I spent a few evenings a couple of months ago choosing a new to-do list manager, Asana. Writing up the process has been on said to-do list for a while now, which could be a damning indictment of my choice but more likely just reflects the size of the backlog I had to migrate.
Moving on from Backpack
I’d used 37 Signals’ Backpack for over five years, but had got to a point where I was just dumping stuff in there and forgetting about it. The product has changed focus since I started using it too, so much so that I was on a ‘grandfathered’ plan because my mostly single-user requirements weren’t really the business 37 Signals are after. My efforts to follow the GTD process had also become almost unrecognisable, and a clean slate seemed like a good way to get some momentum back. So it was time to find a new tool.
To help me choose I tried letsimondecide.com, a free web tool for helping make decisions. It took a bit of getting used to, but it really helped me both focus on what was important in the first place and to automatically work out which tool came out best against my criteria. I’d definitely use it again for similar decision-making.
Here’s the wish list I scored and prioritised against:
- Adding tasks
- Next-actions list
- Recurring to-dos
- Lots of projects
- Work and home
- iPhone / iPad
- Emails out
- Task notes
- Inbox view
- Emails in
- Team working
- Viewing all tasks
The ones that didn’t make the cut
I started with a long list of a dozen or more tools, but below are the ones that made the shortlist and got a full evaluation. To stop me writing an essay about each, I’ve imposed a Twitter-style 140 character limit for my summaries of apps I tried and rejected:
Fairly well featured, but just didn’t feel right. Also, I couldn’t work out how to send it an email.
Very promising, but lacked polish. Translation errors would bug me, I saw errors, I kept pressing wrong buttons.
Very nice, and I’d be happy to pay if it was just me but it gets pricey for the team (and we’ve no budget)
Very feature-rich, but felt a bit homemade and not quite slick enough. Version 4 was coming soon and sounded better, but too late.
Lots of people like it, but the interface and UX have always really put me off.
Sounded promising, but when I went to trial it they’d posted a closing-down notice. Now defunct.
The app I went for in the end was Asana, a relatively new entrant to a crowded market, but one well backed and funded and looking to go places. In the end, Asana felt like an easy choice. It’s fast, well-featured without being cluttered, and free.
There’s a lot to like:
- It’s really fast (on desktop at least)
- Separate workspaces make a clean split between work and home really easy
- Projects and tags are nice and flexible
- Sharing works well (when I was choosing I mostly picked based on personal requirements, but three of us in the office are using it together now and getting on well)
- Keyboard shortcuts are really handy
- Emailing in tasks is soooo useful, I don’t know how I managed without it. And having the emails filtered into different workspaces by sender address is brilliant – if I send from my work email, it goes on the work list.
But it’s not perfect. A few things I’m really hoping get amended or added soon are:
- Due dates are all treated as deadlines, which is a bit limited. Some things I have to get done by a deadline, but others need doing on a specific day and I don’t need reminding until then so I’d like to choose whether something is ‘due by’ or ‘do on’ a given date
- Due dates don’t bubble up through the later/upcoming/today structure automatically. I have to sort my tasks manually at the start of the day and move the ones which are due into my ‘today’ list. It’s a small job, but seems like a really obvious candidate for automation. Also, once I’ve done a repeating task the repeat version (now likely not due until a week or more later) really shouldn’t appear in my Today list.
- The mobile app is just a wrapped version of the mobile website, which is a bit slow and feature-limited. A true native app or a snappier web-app would be nice.
- Email reminders come out as a summary in the middle of the day. I think this is because the localisation isn’t working for when it sends the reminder, but a summary at 3pm isn’t much use to me.
Blog post about picking a to-do list, done. One more to tick off the list :)