Three styles of task manager apps

There seem to be 3 styles of task app emerging on the iPhone app market.  The distinguishing characteristic of these styles is how each app ...

There seem to be 3 styles of task app emerging on the iPhone app market.  The distinguishing characteristic of these styles is how each app handles the grouping of tasks that are considered "current."

It has come to me recently that only one approach is my most favourite, and only one other approach is my least favourite. So far, I've looked at over 30 different task management apps, and this three-part classification has matched exactly with my preferences.

So it may be that this classification can help you filter through all the different task managers too. All you have to do is decide which of the three types you prefer, then ignore apps of the other two types.

Action lists

The action list approach is based on a single list that includes tasks dated today, plus any other tasks the user adds manually. Apps that use this approach generally let you choose which tasks should be next by letting you easily add tasks to or remove tasks from the action list, including quickly adding tasks from any other list into the action list. Most apps of this type will automatically add tasks due "today" to the action list as well.

The advantage of this approach is that the user is in full control of choosing what tasks are to be the action items. Its disadvantage is that the user must invest the time to choose and manage the action item tasks.

Some apps of this type include Taska, Things, Nozbe, Voodo, PTO, ToDo, SlimTasks, FocusTodo, and Geetasks.

Multiple views in multiple lists

In this approach, a set of specialized lists are hardwired into the app, each serving a particular purpose. This approach automatically sorts tasks in different ways and makes each such "view" available to the user. Typical views include: overdue tasks, tasks due today, high priority tasks, upcoming tasks, and so on.

This approach is good for people who want to switch quickly between different perspectives on their tasks, and find single overall action lists confusing. The advantage of this approach is that individual lists are generally shorter than single action lists. The disadvantage is that one can focus too much on one list and forget to check the others.

Some apps that follow this scheme include Pocket Informant, TapDo, List n Do, Taskedit, WoolyTasks,, Taskly, Task PRO, and TouchTodo.

Single, structured overviews

Some apps define a specific approach for gathering "current" tasks based on some presumably rational principles, over which the user has relatively little control.

The advantage of this approach is that you have virtually no maintenance work; the app decides for you, based on your description of things like due date, priority, location, etc. which tasks you should work on next.  The disadvantage is that you basically abdicate all control over choosing what to work on next.

Some apps that follow this approach include 2Do, Toodledo, TaskThis, Nubi Do, and MyTasks Pro.

...And other things

Of course, this doesn't cover every app. There are some truly innovative and even bizarre examples of task managers that present entirely different ways of getting things done.

The most impressive of these is SmartTime, which fills your schedule automatically based on how much time you allocate to each task, and can automatically bump tasks into the next available slot if you don't get to it in time.  The downside of this is that it will fill your day to the brim unless you bother to actually book off lunches and coffee breaks.  Still, it's quite a fascinating way to do things.

Todo Map is a task manager that creates a visual representation of your tasks. Larger blocks are of higher priority than smaller blocks, and each category is denoted by a different colour.  This probably works better on the iPad's larger screen.

There are other apps too, like ViziiTask, that I still can't figure out.

So, if you're trying to choose an iPhone task manager, you might decide which of the three different types appeals best to you, and then focus you attention on apps of that type. I hope it helps.



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The Trouble with Normal...: Three styles of task manager apps
Three styles of task manager apps
The Trouble with Normal...
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