To-do service shootout
When it comes to task management, I didn’t have a sophisticated workflow up to now: I kept most things in my head, in busy times I would write to-dos down on a piece of paper and I kept a Simplenote list of more long-term tasks which I don’t want to forget (mostly filled out of panic when stressed and never actually done). While this worked out in general, I felt like I could be more relaxed and productive with some technical support. What I was looking for is a service that follows basic GTD principles and lets me structure my tasks by a variety of data types without forcing me into a stringent, “religious” GTD workflow. Simple to-do list programs with due dates like Wunderlist or iOS Reminders therefore aren’t the right thing.
I want to use and sync the tasks across all of my devices, so a cloud-enabled service seemed like the way to go. Since Linux versions of desktop apps are often not available, services which don’t offer a web interface for desktop usage (primarily OmniFocus) didn’t come into consideration for me. Another basic requirement was the availability of an iOS app for mobile usage. What I didn’t check were features for collaboration, sharing and assigning of tasks as I have no usecase for that at the moment.
Remember the Milk
RTM can be seen as the pioneer when it comes to web-based to-do management: It has been around since 2005 and I even have had an account there for some years, though I didn’t actively use it. Nowadays, its web interface looks a bit old-fashioned at first sight. However, it turns out to be pretty powerful if you adapt to it.
The service provides a great variety of ways to structure your tasks, as the only one of the three including the possibility to attach them to locations. Due to the lack of location-based notifications, iOS Reminders are still the best option in my rare usecases for such a feature, but I feel like there might be an opportunity for RTM’s approach at some time. In fact, they don’t support reminders at all, – not even time-based ones – so you always have to check your to-do lists on your own, even for very important tasks. What’s lacking as well is the possibility to set start times for to-do items, i.e. dates before they can’t be accomplished and therefore shouldn’t show up in some views.
The iPhone and iPad version of the service’s app is done quite nicely, though practically unusable without a Pro account: It doesn’t automatically keep your account in sync and lets you only sync manually once in 24 hours. However, I think the Pro subscription is priced quite fairly at $25 per year, even without offering student discount rates. I tend to keep local backups of all of my relevant data from cloud services; RTM provides ATOM and iCal feeds of your tasks, which seems good enough for me.
What RTM ails at its web interfaces, Producteev makes up: It offers a through and through modern and good-looking web app. What I like about it as well is the unique feature to create lightweight subtasks for single to-do items, which basically just consist of some text and a “Completed” checkbox. While the other services let you assign only three levels of priorities, Producteev has fife of them. This seems like a sensible grade of granularity to me, though sometimes maybe a little bit too detailed.
I don’t really get along with their sorting of task lists, since you can’t select a secondary criterion and my desired behaviour doesn’t accord with the default: I like my to-do items to be sorted by deadline and within that by priority, which doesn’t seem to be possible with Producteev at the moment. For repeating tasks, there is no “repeat until” end date and just like at RTM, you can’t assign start times. The service always adds a time-based reminder to each task upon creation, but those don’t seem to show up anywhere in the default configuration except the web interface.
Producteev has a decent iPhone app, but an iPad version is still in the making and their workaround in form of tablet-optimized website can’t really compensate this big handicap. The service lets you download your data in CSV format, so a basic backup should be possible there as well.
As only one of the three, Doit.im lets you set the start date for a task, but I don’t get along with their implementation of that feature: Since start times are seen at the “main time” for a task, it won’t let you set a deadline without a start date, which is what I need far more often than I want to set a start time at all. Maybe since that is the case for most people, they seem to mix the two dates in the interface and don’t seem to have a clear differentiation of their meaning. This is especially obvious as their whole (otherwise quite good) interface relies on the classification by start (or whatever) date. There’s still a second structure by “contexts”, but you can even get a complete list of your to-do items only crabwise. Good thing is, they have time-based reminders done right.
They also have a nifty app for iPhone und iPad. Doit.im’s Pro account description reads a lot like RTM’s “without it only sync manually once a day”, but I didn’t exceed the free Pro trial until now, so no confirmation on that. The Pro pricing, however, is comparable. As the only service of the presented three, Doit.im won’t let you download a copy if your data in any format.
No clear winner here: All of the three have their selling points and disadvantages. I for one bought a pro subscription from RTM and am now actively using it in my everyday life – works out pretty well so far. If Producteev gets their few but major downsides sorted out, they seem like a possible competitor in the future. Doit.im’s way to structure tasks just doesn’t fit into my workflow and I’m not expecting this to change fundamentally; its other feature don’t make it stand out as well.