Monday, January 3, 2011

An iPhone app I love for tracking tasks

I've tried several techniques over the years to track all my own action items.  I've tried using paper and pencil, and I've tried using Excel.  The problem with both of those for me is access: when the next step occurs to me I might not have my pad or might not be at my computer, so then I have to try to remember the task until the next time I sit down with my notebook or my laptop.

For about three months I've been using an iPhone app called Remember the Milk that has made a big improvement in my own personal productivity and largely solved this problem of tracking next steps.

The app on my iPhone syncs to a web version, so I can update my task list either on my phone when I'm on the go, or with a browser when I'm at the computer.

One big benefit is that as soon as I get an action item, I can very easily add it to my task list.  I just pull out the phone, open the app, and type in the task.

The app makes it very simple to add a due date, a tag, or a location.

Once the task is recorded in RTM, I don't need to reserve mental space to remember to do it.  I know that it won't slip through the cracks.

This helps make me more productive in two ways:
1) Allows for greater focus, since I can concentrate on the task that I am working on, and not worry about remembering a list of promises
2) Ensures that the tasks that I choose to focus on are in fact the ones that need to get done.

I find the "tags" feature very useful.  I set up a tag for each client I serve.  I've also added a tag for "Book" and for "Movie,"  so when I get a book or movie recommendation that I want to check out later I can quickly jot it down.  I've also created a tag for "someday" so I can create a list of actions or activities that aren't urgent but I may want to get to at some point.  I use a tag "catchup" for all the people that I've promised to call or set up a meeting with.  You can of course apply multiple tags, so I might have one book tagged as "book" and "someday" while another one is tagged as "book" and "XMAS" if I'm planning to buy it as a present.

The "location" feature can also be very helpful if you have some tasks you can only perform at a certain place.  For example, you could set up locations for home, work, vacation house, storage, etc.  The benefit with this is  especially strong if there are some places that you rarely visit, e.g., "next time I go to storage, I want to make sure I get out the serving platters for the party."

In September 2010, before starting to use Remember the Milk, I surveyed the apps available, and this one seemed the best solution for me.  There may be better apps if you only want to use the app on your iPhone or iPad: I considered Things.  But I wanted an app that also has a web interface, because if I am at the computer, it is easier to update and manage all the tasks with the laptop.

RTM isn't perfect.  I wish it were more closely based on the Getting Things Done system developed by David Allen.

The key to making the application prove useful is to regularly review all of the tasks on your list and update the tool.  If you add your to-dos to the list but then don't check it regularly, you'll continue to hold these tasks in mental RAM so the tool won't provide any value.

If you do go with RTM, definitely upgrade to the Pro version.  In the free version, you can only sync your iPhone app with the web once per day, but this seriously impedes the usefulness.  Try the free version just to see if you like the interface, but upgrade to Pro if you plan to actually use the tool.

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