have a free cloud way to access my tasks, even if they would not have a PC version, I would probably have stayed with them. In principle they are working on it, but I am not willing to pay for a service like this.

Pros: It is beautiful and both the desktop client and iPhone clients are great.

Simple and yet powerful thanks to the tagging, that if done intelligently removes the need of location based todos, and so. I click on shift command and T and I create a todo wherever I am. I am on an email a link is added to the notes part to that email, which is great (see right screenshot).

Also the todos can be synchronized to your iCal/mac tasks.

Cons: Just Mac and iOS. Sync over wifi (not all). No cloud, no PC, no web.

GeeTasks pro

When I moved my domains to Google Apps I though that I would stick to Google Tasks. Well I still do. They are very simple which is good. May be too simple. You can create lists and inside this lists add your tasks. You can indent them, add a due date (but not recurrent) and a note to them.

You can’t add tags and this would be good, so you can be disciplined and create tags for location, responsibility, etc… like I do for Things or Evernote. I will write a post on how I organize my tags sometime this week.

You can create todos from email using the web client and it creates a stupid Tasks calendar that cannot be syncronized with anything and that only shows the due dates task of the list you have opened, so pretty useless.

Pros: As most of the input I do it using my iPhone I found that GeeTasks pro, and after testing the rest of what you have below, I am still using this… I have it offline in my iPhone, and syncs when online, it is simple and very well integrated with my mail client. I can create todos from my mail (see right screenshot) and in a way there is a calendar with my tasks (not ideal though because I cannot see it from my iCal).

Cons: No tags, no recurrent tasks, no desktop client and no good integration with my iCal or even google cal. No API basically. Now I use fluid which is sort of dedicated browser to my tasks, but if I am offline on my mac, that’s it…

I Kept looking for other solutions….

Well I wanted to test the rest of Todo’s to see if there was something better. First I though thought there was different ways to have the sync and web access:

  • A product with their own site
  • Linking to existing cloud services, in particular Evernote (which I am a heavy user) and Google Docs
  • Linking to ToDos services with open APIs such as Toodledo and Remember the Milk.

Remember the Milk

Remember the milk might be one of the most well know online todo managers. It is very good and powerful and free. You can pay $25 a year if you wish to have an add free version.

The iPhone app is also free. It is full of features: priorities, due dates, repeat, estimate times, tags, location, URL… You can sort by Today, Tomorrow, This week, or lists (Inbox, personal, work1, etc…)

It is a very good product. In the web you can share, have your list of contacts and subscribe to iCal, which is great.

Pros: free, great web interface, rich of features, iPhone app. I love the fact that I can subscribe in my calendar, that they have add ons for firefox and chrome and google to see the task within your gmail.

Cons: design is not like Things, not simple and very ugly. Again, there is no desktop (sure you can do it with fluid). Too complete for me. I don’t need location, sharing, and so many things. I want something simple.

Toodledo

Toodledo is similar to Remeber the milk, but other apps use it as a back end thanks to their API.

They have a free version (that does not allow you to have subtasks…) and two paid ones for $15 ad $30 which allow you to add subtasks, have collaboration, stats, location (more than 5), history (you loose if you are on the free one)… they compare themselves with other products here.

Other apps use it in a very smart (but dirty way) so you can have (in the App) projects, and subtasks, by inserting a header in the notes, that surely you cannot do if you go the other way around (using the web as input).

The web interface is crowded with tons of features with an ugly UI. It is very powerful, even more than Remember the Milk, but I don’t need HOT lists Location and so many other things… It is not GTD friendly.

The iPhone app is free and it is also complicated, full of features. Take a look:

Pros: Rich on features. There are other iPhone apps using it as a backend, like Todo iPhone app. It is the best and most powerful backbone for managing apps with more elaborated iphone and ipad apps (theirs are very ugly). A great feature is that you can create a webcal feed that you can import in your ical or google calendar and another one the fact that you can have a secret email address so you send emails directly to feed toodledo, or to have a gmail gadget to see your toodledo in your gmail, something you can only do with an online service like this…

Cons: The free version has a lot of limitations. Again no desktop client. I did not see a link to subscribe in my calendar. The web design is really ugly and cluttered.

