Way back in October of last year I wrote part two of a small series of articles about using various online applications to follow David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology of time management. At the end of the second part I said I would cover using Remember the Milk (hereafter referred to as RTM) and Toodledo for the list-keeping part of the methodology. Here is that long overdue follow-up.
What took so long?
Glad you asked 🙂 A host of things came into play the most important being that I totally fell off the GTD wagon. About the same time I posted the last article I started looking for a new job and I’ve been really busy every since. I’m just starting to once again pick up the pieces of my GTD practice such as it was.
I also hit some snags in just how to use RTM as a list keeper. But before I talk about that let me talk briefly about Toodledo.
So long Toodles
First off let me say that Toodledo is a fantastic task and list keeper. It has a ton of functionality, offers good Google Calendar integration, and has a very nice UI that is very configurable. Why did I stop using it then?
- The version that I found essential, the Pro version, isn’t free. It’s only $14.95 a year but pretty much all of what I need is in RTM which, at the moment anyhow, is completely free.
- You can only have one note per task. RTM allows you to have as many as you want. I use the notes a lot and I like being able to keep different notes per idea.
- History of completed tasks in the free version only goes back 1 week! I find this totally ridiculous and its a show-stopper. I like to go back and refer to things often and the 1 week limit is just kills this application for me.
All that being said, if these aren’t issues for you then by all means give Toodledo (especially Pro) a look. It really is a nice application.
The cow says Moo…
Isn’t that a great logo? How can anyone resist such a lovable cow? Doesn’t it make you want to use RTM? 🙂 Well, RTM is free so go try it. I’ve done so and I’ve been pretty happy so far. But I’ve been having problems and have been searching out a solution. Before I get to that let me tell you how I was using the application for GTD previously.
I was using the List feature of RTM for my contexts. I have only a few that matter like @home, @work, @computer, etc. I have five total so I thought that having those contexts displayed as tabs would be beneficial and it was. The contexts worked just fine. I would create tasks under the right context and move on.
I, shockingly enough, also used the list feature to hold my other lists so that the main lists, such as Someday/Maybe, To Buy, etc. also showed up as tabs. Items would be added to those lists easily enough. They were actually RTM tasks but in the scheme of things that really was irrelevant because it just looked like a long list of things I wanted to buy, things I wanted to do someday, etc. Again this worked fine. The real issue for me was projects.
Projects was a tab (an RTM list in other words). Each project (remember, anything more than 1 step is a project) had a place holder task on the project list. Now I kept running into the problem of how was I going to add tasks to those projects? The way I had the system laid out the only option was to use the Notes feature which I did by adding the subtasks for a given project in the Notes. This did not work at all. There is no way to make items inside a note into a task so therefore there was no easy way for me to move things into the appropriate context when I needed to. This actually is the reason I originally took a look at Toodledo.
Also, using a list per project also doesn’t work. Remember that anything requiring more than one step is a project? At any given time you might have 30 or more projects happening. That is a lot of tabs cluttering up the screen.
A couple of days ago I just couldn’t take it anymore and went looking to find out how other people are using RTM for GTD and I ran across this article.
I thought that most of the ideas there, both in the article itself and the comments, were very good. By using tags for my contexts I can create smart lists that are based off of searches on those tags. That way I still get a tab for my contexts. What about projects though? More in a second.
What I found interesting was that people were doing the same thing I was doing before with having an RTM list/tab serve as the placeholder for their contexts and the more I think about it the more I think this is probably still the best way to go. I still have the issue with projects though. What is the solution?
The solution seems to be to just tag items with a project tag such as p-create-website or something along those lines. That lets me search easily enough for what I need and it doesn’t clutter up the screen. It just doesn’t feel satisfying though. What I’d really like is a sub-task feature. That would let me create a Projects list/tab like had done originally and then add tasks for each major project. Then I could add the project steps in as sub-tasks.
One thing that really bothers me about the RTM tagging system (and they are not alone by any means) is the stupid way you separate tags. Instead of making tags separated by commas you use spaces which means no tags like “p-create website” without using quotes. And when you do use quotes for spaces the final tag just removes all the spaces. Boo!!! A small thing maybe but annoying. At least WordPress gets the tag thingright 😉
Second gripe is add subtasks 🙂 They would be really useful.
Last thing that really irks me about RTM is the funky way the UI works sometimes. I don’t like the fact that in the default single select mode you can check the boxes of multiple items yet only have one item be affected by edits (yes I know about multiple edit mode). That breaking a common usage pattern that most people are familiar with. It would seem the check boxes only apply to the actions available in the actions dropdown that appears above the task list. Given the way they’ve engineered the UI I’m not sure how else you’d approach it but it feels wrong to me.
Even with my gripes I still think RTM is a fantastic application. Does it have every feature I want? No. Does it do things the way I’d want all the time? No. But it still works well in my system and it’s not causing me any major pain or agony. And you certainly can’t beat the price 🙂