GTD app review: ThinkingRock, Tracks, Google Notebook, Toodledo, Checkvist

I have been through several apps for Getting Things Done (excellent Google Talks presentation video). ThinkingRock, Tracks, Google Notebook, Toodledo, Checkvist each had their times during the last five to six years. And, perhaps typical for a usability practitioner, I tend to have strong opinions about their user interfaces.

ThinkingRock home screen – thanks Dragos Roua for the screenshot.

ThinkingRock processing UI – thanks Dragos Roua for the screenshot.

ThinkingRock was great when I was just learning the GTD workflow because it made each decision so explicit in the UI. I didn’t have to refer to a book or a website every time I had a hiccup in how to do a thing or another in the system, since the tool guided the work. However, in the end its UI was ugly, clumsy and pretty complicated. It is very orthodox about GTD as a method, so much so that many times I found it very hard to fit my workflow in.

Then I moved to Tracks, which had a structure less strictly tied to GTD. A Ruby on Rails app, it was online but did not offer much in terms of AJAX-like fluidity – you had to wait between pages too often, and too often the relevant piece of info to edit was on *the other* page, making the jumping around slow and painful.

Next up was Toodledo. Toodledo was quicker to use than Tracks, but still followed the GTD paradigm pretty closely. The upside with Toodledo was that it supported mapping goals to tasks, so theoretically you could see the connections between your 50,000ft life goals and your everyday mundane work. Except you could really not, since there as I’m writing this there is no proper visualization of the mapping such that moving from bird’s eye view to the everyday could be made concrete. Also, you could not map goals to projects (an upcoming feature apparently), which would make more sense – you take up projects because they align with your goals.

Also, they have a licensing policy that bugs me – when you complete a task, it gets deleted. Even if you pay for a subscription, you lose completed tasks at latest after two years (even then it’s pretty hidden in the UI). Sure, you probably won’t need the data by then – I just don’t like anyone destroying any of my data without my consent. Let’s just say I am neurotic that way.

Sometime then I also took up Google Notebook as my input and processing tool. It was great for organizing thoughts, big or small, for then moving actionable items to the actual GTD app. Its development had stopped earlier but they seemed committed to maintaining it so I used it – until they didn’t anymore. Then in 2011, it just happened that Google announced they are shutting down Notebook on a short notice. To boot, the automatic conversion to Google Docs (now Drive) was pretty broken.

Forced to leave Google Notebook, I finally decided to move my inbox and processing to Checkvist. I have now been almost a year on it, and man do I love it. And after having gotten used to the fact that it shows no explicit GTD structure at all (if you don’t count, well, lists), I decided lately to move all of my GTD stuff to Checkvist. For the first time, I have all my stuff accessible in a single tool! (Also, they have completed some of my feature requests 🙂

Turns out, hierarchical lists, tags and due dates are quite sufficient structure for running GTD. I just have lists for inbox, goals, someday/maybe and runway. The last two mostly house all the tasks with tags (GTD contexts) and with due dates. Projects live under a specific list within inbox for me, making it easier to move stuff in it. As the structure is very flexible, I can make Checkvist accommodate practically any workflow. Also, it is keyboard based, which makes it wicked fast, so processing my inbox has never been this snappy. I sometimes miss being able to use the mouse for some tasks though.

I understand my development as a rather typical novice to expert development in learning – the more experienced you become, the less supporting structure you need. Instead, you start expecting efficiency and flexibility to just get the mundane things over with quickly.

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