The mysterious of GTD tools

Being persistent is better than being clever.

The beginning

Around 2011, I cound’t remember why I installed Any.do from Chrome Web Store but it became the first ToDo app I’ve ever used. It was dead simple, just a list of tasks with date views like Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming, and Someday. Pretty much the same as what it offers today (just few seconds ago I looked at it).

One thing I could never forget about Any.do is that it had a bug in preserving the tasks order I manually crafted after every cloud sync. I gave up eventually and lived with it, and thought that, “Fine, it is just a list of things I’m gonna to, doesn’t matter which comes first, as long as they’re been done, I’m happy”.

OmniFocus

About two years later, I wanted to spend a bit more time on exploring what’s more powerful things I could do with my ToDo App, since it is so critical part of my daily workflow. Especially, using the tool should make me look like a professional 😁… OmniFocus was the complex and pricy one I picked, bought for both macOS and iOS versions (not quite cheap as a student).

It was so complex and sophisticated that I certainly felt I did not need most of the features. It had dates, deadline, projects, contexts, duration, and a lot more. I’d say the set of features and the quality of the software defnitely deserves the price it is charging for.

But as an student who literally just did coding and sporadically handing some home assignments, it was an overkill.

Todoist

While OmniFocus was an overkill, it did the work for me, but the major blocker I hit with OmniFocus was it was Apple-device only (and still is). Near the end of 2016, I bought a Google Pixel phone (because I really like the design) and this was the time I need a cross-platform solution (at least for macOS and Android) to replace OmniFocus.

Todoist was the winner. It even offered web, Windows and Linux versions, as a matter of fact.

One paricular feature I was missing OmniFocus from Todoist was the task deadline, but other than that, it was good enough for me. So the strongest memory about Todoist was that I developed a technique or convention to use [MM/DD] as the prefix for tasks that have a deadline, which I still use it today with TickTick.

Things

Some time around 2018, Things 3 was released and I had stopped using Android after I got a Product Red iPhone 8, which meant I was fully back to the Apple ecosystem again, and I loved how Things 3 was designed, it looked great!

One surpise gift I got was Things 3 had task deadline 🎉

Beyond Things 3’s beautifully designed UI, the UX was somewhat confusing from time to time, just to name a few:

  • The experience of making recurring tasks felt like it wasn’t finished.
  • Tags management felt like a outsourced project compared to other parts of the product.
  • No explicit syncing trigger, which frustrated me while I spent my summer time in China, when I had to use VPN at all time and often came with long network latency.
  • Not possible to manually adjust the next date for recurring tasks if I planned to complete some eaiser, and had to go thorugh re-creating the recurring task. Damn it!
  • No Markdown support.
    • Even it claims to support Markdown today, it is a joke to me after I tried because it continues showing the raw text (i.e. not WYSIWYG).

TickTick

Then, the time fast forward to mid-2021, I got another Android phone I was staring at for months, the OnePlus 9 Pro 5G. Hehe, same shit again, I need a cross-platform solution to replace Things 3.

There is something important I realized at this point, my workflow was mostly shaped by how the ToDo app was designed, not by looking for the ToDo app that fits my ideal workflow. I beleive this is a critical lesson I got for choosing GTD tools over the years and has been my very first advice I give when I introduce the concept of GTD to others.

I was putting the cart before the horse, and this is the exact moment I should be thinking harder.

I evaluated a bunch of options, including Microsoft ToDo, Taskade, Trello, and others I couldn’t even remember their names. Microsoft ToDo was too minimal, more like a Any.do alternative to me, but it is beautiful. I do however recommend new GTD users to try out Microsoft ToDo to get start with planning and mamanging tasks. Taskade and Trello on the other hand, are entirely focused the team collobortion not optimized for personal use cases.

My friend recommended TickTick to me, similar to Todoist, it is truly cross-platform and provide client access from web, Linux, Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. It offers task priorities, dates, projects, tags, filters, recurring tasks, pinned tasks, WYSIWYG Markdown, explicit syncing trigger 🙌

But not task deadline 😞 That’s fine, I’ll just use my old trick.

TickTick has been working great for me after about a year of use, and I have created hundreds of tasks (if not thousands) and dozens of projects, lists, tags.

Since I’m still using this tool, there are things I love and I hate about it.

Things I love about TickTick:

  • Pinned tasks.
    • It solves the problem of tasks that are not high priority but I need to pay attention until it’s done or planned later, e.g. feeding medicine to my cat (I needed to follow a schedule because she was too sick and taking many medicines at the same time, and just can’t take all the medicines in one go).
  • Recurring tasks.
    • Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, on certain days of the month, first or last weeked/Sunday/Monday, any day? No problem 🙂
    • Daily recurring tasks are also able to skip weekend! This is prefect for some daily tasks I’ve set for work.
    • Any recurring task can be rearranged for the next date without affecting its recurring schedule.
  • Filters.
    • Today + not work, Today + work only. You get it.

Things I hate about TickTick:

  • A common problem for cross-platform products is that its UI is often not so great and slick.
  • Sometimes the action of completing tasks were reverted for no reason.
  • If I act on a task fast enough upon app launching, and the list of tasks happens to change, it ended up not acting on the very task I was initially acted on.

The end

The histoty repeats, I switched back to iOS when the iPhone 13 was released. I am now re-evaluating OmniFocus because some features weren’t making sense (e.g. contexts) when I was a student start to become attractive to me as lots, lots, lots of things have changed to my life.

We’ll see what happens next.

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