TouchTodo

Well, while looking for the perfect todo, I found ToucTodo, and I tested it too. Why? They have the best sync with google calendar out there.

This one could have been a winner for me. I had 2 parts: todos and projects. You can sync with google calendars (you select with which calendar) you can back it up to google apps as an excel sheet, and restore from an excel sheet, so I could have used Google apps to enter data at work.

Then I realized that the projects are not backed up and that the todos that have not a due date are not in the calendar (sure!) so they are not online, unless you export it to this xls in google docs, and that it is not a project…

So it looked great, but…

Pros: Great synchronization with google calendar and google docs. Great back up and restore option to your Google account. Simple: todos, and projects. Today, tomorrow, next and someday. You can add a note, reminders, due dates, repeat and level of importance (focus they call it).

Cons: If I want to input stuff from my PC, there is no desktop app, and via web I could do it in the excel thing in google docs, but it is not great. For the events that have no due date, they are not in the calendar or todos, which is understandable but not acceptable to me.

Awesome Note

The idea of using Evernote as the back end for my todos and notes was very appealing. I am a heavy user of Evernote, and I love it.

Then I found out that Evernote it is not ready for that. I had to test two products to get to this conclusion.

The first one was awesome note or aNote as they call themselves.

I have to say that is one of the most awesome todos I have tested, and I loved it. Again there are reasons why I chose not to go on with them. Let’s see:

It can back up your notes to Evernote and or Google Docs, and it does it great. You have to select a default to do so and not do it by default to both which is a petty. The iPhone GUI is awesome. Really.

aNote has both, notes and Todos. By default you create notes, then you can click on the todo button and you create this note as a todo. So far so good. You can add a due date, but you can not add a recurrent one. This is not good for a task manager… You can select different backgrounds, and ways to filter your views. All nice. Also sort by dates, etc… I really like it. I would say that visually is the one I like the most. You can add photos and even maps (maps are not sync to evernote or google docs).

Now, how it syncs with Evernote? It creates a set of notebooks like [aNote] name of your list, like [aNote] Inobox or [aNote].No Folder for those that are Notes not linked to any folder.

The folders you can create: inbox, next, someday… and they will all be folders in your Evernote.

Each note/todo will be an entry in your evernote. You will not distinguish what is what, and here the problem with evernote, you will see if it has a due date, priority (that the program can manage) or whatever. Here was when I realized that both Evernote and Google Docs are not good enough for backing up your todos. They simply cannot back up your due dates, recurrent appointments priorities and so.

How does it sync with Google Docs? It creates a folder called Awesome Notes, and inside this folder subfolders with the different folders (inbox,etc…) and inside each of these folder a document for every single todo/note. Again, nothing for dates, priorities and so. Not the fault of aNotes, but the backend.

Pros: Beautiful design. Easy and very very flexible. Notes can be converted into todos, add due time, add photos, maps, create a journal if you wish. It has quick note entry. It syncs with evernote and google docs.

Cons: Not a problem of aNotes but a problem of the support for backing up. If I want to add stuff from my office laptop, I can use google docs or evernote, but I will not be able to add a due date. You cannot, in any case, add recurrent appointments. No desktop client, sure, apart from Evernote with the limitations I mentioned. Personally I don’t like that I have to have specific notebooks in Evernote (that I can’t rename).

Egretlist

Continuing with Evernote sync, the one to try was Egretlist. Like Awesome note, a beautifully designed app.

Egretlist is more elegant in the way it syncs with Evernote. It does not create a set of new notebooks, it is more clever and if you get use to it, because it is not an easy app, it can work like charm. The learning curve is steep though.

The way it works is that is it scans all your entries in Evernote and those which have a checkbox in it, it is added to the iPhone app. Smart eh?

So if in your already existing notebook inbox you create a new note with a checkbox it will be a todo in egretlist. In addition to this it will use all your tags seamlessly.

