What I want in a task management system

I’ve been using Nozbe for a while now to manage my tasks, and overall I’m quite happy with it.  It’s certainly got some quirks and minor issues, but it’s not bad.  However, I always feel like there must be something else out there that’s at least comparable to it.  I mean, there are literally hundreds of task management systems out there; can’t any of them get it right?

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  1. Web-based
  2. iPhone app (or at least an iPhone compatible version).
  3. Project based. Call it something else (“queues” or whatever), but I need to be able to group things.
  4. “Next Actions” or “Starred Items” or some kind of nice overview.  I don’t want to see everything at once; just the items I’ve selected.
  5. Have items due today (or overdue) show up on that overview page.
  6. Recurring events. Nothing fancy here.
  7. Sharing. Just have shared projects show up along side my non-shared items, not tucked away in some special “sharing” section.

Here’s a short video where I explain those items a bit more:

So what do we have?  I’ve gone through a ton of different systems and they all fall short on at least one of the items above.  Am I asking for too much?  It doesn’t seem like it, but maybe I am…

Here are the 32 33 34 35 systems I’ve looked at, in alphabetical order.  Some are very good, but I’m not covering their good points today. With each one, I’ll explain what feature(s) it is missing:

  • 5pm — Solid, but sharing is odd.  You share with your “team”, and they’re either an admin or they can only see what you give them.  I want others to be able to create their own private lists, and share with people other than me from time to time.  They over-thought it and it’s a mess.
  • Action Method — No good “next actions” screen.  Sharing is there, but is kind of weird.
  • Checkvist — No recurring tasks.
  • do.Oh — Only a single list; no “projects”.
  • Doris — No good “next actions” page.
  • Enleiten — Weak sharing, and their blog hasn’t been updated in 18 months – dead project, I assume.
  • Get It Done — Weird sharing setup.
  • gQueues — Poor recurring event setup, weak sharing, no real “next actions” page (though “smart queues” are close).  This one is actually quite close, as it has all of the right features – they just need to be tweaked.
  • GTD Agenda — No sharing.
  • GTDify — Every task is required to have a context.  No sharing.
  • Gubb — No good “next actions” page.
  • HiTask — Can only share “tasks” with a normal account; need a “business” account to share projects.  Simplify!
  • Hive Minder — Complex sharing, and no real projects.
  • Listable — No good “next actions” page.
  • Listigator — No good “next actions” page.
  • Neptune — No sharing.
  • Nirvana — No sharing or recurring tasks. Both features are “coming soon”, at which point this could be a contender.
  • Online Task List — Missing all kinds of stuff.
  • Producteev — No good “next actions” screen.  You can sort of do it with their “smart filters”, but it needs more control.
  • Remember the Milk — No good “next actions” screen.
  • Somethings — No recurring tasks, no sharing.
  • Ta-da Lists — No due dates, recurring items or “next actions” page.
  • Task2Gather — No good “next actions” page.  Sharing is kind of odd.
  • Task Bin — Shared projects are shown in a different area, similar to Toodledo.
  • Task Writer — No sharing, no good “next actions” screen.
  • Thymer — No iPhone access, but that’s coming “soon”.  That might put them at the top…
  • Todoist — No sharing.
  • Toodledo — Very close, but it has a very bizarre and stupid collaboration setup.
  • Tweeto — No sharing, no projects.
  • Verb — No real “next actions” page, no recurring items.
  • Vitalist — No easy way to view all “next actions” and “due today” on a single page.  Also, I didn’t understand how sharing works, and an email to them for clarification has gone unanswered for more than a week.
  • Voo2do — No sharing.
  • Wedoist (added 8/14/10) — Closed sharing (everyone must be in one account), no overview page of any kind.
  • Wrike — Overly complex.  I guess “simple” isn’t technically a requirement, but this is a mess.
  • Zenbe Lists — No stars, next actions, overview page, etc.

So there you go.  32 33 34 systems later and we’ve got nothing.  Nozbe is still the only one to handle those basic ideas.  I think Nirvana, gQueues, Thymer and Producteev have the best chance of getting things cleaned up. They’re all very close, but they’re all still missing some essential items.

I’ve looked at Google Tasks, but it’s missing so many features that it’s not worth even adding to the list — yet.

Is the answer out there?  Let me know what other systems should be added to the list.

