The above noted organizers are probably today’s personal key task management systems of choice. Of all the five, three are fully cross platform (Apple and Android) while two run solely in the Apple environment one with a caveat though.
In this article I will attempt to make some sense of the systems and what would work best for an individual. I often hear people saying they’ve tried so many task managers looking for the perfect solution. Where it comes to task management there is simply that which works best for you; there is no perfect solution.
The trend now is, without question, the move or incorporation of applications that are cross platform, especially in business. Fortunately there are two major OS’s for mobile now and this allows the acceleration of this functionality something quite critical to both a team of workers on a project and individuals and their friends.
I have written extensively of the value these kinds of tools bring to the table and the benefits that can be obtained. As such, I won’t go into a lot of detail about the use of these apps but rather talk about the benefits they produce. Additionally, I will reinforce the view I have held on the whole cross platform scenario. For details on the systems, refer to previous articles that have been done. Additionally, there are numerous people who have done exhaustive analysis of these particular platforms due to their importance.
In years gone by I have also focused on the Getting Things Done model or GTD but this form of thought and structure though useful, is fading. More common approaches that you see in some of the best used apps utilize less structured yet intuitive approaches so that you don’t have to spend tons of time learning a system. Further, there is not necessarily one system that is the best or right for everyone. Certain approaches are better than others.
However, in this article I’m going to look at five major application systems and how they provide benefits even though there are similarities and differences in the way they approach task management. The key is finding a good system that meets your needs rather than you having to adapt too extensively to a system. Some structure is of course beneficial but not if it doesn’t suit you as you’ll spend too much time fighting with the task manager.
Overview of the Systems
The systems to be looked at here are both similar and different. In some ways their similarities are more salient than the differences which generally, when looked at carefully, relate to the UI experience and how intuitive it is to manipulate the underlying functions.
Where there are significant difference has to do with the openess of the platform and its cross platform system function. Cross platform is happening in a major way. It allows you to work in teams that have divergent equipment effectively while at the individual level the system need not bog you down. It is not a matter of not being able to do this but rather one in which certain companies for one reason or another are embroiled in only one platform they have chosen.
OmniFocus would be considered the behemoth in the house. It is a GTD program (see David Allan) and as such incorporates function to support that methodology. This program is really not suited to the wide ranging public but rather those keen on GTD and who are prepared to learn the complexity around OmniFocus (more on all of this later). Also and most importantly it is not cross platform so for many it is a non-starter out of the gate.
2do is also a very powerful yet more approachable system. It has more options than you can shake a stick at but that are very approachable. It runs on IOS, OSX and Android the key platforms. This is a product that can be what you want. It quickly captures tasks at a simple to complex level and provides a multitude of views. In terms of pricing, they shunned the subscription model except they are available on Setapp.
Todoist has become an extremely successful program. Supporting aspects of GTD in which it doesn’t have to be GTD, it is very flexible, fluid, powerful and easy to learn. One of its most compelling features is just how cross platform it is. This is necessary for many right out of the gate.
Things has always been considered a friend of the task organizer. It is easy to use, well laid out and easy to learn. V3 of Things is all of this and much more. It has won design awards for its clean look, minimalistic interface and intuitiveness. Its major shortcoming is it is not cross platform but only runs on Mac/IOS so cut out a major part of the world. It would actually be nice to see this program become cross platform.
Finally, there is TickTick, a rising star. This is one superb program. It has aspects of Things about it yet can be a GTD program or a simpler task list sort of reminders program. It is highly intuitive however functional and powerful. It is fully cross platform and competes with the likes of Todoist but might actually be better suited for some.
Let’s look at all of these a touch more carefully. I’m going to start with the cross platform apps first in no particular order. I should say at this point that you really cannot go wrong with any of these apps as long as you match them carefully to your needs.
Beyond the Apple Ecosystem
The so-called Apple ecosystem has become a wonderful thing. All the parts within your Apple environment relate in some way or another. Some things are tightly integrated whilst others are less so due to the nature of the function and thus the requirement.