So here in the screenshots you can the categories are just tags. Whenever I tag something with next (I define which ones are the relevant for egretlist), it appears under categories. If a list has a star it will also appear under lists (not seen here). Then a list of the notebooks with checklists in the notes. In this cases I moved the notes to the [aNotes] notebooks (previous app) but it looks like in the third screenshot.

Pros: I really wanted this to be the one. It has a great way of using evernote, great with tags, taking the notes with checkboxes… really smart. Great looking app. You can add images, voice notes, videos, and decide which note to send to a specific task the calendar (ical).

Cons: very hard to understand at the beginning. It does not support recurrent appointments or even sorting the tasks in any way, what make it unusable for some of us… but again, this is Evernote’s fault, due dates and so cannot be seen in Evernote, and therefore not entered if you don’t have the iPhone with you. Petty because this could have been the winner for me as I said.

After testing this I realized that Evernote, as it is now, will not work for me for todos. I need to feed my task from the phone and from the web and if evernote cannot create due dates, etc.. then that’s it.

Todo

This is probably one of the most known and popular iPhone todo apps. I guess the reason why is because the got the TODO name for the app… and this is exacly what you search in the iTunes store.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a very good app from appigo.

It can syncronize with Toodledo but if you are using the free account (from Toodledo) no subtasks…

As a todo app is great, it syncs also with iCal (when I say iCal I also mean Outlook). You can tag stuff and search by tags. In the home screen you clearly see those task due by today, tomorrow, Next week and at the end those with no due date. You can star and prioritize tasks. You can create lists, like shopping list and then subtasks, and add contexts (@home, work, etc…).

Pros: It does the job. You have lists (inbox, work, home), focus, priority, due date, repetition, … everything. It syncs with Toodledo so good if you need a web interface for easy entry. Again toodledo web is not very nice but it is functional. It can sync with your local calendars.

Cons: No desktop. I don’t quite like Toodledo and the free version is very limited compared to Remember the Milk. For me this is just one more ToDo app.

edit 29/9/2010: They have released a web version 15 days trial otherwise $19.99 (i don’t know if for a year). Is pretty beta, but a good step on the right direction.

Producteev

When I discovered Producteev I thought it was Things on the web and I was very excited. So beautiful and simple web client… I loved it and I decided to download the iPhone app (free).

Producteev is a collaborative tool. For free you get two users, but I guess the beauty of this product is for a team to work together in a sort of ticketing system more like a todo way.

I loved the interface and the fact that it is socially integrated. You can add/receive todos via google talk, email, etc… neat.

The problem for me was that it is thought for a group, and not for an individual. In the iPhone app you see who entered the task (me) and who has to do it (me again) which makes no sense when screen space is the iPhone is critical.

As you can see from the iPhone screenshots it is pretty much the same than any other todo, but with this team focus. You have stars, hot (I see this over and over… and I don’t quite understand, I rather order stuff myself and the ones on top of the list are more “hot” than the others…).

Pros: It has one of the best web interfaces out there. Beautiful and useful. A trillion way to input data (email, IM, etc…). Is team oriented.

Cons: the iPhone app is not that good looking. No desktop (offline) client. I did not like the fact of having creator and responsible if I am using this on my own. No recurrent appointments. You use workspaces for projects and labels are not transferred from one to another.

2Do

I tested a few more apps. One of them is 2Do. This one is also fancy and good looking. I has locations, syncs with toodledo, and can export to iCal (it uses its own calendar but using toodledo you can have an ical live). I did not mention but some of this apps, including this, you can back up the tasks, but being in the same wifi network, you go to the ip of your iPhone and download the file with the backup… not something you do everyday. I would rather have this transparent on the back towards and online service, like touchtodo.

Well, here you have locations, like this is where you are and this are the things to do here. Fancy but I am would be happy just by tagging that says home, work, supermarket and when I am in one of these places voila.

You can add audio, attachments, photos, location… very easily and intuitively. Those you can’t sync with Toodledo though.

