Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tech Column: Going Paperless, Part 4, the Task List

by Bill Adler
Sometimes the simplest things are are the most useful. When it comes to going paperless, or at least being able to see over the pile of papers that doubles as a window shade, you have no better friend than the task list.

The task list is easy and effective, because that's all it is: a simple list. Because you can put anything you want to into your task list, it can be as effective in reducing your paper burden as having a hungry fireplace nearby.

Do you need to write down a phone number? Put it in your task list. There's no rule that says something has to be a traditional task with a starting and ending point in order to be on a task list. (Besides, because you're going to eventually do something with that phone number, it is a task.) Did you just see an ad on the Internet for shoes you must have? Copy and paste that URL into your task list. Did you remember something you wanted to tell your roommate when you got home? That's right for your task list, too.

I'm not ashamed to say that I often fire up my task list to add a note, rather than using my #1 favorite program Evernote. Why? It's faster.

Where to put your task list? A lot of people still use and like Microsoft Outlook's tasks, and that's perfectly fine. I like Google Tasks, which offers a number of features: 
  • It's drop dead simple
  • Tasks can be dragged onto your Google calendar, so if a task is due on a particular day, you'll see that task on your calendar, too
  • Gtasks by Google syncs with all your mobile devices
  • You can organize tasks into multiple lists
  • You can toggle between completed and uncompleted tasks.
  • Sub-tasks can be indented and reordered by dragging
  • Email can be converted to tasks
  • Notes can be added to tasks

 Google Tasks is not pretty. Google Tasks doesn't let you create recurring tasks, and you can't have a task from a list that's not your main list appear on your calendar. Still, these are minor shortcomings, and if you're a heavy Gmail or Google calendar user, Gtasks is for you. On my iPhone I use an app called gTasks HD (not by Google), http://bit.ly/WNfJPU , to sync with Google Tasks. gTasks lets you set audible reminders on your iPhone.

There are a lot of other websites and apps that give you access to your task list on your PC or mobile device. One of the oldest, and most feature-rich services is Remember the Milk, www.rememberthemilk.com, which will even sync with Microsoft Outlook.

Wunderlist, www.wunderlist.com, is a beautiful to-do service for iPhone, Android and web, Windows and Mac. In addition to being a strikingly stunning to-do app/service/program, Wunderlist can notify you of tasks when they're due. It looks so good you don't mind seeing the 20 things you need to have finished by 5pm.

Any.do, www.anydo.com, for Chrome, Android, iOS and (coming soon), the web, is as slick as it is easy to use.

Astrid, www.astrid.com, and Toodledo, www.toodledo.com, are also powerful task services that give you many ways to organize and be notified about your tasks.

Many of these task list services and apps let you share tasks with other people, a feature that I've never used. I generally don't want to share tasks with others. I either want them to do it all, in which case I'll send an email rather than creating a task, or I don't want anyone to know what's on my task list, as in my list of things to pick up at the unhappy tummy section of the pharmacy.

I haven't detailed the features of these various task list apps and services, because whether or not a task list suits you is something you can't tell from a list of features alone. And they all perform the same core function of keeping you from forgetting to renew your driver's license and pack an umbrella for Seattle. But whichever you choose, a task list service, especially one that syncs with  smartphone app, can go a long way toward freeing you from paper.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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