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 workflow because it made each decision so explicit in the UI. I didn’t have to refer to a GTD book or a website every time I had a hiccup in how to do a thing or another in GTD, 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.

Somewhere there 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.

5 Comments

Dan August 5, 2012

For implementing GTD you can use this this application:

http://www.Gtdagenda.com

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

Olli Savolainen (pilpi.net) August 5, 2012

Dan, if you’re going to advertise here I would at least expect you to tell me how your app relates to those presented above? :)

How quick is it, does it support keyboard usage? Is it for beginners who want support with the GTD structures or is it more for advanced users who might require customized workflows?

GTDagenda-has-put-me-off May 11, 2013

Thanks for a great article, and I am familiar with tracks and installed ThinkingRock but quickly gave up on it .. I also looked Chandler project in the past and kinda liked it but development on it has not progressed in a good few years now ..

It was your article that actually alerted me to checkvist, and I like the sound of it and decided to compare it with workflowy which has similar feature set ..

Since yesterday, I have been researching articles that will help me select online/cloud based apps for productivity .. Things eventually whittled down to:

GTDagenda V Toodledo (general GTD)
workflowy V checkvist (quick outlining)

But, GTDagenda spammers have made up my mind on the first count because every article I have searched from google talking about GTD or toodledo always has a GTDspammer comment like this article has attracted.

I will never want anything to do with a company with such questionable attitudes to promoting their products or services. Plus their interface sucks. The only reason I considered it was down to the evernote integration, but I have now seen articles online showing that their support is terrible and the evernote interface is often broken .. Hardly surprising considering their style of spam-marketing ..

Carlos Sicilia August 29, 2016

Olli. Thanks for your time and for sharing your GTD Holy Grail Quest, similar to the one for everyone of us. I did went thru the Thinking Rock phase exactly like you. But, in the end, I would really like you to give Workflowy a BIG and HUGE try. CheckVist is OK. Really. BUT it stills looks and feels like software. Workflowy is like mind reading. Clean, minimalist, perfect. And, with the same structural product you can handle from your shopping list to the whole Ford Motor Company. Keep your updating moving. Don’t stop at CheckVist. Believe me. Workflowy is another GTD thing. Sorry. Is ANOTHER THING. Period. Best regards from Caracas Venezuela.

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