However, the world is moving towards standards and open systems. Apple really needs to open up. People use other devices and may not be fully aware of this ecosystem. There are very viable solutions to address your needs. There are ways to bring an Android into the Apple ecosystem but it’s a touch challenging however, for some the benefits far outweigh the effort. Bottom line – it can be done.
Todoist: Starting with the first major Cross Platform Solutions
Todoist though not perfect, is an excellent fit for today’s world. There is nothing more cross platform than Todoist. Using a web based architecture which allows enhanced integration it works with a variety of platforms. From the get go, this is already a winner as it is likely whoever you bring on your team will be able to work flawlessly with the rest of the team.
Todoist is also a well crafted app regardless of platform as it looks crisp, clean and intuitive. It’s fast with a lot of standard views but that which throws it up as all around winner are the views you can add by custom operation.
Certainly when first looking at Todoist it may seem confusing but not after a short while. The enhanced view capabilities of Todoist allow you to get granular control of what you have to do allowing for enhanced efficiency. As you’re working you can easily move between platforms as Todoist’s sync is fast and accurate.
You will find Todoist has two simple and unique Functions which enhance your project management substantially. First not only can you prioritize a set of tasks but you can relate a common set via dependencies. As example, item 1 is the parent of item 2 and then 2 is the parent of 1. This is useful to highlight relationships. One thing cannot happen before another thing happens.
The second valuable little function has to do with the automatic update of the due date. Rather than a due date showing as overdue item you can automatically changed all the items times to the current date.
Todoist is currently one of the most popular task management systems and once used it is easy to see why. It allows you to manage and manipulate your data and share the results across your team. This is all done within an easy to access interface. Although it is based on the subscription model running around $40 a year, it quickly pays back with respect to its power, functionality and what it aids you in getting things done.
TickTick the Newest Kid on the Block but a Rising Star
Architecturally, TickTick reminds me of Things 3 the only thing being that TickTick I feel is a more robust package. It is fully cross platform and provides the ability to add tasks and create custom views quickly.
Of these task managers and this is a very difficult thing to call, TickTick is my current favourite (In actuality, I really float between 2do, TickTick and Todoist). It is a very flexible, easy to use system with a large range of canned views but you can create your own custom views. Data entry or the capture of information for a task is exceptional. Finally, this is an extremely robust cross platform system. You will always know how to use TickTick regardless of device.
Although it is based on the subscription model, of which I have never been fond of, when you find what you feel is the most appropriate app for you then it is fine. Additionally, TickTick is more reasonable than most including Todoist.
Tick provides a well packaged interface to get at the various aspects of task management. It’s a time saver and a great program to rapidly grab a task or idea that you want to not forget so thus write it down.
TickTick effectively supports the four levels of an advanced task management system but you can do things your way as long as it works for you. So TickTick employs:
- Folders which is like Things 3 areas - Projects which is probably a goal which employs a variety of related tasks - Tasks which are things you need to do - subtasks or a checklist within a task of things that have to be done to accomplish the task
In addition, the program supports beautifully within its interface things that need to considered in getting the task done. As an example, time frames, priorities, project description and comments are all extremely useful in keeping you on course.
Each of the programs listed here have their strengths and weaknesses and some are going to appeal more than others to you. However, if you’re uncertain, I feel you cannot go wrong choosing TickTick.
2do an Outright Sale Powerhouse
[2do from Beehive}(https://www.2doapp.com/) is another very popular, easy to use yet powerful cross platform solution. You buy it once and don’t deal with yearly repeating fees. Fees for upgrades do not occur and there are a lot of maintenance changes to the program that are never charged for.
It is a single user system but it is one in which you’ll delight. Powerful and nice looking this is one app that does help you get things done. There is no need to spend hours figuring out what do and even though you could create tasks fast and furious it tends to orient to your way of working and thus you tend to create that which you just simply need to do. When I discuss the powerhouse Omnifocus it tends to propel you to create tasks for every minutiae of life which isn’t effective.
Where Todoist may lack, 2do seems to cover off those bases. At the highest level, you have lists or areas in which you create projects if need be. Within the projects you then create tasks and each task can have a set of subtasks. This flow alone ensures that your most complicated scenario is covered off.
