December 22, 2013

a task manager for Google calendar

In the ever out-of-reach goal of an organized life, two things that I can't live without is my Google calendar and some kind of tasks manager. There are tons of tasks apps out there and tons of systems (e.g. GTD, notecards, regular stickies, etc.). But in seriously disorganized fashion, I had kinda of downloaded tons of apps to try out without really thinking through my needs. So the other night, I got down to it and tried to think through how I actually use my calendar and what I needed/wanted in a tasks app.

First, I happen to use Google calendar all the time for practically everything. But using a separate task manager means that you end up looking at two different apps to see if everything is done. To solve this problem, some people use a dedicated Google calendar as the their tasks manager. However, I found that my mind doesn't work best this way. For one thing, I'm a list person; I need and prefer to make lists to plan out projects. Besides, I love to check things off. So back to the original question of how to merge a list of tasks with my Google calendar where all my appointments were kept? In other words, I realized that I wanted to be able to lay out a task list and have them show up in connection with my scheduled events so that a quick glance at my calendar would tell me how my day was planned out- meet so-and-so at 11am (Google calendar event), pick up prescription, aspirin, birthday card at 12pm (task list), appointment with so-and-so at 1:30pm- you see where I'm going with this. So integration with Google calendar was on the list. I also needed a few other features; since I have an iPad, Android phone, and work in Windows, I needed a system that would sync across platforms. Finally, the tasks manager must be able to handle recurring tasks- a no-brainer for any task list. So to sum up, I was looking for the following features in a task app:

  • integration with Google calendar
  • cross-platform
  • recurring due dates
  • subtasks (ideal, but not absolutely necessary, but that's how my mind prefers to work)
I looked closely at the many apps I had tried and started deleting apps, narrowing this review to about six of the apps that were cross-platform and might do what I wanted.
1) Toodledo
2) GQueues
3) RTM
4) Wunderlist
5) Producteev
6) Google Tasks

Before I actually do the reviews, let me point out that the winner was GQueues. The follow up was Toodledo (the system I've been using!). In third place was RTM. The other three had pros and cons, but lacked enough of the features I needed for me to (sometimes very tearfully) delete them.

Toodledo Let me begin with the runner up- Toodledo since it's my current system. By in large, I like it a lot. A pro version (Silver level which I pay for) costs $14.95/yr and allows for subtasks. It integrates with Google calendar via iCal. It has it's own iPad app and many 3rd party app integration. Recurring tasks are standard. Given that my current system seems to meet all my requirements, why embark on a search for a new task app? The reason is the iCal sync. So why is iCal problematic? iCal sync means that it only syncs once every twenty for hours. What that means is that changes made in the task manager don't show up in my Google calendar for some time. For example, I woke up this morning and decided to change the due date and time for a particular task so I changed it in Toodledo. But since the sync had already taken place, the change wasn't reflected in my Google calendar (and probably won't be until tomorrow morning). That isn't that big a deal if you plan out all your tasks well in advance, but if you, like me, sometimes add tasks in the morning for that day, your Google calendar will be off. Finally, iCal sync is a one-way sync and you can't actually modify a task on the calendar. Toodledo does allow you to specify a due time that will then show up in the appropriate time on your calendar, but iCal sync is really not ideal (although pretty standard as you'll see from the reviews below). For these reasons, I wondered if there was an app that would allow me to make real time changes that synced immediately.

Another con for Toodledo is that it's really not very pretty as you can see for this image:
This criticism is more than just superficial, it means that it can take a little getting use to. In many ways, it looks like a spreadsheet which means you can sort by almost any field. You can also rearrange or hide columns. In other word, it's really one of the most powerful and flexible tasks managers out there, but as I said, it can take a little getting use to.

Finally, I have to admit that although Toodledo has it's own iPad app, I prefer a 3rd party app and you have to use 3rd party apps for Android. My favorite app for Android is DGT GTD and it works perfectly. On iPad, I use 2Do which also has an Android app, but I prefer DGT GTD because it's free and quite powerful.

