Personal Productivity Tips II – Update

Writing this blog can be very helpful. In writing recently about my personal productivity tips, it occurred to me that I was really using too many “to do” processes.

Moving stuff from my GTD Master List to a daily list was a pain and inevitably got out of date. What I needed, of course, was a personal task management system that incorporates all of my needs.

Being involved in several startups, I’ve got a lot riding on my productivity and execution. My to-do list is a critical tool in my productivity toolbox. I needed an upgrade.

Surely there was a relatively inexpensive, complete solution out there for managing daily tasks?

swift_toolbar

I know how I work and what I need:

  • Good hierarchical project organization
  • The ability to easily find and display a “daily task list” even though the individual tasks live inside a project hierarchy
  • The ability to set deadlines, where relevant
  • The ability to create sequential ordering of tasks (rather than just tossing them into folders)
  • The ability to export and/or print all projects, sub-projects, tasks by priority, tasks by due date.

Wow. Sounds like a lot, but really, it is just an object or folder tree with a few to-do list functions thrown in. No problem, right?

Actually, finding a product that did all of these things reasonably well was a major pain, especially since I really didn’t want to spend $500 for a to-do list.

The higher-end project management systems do most all of these things, but do you really want to use a networked Microsoft Project clone for your to-do list? Me neither.

Products Evaluated

I’m not going to try to review each of these products, but I’ll mention some strengths and weaknesses, and why I picked something else.

Outlook Tasks: Tasks is an often overlooked to-do list alternative. It has some great features. Being e-mail connected is awesome. I have used it for ages as my GTD Master List and  I use it to make assignments to my assistant, for example.

But it lacks a couple of essential features. It gets cluttered fast and flipping between views can be slow. You’ve also got to filter flagged e-mail out of the list, since that automatically comes into Tasks, if you let it.

The biggest drawback is that it really doesn’t do “project” organization. You can create due dates, priorities and categories, but that doesn’t translate very well when you need to throw 12 sequential tasks into a project.

There’s a lot of work and clutter created to do that using Outlook categorizes, which is the accepted way to accomplish this feat, yet entirely inadequate.

There are several decent GTD (Getting Things Done) tutorials on how to use Outlook Tasks to run GTD and there are even third-party add-ins, but I didn’t find anything compelling.

I’d been using Outlook Tasks to run my GTD process for a long time and needed to say goodbye.

TaskMerlin: This program has a very appealing interface and does about 90% of what I wanted it to do. It definitely has nice folders and lots of slicing and dicing features. But it has several critical drawbacks. First, it has this idea of  “documents” and everything – folders, tasks, etc. – is a “document.” Whatever.

However, when you try to display the full hierarchy of your projects and tasks, it only shows you “Folders” without the actual project names. Very strange – so strange it is probably a bug.

It also doesn’t have any decent way to sorting and displaying particular projects and tasks for reporting or printing.  For a $50 product, I was expecting more. And the interface and various document types was just overwhelming. It would have been a pain to work in on a daily basis.

I could have lived with this product, but it fell off my list when I found something better.

uOrganized: This program was great. It met all of my criteria and allowed me to slice and dice my to-do list in basically all of the ways I wanted to see. It was reasonably priced at $35. I was about to buy it.

Then it mysteriously deleted the 50+ items I had typed into it, replacing them with the default demo database. Ouch. Technical support claimed it was my fault. (How? I have no idea.)

It looks like it overwrote the database when it did an automatic upgrade overnight. Possibly it deleted it when I uninstalled a different trial product from the same publisher. Either way, I wasn’t putting my to-do list into that software.

I also looked at a bunch of other possibilities. Among the best of the bunch: VIP Simple Task Manager, WorkTime, Time & Chaos (very highly rated), and Agenda at Once (also highly rated).

The problem with these products is that they are oriented towards hourly billing and calendar interfaces, so that you can track what you did. They do not, however, fit the need for forward-looking project brainstorming and GTD Master List management.

If you’re looking for a great Outlook replacement (what used to be called a PIM for personal information manager) these products might be great. But I’m fine with Outlook as my PIM for calendars, addresses and e-mail. I just needed a great to-do list!

My Product of Choice: Swift To-Do List

Finally, I found Swift To-Do List, and it was the answer for me.

My needs are particular and I won’t pretend that this is perfect for everyone. Some people are probably more calendar-oriented. I’m project and list oriented: I’ve got to dig through projects, one gritty item at a time, regardless of the day of the week and then be able to jump up 5,000 feet, check the big picture, then dive back down again. Swift To-Do List fits the bill for me.

It does all of the items on my list, including great project hierarchy, easy organization, arbitrary task ordering (love this!), quick view-changes between projects, deadlines, priorities, categories, and quick reports and print outs on project steps.

swift_to_do

It is easy for brainstorming project steps and ideas, without getting overly cluttered.

Finally, the interface is simple, pleasant and appealing. I like using this software, and for a to-do list, that means a lot.

The only things it is really missing is smartphone sync and a visual calendar view. I don’t use the calendar view in this way, since my projects move around the calendar a lot.

Regarding syncing, Outlook Tasks does this, which I’m sure some people depend on. I don’t use my smartphone to track tasks, because I’m about near my laptop 98% of the time when I’m working.

So, for me, Swift To-Do List provides me with a great daily list format, strategic “master list,” good project hierarchy, exportable reports, and is easy to use and non-distracting. For my GTD process, this is great.

Swift To-Do List is about $45 and that is a great price point for a product that fits my needs exactly.

Happy StartupGeeking!

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This blog is dedicated to providing advice, tools and encouragement from one entrepreneur to another. I want to keep this practical and accessible for the new entrepreneur while also providing enough sophistication and depth to prove useful to the successful serial entrepreneur. My target rests somewhere between the garage and the board room, where the work gets done and the hockey stick emerges.

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