Picking the Right Task Manager

So you’ve been waging a war to find the real task manager that is perfect for you and turn it into the holy grail of your productivity. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there is no such app. Any app that you find will have one flaw or another. It will never be perfect, unless you build for yourself, by yourself.

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But there is another solution

Accept the reality that there is no perfect app and that an app’s limitations can actually be its strong points. Having those kinds of limitations forces you to make workarounds, and as long as those workarounds are a couple of clicks away, there is absolutely no reason to worry about wasting your time. Getting to know your task manager is a long-term process; evolving your task management software and making it grow with you.

One thing to keep in mind

Can your task manager grow as you grow? Simple task managers can tend to look easy at the start, but as you start including everything in one place, they quickly become cluttered. They can cover you in the short term, but as soon as your task management database starts filling up, you fall out of the playing field. If your workload is always low, this might be a perfect solution for you, as you won’t get cluttered with unnecessary options.

Task or feature clutter?

The clutter is unbearable, and worst of all, your app feels like work. Numerous practitioners of GTD methodology have learned this the hard way. Hoarding all of your tasks in one single place is daunting, challenging and “chorey”. Unless you know what you are doing. Sometimes features can be a good response to the clutter of multiple tasks that we create over time, but sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

When you don’t have a lot of tasks, the only clutter that you have is the clutter of features.

In the end, the way to choose a task manager that will fit your needs will be a journey in and of itself. Finding the right balance between the tasks and features is part of determining the right tool for you.

Choose a real task manager

For my first task management I’ve used an app that is not a task manager: Evernote. But Evernote was never a true task manager, it was always my “remember everything” database. And since it wasn’t suited for mobile experience way of working through tasks, it always created unnecessary friction. This is back in the days when Evernote didn’t have reminders.

Once I made a switch from a note taking the application to a true task manager I’ve noticed major differences. Some of these will never let me to go back to a note taking application for task management. So my advice would be to use the apps with your purpose in mind.

When I found the task manager that was a perfect for me, I knew I had my pick and haven’t changed since. Your perfect productivity application might not, or most likely won’t be, the same app as mine.

The more inputs you have and the more data you have, the higher the processing demand is for the app. Personally, I am working simultaneously on more than 10 projects, and knowing what’s going on at the same time on all of them, would be such a waste of mental energy. Now this approach might not be necessary at all for your workflow, but it’s good to know what is possible. Being aware of your needs is crucial in choosing your task manager.

Task managers to fit your needs

The cornerstone of any productivity system is a task manager. There are literally thousands of task management solutions out there and us Apple users are faced with an even bigger challenge, as we have the most options to choose from.

Keeping this in mind I have divided task managers into three categories:

  • Heavy hitting (strategical task managers)
  • Tactical, collaborative and flexible (Flow, Asana)
  • Light weight (Reminders, Wunderlist, Clear)

Heavy hitting (Omnifocus, Things)

The category of task manager that you want to pick depends on the complexity of your work. If your work consists of a lot of projects, with a awfully big number of sub tasks, you surely are in the need of a good heavy hitting task manager. These heavy weight champions in task management are characterized by a steep learning curve, but have the highest degree of applicability. Two champions that come to mind when we mention these are Omnifocus and Things, that were designed with GTD in mind.

But as these apps are powerhouses with many features, they can easily be implemented within any other system, or even better yet, they can work with something of your own. Omnifocus has support for Apple Script, which is especially tasty for power users and tech geeks, that will know how to implement the heavy hitting organizational methods with it and step up their game.

Some of the major Omnifocus power features include:

  • Location Based Reminders
  • Perspectives (smart search that will display you only the tasks that meet certain criteria)
  • Recurring tasks

Tactical and collaborative (Asana, Base Camp)

Asana and Flow are task managers heavily praised by Mike Vardy, and while I am not talking from personal experience, there is a degree of trust I have when it comes to Mike. He knows his collaborative work and how to streamline it. For teams and ongoing projects there is also Base Camp by 43 Signals.

These task managers are great for well coordinated teams, especially those that are involved in software and web development. Where timely response is expected and necessary, they put a whole different perspective on team management, especially in a collaborative environment. You can easily delegate tasks, assign the dates when they will be finished, and so on.

Light Weight (Reminders, Wunderlist)

Light weight task managers are good for younger people, and those that don’t include too many tasks. They are great for grocery shopping lists, homework lists, simple reminders. Beside that, they are a great way of adopting task managers as a concept, because it’s found on the basic premise of making a paper list.

Stock Reminders

In this category going with the stock Apple app is not a bad choice at all, as it is feature rich (for a simple task manager), and quite reliable. It supports iCloud sync as well, and that can be accessed through iCloud’s website.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is amazing for collaboration. I wouldn’t even mention it, but the AllThingsApple team is using it, and it seems to be working quite well. I can zone in and see the bigger picture. The design is skeuomorphic, but I am a big fan of skeuomorphism. If you are turned off by gorgeous wood-like design, you might not find it being the best fit for you.

What I’ve found to love about Wunderlist is that on top of all the apps it has, it also has a web interface. So even when you are away from your devices, you can still access your database.

Clear

Clear features a metro-like design with gestures being it’s stronger side. It also offers complete sync, but doesn’t support web access, so if you are outside of your Mac ecosystem, you might be in disadvantage. But as it is a simple task manager, I will assume you will only want it on your phone, or for occasional use on your Mac.

If you are a fan of metro design and gestures, this app is a neat and very simple choice.

What is the right fit for you?

It’s quite simple; your needs will pull you in the direction of the task manager that is most appropriate to you. Hopefully, you’ve got a clear idea of what’s out there now.

Did you recognize yourself in any of these categories? Did you pick the task manager right for you? If so, I would love to read your choice in the comments.