Tag Archives: todo

Getting stuff done with Remember the Milk

I have many titles. Chiefly, I am the King of Procrastination. As I get older, I’m also becoming the Duke of “Sorry, I Forgot All About That”. It’s not necessarily because my memory is getting worse, although that’s likely. It seems more to do with just having a lot more to keep track of than when I was in college and thought I was busy.

To deal with both problems, I became Lord of Lists. Everything I need to do gets documented in some way. For a long time, these were mainly pen and paper lists. Some still are. There are times when pen and paper are just faster.

I went through a lot of to-do list apps trying to find one that I liked, and the truth is, I hated most of them. Many feel bloated and in some cases it took longer to enter a task than it did to actually complete a task (Omnifocus). Others were close to what I wanted but were just a feature or two off (Wunderlist).

Ultimately, I settled on Remember the Milk as the best compromise of features and low friction.

No Corinthian leather

Remember the Milk (RTM)’s appeal is largely in its simplicity. The interface is clean, if a bit dated at this point. According to RTM’s about page, the interface was inspired by early versions of GMail.

Remember the Milk
Some dummy tasks. Sometimes I do forget to eat though.

Inputing a task is very similar to what you would do if you were writing on paper. Instead of typing in a description and clicking a bunch of checkboxes or drop-downs to set details (Although you have the option to do this.), RTM supports natural language input. So, you can you in something like:

Take out trash every Monday @Home #chores

Taking that input, RTM creates a task called “Take out the trash” that recurs every Monday with your home as the location and “chores” as a tag. You can add as much or as little info to a task as you want. There are no required fields other than the description, which as basic as it sounds, is a big feature. Most task apps require input in several fields and that really slow things down when you’re trying to quickly jot something down.

Overall, that’s the theme of RTM – Lot’s of features and functionality like shared tasks, tagging, advanced filter searches, and prioritization, but they’re only there when you want them.

Any client you want, for a cost

I do most of my input using RTM’s web interface and mainly use the iPhone client for it’s geo-fencing feature (Which is very similar to iOS’s Reminders functionality.). If I’m near Walgreens and I have a task that’s tagged with Walgreens as a location, the mobile app pings me with a reminder. Other than that, I don’t really use the iPhone app and prefer either the web interface or the iPad app (which is basically the iPhone app, but less “squashed”).

If you think that you would be a heavy mobile user, you should probably spring for RTM’s $25-a-year Pro plan which allows you to sync your lists between devices and the web app. In addition to the official apps, having the Pro plan also opens up syncing to the dearth of third-party clients that have been written for RTM, including plugins for Outlook and GMail. There are even several CLI-based clients for people who might be looking for something similar to Gina Trapani’s Todo.txt app.

Manage your to-do list on Android, iOS, and Chrome with Any.DO

Any.DO started as an Android-only solution to the public’s to-do list blues, and it did a damn good job of cheering us up. As a result, Any.DO became a both popular and critically acclaimed app by tech blogs everywhere. Personally, I’ve been a regular user of Any.DO for the past six months or so and I appreciate its minimalistic approach to list-making.

The strength of Any.DO lies in its simplicity. Rather than overcomplicating a simple task manager with endless menus and options, the focus is placed on entering tasks under simple headings like Today, Tomorrow, This Week, or Later.  The app is definitely gorgeous with bold typography and basic colour schemes, and though the Android version is clean and free of cheesy effects, the iOS app is (nauseatingly) made to look like crumpled paper.

It appears that the designers took some inspiration from Windows Phone, but you won’t hear me complaining about borrowing a few aesthetics from the most beautiful software ever. The app displays black text on a white background by default, but a dark theme allows you to reverse the coloration. Above all, it’s clean.

And if you’re in the market for a new task manager there’s never been a better time to pick up this app, especially now that it syncs across all the major platforms (only Windows Phone 7 is missing). Syncing is automatic once you register with the service or choose to sign up via Facebook.

The iOS App

iOS Any.DO - Home in Landscape
Any.DO on iOS in Landscape

Additional gesture-based controls have been implemented in the iOS version: drag down from the top of the screen to enter a new task (hold down after dragging to enter an item with your voice) and swipe right to cross out a completed task. Additionally, when entering an item for your list the app attempts to predict what you’re trying to type. It’s moderately useful at times — finishing “Buy” with “milk and bread” saves a bit of time) — and when the app adds a handy phone button beside names that exist in your address book.

