For a few months, I used Remember the Milk (RTM) as my task manager. This is a brief review.
Let me start off by saying that I basically liked Remember the Milk. It’s a web app, but it has excellent keyboard shortcuts, is very Ajax-y, and has an automagic offline mode using Google Gears that is particularly sweet. (Every other site I’ve used with Google Gears — which is to say, principally, Google Reader — requires you to explicitly indicate when you want the app to go into offline mode and when you want it to go back online. RTM just works. If you lose your network connection, it switches to offline mode and continues working. If the network comes back, then RTM connects and resyncs.) It also has a good API with significant third party development (Quicksilver plugins, etc.). I never really wound up using any of these, but I was glad that they were there. Likewise, it now has an iPhone app, which I never used because I dropped RTM before I got my iPhone.
RTM is also built around a very light task organization system based on tagging. This allows you to tag your tasks and then define and save sophisticated queries to define various views. I looked around at what other people had done and came up with a slightly byzantine tagging scheme that worked for me and my GTD implementation. This was powerful.
But, ultimately, RTM had some fatal flaws for me. I looked up the most significant ones on their forums, and found that people had been complaining about them for months, and the developers had showed very little impetus towards changing them. I found this disappointing, and since a couple of the complaints were show stoppers for me, I decided to move on.
So, for the record, here are my complaints:
- Tasks do not have a “start date.” For certain recurring tasks, like, say, giving the dogs their monthly flea/tick/heartworm preventatives, a start date is critical. I don’t want to see “give dogs preventatives” all month long, even if the due date is correct. That’s just useless. And it was even worse for, say, quarterly or yearly tasks. Do you really want to see “change humidifier water panel,” which I do at the beginning of each heating season, in your task list all year long? I certainly didn’t.
- The UI implements “multiple select” for most actions. That is, if you click on one task, and then another, the action you choose will (mostly) apply to both of them. Since this is not standard UI behavior in most other apps, web or otherwise, I would often accidentally act (delete, mark completed, duplicate, etc.) multiple tasks, when I only intended to act on one of them. This was incredibly annoying. While “undo” saved me many times, I was worried that sooner or later I was really going to screw something up without noticing.
- While tasks have a “creation date,” which can be used as a search criterion, that date is not visible, sortable, or editable. I can understand not making it editable, and that issue would have sorted itself out eventually. But I like to be able to see which tasks in my list have been around the longest, so that I can force myself to complete them, revise them, or dismiss them.
- And, a minor niggle, it didn’t handle atypical URLs properly (such as the “message:” URLs that can be used to reference email messages in Mac OS X Mail). If someone enters something into a URL field that looks like a URL, then the web app should treat it properly, allowing the browser to decide how to deal with it, rather than attempt to “fix” it.
1 & 2 were basically show stoppers for me. 3 was really annoying. 4 was, as I said, a minor niggle with an easy work around.
The problem is, unfortunately, I’m still not very happy with my task management solution. RTM was almost at the sweet spot of simplicity versus power. I have switched to Things, which I like quite a bit, but I’m not sure it is the ultimate solution for me. It, too, is tag-based, but it doesn’t have the same powerful querying of tags as RTM and I don’t like some of the views. I tried OmniFocus in the past, but found it massively over-featured for my needs. Medley also pointed me towards Tracks, which looks like a very nice open source web based app, but I didn’t see an obvious offline capability, which is a deal breaker for me. (Well, short of running it on my own laptop with the built in webserver, but that wouldn’t work very well for iPhone access.)
So, I might go back to paper, which is what I keep coming back to, but I’m resisting it. Didn’t I get an iPhone so that I wouldn’t have to carry around a pack of index cards?