Time Management Apps

01 Aug 2012

Jeff Atwood’s latest post dismisses To Do lists. While I have a lot of respect for his opinions, I feel he is wrong on this one. Any tool if not used correctly will not give the results one expects. Here fault lies with the user and not the tool.

In his post, Jeff’s argues both that lists make you upset (if you’ve not completed the items) and that they give you a false sense of security (if you check inconsequential items off). This seems like a valid point until you consider that the former is avoided by not procrastinating and the latter by prioritizing. This is similar to getting into a car thinking it’ll take us to our destination faster and then not driving it or worse, going the wrong way.

What Jeff ignores is that a To-Do list’s job is only to remind you what is left to do - it serves the same purpose as a calendar. Prioritizing is a separate activity and has its own tools and techniques (ex: Pareto analysis, Four Quadrant, etc.). Not procrastinating is just discipline.

Jeff’s point about there being only one thing (to do) that really matters (in one’s life) is valid but besides the point. Using a to-do list to better remember and manage one’s (unavoidable) tasks can help us focus on that one important task better.

A couple of years ago, when I was struggling to manage my responsibilities, I discovered the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen. I found it very interesting and useful. Like Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, this book also went beyond just tricks and techniques and addressed core issues. Afterwards, when searching for tools which would help me use techniques from the book, I discovered mGSD (License: BSD Open Source). It is an application built using a single HTML file and JavaScript.

As recommended in the book, mGSD allows you to create ‘Projects’ (which represent the activities to be done), ‘Actions’ (which are the series of steps you or others need to perform to complete the activity), ‘Contexts’ (the context in which an activity can be done - I don’t find this as useful) and ‘Ticklers’ (a system to remind you of one-off or recurring tasks). In addition to these, mGSD adds a couple of tweaks of its own (such as dependent actions which become ‘active’ only when you’ve completed the action they are dependent on). There is also an active user community which contributes enhancements and tricks and tweaks.

One drawback of the tool is that it does not yet work on mobile browsers. Chrome and IE also misbehave and so I use it only with Firefox. This one disadvantage aside, have found this tool to be everything I needed and more. Recommend it highly.

Update: 2019 - mGSD is not being maintained all that well. I now use Todoist