Tapping on a task brings up a menu that allows you to set it to a higher priority, move it to a specific folder, assign a due date or note, or share it with friends. You can also drag items around to reorder and prioritize certain tasks over others, much like in the Android app. The iOS version takes better advantage of screen real estate than its Android counterpart, however, displaying a calendar alongside your task list when the device is in landscape mode. But with luck, this feature will appear on Android soon.

The Chrome App

Any.DO Chrome - Web Browsing
Any.DO while browsing in Chrome.

Of course, given its home on conventional desktops and laptops, the Any.DO Chrome app lacks the gesture-based controls of its mobile brethren. But the aesthetic remains consistent, though you’re unable to change the color scheme from the default white. Check marks are used to indicate completed tasks instead of swiping, but can still be reorganized by clicking and dragging. The app opens from an icon to the right of the address bar and drops down over your current browsing session — no need to open a new tab or window. But the option to pop Any.DO out into its own window is there for those of you who’d prefer.

Conclusion

As a light user of task-based apps, Any.DO is the one and only solution to my needs. The new Chrome and iOS apps mean I can finally sync lists across my Nexus S, iPad, and MacBook Pro (running Mac OSX and Windows 8 Release Preview).

The fact remains, however, that if you’re a heavy user the lists can get a bit cumbersome. Most items end up lumped into the Today category if they don’t have a due date so lists can get out of hand if you don’t pay attention. I still think it’s worth a try for anyone in need of a new task manager since it’s free and using folders may lessen the organizational load. If you do try it out, let us know what you think.

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Take Your To Do List to the Command Line

If you’re serious about your to do list and want to be sure that you can use it in the future, then you should think about embracing your inner geek by 1) going text only, and 2) doing everything at the command line. The best way to do that is with Todo.txt.

Hold On … The Command Line?

You’re probably wondering why you should use the command line instead of popular Web applications like Remember the Milk, Toodledo, Todoist, or Ta-Da Lists. They’re all great, no doubt about it. But you need to be connected to the Internet to use them. And it’s not easy to export or move data between those apps or to other services.

With Todo.txt, you’re using a text file. And let’s be honest, the format of a text file hasn’t changed in … well, a long time.

Getting Going

Todo.txt is a shell script. To use it, you’ll need a bash shell. That’s not a problem if you use Linux or Mac OS — they both come with one built in. Windows users, on the other hand, are out of luck. Unless, of course, they use something called Cygwin (tools that add a Linux-like environment to Windows).

Once you have a bash shell, now all you need to do is download the archive containing the script. When you pop that archive open, you’ll see it contains two files:

  • todo.sh, the shell script
  • todo.cfg, a configuration file

Extract the files to a folder in your path — on my Linux-powered laptops, I put them in /usr/local/bin. Then, edit the file todo.cfg to point the shell script to where you want to store the actual to do list file. Look for the entry EXPORT TODO_DIR= and change the path.

Editing the configuration file

Using Todo.txt

Let’s start by adding a task. Open a terminal window and then type todo.sh add [task] — for example, todo.sh add Edit Chromium FLOSS Manual. Then, press Enter.

Adding a task

Obviously, you’ll want to check your to do list from time to time. Do that by typing todo.sh list in a terminal window.

Listing your tasks

Notice that each item in the list has a number. That number is useful to know when you want to add a priority to a specific task or mark the task as complete.

Why add a priority? Well, some tasks are more important than others. Adding a priority moves them up in the list. Priorities start at A (most important), and move down from there.

To add a priority, type todo.sh p [task number] letter, where letter is a letter of the alphabet. For example, todo.sh p 7 B. That adds a priority of B to task 7 in the list.

Marking a task as done

Finally, when you’ve completed a task you can mark it as done and remove it from the list by typing todo.sh do [task number] — for example, todo.sh do 7.

Todo.txt can do a lot more. To learn about all of the available options, type todo.sh -h to read the help.

Going Graphical

You say you like the idea of Todo.txt, but the command line part is a bit geeky for you. If you have an Android-powered phone or tablet and an account with Dropbox (an online file storage and syncing service), then you can install an app called Todo.txt Touch on your phone from the Android Market.

Todo.txt Touch everything that todo.sh does at the command line, but on a touchscreen. The app saves your to do list to a folder in Dropbox. From there, you can share the list with your computer and/or with any other Android-powered devices you might own.

Todo.txt on your phone

Final Thoughts

Even though using the command line sounds difficult and a tad geeky, Todo.txt is easy to learn and use. Even for the most ardent GUI addict. And by using Todo.txt Touch on your Android device, you can literally have your to do list anywhere and in a format that won’t be obsolete anytime soon.

Image credit: Dean Shareski