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Productivity and ToDo apps

#1
Hello 皆さん,

I've been interested recently in becoming more efficient with the help of software. So far in my life I've always had small booklets and pen with me all the time, and I would jot down anything that needed so. You name it: grocery list, phone numbers, next day schedule, list of books to read, list of movies to watch... I found out that if I wrote down a schedule for the day, I would do 50-80% of the activities I intended to do (definitely more than if I didn't write them down!). Also, things that were fresh in my memory (max 1 week old) I would remember clearly where I had jotted them down, and my small booklet would come in handy. However I've spent minutes frantically searching for older tasks/notes in my booklet, sometimes not finding them.

The main reason I want to try out productivity/to-do software is basically because of this search function. It's of course nice to have folders that organize your stuff and reminders, but I believe computers excel at performing searches of big data. I've taken a look into the most popular apps/programs, Any.do, Todoist, etc. The one that has stood out for me initially is Remember the Milk. Multi-platform, Gmail-similar interface, keyboard shortcuts, all kinds of notifications, natural language recognition input, tags... and as I said, incredible search capabilities with different filters (similar to Anki's browser too). If I miss something from it, it is maybe voice input recognition and file attachment, but the search options really stick out to me.

Has anyone of you used similar apps? Successfully? Frustratingly? What works for you? What suggestions do you have for a total newbie to this like me? I would love to think that making this transition from pen & paper will be as smooth as going from snail mail to e-mail... I'm thinking in becoming "skilled" in one of these apps and then use it in my Japanese studies, both for scheduling and idea noting. Any input is appreciated! Thanks!

PS: I have even tried the todo.txt format. I have a master's in computer engineering and I like the Command Line Interface associated with it, and also knowing everything about my data, which is in plain text format. However I feel it's lacking in scheduling and notification of due tasks, am I right?
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#2
I like evernote for note taking and wunderlist for lists.  They are both cross platform and have slick interfaces which automatically sync to all my devices.   I used remember the milk years ago, but it wasn't nearly as robust and intuitive as wunderlist.

Things I like about wunderlist are hashtags so I can tag tasks by location (e.g. #office, #computer, #outside...) And subtasks, which are good if you need to e.g. go to the grocery store, you can put your shopping list as subtasks.  Or if your todo is "reformat computer", you can put applications you need  to install as subtasks.  Subtasks are also good for medium sized tasks that have multiple subtasks but not large enough sub-sub-tasks to justify a full-blown project tracking system (e.g. asana, jira, trello...)
Edited: 2017-05-05, 2:56 pm
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#3
Don't forget to check TickTick. I have tried dozens of tools and that one became my favorite.

I just use this kind of tools to make my mind to get rid of stressful information. I just can note what I have to do and check my tasks a couple of times a day and the rest of the day I don't have to be thinking what I have to do. It's like a way to make my mind focus on what I'm doing on that moment rather on what I have to do later.
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#4
I use Todoist for my personal (home) todo list and calendar. This works for me because I don't have a very complicated life: I use todoist "projects" for calendar, purchases, critical tasks, non-critical tasks, waiting, and a few others; todoist is free and works on the web and android, but I'm sure most of its competitors do too. I never use its search. At work I use a text file (really emacs orgmode but I don't actually use any of its features).

I think it's worth thinking about exactly what you want from a todo list system. It's easy to go off down a productivity rabbit hole of trying different systems and applications without necessarily getting proportionate benefits from it. Things I care about:
* get things out of my brain so I don't worry about forgetting them
* don't miss things with deadlines or fixed dates (luckily I have few of these)
* be able to pull a "worthwhile thing to do next" out of the system without being distracted by a long list of low priority items or re-doing project planning every time

In particular I'd rather start doing something now rather than procrastinate because I can't decide which of three things is the most important. So I don't need a todo app to support setting fine grained priorities on tasks -- 'do this' vs 'backburner' is good enough.
Edited: 2017-05-05, 4:34 pm
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#5
I'm a huge fan lately of the Personal Kanban approach: http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/

In short, Kanban is a software dev project management methodology where to do items are moved through states (swim lanes) to represent their current status. The simplest Kanban board has three states: To Do, Doing, and Done. Kanban helps you focus your attention and resources by limiting the number of Work Items in Progress (referred in software Kanban as your team's "WIP Limit") at any given time.