Comments

    • says

      Tony, that’s an excellent though. Many of the systems allow you to leave comments on each task, and it can be very useful. I’m not sure it’d be a “requirement” of mine — those seven items are more important in my book. However, it’d sure be nice to find something that could fulfill all eight. :)

    • says

      Dropbox is amazing, and I use it daily. However, even with that kind of integration, Thinking Rock won’t do. I really want one that is truly web based, which this isn’t. More importantly, this kind of system can’t possibly do the kind of sharing I want. Good thought, but no dice.

      Anyone else have suggestions for systems that I’ve overlooked?

  1. bill spinks says

    Looks like you’re going to have to write it yourself?

    Why don’t you shoot Matt Mullenberger (Automattic – WordPress) a line and see if he’s intested?

    -bills

    • says

      Bill — I’ve considered writing one myself. However, to do it right would require a massive amount of time. The basic structure would be fairly easy, but a good task system would have a ton of ajax mixed in, as well as a nice iPhone app. It’s not really up my alley.

      Some of these products are SO close, that I expect we’ll have some great options within a few months.

  2. Marko says

    Thanks for this comprehensive overview.

    I know you are looking for a web based solution, but have you considered mylifeorganized.net? It is basically a windows client application, but a lot of stuff to configure (especially the filter functionality answers everyone’s wishes…) and you can synchronize it with an FTP account and it has a simple Outlook integration (i.e. you can drag emails from Outlook into MLO to create a task).

    They also have an iPhone app in preparation according to the website.

    I was looking a long time for a web-based application like you do, for me Toodledo had almost anything I needed, but eventually I decided to use mylifeorganized as it has better filter capabilities and I can create almost any view to my tasks I need. I also gave Nozbe a shot, but I think it is way too expensive for the features it provides.

    • says

      I looked briefly at that one, but ruled it out for a few reasons. I guess technically I don’t need a web-based system, but it needs to have a mobile interface and it needs to have sharing; those requirements will result in a web-based system almost every time.

      The biggest problem with this one is sharing. I have a lot of shared projects with my designer (15-20), and a few that I share with other folks. This is essential, and this is where MyLifeOrganized falls flat. Even if it had sharing, she uses a Mac so we’d be out of luck anyhow.

      It looks like an excellent product, with most of what I’m looking for. Unfortunately, it misses on some deal-breakers.

      • Marko says

        You’re right. It is lacking of a sharing/delegate functionality. Maybe that’s why the application it is called *My*LifeOrganized rather than *MyAndOthers*LifeOrganized.

        Sharing tasks really takes you towards a web based application, otherwise you’re always dealing with sync issues…

        • says

          Agreed. I don’t fault it for not having sharing, and like I said — it looks like an excellent product. However, it can’t really organize *My* life if I’m unaware of the status of items for some group projects, and it makes it more difficult to assign/receive tasks from others.

          I also recognize that I’m in a semi-unique situation with that requirement, but that’s what I need so that’s what I want! :)

          • Marko says

            Agreed, too.

            I also have a lot of such delegated tasks. The way I work around this, to setup a tag in MLO that starts with “>”, i.e. “>John”. That indicates me that I have delegated this task to John and I have a view that filters for such tags with an outline which task I have assigned to whom. But then the media disruption occurs: I either have to call John, drop him an email or walk by his desk to assign the task to him. Furthermore, I don’t get any progress reports by John automatically. But that was the point I stopped automating the process of task assignments. For me it was enough to have an quick overview which task I have delegated to whom. This overview enables me to follow up with him/her quickly. And actually I don’t care how someone else organizes him/herself, so I don’t want to force him/her to use “my” tool to get tasks assigned or to report progress.

            If you really want all these sharing features, MLO is not the right tool at the moment…

  3. says

    Sometimes seeing the applications available make me wish I had a Mac. :P But like you, I still haven’t found an application I’m completely comfortable with. I’ve noticed that most just simply aren’t very intuitive in their design and the way they display your information. Some are very close, but a lot of them have a very cluttered look. I’m actually trying pen and paper for a while, that is until I find the right application for me.

    • says

      It looks great, but isn’t it Mac-only? That kills item #1, and also is lacking item #7.

      I’ve heard it’s awesome, but I don’t have a computer in my house that could run it.

  4. says

    Hi Mick. We’re on a similar search.

    I’m currently using Remember the Milk, which isn’t quite perfect for me either. I find I can get a reasonable overview by using smart lists in combination with either tags or priorities.

    One you haven’t mentioned with has many (but not all) of the features you’re after is clockingit.com. It doesn’t have an iPhone app, and may not have the overview page you’re looking for, but it has just about everything else.

    Some of the new web apps out – like Nirvana (nirvanahq.com) and Somethings (thn.gs) have just about all you want except the all-important recurring tasks.

