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Task Apps to Consider

(updated June 20, 2018)

When I first outlined the book, I planned an entire chapter talking about productivity applications so you would be able to pick one out of a menu. But then it turned out that I had plenty of other things to say, Joe Kissell (head honcho at Take Control) didn’t want the book to be 500 pages, and the easiest thing to cut was a chapter of which most of you would only need a few paragraphs.

Even so, a menu is useful, because the apps I mention in the book aren’t necessarily right for you. Here are some other good ones. Note that a listing here does not necessarily mean it’s recommended; read the description before trying it out. But everything here is best-in-class for at least one feature, and if that’s the key thing you’re looking for, maybe you’ll overlook any drawbacks.

Remember: web apps are usually compatible with both Windows and Mac, and sometimes with mobile devices—it’s always better when a web app developer ships a native app for mobile platforms, though. If an entry says “Mac, Windows, web,” that means that there are native apps for those platforms in addition to a web app.

Asana

Platform: web
Complexity: high, but with an attractive interface that hides it well
Best for: teams, including very large ones

Asana is way too large for me to be able to give it an effective review, so I’ll just say that I’ve included it because I’ve repeatedly heard it mentioned as having traction in large companies. Most of the other team tools I’m mentioning are primarily for smaller ones; this one, you can apparently throw an army into. Fastest way to acquaint yourself: check out their tour, where they apparently agree with my large-team assessment, as a sample project is “Mission to the Moon.”

Monday

Platform: web
Complexity: simple to medium
Best for: teams

Monday (formerly called “dapulse,” and yes, that’s the capitalization they used) is a team management app that values simplicity and visualization over an extensive feature set. The website doesn’t try to describe much about it (and neither will I), as it’s much faster to watch this one-minute video demonstrating how it works. Reviews of the software are mixed: either so fawning I suspect a paid placement or noting showstopping drawbacks while still giving it a middling rating. (No recurring tasks? Really?)

I haven’t tested this software, primarily because I would have preferred they invested in actually describing their software with words rather than the rock music soundtrack of the video—for example, while a review said they have mobile apps available, Monday doesn’t believe that’s worth mentioning on their own website. Very annoying for anyone trying to, I don’t know, evaluate the software.

Also, in the five minutes I’ve been writing this paragraph, the Monday.com browser page has flipped into an ad asking me to give them my email address three times, and minor annoyances like that are not a good idea when I’m deciding whether to spend time kicking the tires. They’re here because there’s one thing notably in their favor: if you like simple Gantt charting, the video seems to indicate they’ve nailed it.

Outlook and OneNote

Platform: Multiple, but really, it’s mainly Windows
Complexity: Depends
Best for: individuals

I’ve never heard of anyone seeking out Outlook; it’s more the app that people end up using because everyone else in their office does. I hear there are Microsoft Office gurus who can make these apps turn on a dime and give you eight cents change—and I believe it, because for a long time Microsoft Entourage (now Outlook for Mac) was one of the best tools available. I’m just not in a Microsoft environment enough to know how well it works—and the reason I said its complexity “depends” is because you have to get to know a bunch of Office apps pretty well in order to really make use of Outlook’s integrations.

That all said, I’ve seen several people saying that Outlook plus OneNote is a fantastically powerful toolset. If you’re spending all your time in Office apps already, maybe you already have the tools you need.

Remember the Milk

Platform: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, web, others
Complexity: simple to medium
Best for: individuals

Remember the Milk makes the cut because: 1) its attention to additional platforms—you can also get the app for Linux, Blackberry 10, and Kindle Fire tablets, and 2) it seemingly integrates with nearly everything else you might use, including Google apps, Outlook, Evernote, Alexa, Siri, Twitter, IFTTT automation, and email. Rapid task capture and metadata-on-the-fly (such as repeats, tags, and priorities) seem to be a strong suit; less so complex projects and organizational needs.