I haven't played around a lot with personal Kanban board sites (we have an internal Kanban implementation at work I use for most of my day to day stuff), but https://kanbanflow.com/ seems to be a nice, simple one for personal use that allows multiple boards, dates, and subtasks.

Of course, you can also easily use a corkboard and a bunch of sticky notes. No software required.
Edited: 2017-05-05, 6:20 pm
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#6
Funny because I'm going the opposite way lately and got tired of information overload and distraction of software.

Have you looked at Bullet Journal KameDemak? Not that they need any more publicity, but the basic idea is sound. By using some conventions you can devise a way to make the most of pen and paper.

I used to have a Google Spreadsheet but I became tired how the presentation made me feel like I needed to put in data that I didn't really need to. Software has a way of creating lots of implicit situations from basically nothing. Then again I'm 42 now, been there done that. Little boxes on a screen don't have the same aura as they used to. Same goes for "productivity".

The only app I'm still using regularly is toggl.com. I only use the time tracking on the free account. it's very simple to use and then I know how much time I spent on various tasks during the day.

But if I had to use something, I'd use an app on the iPad. Part of my reason for going back to paper is I don't want to switch on a computer just to organize tasks. The tablet however is like a small computer that you never need to start as it's pretty much instantly available.

The grass is always greener on the other side. Frankly you aren't missing much with pen and paper.

PS: for example for searching, you could imagine a system where you have a notebook for daily tasks and another one for searching. In the second one, you can assign letters to pages in alphabetical order, and refer them in the first journal. Just a vague idea but that's kind of what "bullet journal" does.
Edited: 2017-05-05, 6:08 pm
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#7
(2017-05-05, 6:05 pm)fuaburisu Wrote: Funny because I'm going the opposite way lately and got tired of information overload and distraction of software.

Have you looked at Bullet Journal KameDemak? Not that they need any more publicity, but the basic idea is sound. By using some conventions you can devise a way to make the most of pen and paper.

I used to have a Google Spreadsheet but I became tired how the presentation made me feel like I needed to put in data that I didn't really need to. Software has a way of creating lots of implicit situations from basically nothing. Then again I'm 42 now, been there done that. Little boxes on a screen don't have the same aura as they used to. Same goes for "productivity".
A notebook can become just as oppressive as software if one doesn't exercise some discipline. I periodically clean my wunderlist to-do list of tasks which don't seem as urgent as they once did. I just move them to a "back burner" folder. The nice thing about apps over paper is that moving things off my list takes about 20 seconds while a paper list would need to be re-written. And of course lucida grande looks much better then my horrible handwriting. On the other hand, the daily ritual of re-writing the list has a way of focusing the mind on the tasks of the day.
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#8
Oh, wow. I'm impressed by so many answers and so diverse! Goes to tell how everyone is different and works differently. I'll go one by one and at the end express what I'm actually looking for with these apps.

@yogert909 I've looked into Wunderlist, but what really turns me off is that Microsoft is going to discontinue it quite soon. Also, all the stuff you mentioned that Wunderlist does can be done in Remember The Milk. You said you used it years ago, I've read that RTM had a huge overhaul lately and for the better. I think that if Wunderlist shuts down, you should definitely check RTM again. I did look however a bit more into Evernote after your comment, I think the idea that you can note an idea on-the-go and attah audio, a picture or a video instantly is very powerful. I might use it independently of my to-do app, RTM for example doesn't allow you to attach media to your tasks as far as I can tell.

@EuPcsl I briefly checked TickTick and it looks clean and neat. The calendar view caught my eye, that's definitely a nice feature. I'm not sure however if it could replace Google Calendar. What I want to see in my calendar are events rather than tasks, since putting tasks in my calendar will probably clutter it too much. Otherwise I didn't see much else that stuck out to me. In any case I will try it to get a better opinion, thanks.