Add to this now views both canned and custom and you are sailing. 2do will put in front of you just what you need to see. If you’re ever swamped by the tasks and flow that is in front of you, a view can be easily obtained making the process more manageable.
Unlike Todoist tasks have a start and end or due date. The same goes for the highest level project and the subtasks of a task. Priorities assigned allow you to get useful views that can be defined and reused. This is a system that is deceptive. It’s power is significant without being overwhelming. The interface itself is very attractive while it is functional in that it draws the eye to the right spot.
I’ve read that some have said Todoist has the speed advantage with respect to sync. 2do allows you to choose many sync options such as Dropbox and Fruux the both are what I’d call fast and very fast.
2do is outright sale and it is reasonable but then you must consider does the sync solution cost anything and if it does it must be added in to the overall cost. This part of Todoist and TickTick is included and might make them the more cost effective. It all depends on which of the many sync solutions it supports that you use. By way of example, I like to use Fruux which is 40 Euros a year. I use it for calendaring and contacts but also for tasks. Thus, you could say I pay more for 2do even though it isn’t a subscription model.
If you exist within the Apple ecosystem solely, this program will work for you. It is the most powerful of the programs and a GTDr’s delight. However, this does not mean it is right for you.
OmniFocus appeals to someone that follows the GTD model and wants ultimate control over their tasks. It is structured and to be used more along the lines of pure GTD and this appeals to many. It can actually be very granular in its operation from Projects, to tasks within the project and upon progression review of where the project sits.
Tasks break down into subtasks of a parent task but oddly there is no priority set except through tags. Tags in fact, have replaced their old context paradigm.
When building out your OmniFocus database, some become so granular so as to create tasks for every aspect of an operation or project. It guides you through your project without you having to think what next or what do I even have to do. It’s all laid out. As the saying goes “out of head and onto paper” thus relieving you of the worry about what’s to be done. Your head thus doesn’t have to be overwhelmed with these things and has more time for creative thought. To put this into perspective, this is David Allen’s theory and David Allen is a psychologist. The theory is now becoming stale and not that it isn’t relevant it is either being extended by better concepts or being trashed and replaced with more modern thinking.
One thing to remember about psychology (psycoanlysis being a prime example and even behavioral psychology) is theories (not all by any means) are often time dependent. They are relevant during a particular point in time but their relevancy becomes tested as factors change. The GTD religion is on the wane and this is not a bad thing as it doesn’t address today’s reality well; that being we are severely time constricted and though we need guides to get us where we’re going they need to interfere as little with our time as possible. OmniFocus dominates our time.
However, the biggest failing of OmniFocus as we head for the reality of 2020 is it is stuck in the past. It is not Cross Platform and this will be absolutely essential due to the proliferation of Android. It is like the IBM mainframe of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Steve Jobs with his little personal computer took care of that time delimited beast and although mainframes exist today we, the user, think nothing of them.
If good task management weren’t so essential and the need for people at times to work in teams or that remains static in an environment, there would be no need for cross platform. This a long with its complexity may prove problematic. Yet, if you want a very powerful system and can exist solely in the Apple environment this may be the product for you.
Of the best of the best task management systems, Things 3 has been considered the nicest looking and easiest task manager to use.
Rather than go into detail about how the product works, as there are lot of articles and Youtube videos that cover this, I would like to discuss this from a benefits/non-benefits point of view.
The interface of Things 3 is delightful no question. It is easy to input tasks and relate them to areas of responsibility and build projects around what needs doing. This task manager is very effective and easy to use allowing you not to waste time overly complicated procedures to use the product. It is very intuitive.
Things 3 makes for a very good, general purpose task manager. Entry of Projects in areas of responsibility that include tasks and within tasks can be subtasks is easy to create. There are subtleties that may not be immediately picked up but will be with use.
However, with this ease comes a weakness in their overall integrating structure and the views of your data. It is easy to display lists in projects etc but to hone in on a view related to say a date created or priority etc is lacking or challenging. Thus, at a very intuitive level you can quickly enter your tasks and view them. However, if you need more specialized views or views to cut down on the number of tasks seen or the way they’re seen, this is more difficult.