Pros: Good looking app. Can sync with Toodledo, ical (outlook), has push, and a lot of features (location, attachments, voice…). Toodledo back end is powrful: you can feed it via email, create subtasks (pro account), have calendar sync. It is by far the best app for sync with Toodledo. I will play more with it.

Cons: No desktop but Toodledo has a lot of widgets. What I did not like is that you cannot sync with both, Toodledo and local sync using the program they have for PC and Mac. One or the other, so I choose Toodledo.

eTodo

eTodo is from BitAlpha and the design is awesome and beautiful. Simple. If you don’t need sync then consider this one.

It is very basic, yet it has most for the stuff.

When you add something it goes to your inbox. You collect everything there. Then you go to something in the Inbox and decide if you have to take action or put it into next or someday. Big icons. Nice way to see tasks details. You can back up in the web server way (accessing your iPhone ip). I has due dates, repeat, priorities, you can add notes and tags.

Pros: simple yet it does a lot. Nice icons and clear workflow.

Cons: no sync, no desktop, no projects, no ical.

Put things off

Put things off is again a very very simple app. Even simplier than the previous.

In this app you just add a thing to your inbox and  decide if you do it today or you put it off. Once it is done, it is on done. That’s it.

For some people it would be enough. Not for me.

EasyTask

I found this one by chance. It looks promising:Orion Belt has a nice desktop app for Mac and PC, and iPhone and iPad app… it syncs with ical and… a web based app! So in principle it has most of what I need.

The desktop version is $20 so pretty affordable. You have a trial period.

Here you have projects (home, work 1, etc…) context (@home, @office, @computer, @telephone…) and finally the categories: inbox, today, next, someday… so far so good.

So, you can sync like things using wifi with your iPhone and desktop app. In addition you have a Windows version and … and that is the best, an online version too: http://www.easytaskmanager.net/

Now, it is not perfect… the web version basically sucks. Very simple. With Safari and Chrome I was just able to view not to add new tasks. Not even edit. See the revision log.

Also EasyTask does not support tags which is pretty important for me.

Pros: GTD stile, with desktop apps for Windows, Mac, iPhone and iPad. The iPhone app is good, syncs with wifi to your computers and to the cloud. You can access your tasks via web but the web interface is in a very infant state. You cannot add or edit tasks. I guess you have to wait but others will catch up. The local app syncs with ical and it is pretty good.

Cons: No tagging. The web interface is only to view, not to edit or add tasks. You cannot create lists with sub tasks. For that you have to create a project and then add the tasks there.

Simple note

This is the last app I tested. It is not really good for todos, but it is very good for notes. For me there is no use, because now I can sync notes with iPhone and IMAP via google. I also use 1Password with secure notes, and Evernote mainly for everything, but this little app has a web version (very nice and easy to use) and desktop versions for Mac and Windows.

Pros: simple, nice.

Cons: too simple.

Conclusion

Well after an extensive testing no app or service is fulfilling my needs, so for me there is no clear winner.

All have their own strengths and weaknesses, but no clear winner.

I learnt that Evernote and Google apps are not good enough as a back end. That only a couple have desktop versions (Things, EasyTask), that few have a cloud sync (Toodledo, Remember the Milk, EasyTask, Google Task)…

I think EasyTask is promising but I miss tagging and sub tasks and the web interface is not good.

I love Things but there is no Windows version, but if the cloud version is as good as producteev it can be the winner for me.

If you want good integration with iCal (Outlook) it is better to have a desktop app.

If you don’t want to spend money and the iPhone+ web is good enough, the Remember the Milk is very good.

If you need a tool for your team to manage things, then Producteev is good.

In my case, I continue with GeeTask Pro and google Task, until something better comes, or Google decides to do something good about the Tasks… ideally Things if they don’t make me pay for the cloud thing…

In paralel I will play more with Toodledo as it looks like it is the winner and most apps connect to it. Maybe is just a question to get used to it…

I will write another post soon with further testing and to explain which is my solution and how I use it.

