October 24, 2010

Task manager saga, part 3

It's been almost exactly 9 months since my original treatise (with updates) on how difficult it was for me to find day-planning software that fit into my day to day, and technological, life. I wanted to give another update to illustrate where these months have taken me and the products I've tried. I'm tapping this out on my iPad using PlainText because I'm still to cheap to purchase iA's Writer, even though I covet it dearly. (Well, actually now I'm back on my laptop because of PlainText's excellent DropBox integration, but I digress. Again).

When we left off, I was just starting to use a website called GetItDone (http://getitdoneapp.com, and associated iPhone app) because it provided a slick, DHTML, tag-based user interface that was very similar to Things, but on the web. I needed to be able to "live in the cloud" given the sheer number of devices, locations, and computers I switch between on a daily basis. I used GetItDone for a few months and was generally happy, but I began to grow dissatisfied. I filed a few bugs in the iPhone app, which the developer said he would fix, and then never did. I asked several times about adding functionality to the website, and again was promised features and updated that never materialized. The site was also fairly slow to load and interact with at times. Projects were mostly useless and the developer never fixed them, despite promising to.

Right about that time, my iPad arrived and I immediately wanted a solution that took advantage of that magical tablet. Things, of course, launched with an iPad app on day one, which again made me long for it as a viable solution. It was beautiful, as expected. The sync between devices, however, remained manual and I knew that just plain wouldn't work. I was on another hunt. I was hungry, but I didn't know what for, and spent countless hours hunting through the iPad app store looking for a native solution with cloud access.

I was finally rewarded with ToDo by Appigo, a beautifully done planner with the ability to sync to Toodledo (which I previously abandoned because the web UI, while powerful, was ass on a stick). ToDo on iPad was enough to make me dump GetItDone entirely, cancel my subscription, and jump back on the Toodledo bandwagon. I even paid for the "plus" subscription (which is an inexpensive $15/yr). On the road, I could use the binder-centric user interface of ToDo, while being able to keep Toodledo open in my browser while working at my desk. I worked this way for another few months, but again my wander-lust kicked in.

What was wrong this time? While ToDo was nice, I still was using Toodledo as the main interface given that I live in a web browser all day. Its UI needs an overhaul something fierce. It's clunky, and some things didn't sync correctly (eg, ordering of items in lists wouldn't sync between ToDo and Toodledo, rendering the feature useless). Toodledo is a swiss army knife of information slicing and dicing, but at times it's overwhelming and takes a lot of effort to see the information the way you want it. While it's very customizable, in some areas it's not customizable enough and that's frustrating. The final straw was the most recent update to ToDo fixed a couple of bugs, but really just added more themes, including the ability to buy more using in-app purchase. Really?

And so I returned to perusing the app store, longing for OTA sync in Things (which is still promised, mind you). I decided it was time, after all my kvetching, to re-examine OmniFocus. OmniGroup had recently released its new iPad app (at a whopping $40!) and had almost a unanimous 5-star rating. Was it simply a case of a self-selecting user population, already inclined to like the product and composed of users who were willing to commit to the $40 entrance fee? I scoured the reviews for a couple of weeks and ultimately I decided that OmniGroup made something their users really liked.

If you recall, another big issue I had with OmniFocus was that the forums were full of GTD bigots who refused to admit that anyone would want to use OF in a way other than the pure GTD way. When I revisited the forums this Summer, however, that dogma was missing. In its place were many helpful users who understood there were people out there who wanted tags, who were accustomed to Things, and tried to provide help and guidance. In addition, the folks at OmniGroup were regular participants in the forums. Unlike the Things forums, where requests from users prompted canned responses about not being able to discuss future plans (probably because they have none), the OmniGroup support team made the users feel like their input helped shape the end product and that feedback made it straight into developers' hands. Treat your users like your most valuable resource and they will become your most valuable resource. Color me impressed.

I tried out OmniFocus for a few weeks (you get a two week trial on the desktop, but all products come with a 30-day refund, even the iOS apps) and quickly overcame the confusion which plagued my last attempt 9 months prior. Yes, there are tons of options, but oddly this time they didn't overwhelm. Before, I was struggling to fit my notion of tags into the GTD notion of "contexts", of which there can be only one for a task. In my use of ToDo and Toodledo, tags became much less important because filtering based on tags was actually quite cumbersome (unlike Things where it's easy and natural). I used them to tag items for work (to make writing weekly status reports easier), but beyond that, I didn't seem to use the additional tags. This actually made transitioning to contexts much easier.

While the full suite is expensive ($80 for desktop, $40 for iPad, $20 for iPhone), it's actually worth it. The tech support is incredible. They welcome every comment, every request, every bug report, and respond within 48 hours. I've sent a good number of bug reports and even asked stupid user questions about how to do things. Let's say I'm getting my money's worth. They are also frequently releasing updates and improving the rough edges. I have full confidence they are hard at work on the next release. Have I mentioned Things still hasn't provided any details about their OTA sync functionality?

So here we are, and I'm actually satisfied with OmniFocus. It makes great use of my iPad, its native MacOS X interface is far from clunky, and it does OTA sync with all my computers. Combined with my ability to now effectively take notes on my iPad, my transition from my day planner is now complete. I still miss the more holistic FranklinCovey system with roles and goals, but we can't have everything, can we?

Posted by pinkerton at October 24, 2010 12:20 PM | TrackBack