Task Management via The Hit List

Viticci put it well: “There’s only one thing I like more than switching todo apps: writing about it.” My 2Do review is much shorter than his, but I resonate with his sentiment.

That might explain why today I give you a review of another worthy task management app: The Hit List.

 

What I Like About The Hit List

 

THL for iPhone icon 512@2xThe Hit List is much more robust than Apple’s native Reminders app. Its proprietary Sync Service is fast, and keeps your tasks and lists updated across Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Watch (depending on what you have).

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the extensive system of one-stroke keyboard shortcuts on the Mac app. You can do just about anything without having to move your hand to the mouse. And The Hit List (hereafter THL) comes with a nice built-in tutorial to get you going:

 

Learn THL
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Mac layout doesn’t totally match the rest of El Capitan, but I don’t mind that at all. I especially like that you can have multiple lists open at once–in one window–as various tabs. This mirrors how we browse the Web, yet out of all the task management apps I’ve tried, THL is the only one to incorporate it.

 

Mac_Multiple tabs
Tabbed task management! (click to enlarge)

 

It’s a really nice touch, especially if you are actually working on a few projects at once and want to be able to close tabs as you go. Or if you want to toggle between your time-sensitive “Today” tasks and other projects.

The tagging system on all platforms is neat. By typing “task /tag” you automatically can tag a task. It then shows up in a different color on the task entry line and puts itself into the right tag.

You can give sub-tasks to tasks, which is often what happens in real life! Our tasks turn into a series of sub-tasks, too. Of course you could just separate a multi-task task into its own project, but the ability to rapidly enter sub-tasks is great.

Probably my favorite part about THL is its task timing integration. Yes, you read that right. You can both assign estimated time to tasks, as well as track it! It’s not as robust as a dedicated time tracking software–you can’t get to-the-minute readouts of your day. But it’s a pretty sweet feature on the Mac app.

 

Time Estimates

 

Counting Clock

 

The iPad app just came out, and it’s got Slide Over and Split Screen support right out of the box. It’s very cool to finally see THL on a bigger screen. (The iPad app is lacking in any external keyboard shortcuts however; future updates should add these in.)

 

What I Found Lacking in THL

 

1. No Save+.

 

Rapid-fire brain dumping is tricky in THL. Well, it’s not impossible, but on iOS there’s no Save+ button so you can just add a bunch of tasks at once without multiple taps. Keyboard shortcuts make it quick on the Mac app, though.

 

2. You can’t email a task to the app.

 

It continues to perplex me that this is not standard issue in a task management app. I don’t know… maybe it’s just hard to implement. In THL there is no way to convert or forward emails to tasks from wherever you are. Evernote and OmniFocus allow this, as will 2Do soon. This functionality is essential to me in a task management app.

 

3. The iOS app isn’t as configurable as one might like.

 

The criticism that you have to understand the app on its own terms often gets leveled toward OmniFocus, but I experienced some confusion in THL with the “Today” list. Support was outstanding in helping me to understand it (which I do now), but the Today list shows all your tasks that start today. You can’t adjust it to show just your tasks that are due today, which feels to me a more natural way to use it. You can’t even really trick Today into doing what you want, since a task with no start date that is due tomorrow still pops up in Today.

On the iOS app, there are few settings you can configure:

 

iOS Settings

 

THL also sort of forces you (if you’re going to use the app) into its Inbox–Today–Upcoming logic. (These three “hit lists” give the app its name.) This could be a limitation for some. That way of setting up things, to which you can add your own lists, appeals to me, so it’s fine. On Mac you could create a “Due Today” smart list, so there is flexibility in that regard.

 

Three Lists

 

4. You can’t attach anything to tasks in iOS.

 

There is no way (whether in iOS or OS X) to attach photos or files to an item. It’s hard to envision a week where there isn’t at least one time when I want to take a picture of something as a reminder or attach a .pdf I need to complete a task. You can link to actual files on a desktop with the THL Mac app, but that’s not the same as attaching the file to the task, so the file doesn’t show up on iOS (just an error message). There’s a notes field, so you can leave additional text, but attachments aren’t really a working feature in THL.

 

Concluding Thoughts and How to Get THL

 

There’s more to say, of course. The Today widget and Share extension features in iOS work nicely. The layout and interface of the apps is executed well on all platforms. It runs really smoothly, and looks great in its new iPad incarnation. Smart lists can help you customize your experience. Recurring tasks are easy to set up. You can quickly swipe a task on iOS to change the due date or move it to a different list and folder.

This is a little thing, but I think my favorite thing about the app is the sound effect that goes off when you complete a task. I wish every app had that option! It’s like a little “congratulations!” every time you get something done. Very satisfying to hear that tone.

Their support is excellent, too. THL even made a feature addition that I had requested–the ability to drag handles to reorder task lists on iOS.

Okay, okay, one more nice little touch: the icon for note detail attached to a task is excellent. Just by looking at a task, you can tell if there’s an associated note. Similarly, a number icon shows you how many sub-tasks are connected to a task. Thoughtful design, for sure.