@pm215 I agree that you should know what you want your app for. I don't think I'll be using 100% of all the features of an app. What advantage does the calendar in Todoist have with respect to Google Calendar? A cool thing about Todoist is its karma feature, but I only get excited for completing goals, not tasks, so I don't think I would use it.

@gaiaslastlaugh I have also looked into the Kanban method. Have you tried it yourself, and how did it help you? I believe the Kanban approach is great for teamwork, since everyone can see what tasks are being worked on, which are still to be started and which have been completed. I've used JIRA in work and it definitely helps tracking stuff down, apart from making sure that people have something to do/are not slacking. However as a personal task organizer I'm not sure if it's that effective. If I have a task called "clean toilet", I really only need to be reminded to do it and to check it out once I'm done with it, I think putting it into "in progress" would be superficial.

@fuaburisu Well I guess we see things differently at different stages of life. Wink I've looked into Bullet Journaling. I guess I should give it a try, but to be honest having to write calendar days, rewrite tasks and no syncing to computer or portable device throws me off. Your suggestion of a second notepad with letters for searching is interesting, I'll think about it and if I come up with a raw system I'll give it a try. Yes, I also don't want to switch my computer every time I want to add a task, but that's what my smartphone is for. Also, if I go out I will always have my smartphone with me, whereas I won't necessarily have the notepad and pen with me. toggl.com however seems like a very simple software to use, I like it!

So what am I looking for in these apps? Well I would like to track my tasks, events and notes. In detail:
  • tasks: mostly things I have to take care of, don't normally require a lot of thought, just time, to complete. Examples: eat breakfast, shopping, clean toilet... Certain things like eating breakfast or brushing my teeth I do (almost) daily and are more of a habit, so it would be ridiculous to track those down. However things that happen less often like cleaning the toilet or doing my taxes I do want to track down. There's also hybrids: I know I go shopping on a certain day of the week, but instead of having to look at my fridge and shelves before going shopping and writing down what I need I would prefer to write in my app "buy milk" as a subtask of "groceries" when I run out of it. I think I will also remember to buy everything better that way (I always look if I have milk, bread and eggs left, for example, but maybe I've run out of toilet paper and I forget to check that, because it doesn't happen every week).
  • events: one-time or long-spaced occasions that I must take care of. Normally they have a date and time associated. Examples: visit the dentist, a friend's wedding, etc. For these I've been using Google Calendar mostly, since it gives me an overview of these events that I should not miss. Reminders on these are essential for me.
  • notes: things that come to my mind and I don't want to forget. Examples: pizza discount on a restaurant a certain day, a new book I want to order/read, write someone a message to see how he's doing, etc. Here lists like "books to read", "movies to watch", "people to contact" would come in very handy.
So I'm looking to tackle these things with software. I'm guessing something very handy would be to jot down stuff in my smartphone when it comes up, and then at a certain point of the day, when I'm logged into my computer, sort stuff out, assign due dates/priorities, etc. At the beginning of the day I can have a glance of what is important to do that day. So far I think I want to give Remember The Milk a try for tasks and notes, and continue using Google Calendar for events. I will still try the stuff you guys recommended just in case something is definitely better for what I want.

I know I won't find something perfect. But I'm content on something that tackles most of my wants/needs.
Edited: 2017-05-06, 4:53 am
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#9
what about OneNote?
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#10
@Matthias what does OneNote have that Evernote does not? Apart from being preinstalled in Windows 10.

Also, I just remembered that I could ask you guys this too. Do you have a simple system to balance the information load in the Internet? I sometimes have way too many tabs open in my browser, thinking "this article looks interesting, I'll read it later". Later becomes days and even weeks. So sometimes I also store those tabs in a text file... and never get to read them either/forget them. I guess that means that I should reject more of the information I come across and not waste my time with it. But I'm curious to know if some of you have a lifehack for this.
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#11
(2017-05-06, 4:48 am)KameDemaK Wrote: @gaiaslastlaugh I have also looked into the Kanban method. Have you tried it yourself, and how did it help you? I believe the Kanban approach is great for teamwork, since everyone can see what tasks are being worked on, which are still to be started and which have been completed. I've used JIRA in work and it definitely helps tracking stuff down, apart from making sure that people have something to do/are not slacking. However as a personal task organizer I'm not sure if it's that effective. If I have a task called "clean toilet", I really only need to be reminded to do it and to check it out once I'm done with it, I think putting it into "in progress" would be superficial.

