As I promised a follow up post to my previous blog post here.
I stated, I try to manage things through Todo lists. When I read an email that I need to take action on, I make a ToDo out of it. Simple to complex, I make a ToDo out of it. Not just emails either. If I am in a meeting and I hear an "action item" for me, I knock that out. If I get a shopping list from my wife, I put that in my Todo list as well.
There are several tools that I have evaluated and used over the years, let me go over a few of these and see if any of them help you. The one that works for me is not the one that may work for you. You have to figure it out for yourself. Make the ToDo list work for you, not you working for your ToDo list. If you find yourself spending most of your time in your ToDo list "managing it" (prioritizing, categorizing, contexting... You are doing it wrong. Managing your ToDo's should not be a ToDo within itself.)
1) Google Tasks
Google Tasks is a built in Task manager into the Gmail interface. It is accessible on the left hand side of your Gmail interface near the labels. (Look for the obvious word "Tasks"). I like this method, it's keyboard accessible, works great, and is accessible from the web.
However, There are two reasons I don't use Google Tasks. First is templates. If I want to make a standard "Group" of tasks. Say, 10 things that I must do with each client, I want to be able to template these 10 things, copy the template and use it over and over for each client. The second reason is, for some reason, right now, Google for Domains doesn't support an iPhone version of tasks. This sucks. It works in the regular Gmail, but not in Google for domains, yet. If you have the luxury of using Gmail for your primary email, I'd suggest checking out Google Tasks. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for it, and you'll whiz through it. Best feature? Being able to create a ToDo related to an email (So you can go to the ToDo and get back to the exact email). Shift-t.
All three of these are web based services that you can use for ToDos. I tried several of these, however, most of these require an extra step, or an extra website to log in to and maintain. To me, that's not reducing the amount of work I have to do, that's increasing it. I shouldn't have to increase the amount of things I have to do in order to manage a ToDo list. Each of these has their own merits. I think Remember the Milk is the most extensible. (Meaning it has an iPhone app as well.) GTDAgenda was fairly nice. In the interest of Full Disclosure, I was asked to evaluate GTDAgenda and received a free account. I used it very little because of the above reasons. Backpack is overkill. It's like a Wiki, on crack.
This is what I use, it's an OSX only application, but it allows several things that I find vital. The only thing that I don't like about it is that it's a separate app on my system (As opposed to Gmail Tasks, which is built in.) If I have an email (or damn near anything on my computer) I can highlight it with my mouse, and mash a keyboard shortcut (which is customizable) and Omnifocus takes what I have highlighted and makes it a Todo. This is the best.
I am able to assign contexts and projects to everything, assign due dates, make reoccurring tasks... etc.
It also allows me to use templates, as I discussed in Number 1. I can set up a series of tasks, then copy the series of tasks by right clicking and saying "Duplicate".
It allows me to Sync between my computer and my iPhone. Now, the way this takes place is, Omnifocus takes it's DB and puts it up on MobileMe's iDisk. The iPhone, with it's accompanying app then syncs with the DB up on the iDisk. Not a big deal, but it can be a pain to have to keep two in sync. I'd rather just use Google Tasks.
Pain in the butt part? It's expensive. Stupid expensive. It's 79 dollars for the OSX app, and it's another 19.99 for the iPhone app. I think this is bull.
This is another program similar to Omnifocus. Simpler to use. (Less complex of an interface), but also, it's 49.95 for the App, plus another 9.99 for the iPhone version. It syncs, but not with MobileMe. Your computer that has the app on the desktop must be on the same Wifi network in order to Sync. That's fairly annoying.
This is a shell script, basically, that allows you to simply manage ToDos in a simple fashion from the command line. You can barely do contexts and project tagging, but you can't do subordinate projects or anything like that. It's a pretty cool little tool if you are one of those people that likes to manage everything you possible can in a command line. I have several friends like that, and I like to be like that too, but this program just doesn't have enough of the features I need to be able to manage it.
6) Tasks in your email client
Outlook, Thunderbird (with addons), and Mail each have their own ToDo system.
A) Outlooks works like this. You can drag an email over to the right pane (in Office 2007), you can also drag an email down to the "tasks" icon in the left pane at the bottom of the screen. Problem with either one of these solutions is, if you move the mail out of the inbox and into a PST, poof. The ToDo is gone. Seems counter intuitive to me. Anyway...
B) Thunderbird has various plugins for Managing Todos. I didn't put many man hours into investigating the use of the ToDo system within Thunderbird, because I didn't use Thunderbird for more than about five minutes.
C) Mail.app -- This is the only Mail program on OSX that has a ToDo system worth a crap. But even it has it's own problems.
You can create a todo based off an email, highlight the text you want and tap the "Todo" button. Mail will create a Todo based on the email. This Todo is stored in a central db that is shared between Mail.app and iCal. Problem is, as of right now, there is no way to get those ToDos on your iPhone. Come on Apple. Plus Mail.app is dog slow when dealing with 200,000 emails. (And gmails imap implementation sucks)
So, currently I am using Omnifocus until the second best (Google Tasks) comes along. At which point I will probably abandon Omnifocus, even if Google Tasks doesn't allow me to template, I will gladly ditch Omnifocus for a less "sync-y" built in, Cloud managed Task manager. I paid the full retail price for both of the Omnifocus apps (basically totaling about 100 dollars for two apps... to manage Todos. (Seriously Omni Group. The Pricing?)) It's a good pair of programs, but it's a bit overweight and expensive for what its use is.
After my Todos get into my Omnifocus program, I arrange them in two methods.
If the Todo is work related, I put it under "Work". If the Todo is home related (ex. Get new lightbulb for Microwave), I put it under home. Context is the "Where" portion of the todo.
So if I need to email Dave about that thing we were working on, the Project will be "Work" but the Context will be "Email".
That way, if I have a few minutes, I can take a look at my Todo list under the context "Email" or "Phone" or something, and knock a few of them out. This allows me to fit in ToDos that I have time for. Which will bring me to my next post on productivity, using my Calendar. But that's for another day.
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