To sum up: the sound effects on iOS, tabbed list views on OS X, and integrated time tracking set THL apart from other apps, so if those appeal to you, this might be your app of choice. Lack of email integration makes it hard for me to think about switching to THL as my go-to task management app, but perhaps future updates will add that feature. Overall, THL is at least on par with Things and certainly an option one could consider alongside 2Do and OmniFocus.

You can find the app here (OS X) and here (iOS).

 


 

Thanks so much to the makers of The Hit List for giving me a download in iOS and OS X for the review. Check out the Karelia Software site here.

PopClip: The Most Indispensable Mac OS X Utility

PopClip is the best Mac OS X utility there is.

It’s simple, really:

PopClip appears when you select text with your mouse on your Mac. Instantly copy & paste, and access actions like search, spelling, dictionary and over 100 more.

PopClip is basically a Mac version of the iOS share sheet, which you can quickly get at just by selecting text. It looks like this:

 

PopClip

 

What’s Awesome About PopClip

 

Its very existence is awesome. This short page shows you the extensions with which the app ships–fairly basic, though still helpful, ones.

PopClip Menu BarBut it’s all the Actions you can add to it that make it so great. Here are but a few, shown in the menu bar at right, where you can also rearrange the order to customize the appearance.

A few of my favorite things I can do with a single click:

  • select text to send to OmniFocus as a task
  • save a text selection to Evernote
  • select text to send to 2Do as a task
  • select the title of a book from a syllabus and find it on Amazon
  • do the same thing on ebay

And then there’s some cool power-user stuff, too:

  • change selected text to all caps, all lowercase, or sentence case
  • calculate a string of numbers (i.e. 4*9+7 magically changes to 43 when I select it and click on the = sign in PopClip)
  • count characters and words in a selection (especially helpful for when I’m using OmniOutliner, which doesn’t have a built in word count feature)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are all the extensions you can add to your own PopClip, a process which is fast and easy.

There are some customizations, too. You can have PopClip not appear in certain apps of your choosing. You can change the size of its pop-up menu. And you can have it start up at login.

 

A Single Drawback

 

Just one: you cannot currently sync your added extensions between computers. So if you use two computers, you’ll have to configure evertyhing twice.

 

How to Get It

 

PopClip will fill in the gaps of many of your favorite apps by letting you quickly get information into them. It will save you time with things like its spell check, word count, and running a Google or Amazon or Etsy search on selected text. It can even automatically shorten Web links and randomly re-order selected lines of text.

PopClip is easily worth its $6.99. Find it on the Mac App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at Pilot Moon for the review copy of PopClip, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Habit List: A Sophisticated iOS Habit Tracker

I noted in September that the App Store has seen quite a few habit tracker apps of late.

Why not just use your task management app, you might ask?

Well, one can get tired of seeing the same “Update YNAB” task every day. Or the same “Study Greek” reminder. Habits and tasks aren’t the same per se.

This may be splitting hairs, but since getting past my initial skepticism, I’ve been using one habit tracker or another for much of the fall. The interface of Streaks is unparalleled, and Productive makes a cool sound when you complete a habit.

Habit List, on the other hand, is the most powerful and customizable of the three.

 

Options Galore

 

Habit List takes the cake in what it allows you to do with regard to scheduling your habits. Every potential use I imagined I could accomplish with the app.

You can set up a habit with just about any frequency imaginable, whether certain days or x times per week, and set a reminder. If I want to work out three times a week, I can set up a habit for that, without it having to be the same three days in a given week.

 

Habit Frequency

 

Set Habit Reminder

 

I came to Habit List from another app and could easily backdate edit my habits-in-progress so I didn’t have to start at zero just because I was using a new app. This was unexpected and a great touch.

This also means that if you are completing the habit but forget to track it for a few days, you can easily make the manual adjustment in Habit List.

You can view stats for individual habits, presented in a variety of ways:

 

Calendar Stats

 

Monthly Stats

 

There is no limit (at least that I could find) to the number of habits you can track. So, sure, why not go ahead and add, “Take out trash Friday mornings”?

Here is a look at more app settings:

 

App Settings

 

For Future Updates?

 

Marking the completion of habits in Habit List feels very much like crossing off a list. The interface is exactly that. You swipe your finger across a habit to signify you’ve done it. No filled-in circles, no animations, no sounds. This will be fine for many, but there may also be more aesthetically pleasing user interface options for future updates to explore–whether color changes, distinct habit icons, etc.

Maybe this is draconian or just Pavlovian on my part, but I found myself wanting more from the UI that would give me a sense of satisfaction when crossing off a habit. (I know… what do you want, people cheering??? Well….)

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 

TL;DR: Habit List doesn’t quite have the pretty layout of some other similar apps. But it has the most functionality of any habit tracking app I’ve tried. There are no limits on what you can track, as well as a great degree of flexibility. If you’re serious about tracking some specific habits and don’t mind a minimalist layout, you may have found your app.