But that's true in development too. I often have bugs I move straight from "Analysis" to "QA" (skipping "Dev") because they were easy to fix, or I fixed them while working on something else. 

For every "clean the toilet", there's a "patch the roof" or "resolve claim with insurance company" that takes days or even weeks. Something that seems small at first (resolving a billing discrepancy on your credit card) could balloon into something much larger (identity theft) that takes longer than you ever expected to resolve. Having such larger tasks represented reminds you that you still have work ongoing, and to limit the amount of additional load you take on until that task is resolved.

The benefit of Kanban is not just "remind me to do this", but "help me figure out the right amount of work I can reasonably accomplish in a given day".

KanbanFlow has as one of its default columns "Do today". I love that - it lets you tee up what's on your plate for the day and size up whether you're being realistic in the amount of productive work you think you're doing to get done.
Edited: 2017-05-06, 9:08 am
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#12
(2017-05-06, 8:55 am)KameDemaK Wrote: @Matthias what does OneNote have that Evernote does not? Apart from being preinstalled in Windows 10.

Also, I just remembered that I could ask you guys this too. Do you have a simple system to balance the information load in the Internet? I sometimes have way too many tabs open in my browser, thinking "this article looks interesting, I'll read it later". Later becomes days and even weeks. So sometimes I also store those tabs in a text file... and never get to read them either/forget them. I guess that means that I should reject more of the information I come across and not waste my time with it. But I'm curious to know if some of you have a lifehack for this.
Just know it is there and plays with Outlook: Don't know if it is better or worse than others, but would like to learn about it.

I also save "interesting links" and only some will be used again. Currently 93 tabs open, grouped in 7 windows.  Smile
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#13
Hello OneNote user here! Big Grin I actually prefer it to Evernote because you as the user have more control of the content you put into it. More so if you had purchased Microsoft Office (I own the 2013 edition).

I use OneNote for a pleura of things: academics (heavily), work, personal, Japanese, and just keeping notes of stuff in general that I want to be able to find with CTRL +F command.

(2017-05-06, 9:21 am)Matthias Wrote:
(2017-05-06, 8:55 am)KameDemaK Wrote: @Matthias what does OneNote have that Evernote does not? Apart from being preinstalled in Windows 10.

Also, I just remembered that I could ask you guys this too. Do you have a simple system to balance the information load in the Internet? I sometimes have way too many tabs open in my browser, thinking "this article looks interesting, I'll read it later". Later becomes days and even weeks. So sometimes I also store those tabs in a text file... and never get to read them either/forget them. I guess that means that I should reject more of the information I come across and not waste my time with it. But I'm curious to know if some of you have a lifehack for this.
Just know it is there and plays with Outlook: Don't know if it is better or worse than others, but would like to learn about it.

I also save "interesting links" and only some will be used again. Currently 93 tabs open, grouped in 7 windows.  Smile

As for the issue with "reading overload" you can use OneNote's webclipper to save pages in OneNote to read online (or offline once you've synced it) for later time. Much easier than having a txt file full of random urls.

I also use an multi platform app called Pocket to save articles or just websites in general because it syncs to multiple devices (like OneNote) and I am able to read offline when need be. I have Pocket installed in chrome, firefox and my android phone and tablet. OneNote is installed in my laptop, phone and tablet. I like having access to my information on the go!

For to do list/habit tracking, OneNote can be used for that too but I don't personally use it for that purpose. I instead use the website (and app) called Habitica.
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#14
I tried out all the note/ todo apps years ago.  I found Awesome Note to be by far the best. it has tags for notes that makes searching easy. Its like a personal database. It was only available for iOS (now Samsung devices as well). None of the android apps could come close so I ended up writing my own android app mostly duplicating Awesome Note's functionality. Its what I still use today. Evernote probably comes close although it was a buggy POS before and you have to pay a monthly fee to stores notes locally on your phone
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#15
(2017-05-06, 4:48 am)KameDemaK Wrote: @pm215 I agree that you should know what you want your app for. I don't think I'll be using 100% of all the features of an app. What advantage does the calendar in Todoist have with respect to Google Calendar?
If you want a real calendar feature then Todoist probably isn't it. It works for me though because I have very few dated items so I can just put them in a todo list category and then they're in the same place as all my other todo list items. (At the moment I have just 7 items there, to give you an idea. The simple list works better than a calendar view for me because I can see eveything at a glance rather than it being spread across months of calendar pages.)

