As a Product Manager, I'm always working with multiple products, in various different phases of the development / product lifecycle. Needless to say there are always things to be done. In order to manage the workload - I started by making lists. Old fashioned, paper and pencil lists. As you can imagine - soon i had 15 lists in various different states of completion - scribbles and paper all over the place, and me without a clue about where I stood in the middle of all my work.
Thats about when I started my search - I knew that there were loads of to-do list software out there, in fact I had used quite a few - but they all seemed way too simple for the type of load I was looking to put on them. So I traversed a level above the free software that was out there - and there began my obsessive journey in the hunt for the most productivity boosting to-do list software out there. I was in dire need of it thats for sure.
The three to-do lists software that you find below are all at the top end of the financial scale (between 50 - 80 USD). While a bit pricey - when your looking for the feature set I had in mind - and the effort these developers must have put into these products, personally I feel theres value for money to be found in any one of them.
Here it should be noted that these applications are all Mac specific.
In my search for the perfect to-do list - OmniFocus came up by far at the top of the Google Results pile. At almost 80 USD, its definately the priciest out of the list. With a gorgeously clean UI - I used this software for almost three months. Adhering specifically and almost religiously to the GTD Methodology, the software supports multiple lists, subtask classification, iCal synchronization, automatic daily backups, automatic addition of tasks from Mail and a host others. This host of features used to be the competitive advantage that OmniFocus maintained over other players - but now what used to be an impressive feature list has become standard in the high end to-do list field. From a Usability perspective, the two major faults I can specifically place is how cumborsome grabbing a task with your mouse and moving it around is, and how for any detailed task information I have to open a separate "Inspector Window". Correction: By going to View -> Columns the program can be setup so that more detailed information can be provided during task entry.
Pros: Stability, automatic daily backups, impressive feature list, clean UI, well established so you know you wont lose support in the future.
Cons: Not particularly flexible, having to open a separate window for detailed task input, the lack of tag support, pricey and no free trial. Correction: Lack of tag support (though workarounds to this exist, at this price point I believe tags should be standard), cannot drag emails into OmniFocus to convert them to tasks.
Conclusion: Overall a great software if your a religious GTD enthusiast - if not then your best looking somewhere else for a software with a little more flexibility.
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Get Things Now
Things has been all the rave these days in the productivity circles - so I thought I had to give it a look. My first impression was wow this is a really nice software! With support for tags and an interface that reacted slickly to keyboard input, with a specific on the task location for due date - something that was sorely missed in OmniFocus. My happiness was short lived though. To accurately input a task you need to fill in four lines of information (To Do, Tags, Notes, Due Date). While only the first field is absolutely required - such a large task input field meant that viewing tasks involved minimizing and maximizing individual tasks - which for someone with over 100 concurrent tasks at any time was just a lot of clicks. While iv read lots of people talking about how they love the design - personally i feel there is just too much happening in any individual window for the actual to do items to call out to me. Things might be a nice software, but it definitely wasn't for me.
Pros: Impressive feature set, powerful tagging abilities, a good focus on deadlines, free trial, not too tied to GTD, and what some would say a pretty UI.
Cons: Pretty UI gets in the way of readability, multiple clicks required to get task details.
*Conclusion: *An amazing software with some incredible potential - unfortunately a few usability decisions on the side of the developers make it cumbersome to use. Design didn't work for me but the community appears to like it.
The Hit List $69.95
The Hit List is definitely my personal favorite out of the three. Not even yet out of beta (the current version is 0.9.3.4) and definitely the newest player on the scene - the software already has an impressive feature set and it seems that the author is just working out some kinks - though I myself have yet to experience any. Providing about the same set of input fields as Things (and much more then OmniFocus) for each task - The Hit List utilizes a simple keyboard input scheme in order to reduce the amount of mouse clicks involved in entering a task. Now im not particularly a power keyboard user - but one read of the instructions and entering tasks was a breeze. The UI lies somewhere between the over-embellished Things and the incredibly simplistic OmniFocus providing enough of graphics to be impressive but keeping the information clear. Personally it looks like the author took the best of OmniFocus and Things and built a software of their own. While the GTD methodology can be easily applied using The hit List, its more then flexible enough to use whatever system works best for you.
Pros: Clean yet well designed UI, incredibly intuitive keyboard shortcuts, drag email to create tasks, decently priced, flexible enough to use GTD or whatever system works best for you.
Cons: The beta tag might scare off some users till the software is better established, (though once again, I have yet to face any), the lack of creating concurrent tasks has put off a few but is not a feature that I use, no iPhone app yet but the developer has already indicated that its on its way. Addition: License only covers up until v 2.0
Conclusion: The intuitive keyboard shortcuts (my particular favorite - using the w s a d buttons to move tasks around) and the flexibility of the software to allow you to use your OWN system to get things done - makes this software the best of all the premium To-Do List softwares out there. This new comer has good reason to make the established players worry about there position.
And the Winners Are:
The Hit List: Came out as my personal favorite though i have to say from a pure software perspective it has no particular competitive advantage at the moment. I think the design of the software, plus the complete keyboard control are what won me over.
OmniFocus: Definitely my task manager of choice until i found The Hit List - and still both running neck to neck. Definitely more stable then The Hist List (still in beta), and for those of you who like minimalist design - OmniFocus has one of the best. Would have preferred better keyboard shortcuts and a way to optimize task entry. If that could be done this could easily be popped up to number one.
Things: Honestly - i couldn't figure out what all the craze over things was about. The design was too noisy with too much happening, task entry required WAY too many keyboard strokes / mouse clicks, complete task information could not be viewed without expanding it, etc. While OmniFocus and The Hit List are running neck to neck - in my opinion while Things has gone in a different direction that may be preferred by some - Things immediately put me off and in my opinion is way behind the rest.