GQueues Many of the shortcomings of Toodledo seems to be addressed in GQueues. I looked at GQueues a long time ago and wasn't impressed enough to use it. But now, I have to admit I think it's the perfect app for my needs. You'll have to pay $25/yr for a pro account for integration with Google calendar, but this integration is full, real-time sync. GQueues creates a new Google calendar called GQueues so any changes are immediately visible. Moreover, since it's essentially a Google calendar, you can edit the task in the calendar and changes should sync to GQueues (although I did run into a few problems with this). Moreover, subtasks don't show up in the Google calendar.
GQueues also has an iPad app and Android app. Both are quite nice and also free! GQueues handles recurring tasks easily and even has subtasks! That's a lot for $25/yr app. They also have a 2-week trial. The only reason I haven't moved entirely to GQueues is because my Toodledo pro subscription was just renewed and I'm having a hard time saying goodbye to something I've used for so long (did I mention that Toodledo support is top-notch?). But it's looking more and more like, GQueues will likely be my new task manager in the coming year. 

The only real con I've seen is that the Android widgets aren't the greatest and maneuvering the Android and iPad apps is actually kinda clumsy. For example, when I click a task that contains subtasks in DGT GTD, I immediately see the subtasks. By contrast, the GQueues app takes a few more clicks to see the same. Here's an image of the GQueues app on iPad.

RTM Now that the winner and runner-up have been reviewed, let's move onto the other apps. After these two apps, RTM probably comes closest in features and power. I have to admit that I didn't really do a real test of the app, but it does seem to have many of my major requirements in a tasks app.
The reason RTM wasn't the wonder wasn't the winner was that it lacked subtasks. Here's a great review comparing RTM and Toodledo. The other reason I didn't fall in love with RTM is really a personal preference, I prefer to see my lists on the side rather than as tabs. Here's an image of RTM fro the Dot Connector blog:
I should point out that a pro version of RTM costs $25/year and gives you many features.

The remaining three, Wunderlist, Producteev, and Google Tasks, are missing enough features that I can't really recommend them as dedicated task managers.

Wunderlist Let's begin with Wunderlist. It's easily one of the most beautiful apps. It's dead simple to make lists, add tasks, rearrange tasks, set up recurring tasks, add subtasks, notes, etc. 

It's also cross-platform (iPad, Android, web) and between the beauty of the app and just how well it works across platforms made me really sad to have to delete it. The deal breaker for me was the lack of integration with any kind of calendar. There's NO integration at all; apparently, it's in the works, but there is no timeframe. Lastly, the app doesn't seem to support due times; it supports due dates, but you can't specify a time when the task is due.

Producteev The next app I looked at was Producteev. When Producteev first came out, I tried it for awhile and loved it. But even back then, there were some limitations- lack of an overview across tasks lists meant that I sometimes forgot tasks were due. I tried it again for this review and there are still enough problems to make it my least favorite app. One positive is that they have added the overview feature and now you can see upcoming tasks across all task lists (again, so thing I see as a no-brainer). But they took away Google calendar integration and apparently don't plan to bring it back anytime soon! In fact, they don't support any external calendar integration! Add to that, the fact that 1) they still don't have an iPad app and 2) they are less than straightforward about missing features (took me quite a bit of searching to finally locate the information about lack of Google calendar support), and I deleted Producteev almost as soon as I installed it.

Google Tasks The last app I looked at was Google Tasks- Google's own task app. It offers multiple lists and due dates and even recurring tasks now (it's come a long way since it first began), but in so many ways, it's still so basic that I really don't find it useful for a full-time task manager.
  • for example, if you add a due date, it'll show up on Google calendar as an all day event- so no way to specify a time to fit into your calendar schedule
  • worst, there is no overview to see all tasks across all task lists- only the tasks from one list at a time show up- this lack just seems so stupid…
  • finally, these tasks also only appear on the web version of your calendar so they won't appear on your calendar either on the iPad or Android! However, there are iPad and Android apps out there that you could use as dedicated tasks managers to sync with Google Tasks.

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