Things 3 is worth its salt when it comes to very simple, non-structured data entry or data entry based on a very loose structure. However, if you’re the type who needs a more granular sense of looking at the data or tasks, then you might find Things 3 lacking. This can be frustrating.
However, another way to look at it is the time too many waste on simply creating tasks thinking they are being productive. It is very valuable to write things down so that not only will you not forget them but to have an organized way of approaching what you need to do. Yet, if you are spending too much time simply creating tasks, the question then becomes how will you find the time to do everything.
To carry this one step further, if you’re creating tasks for tasks sake, when you sit down and look at all the tasks how do you begin to wade through the swamp. This can be a go nowhere scenario in which one is fooling oneself by thinking they are productive because they are generating so many tasks. Not necessarily at all.
So the obverse of looking at Things 3 as a weakness is to see this as a strength. You are naturally less inclined to write down peripheral stuff when you’re not thinking that way. What you will tend to task out in Things 3 will be quickly written and acted on. Too many tasks in a program that does not allow for the granular structuring of views will easily lead to being overwhelmed. Thus, the tendency will be not to go wild as you might in Omnifocus.
How to Choose
With all the above said (a long but hopefully useful analysis) is there one system that is the best overall. The answer is simply no. However, there is a system or two that would more or less, from the above group, meet your needs and you would be quite happy with. The key is to choose that system and stick with it till it either no longer does or you just don’t find it is really doing the trick.
The Choice of a System for You
With this in mind, let’s look at how you might make that choice. I’ll start with one scenario based on complexity and move forward.
If you are the type that wants to record what you need to do simply and as fast as possible and you do not care about views, smart lists or spending the time perfectly calibrating your tasks then Things 3 is the solution for you. You might then feel why not just reminders that built in app from Apple. Even though the above might define you at this moment, once you start recording your tasks you will need room to grow. The benefits of the task documenting will become self-evident quickly and you will find you need to be able to manage your tasks in a more structured fashion simply so they don’t overwhelm you. Things 3 provides plenty of room to grown.
However if you’re already at this latter stage of the above, yet still require a task manager that is data entry centric yet allows lots of control, TickTick would be the one to go with. It is architecturally very similar to Things 3 however, it is much more powerful in its management of views. It has a beautiful interface that is so nicely mapped out it is likely the best of the bunch listed here. You cannot go wrong with this product.
Finally, if you are at this second stage of development as above, if I can refer to it that way, then you’re likely at the most structured level, which definitely is not for everyone. The model that currently exists to represent this stage is GTD or Getting Things Done by David Allen.
GTD has been and remains a very popular model for productivity however, it is on the wane. Some are very oriented towards high control of projects.
OmniFocus is the best solution under this scenario but with a caveat which I will get to. If you like setting up every aspect of a task with a start date, a due date, prioritizing your tasks and managing your tasks within a specific project and those divvied up amongst folders for consistency will do well with OmniFocus. It will provide you with a wealth of views and data management capability that can literally engage you in nothing but task management. Thus you need to provide self control and logic to the process.
OmniFocus could be used as a simple task manager but rarely is. It orients you to David Allen’s GTD.
The fact of the matter is though everyone of the above products can be a GTD program but the others lack the true philosophy of GTD. As an example, 2do and TickTick can be just as potent GTD apps but they aren’t regarded this way so there isn’t as much of a tendency to get carried away. For those though really want the fallen GTD experience, OmnFocus is for you.
At the end of the day, I like all of the above programs in some way or another. They each have strengths to bring to the table. Don’t feel that choosing one over the other is a mistake as it isn’t. All the apps can grow and outgrowing an app is not unusual. The key here is defining your style and what ultimately you want to do with that and match it to one of the programs that best aligns. Try however, to avoid the trap of never deciding. If you’re cross platform (Android, Apple) you have three choices from the above. If you’re IOS/OSX only you have five choices and in fact OmniFocus will work under Android using Raymond Burger’s FocusGTD increasing your options to four. Thus within these parameters, make a choice that is the best one for you and you can’t go wrong.
Now just utilize your system religiously but not solely. Balance is important and you will find that these programs really do help with your productivity.