Outlook Tasks v. Remember the Milk v. ToodleDo

I’ve always have a million things I want to do, but not the discipline for getting things done.  I tend to get distracted by reading, surfing the web, watching television or listening to music.  All my life I’ve made to-do lists on note cards, backs of envelopes, post-it notes, Moleskine notebooks and even emails.  I’ll make up a good list of things to accomplish and then do a couple items and then loose the list and not think about it.

Taking the time to concentrate on what I want to do is good, but following through is hard.

Keeping a to-do list is like trying to make New Year’s resolutions every day, and that ain’t natural.  On the other hand, I do have a lot of tasks I want to get done.  On most days I struggle to remember my to-do list in my head.  I go to sleep at night thinking about things do to and I tell myself to try and remember just two things.  Some days I do and some days I don’t.  Like last night, I thought to myself I should take an old bottle of pills for my back to work so I’d have some there.  I actually remembered to do that.  I was also going to post a comment on Amazon about some t-shirts I bought that promised generous length but warn others that the extra length disappeared after one washing.  I forgot that one.

At work I started putting my work to-dos in Outlook Tasks.  I’ve tried that before but would forget they were there.  But this time I set a reminder date and they pop up like calendar reminders.  That was a key lesson – using reminders.  One cool thing I discovered about Outlook was the ability to organize tasks into folders, so I can separate various work and home to-dos into separate groups.

The first thing I do in the morning, well after taking a pee and giving the cats some crunchies, is to read my email.  I’ve tried emailing to-do lists, but they get pushed down by all the other email.  Since I’m always in Outlook I figured I should try to make use of its built in to-do list Tasks feature.  Outlook is always running in the background at home or work, but I never developed the addiction to Tasks.

Tasks don’t show up as part my my Exchange client on my iPad touch.  That means I don’t see my To Do lists away from the computer.  I do carry my iPod touch with me everywhere because I’m addicted to listening to audio books and playing Words With Friends.  I needed a To Do App that would be my vital third reason to carry the iPod touch. 

So I started looking for something more.  What I wanted was something that would work on every computer and on my iPod touch, or any future smart phone I might buy.  It turns out there’s lots of companies selling To Do List software that meets my requirements.  Along the way I encountered the Getting Things Done philosophy.  Here’s a pretty extensive list of To Do programs that use the GTD concepts.  Here’s another site I found, 50+ Online To Do List Managers.

43 Folders even has a section on “Getting started with ‘Getting Things Done’” that convinced me to order the David Allen book, which is more complicated than just keeping lists.  But I still needed a program for lists.  I looked at many.  I had heard of Remember the Milk which I signed up for the free account.  It looked slick and promised to work with all kinds of other programs and mobile devices, but I just didn’t find the online interface intuitive. 

I also signed up for the free account at Toodledo.  The program is far less slick but I could immediately work it, and it’s interface reminded me of LibraryThing, another online program I love.  I played with the free version Toodledo for awhile, bought the $2.99 App for my iPod touch, and then paid for the Pro version ($14.95/year).  It’s nice to study my To Do list when I’m away from my desks at home and work, plus the more I used Toodledo the more I liked it.  I’m already getting more things done.  Now I need to study the Getting Things Done philosophy and integrate it into my life.

I’m learning things like putting deadlines on my To Do items.  I never did that before, but once I started the impulse to get items off my list increased.  Toodledo allows me to send emails to the program and it will automatically add items to my list of things to do.  This is convenient because I have email open all day long.  The key to using To Do lists is to look at them frequently and to add items as soon as you think of them. 

I’m combining this endeavor with a concurrent task of getting rid of as much stuff as I can.  We’re getting rid of furniture, old clothes, sentimental junk, books, DVDs, etc.  I’m converting a four drawer file cabinet to three small plastic folder boxes which I’ll keep in a closet I’ve cleaned out.

I don’t know yet if Toodledo is perfect for me.  Outlook Tasks has some great integrated features with its calendar and email functions, and even Remember the Milk has many features to integrate with other apps.  What I’m learning is one program can’t stand alone.  If a new version of the Exchange client for iOS shows up offering Tasks I could go back to Outlook – but I actually like the simple interface of Doodledo over Outlook Tasks interface.

I wished I would get up very early, bathe, do yoga and then light some incense like a monk, and meditate on my To Do lists for twenty minutes.  I need to develop my priorities and learn to understand the differences between tasks, goals and ambitions.

JWH – 3/2/11

7 thoughts on “Outlook Tasks v. Remember the Milk v. ToodleDo”

  1. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw the post title in the subject line of my email. Thought you might be going all Dr. Seuss on us!

    Those first two paragraphs are like a window into my soul. You could have them sewn onto a pillow and they would be the perfect daily reminder of where my own life plans have stalled. Very well put, James. Cut right to the quick. I have done and still do all of those things. Follow through is not my strong suit.

    However, when it comes to tasks with deadlines I am USUALLY more apt to get things done, so I think that is a good idea. I’m more faithful to work deadlines than I am personal ones, but both tend to help me get over that follow through hump in one way or the other.

    We are working on a new computer system at work that is going to have a function where when we log on our task on our own personal desktop will be the first thing that pops up. there will be built in reminders, etc. and I’m really looking forward to that. For my own personal stuff I need to check out the Toodledo and Getting Things Done stuff.

    Great, timely and (for me) very meaningful post.

    1. Carl I think a lot of people struggle with being organized. Many of these To Do programs claimed to have millions of users. 43 Folders said their post about Getting Things Done was one of their most popular pieces.

      1. I agree. And beyond organization is the other part you touched on which is followed through. I’m great at getting this organized, orderly, etc. But once that is done I find myself getting distracted, moving on to other things, etc. rather than actually building off that organization and actually accomplishing forward movement with goals, etc.

  2. I would recommend checking out http://www.Gtdagenda.com for an online task manager.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  3. Great post. I think you’ve identified a fairly common dilemma. I started out with a windows phone and Outlook and the seamless sync between the calendars, contacts and tasks was nice and convenient. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something I thought about when I went to the Android. What a wake-up call! It’s like putting 3 kids in a sandbox letting them try to play nice together … doesn’t work very well.

    So, Astrid was the first task manager I tried and I discovered that I could trigger reminders by linking it to my phone calendar … but it didn’t sync with my Outlook (and I wasn’t about to try Google). Then I tried Remember the Milk but, for me, there was some functionality missing. Then I ran across MyPhoneExplorer which allowed me to sync my calendar and contacts with Outlook but no tasks. However, I was getting closer. Then I found ToodleDo and Got To Do. So far, this is the best scenario I’ve found but I’m still having limited success because of the differences in priorities, status, tags etc. There is one big thing that I’m learning though. GTD will work for me if I can only remember to apply the KISS principle.

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