One thing I don't have a good solution for is long-period recurring chores (things like 'test smoke alarm every six months'). I want something that surfaces those automatically as they become due but hides them otherwise so they don't distract me.
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#16
(2017-05-06, 9:06 am)gaiaslastlaugh Wrote: But that's true in development too. I often have bugs I move straight from "Analysis" to "QA" (skipping "Dev") because they were easy to fix, or I fixed them while working on something else. 

For every "clean the toilet", there's a "patch the roof" or "resolve claim with insurance company" that takes days or even weeks. Something that seems small at first (resolving a billing discrepancy on your credit card) could balloon into something much larger (identity theft) that takes longer than you ever expected to resolve. Having such larger tasks represented reminds you that you still have work ongoing, and to limit the amount of additional load you take on until that task is resolved.

The benefit of Kanban is not just "remind me to do this", but "help me figure out the right amount of work I can reasonably accomplish in a given day".

KanbanFlow has as one of its default columns "Do today". I love that - it lets you tee up what's on your plate for the day and size up whether you're being realistic in the amount of productive work you think you're doing to get done.

@gaiaslastlaugh I think the difference (at least for me) is that most of my personal tasks don't transform into bigger tasks but are solved promptly, whereas in my work tasks have to be tracked as "to do", "in progress", "testing", "done" and sometimes "clarification needed" for everyone to see. If a task jumps from "to do" to "done" immediately that's of course OK, but it doesn't seem to be the case in most of the tasks. If I encountered IRL a "patch the roof" case like the one you propose, I would probably complete "patch the roof" and then create a new task "resolve claim with insurance company". IDK, makes sense to me. I will give KanbanFlow a deeper look though.

@RawrPk Thanks for all your suggestions! I'll give OneNote and Pocket a try. Do things like Habitica or HabitRPG work for you? I believe it's a bit extreme to gamify every single aspect of your life, but I guess it can work for some people?

@juniperpansy I have no Apple nor Samsung products. Have you shared your Android app somewhere?

@pm215 OK, thanks for your insight. You bring up a good point on the long-period recurring chores. Some of the ideas I have read in the Internet suggest separating tasks with a due date from tasks with a location/context. The idea is that tasks with a due date will show up automatically when the week/day begins, so you pay no attention to them until they do show up. Tasks without a due date (it's not important when exactly you do them, only that you eventually do them) are only shown when you open the location or context. So if you're in your home and have 2 hours of free time, you can open your context @home and see what tasks you could do. Whereas at the beginning of the day/in your weekly planning you open "today" or "this week" to see the tasks that you have to complete in that time frame. I don't know if that could potentially solve your problem?
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#17
(2017-05-07, 1:11 pm)KameDemaK Wrote: @RawrPk Thanks for all your suggestions! I'll give OneNote and Pocket a try. Do things like Habitica or HabitRPG work for you? I believe it's a bit extreme to gamify every single aspect of your life, but I guess it can work for some people?

I've been using Habitica since its beta days (when it was called HabitRPG). It hasn't worked always for every aspect of my life but that is only cuz I am a lazy person and if left without time to plan, would be a total potato lol. I'm always either extremely busy or extremely lazy XD.

I like the reward/punishment system of Habitica because I like to feel I accomplished something and the act of doing the task usually isn't enough motivation for me (or will motivate me to go into "lazy mode" and abandon other tasks). It has worked greatly in my academics (e.g. homework assignments, projects), work related tasks and good habits. In terms of Japanese, while I was adding Japanese study related tasks to it I was pretty persistent until I deleted them during final exams last term. Haven't put any of those tasks back since and of course my Japanese studies ceased since then. :/ But that is my fault, not habitca.
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