Task Management Systems

In the preface to Starmus, a collection of lectures given by famous astronomers and physicists, Stephen Hawking warns that the Higgs boson (aka the "God Particle") could destroy the universe by triggering "catastrophic vacuum decay".

I have no idea what that is, but I currently live in the universe and that sounds bad.

One more reason to get organized and get stuff done!

Lots of experiments, lots of failures

This weekend, I looked back through my file archives and discovered that I've experimented with no less than 12 different systems for keeping track of and prioritizing tasks.  They range from incredibly simple lists in text files to complex web apps, spreadsheets, calendars, email scripts, and even an SMS-based system.

The only thing in common?  I'm not using any of them now, so they've all failed.

I have dreams of whipping up a custom Task Management System (TMS) by gutting and restructuring a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) like SuiteCRM, or even by learning some database stuff and building from scratch.  But that's likely to be a huge project, and I have too many huge projects ongoing right now... which is really the source of the problem.

In the short term, I need something that works at least better than nothing.

What do you use?

Before I get into the details of what I've used and what my requirements are...

I will admit that I haven't done my homework on the latest and greatest task apps, but I wanted to ask for recommendations first.  So far, everyone I've talked to uses text files or no system at all.

 So, what do you currently use?  What works well for you, and what needs improvement?  What else have you tried, and what do you want to try?

The information I collect here will be aggregated on the Task Management System wiki page.

(Didn't know this site had a wiki?  Let's just say that I've been doing a lot of content management experiments over the last couple months!)

TMS Requirements

Sifting through the failures, I've formulated the following requirements:
  1. It must be accessible from anywhere

    My earliest systems were giant text files, collections of text files, and eventually spreadsheets.  I could only access them from my home computer or device without necessitating a bunch of annoying file transfers.

    File synchronization tools like Google Drive and Dropbox, and eventually version control software like Git, has made it a lot easier to access any filetype from anywhere.  These tools weren't nearly so ubiquitous in 2004, so at that time I migrated to webmail (and eventually, web calendar) apps.

    Mobile- or OS-specific apps aren't an option.  Ideally, the system would live inside a browser and I could access it at, say, tasks.brandoncurtis.com.
  2. It must allow rapid adding, editing, and removing of tasks

    Of the various task web apps that I've used, many fail because it takes way too many clicks to add or edit a task.  Spreadsheet-based systems are nice because this can be accomplished with one click and some typing.  If I were to adapt a CRM into a TMS, this would be a primary concern—I like the power of a CRM, but I don't want to compromise on ease-of-use.
  3. It must allow straightforward attachment of files and links

    For a while, I used the Tasks tool built into Gmail and Google Calendar.  This system makes it relatively straightforward to attach an email to a task, but there is no easy way to attach links and no Google Drive integration for files (and the interface is incredibly clunky).  This is sad, because I think Google could make a great system that integrates Mail, Calendar, and Drive for task management... but I don't have time to wait for them to build this thing.  I could potentially build something with Google Apps Script...
  4. It must discern between 'priority' and 'urgency'

    All calendar-based systems have failed because many tasks don't HAVE a calendar due date, and for most others a calendar due date isn't sufficient for prioritization.  The ideal system needs to keep track of calendar due dates (and allow sorting and display by date), but also needs to have a way to indicate (and sort, and display by) priority.
  5. It must be quickly and easily reconfigurable

    Most task management apps don't allow reconfiguration at all.  Is a particular feature extraneous to you?  Sorry, no way to turn features on or off.

    This is one of the reasons that most of my systems have been spreadsheets: it's trivial to add an extra column, without disrupting the data already present in the sheet.  If I knew enough to work seriously with databases...

Going forward

That's what I have so far!  Whatever I decide on, I'll be sure to write more about it here.

Leave a comment and let me know what you use!

(Don't use anything?  That's important information too!)

I'll check out your recommendations and update the Task Management System wiki page.