    Enjoy your journey. I hope one day we find one that’s perfect for us.

    Adrian

    • says

      Adrian — Good suggestions. Clockingit is far too complex for what I need, but Somethings is a bit closer. As you said, it’s missing the recurring tasks. It’s also missing sharing, which is important for me.

      I think this will be a good year for products like this. I know that Thymer has some nice updates coming soon, and I spoke with another company on the list yesterday (not sure if I can say who they are) and they’ve got some great updates coming in a few months.

  5. says

    Hi Mickey, I’ve been through a list as well – although quite a bit shorter. Your list of 34 possible tools is impressive! I looked at 4 possible tools – see my post at http://per.lausten.dk/blog/2009/12/getting-things-done-gtd.html.

    I ended up choosing Toodledo – combined with the iCal feature in order to show tasks with start and/or due dates on my Lotus Notes calendar (plus several other advantages). All in all Toodledo covers 6 of your 7 requirements. I don’t use sharing/collaboration features so I can not comment on whether Toodledo does this well. I see from your video that you have tried this yourself. Beware, that you need to tweak Toodledo to tailor your needs (for instance to setup an overview of Next Actions). There are some good suggestions in the Toodledo forum on GTD.

    Good luck with your search.

    • says

      Excellent post! Toodledo is certainly a great product. Like you said, it covers 6 of my 7 requirements. However, the 7th (sharing) is simply awful. Horrible.

      They seem to be quite popular, so I’m hoping that means they have plans to address this in the future. I’ll certainly keep an eye on them.

  6. Harold Zimmer says

    I use the GTD addin for Outlook with great success. How I’ve mastered the issuses you mentioned is simple. First I use one calender to keep all my appointments balanced. How I do this is through the use of my google calendar I sync this with Outlook when I return to my office and on my iPhone I use the program called informant. Informant sync’s all my GTD folders and when I create a new task or appointment ican assign whatever category that is appropriate. Now in order to sync through iPhone I did install a program called toodledo, this program is what brings it all together. If you’d like to discuss this inmore detail, send me your number. Believe me I too an relate to you fustration. There is at last a solution…

  7. Amy Gordon Stokes says

    Mickey, I’m searching as well. Perhaps these tips for Remember the Milk may address the insufficient overview problem. These workarounds may be best suited for DBA and SEO types, instead of everyday users. If you should should try these, please advise. I understand your 7 criteria, but let me add my own: easy. Appreciate you for sharing your research.

    http://blog.rememberthemilk.com/2008/05/guest-post-advanced-gtd-with-remember-the-milk/
    http://sheenonline.biz/2008/06/super-charge-remember-the-milk-with-smart-lists-and-tags/

    • says

      Amy,

      Those are good links, and I agree with “easy” being a key component. A task management system should allow you add items quickly, and not spend too much time on the meta stuff so you can spend more time getting work done.

      After reading through those links, I still think RTM needs work. Those workarounds go completely against the “easy” idea, and you still don’t have a product as good as Nozbe, Thymer and some others. Still, it’s getting there. Thanks for the input!

  8. says

    I just visited Gqueues again this morning, and discovered lots of updates, including changes to the way they handle recurring tasks. This app continues to impress me, and right now I’m finding it very tempting.

  9. says

    Mick,
    Thanks for your feedback on Wrike. It’s actually a bit surprising to find out you find the software complex, as we constantly get lots of excited comments about the simplicity of Wrike’s UI. I guess, it all depends on what you are trying to use the tool for. If you need a simple to-do app, than probably Wrike is just not for you. Wrike is built for multi-project use. That is, you can build different views, share those views with people and still have a complete picture. A simpler tool, like say Nozbe, might be a better choice when you run one project or you are just trying to organize your personal to-dos. A lot of users turn to us from simpler tools, when their businesses evolve or they try to institute a PM tool on a wider scale. So we hope to see you back someday in the future.

  10. Cameron says

    This is a great list and gQueues is pretty tempting. Do any of these have a reject/accept prompt upon assignment of a task for acknowledgement/audit etc…?

  11. says

    Love that you really went through all of these apps. I too have been worked through a similar quest and recently wondered whether Gmail alone could solve this. See my blog post here: http://kennyschiff.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/of-gmail-gtd-and-list-managers-can-gmail-reliably-be-your-trusted-system/

    My issue with all of these 3rd party apps is they assume that one dashboards one’s activities from their center. I find that the transactional center of my world as become Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Docs, etc…), and there is a significant trail of key history and context there that needs to marry to whatever “tasking” framework I use. As mentioned in my blog post the best approximation for me was the Netcentrics GTD Outlook add-in; however, having abandoned Outlook, that’s no longer an option (also Outlook plugins always somehow get broken, or break other things in Outlook).

