Before writing this article, I went back to see if I could count all the different applications and methods I’ve tried for managing tasks and to-do lists. There was Outlook, Toodledo, Todoist, Vitalist, GTDAgenda, Thunderbird, a Moleskine, Doomi – and that’s just the list that came to my head in about 15 seconds.
I’ve been around the block with task managers, for a couple reasons: one, I just get some crazy pleasure out of tweaking and goofing around with my productivity system, often even at the expense of my productivity. Also, though, I never found an application that worked exactly right for me, and did all the things I needed it to do in an easy and enjoyable way.
I’ll be honest: I still haven’t. But I’ve come pretty darn close with Remember the Milk. It allowed me access no other application had, tons of great support and brilliant users, and offered ways to work that just fit the way I think and work.
My RTM setup was constantly changing, but is only recently pretty set, and exactly how I like it. Here’s how I did it:
Tags, Tags, Tags
I’ve only got one actual list in RTM – it’s called “Inbox” and stores every single one of my tasks. I never look at that list, though, except when I’m doing a big, broad overview of all my tasks (at which point having them all in one place is really nice).
Every task in RTM gets at least one tag – the first tag it gets is similar to the GTD “Contexts,” which are geared towards putting similar types of tasks (i.e. phone calls or errands) in the same place. I have five contexts - @School (things I do for school, in the library, etc.), @Computer (This one’s kinda obvious), @Contact (all my emails, phone calls, etc.), @Home (Projects, bills, etc. that I need to be at home to do), and @Out (errands, things to take pictures of, and anything that requires me to go somewhere).
The second tag in RTM is what I call the “Hat” tag. I wear a number of different hats – freelance writer, student, real-job employee, and more – so I try to group my tags underneath which of those is relevant. I try to keep “work hours” both for writing and for my day job, and having all my relevant tasks under one place helps me stay on task.
For instance, I have one called “Pogue” for all the work I do as an assistant to New York Times columnist David Pogue, as well as one for “Writing” for all the freelance work I do around the Web. There’s one called “Admin” for backend stuff for this site, as well as a few others that I try and devote concerted time to periodically.
The way I view and manage my tasks is through RTM’s “Smart Lists.” Smart Lists are basically constantly updating searches – if I search for a particular tag, every time I create a new task with that tag, the list updates to include it. The other nice thing about a Smart List is that if I add a task while inside a Smart List, it automatically takes on the features of that list (a particular tag or due date, for instance).
I made a Smart List for every one of my contexts, every one of my Hats, and a couple other ones that have helped me a lot – “Due Today”, “No Due Date” and “No Tag.” No Due Date helps me to look through my non-critical tasks easily, and figure out which I want to give a date to, or just do. “No Tag” has been critical for me, for managing tasks I forget to add a tag to. It’s fairly common for me to just enter a task, and then forget about it. If I forgot something, it goes into the “No Tag” list, which I check every day to make sure tasks went where they needed to go.
The “Due Today” list is the one I live in all day, and it’s the default place I go in RTM (and one that makes GTD people cringe). I have tasks, over tons of different contexts, that have to get done today. Sometimes I can’t make phone calls when it’s convenient to make phone calls – I’ve got homework to do! Knowing what’s due today, regardless of what it will take me to do it, is a big boost to my productivity.
Once a week or so, I review all my tasks: I check their tags, to make sure they’re in the right place. I see if one task is actually two or more, in which case I split it. I check due dates, to make sure everything gets done when it needs to. The review is quick, simple, and easy – as long as I’m good about tagging and entering due dates for my tasks up front.
The biggest reason I use RTM, and kept leaving other applications, is how universally available RTM is. I use it in Gmail, in iGoogle, on the iPhone, on my Windows Mobile Phone, on the Web, and through Twitter. And that’s just the beginning of what you can do! For more, check out RTM’s Services.
With Google Gears, RTM is also available offline – critical for me, because I spend a lot of time on planes, trains, and the like. With the iPhone app or on my Windows Mobile phone (both do require a $25/year Pro Account, which is 100% worth it), RTM is also available when I’m not sitting at my computer. I can easily add tasks, manage them, and complete them, wherever I am.
One last note- I used a Greasemonkey script called “A Bit Better RTM” to make RTM prettier and more useful. I like it a lot, as it makes navigation easier, as well as putting all the lists on the side, which I think is just nicer-looking. There are a ton of styles for the site – just Google “Greasemonkey Remember the Milk”.
There are a ton of other reasons to use RTM, including some I’ve written about before (both here and elsewhere – and another place). It’s a simple application, with ridiculous functionality and availability. If you’re looking for a task-manager, or have one you don’t like, give Remember the Milk a shot.
How do you manage your tasks?