Find Habit List in the App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks who make Habit List for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Streaks: Tracking Habits

Icon-1024-Rounded

 

A new breed of task management app seems to be proliferating in the App Store as of late: the habit tracker.

The idea behind a habit-building app is not just to help you cross things off your list, but to actually build the kinds of repetitive practices you’d like to be a part of your everyday life.

Streaks is one such app, and perhaps the one with the most aesthetically pleasing presentation.

 

What I Like About Streaks

 

The first thing to appreciate about Streaks is its layout:

 

home base

 
You can change colors from the default orange to 11 other options:

 
Colors and settings

 
As you complete (or miss) habits, the app makes it easy to access statistics from the main screen with just a tap. Check this out:

 
Some stats
 
More stats
 

The reminders are customizable, so they can be as obtrusive or unobtrusive as you want them to be, depending on what you need to get your habits in place:

 
Alt text
 
Checking off habits is satisfying. You just hold down the circle till it fills in:
 
Alt text
 
If you missed a day, Streaks knows it:
 
Alt text
 
There are a ton of habit icons from which to choose, and they look better than any I’ve seen in other comparable apps (some of which are just icon-less lists):
 
icons
 
more icons
 
yet more icons
 
Setting up habits is quite easy:
 
running habit
 

What I Found Lacking

 

Probably the biggest miss in the app is that there is no way to adjust a habit you forgot to check off more than one day ago. If you missed marking a habit yesterday, you’re all set, but you can’t check off habits you completed two days ago but didn’t note. I lost some streaks this way (at least within the app) when I was on vacation last month. I was completing habits, but not on my phone as often as usual; there’s no way to adjust to get your statistics to reflect such a reality.

I would love for future updates to Streaks to include some sort of sound when you fill in a habit circle. This is just personal preference, though.

Streaks maxes out at six habits that you can be tracking at a time. The developers have a reason for this–it’s hard to maintain more habits than that on a regular basis, but the limitation does not allow for as great user control as some other apps do.

One other lack: you can’t make a habit to do something, say, three times a week, without also having to specify the days. So I can have “Exercise” three times a week, but only if I assign days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)–I couldn’t set it up for any three days.

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 
Limitations notwithstanding, Streaks is easily one of the three best habit-tracking apps for iOS. It’s clearly designed with the user experience in mind, which makes charting habits through this app fun. As long as you can stay on top of tracking your practices each day, Streaks is a worthy aid in helping establish regular life patterns.

Find Streaks in the App Store here.
 

Thanks to the good folks at Streaks app for the review copy of Streaks, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Two Resources (One Paid, One Free) for Getting On Top of Stuff

It’s Friday, so hopefully you’re winding down a bit and thinking about how to relax rather than how to be more productive–so file this away for Monday (or read it now if you work weekends).

Here are two resources–one paid and one free–to help stay on top of email and tasks.

 

1. Dispatch App

 

 

I’ve never understood the logic of apps that allow you to “snooze” email. Handle it once and move on, I think. Emails are often calendar appointments or tasks in disguise, and our Inboxes are no place to be keeping tasks. Inbox Zero is elusive (though see here), so an app that helps you get your Inbox messages into tasks quickly is appreciated. This is the goal of Dispatch app, newly available on iPad. Check it out here.

 

2. Free Podcasts from GTD

 

You might also check out free podcasts from David Allen‘s Getting Things Done:

Our GTD podcasts are here to support you at every stage of your GTD practice. You will hear interviews with people from all walks of life about their journey with GTD, from beginners to those who have been at it for years. The podcasts include personal and professional stories, as well as practical tips about GTD systems for desktop and mobile, using apps and paper. Start listening now and you’ll be well on your way to stress-free productivity.

Find the podcast page here.

Two Soul-Piercing Gems from David Allen (Getting Things Done 2.0)

GTD 2The wedding of productivity literature and thoughtful anthropology (let alone spirituality) seems to be woefully uncommon, but David Allen strikes me as a spiritually attuned writer. That’s why I think it’s no stretch to call some of his insights into personal productivity “soul-piercing.” Or, at least, one can better provide oneself good soul care when implementing Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) principles.

Readers of this blog know of my new-found use of OmniFocus, which is really just one possible tool (out of several) that helps one practice Getting Things Done.

Here are two total gems from Allen’s new, re-tooled GTD 2.0:

What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities–those are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources. The substantive issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real work is to manage our actions.

He says this as a reaction to talk of “managing time” or even “managing priorities.” Allen says you can’t manage time (“you don’t manage five minutes and wind up with six”) and don’t manage priorities (rather, “you have them”). That seems at first like semantics, but his point is:

Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because what “doing” would look like, and where it happens, hasn’t been decided.

So the focus becomes managing our actions. And this is still relative to our priorities.

Phew. Love it. (Also, guilty as charged.)

Here’s the second gem:

Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action). And these are far from self-evident for most people about most things that have their attention.

I’m (actually, finally) reading Getting Things Done cover to cover. It’s already a breath of fresh air. Find it here.