  12. Dave says

    Hi Mickey,

    Have you re-reviewed GQueues? I see your notes,

    “Poor recurring event setup, weak sharing, no real “next actions” page (though “smart queues” are close). This one is actually quite close, as it has all of the right features – they just need to be tweaked.”

    I find that GQueues isn’t quite perfect, and the sharing is buggy, but I do see those three features in it. Maybe they weren’t there at the time of your post.

    • says

      I just played with it again, and it’s certainly improving. Their sharing feature is still quite wonky, but it’s getting there.

      At this point, I still prefer Nozbe. The problem for a product like GQueues is that matching the Nozbe features wouldn’t be good enough. It’s a pain to switch products, and they’d need to exceed Nozbe for me to make the switch; otherwise, why waste my time moving?

      Thanks for pinging me about the updates. Please let me know if they make any other good changes.

  13. Jeff says

    I’m in the same boat as many of you. I’ve tried dozens and dozens. Nozbe I thought was close but we are a team of about 8. It has no auto-sharing of projects by team. Also, the projects you do share you can’t share labels or contexts. Not sure there’s much sharing at all. If it had those three features, we would have stuck with it for sure.

    HiTask comes closest IMHO. It’s a little slow but for sharing with a team, it’s features are plenty. The features of HiTask with the speed and fluidity of Nozbe would be a nice combo.

    Vitalist is close to perfect to me but I had the same CS issues you did and that turns me off right away. Also, no free trial for the sharing features is a no go.

    Going to check out Gqueues right now as we still haven’t commited to anything just yet. Thanks for the article and posts!

    • says

      I think it’s a benefit that Nozbe doesn’t share labels and/or contexts. Everyone uses those differently, so it allows you to organize the tasks the way you want to.

      I agree that some kind of auto-sharing for a team would be pretty slick, though.

      I’m still using Nozbe and it’s still working great, but their lack of an Android app is getting more troublesome by the day. They’re adding fancy wood-grain graphics to the iPad app, but still nothing for Android?

    • says

      Kel — I certainly have. It’s a great system, but not at all what I need right now. The two big problems would be:

      — No “starred” or “next actions” page (I think).
      — No ad-hoc sharing as I described above. This is the killer. I want to keep ALL of my stuff in there, but my designer would want to keep ALL of her stuff in there, and we’d have a few things that meet in the middle. Toss in various Flash developers and friends, and it gets messy. Nozbe handles this very well.

      If I had a small business with 3+ employees, Basecamp would likely be my solution since we could all be on the same system and roll with it. However, to be working with a wide variety of clients and wanting to share specific projects with random people, it really wouldn’t work for me.

  14. Kel says

    Hi Mickey,

    Yeah, I see what you mean. The approach I’m trying is to use project tags as well, so #pBSC, #pMtBethel, etc. Then I set up a smart list for each project.

  15. Rob Walker says

    I use hiveminder and love the IM interface. It is so lightweight when you don’t need the full UI. I have found that the IM searching is very powerful.

    You mentioned, WRT hiveminder …

    Hive Minder — Complex sharing, and no real projects.

    They have groups, so you can share with groups of people. Also, aren’t projects simply tags with “but first” and “and then” relationships?

    • says

      Kishor — That system seems pretty powerful, but not really what I need. I know the sharing doesn’t work the way I’d like, and it seems to be missing a few other items from my list at the top of the top. Still, it might be useful for others in a slightly different situation. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Paula says

    I’ve been reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. You sound like an incredibly bright organized young man. However, I think it’s conceivable that Mr. Allen’s book may be useful. He has a chart. You can’t DO a project, he writes, you can only do the next action related to it.

    Perhaps you can’t find the perfect task management system because… you need David Allen’s system. Hey, I don’t get a commission from him or anything – I just have found his book incredibly insightful and I can hardly wait to get started!

    You have to get EVERY SINGLE THING in your mind (your “RAM”) out of it.

    • says

      Paula — I agree completely, and I love his book. He’s quite system-agnostic, which is wise for someone writing a book like that, but everyone needs a system. For me, I want an electronic system that follows the guidelines I’ve laid out above.

      Nozbe is still the best for me, but I’m always open to considering others.

  17. Othon says

    Great post, it was incredibly useful for choosing my GTD system. I was very impressed with Thymes, and the only reason I didn’t chose in the end was because it was a little pricey for what I’m doing now, so I went for the VERY cost effective, iPhone compatible GetItDone, since it allows me to share some tasks without having to pay a user for each member of my team.