A top contender as a great app to use in addition to your task app, as you can use it to pull data from nearly everywhere and see it on nearly everything; it could also be a decent task app if your structuring isn’t too complex, and you’re willing to give up some management features.

Salesforce

Platform: web with mobile apps
Complexity: I’ve been trying to learn it for three years and can still barely use it
Best for: teams the size of, say, Google

If you want to see why I was so effusive in the book about Daylite, the CRM software for Mac, just give Salesforce a spin. I’ve been working with CRM and productivity software for over two decades, I’ve spent three years trying to learn Salesforce (I’m on the board of a nonprofit that uses it), and every time I use the site it takes me 15 minutes to do the simplest things.

Apparently, the way most people use Salesforce is either with out-of-the-box solutions (which apparently, no one has ever bolted onto what I’ve tried to use), or with bespoke custom applications created by very expensive consultants. As I understand it, there’s almost nothing Salesforce can’t do, if you have a deep enough checkbook. But the problem with Salesforce is mainly that I don’t understand it—and I’m usually really good at understanding software.

TaskPaper

Platform: Mac, but see below
Complexity: simple to medium
Best for: individuals

TaskPaper is a Mac app with an important wrinkle: all of its data is written to plain text files in an attractive way, which you can then open and edit on anything else. When you view these files in TaskPaper, you get various bells and whistles (such as collating your Due list into one place), but when you’re looking at the same files elsewhere you can get similar functionality with a text search. Toss your files into Dropbox or another cloud service, and boom, instant everywhere. Edit these files in a way that TaskPaper understands, and when you re-open them in the app you’ll get the bells and whistles.

The drawback to this method is that you have to learn the “language” of how to format what you write so TaskPaper can understand it; programmers and techie people will understand this instantly, but it’s a bit fiddly for the general public. Check out their videos to see if it’s your cup of tea.

Note: TaskPaper doesn’t have much complexity baked in, but because you can come up with whatever text tagging you can imagine, and spread out your data over as many text files as you like, it’s possible to build a great deal of complexity—provided you’re the kind of person who can memorize the text formatting you have to invent to create it.

TickTick

Platform: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, web, and others
Complexity: simple interface covering better-than-medium complexity
Best for: individuals or teams

TickTick didn’t come to my attention until late in the book’s production (I heard about it on the Back to Work podcast), but my initial impression is solid enough that I might promote it to a top app in the next edition of the book.

It looks like a simple Reminders-style app, but has tons of features beneath the hood at a reasonable price. Notably: team delegation, tracking of each person’s activities on a task, deeply nested tasks, multiple alarms per task, a monthly calendar and timeline view for your due dates, widgets for mobile devices, smart lists generated from rules, and intelligent parsing of both spoken words and text for rapid task entry. There’s even a white noise feature on mobile apps, so you can drown out distracting noises while working.

Tinderbox

Platform: Mac
Complexity: insanely high
Best for: individuals

Tinderbox isn’t so much a task management app as it is the kind of tool you’d use to organize all of your research if you wanted to write the Encyclopedia Britannica. For that kind of thing, it’s simply ridiculously powerful, and as such, could also be used to do ridiculously complex planning. But based on its home page, I can’t tell if it understands the concept of a repeating task out of the box—although I’m fairly certain you can build a data structure for that.

I’ve kicked the tires on a few trials over the years, and it’s the kind of software I’d love to use—if you’re the type who wants to full-text search every website you read 14 years ago when you don’t have an Internet connection, like I am, this is for you. But at $250 it’s also ridiculously expensive; I’ve never used it longer than a free trial. Mentioned primarily because for what it can do, I don’t know of any other software that does it as well.

Todoist

Platform: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, web, and others
Complexity: simple with a few extras
Best for: individuals

Todoist is below my threshold for “complex enough to satisfy most of my readers,” but gets listed here because it’s mentioned very often in glowing terms by people discussing productivity in my podcast feed. It’s a multiplatform simple task manager featuring rapid data capture and natural language parsing; its flashiest feature is a graphic visualizer that shows you how productive you’ve been.


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