Edit 9 Jan 2012:

Finally part 2 of this post: http://tokao.com/2012/01/09/gtd-todos-task-managers-part-2/

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15 Responses to “GTD: Todos, Task managers… iPhone, desktop, cloud… no perfect solution”

  1. mb01915  on September 27th, 2010

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. dani  on September 28th, 2010

    I am not asking for a custom prefect product.
    I just ask for desktop (Mac/PC client), with and iPhone app and a website. Like you have for your calendars and for your emails: outlook, with email client in your phone plus webmail.
    Is this asking too much?
    No one has this…. and it is pretty unbelievable.
    I thought the one was EasyTask but the web client is just useless, no edit or add tasks…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

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    • ryan  on January 19th, 2011

      I agree 100% with you Dani. I find it completely ridiculous that any of these companies have not nailed a complete solution. It is not rocket science, it is only a To-Do application. I came across this great post after trying at least 5 different task programs, with each one, I was conforming to it instead of it conforming to me. I’ve had a similar problem when I was setting up our CMS, CRM, Accounting and E-Commerce solutions for our business, nothing seemed to play nice.

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  3. David Johnson  on February 18th, 2011

    I suggest you guys check out Dooster. I have been using it for a while now and it combines all my emails and tasks in one easy use package. They don’t currently have an iphone app but they say it should be ready within the next two weeks. Once it has that it will be near as damn it perfect. http://www.dooster.net

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  4. Denis  on April 18th, 2011

    Howdy. GeeTasks developer here. Thanks for the review, just linked it from my site http://www.geetasks.com/press Would appreciate a backlink as well. :)

    So, if I wrote a desktop GeeTasks app would you pay another $6 for it?

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  5. dani  on May 3rd, 2011

    There is alternative for geetasks which is free for google apps tasks. GoTasks. As good or even better and GeeTasks. Available for iPad too, and offline working.

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  6. Muskat  on August 19th, 2011

    Thank you for a thorough review of todo apps.
    I’m also still looking for one solution for my modest need:
    Todo app that will be synchronized with my pc (outlook or google apps) and that enable me to delegate tasks to other people in my team, enabling them to report on task completion.
    It must be some kind of an online service, it will probably not be sync with google tasks since their task service is very basic and has no full API so it leaves us with sync to outlook tasks.
    I’m not trying to manage large projects but only simple list of tasks.

    Have you run into such a service since the time you wrote this
    review?

    Best,
    Eran

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  7. dani  on August 23rd, 2011

    Eran,
    If you are using gmail (web) there is very nice tool called: manymoon. From your email client in the web you can create tasks and assign them.
    Also producteev I believe can do similar stuff, but not integrated with gmail.
    Online tools there are many:
    -TaskAnt
    -Teamly (I like it…)
    -Kohive
    -Toodledo (the one I use with 2Do for iPad and iPhone)
    …/…
    If what you want is an offline tool, then it is more difficult. I am not that familiar but check (for Mac):
    -Things
    -Omnifocus
    And of course the app and program I use the most and works with Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and online, is a multipurpose that could be use as a task manager: Evernote. (you have shared notebooks)
    Evernote is by far my favorite. The downside is that you cannot set due dates, a big flaw.

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  8. Carlos  on November 1st, 2011

    I use Getting Things Done Plug-in Outllok of David Allen store: http://www.davidco.com/redirect.php?id=dacDDAAVVED1S1S5OO5

    I need a tool for iPhone and iPad that alows synchronization. Do you knows any System?

    Thanks

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  9. nathalie  on November 2nd, 2011

    What an excellent review. It must have taken hours of research. I love reading about these applications now but only since we started to use Dooster which we love. The iphone app is fine and customer service and security are very good. Best of all Dooster has made communication much easier for us.

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  10. munishp  on December 13th, 2011

    Love the review. Did you come back and do a final piece on how you manage your GTD? Whats the app of choice now?

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    • dani  on December 13th, 2011

      I did not… but I will try to write something this week…

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      • munishp  on December 13th, 2011

        your a star

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  11. dani  on January 12th, 2012

    Here you have the part 2:
    http://tokao.com/2012/01/09/gtd-todos-task-managers-part-2/

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