    Thanks for the great insights and the great service you’ve done to the GTD community. Cheers!

    Othon Cabrera,
    Game Producer
    Sm4rt Games

    • says

      Othon — Thanks for the input! GetItDone certainly has a lot going for it. The main problem I had is that shared tasks don’t say which project they’re from, so if someone assigned me a task called “fix the broken link in the footer”, I’d have no idea what project it goes with. I need to see that at a glance. Any idea if that’s fixed now?

      The other problem is the 15 day trial. It’s not a bad idea, but I wanted to go back in and check it out again, but I can’t because my trial is expired. I guess I could sign up using a different email and stuff, but that seems like a hassle.

      Still, it looks to be a solid system, and they have a nice Android app out already so they get bonus points for that!

      • says

        Mickey, I did some tests with my team with GetItDone, and while it allowed me to have a neat resource assignment, the only thing my team members got (if they were not subscribed to GetItDone) was an email on the day the task should be completed with no project or detailed information whatsoever.

        Then I decided to give Nozbe a shot, and I discovered they have limited FREE ACCOUNTS! This was a big thing for me, because it’d allow me not only to delegate tasks but to actually create lists for my team members, and let them manage their workload any way they want. Also there are 4 things I specially liked about Nozbe:

        1. Tasks can have due dates AND HOURS. I really like to be able to schedule something with it exact time, I don’t know why many solutions don’t support it.

        2. Bi-Directional Calendar integration. If you are a Google calendar user, you can use this feature to have your “tickler file” and see your due dates in your calendar and even edit them from there! (it took me a while to figure out how to setup 2 google calendars in my iphone, if anyone needs help let me know!)

        3. Track time spent on tasks. While this is not as impressive as in Thymer, it is always nice to have your team fill in the actual work they put into their tasks.

        4. Upload Documents per Project. This is something I didn’t have on GetItDone and we use it a lot to distribute information.

        Considering all, my conclusion was that the extra cash I had to put to use Nozbe instead of GetItDone was well justified (almost 3X the price!) thanks to the Free Accounts, and I can use it not only as my personal GTD management system, but also as my Project Management Information System, which simply rocks :)

        Hope this information is useful to more people looking for GTD solutions.

        • says

          That’s interesting to hear that you switched — thanks for sharing!

          My main complaint with Nozbe right now is the continued lack of an Android app, but it’s supposedly coming next month so we’ll see. Despite that, it remains the best app to help me get things done, and I’m happy to be a customer of theirs.

        • elWerto says

          Othon cut the crap and buy yourself a real smartphone not a “look-what-I-have-in-my-hand-babe”!

          No, just kidding. I agree with you: Great review Mickey.

          I guess I’ll give Nozbe a try.

  18. Kestutis says

    Doit.im cloud(web), windows, android, iphone, linux. There is lack some features (print, import-export, areas(folders), time value for tasks), but most looks well specially for gtd. Sychronizes with google calendar. Can forward task o another doit.im user.

  19. Gary says

    If you’re asking too much, then we ALL must be and nobody is listening, which is a shame.
    All I want is to connect my Outlook tasks with my Android phone, with an on-screen widget that displays overdue tasks, due today, and the tasks due in the next few days.
    I use Outlook at home for a couple of important reasons…I really depend on connecting contact info, events, and such to my tasks. Outlook doesn’t do everything, but it allows me to keep work and personal connected.
    To date, I’ve tried more than 20 different “solutions”, but they all fall short or cost too much. My best solution so far is to register and pay for an exchange server for Outlook, and use one of two applications..all this costing $150 a year!! Even then I don’t get my widgets or decent reminders.

    Based on my reading hundreds of forum posts while searching for answers, we’re not alone…and nobody seems to be working on an answer.

  20. James says

    Saw your video and the “lots of whitespace” totally resonated w me. I like to have one page, at-a-glance view, and lots of these apps waste white space to of course, make it easier to read. I’m going to try Nozbe – too bad they don’t have a free trial.

  21. Baldan Sukhbaatar says

    Hi. I found from findthebest.com Teamwork and Breeze. It both project management’s but they had task management system. I think that’s features more than Nozbe. I am beginner for use task management system. What system is Top right now. Please offer me.

  22. says

    Hi Mickey, Posts seems very old and outdated, Don’t mind but I will encourage you to write fresh post about PM tool coz you got a good hand on this topic. Don’t forget to add proofhub in your post its completely amazing tool with mind blowing features. you definately like it

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