To do list by dmachiavello on Flickr

To do list by dmachiavello on Flickr

One of my resolutions this year was to integrate the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology into my work and home life. I’m a bit of a productivity tool geek, I’m always downloading a new to-do list or note taking app on my iPhone or iPad to check out.

My journey with to-do lists has taken me down a long and winding road. I was an avid fan of good old pen and paper (and to-do list notepads and post-its!) for a number of years, dabbled with using Microsoft OneNote a few years ago, and started my online discovery with Toodledo in about 2007. It integrated with my start page (Pageflakes at the time) and I could use it on my iPod touch; I really liked the fact I could access it from anywhere and keep it updated. So much so in fact that I blogged about it. After a while I got fed up of Toodledo (let’s face it, it’s functional but pretty ugly) and wanted to see what all the fuss was with Remember The Milk (RTM), which had been growing in popularity. This is a really simple, yet feature rich customisable service and a lot of people love it. I used to be one of those people and had a pro subscription for two years. 

But as I moved to my new job last year and began relying on my to-do list more heavily (my work is now pretty much solely project-based), RTM just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I need to split projects up into small subtasks to help me manage my time, and I was using RTM to set myself personal deadlines for each section to organise my list. This was difficult to predict though and I found more and more tasks being postponed as my priorities changed. I wasn’t falling behind (I wasn’t missing any actual deadlines, just my possibly unrealistic self-set ones), but it wasn’t doing my sense of productivity any good. It felt like I was letting myself down all the time with overdue and postponed tasks.

Then I read an article (I don’t have the reference I’m afraid) about the benefits of removing deadlines from tasks unless they are necessary to allow you to be more flexible and make the most of your mood and surroundings. This made more sense to my work (a deadline for the final project but not necessarily the subtasks), but I couldn’t make it work effectively for me in RTM. As I was pondering and trying different tools, Laura and Bethan were discussing NirvanaHQ on Twitter. Never one to shy away from trying a new web tool, I registered for an invite and starting playing.

Nirvana is essentially a web app and is still in beta at the moment. Development is ongoing; they currently have a web version and a mobile version (no apps for mobile devices yet). I love the interface of Nirvana (and I’ve realised that for me, the user interface is very important). It’s well laid out, and really easy to manage.

Desktop screenshot:

My current focus list on Nirvana

My current focus list on Nirvana (click for larger version)

Mobile screenshot:

My home screen on Nirvana mobile

My home screen on Nirvana mobile

Features I love:

  • The drag and drop interface to move tasks around or add them to a different project – just drag them to a project in the sidebar and it assigns the task to that project.
  • The Focus list – you can star items to add them to the focus list which also includes today’s scheduled tasks.
  • Ability to email tasks – really useful feature, particularly as a lot of tasks stem from emails so you can simply forward the emails to your to do list email and it will add them to your to-do list inbox.
  • Recurring tasks – this is a relatively new feature which has been added, and I’m really impressed with how well it has been implemented.
  • Waiting folder – I like being able to keep track of tasks that are currently out of my control but still need to be kept an eye on and will probably need to move back to my active list at a later date.

Features I would like to see which Nirvana doesn’t currently have:

  • Native iPhone app – it’s a pain that I can only manage my list whilst I’m online. The mobile interface is fine, but no good when you’re somewhere remote or abroad and have no Internet connection.
  • Native iPad app – I use my iPad for working when I’m out and about (e.g. on the train, at meetings and events). I’d really like to have an iPad app to use when I’m working on the iPad.
  • Advanced email controls – I’d really like to be able to define more about the tasks from email, for example by using tags in the subject field to assign tasks to projects or contexts or set a completion date for the task. You can of course edit the task once it is in the inbox in Nirvana, but it would be good to streamline the process. I’ve heard of some that you can send to different email addresses to set deadlines – e.g. 21June@todolist.com or 2weeks@todolist.com (these aren’t real but illustrate what I mean!)
  • Attaching items to tasks or projects – I’ve been testing out some other tools and I’ve been really impressed by those that can have attachments of relevant images to work on or documents to amend as well as notes on progress. Definitely a bonus to save searching for relevant files, and particularly if this works with email so you can forward attachments.

I’m still searching for the perfect solution; I am using Nirvana at the moment but it’s not perfect and I have to confess I’ve been a little disappointed by the speed of development. I’ve also tried Flow which I liked (great interface), but seems more geared up to support collaborative task lists (delegating tasks to contacts etc.), and it costs $10/month. More recently I tried Producteev but found the interface too cluttered. I recently heard about SmartyTask which apparently works well on the iPad (web not app) though costs $9.99/month subscription. I don’t mind paying for a decent to-do list app, but it must be one that actually helps improve my productivity (i.e. meets my requirements listed).

And so the quest continues! Are there any tools you would recommend? I’m always up for trying new systems if they might help me manage my time and improve productivity. Please share your favourite task management tools in the comments.

  • Hi Jo. It’s good to keep up with your GTD mission! I agree with your wishlist, especially on the somewhat slow development of Nirvana. My main problem is integrating it into what else I do but I think this is about habit – I always open up Outlook every morning at work, so need to get into the habit of opening up Nirvana too, or else deadlines don’t pop out at me. I know there’s soem things I can do about this but not being a good completer-finisher, I sort of work things out as I go along, rather than learn all about it upfront. Which is why posts like yours are so useful!

    • I agree – it’s always interesting to see how others manage their time to see if there’s anything you can adopt too.

      Do you have the daily email scheduled? I prefer not to as I open Nirvana first thing in the morning anyway, but it might act as a reminder for you each morning to see your Nirvana tasks in Outlook (even if it’s just a reminder to open Nirvana). The other thing I do is have Nirvana as a separate window – I use Chrome and have it set up as a shortcut – it’s on my taskbar next to my email icon so it always reminds me to load both up in the morning. 

      • Huh, I’ll try again with this message. I think I said something along the lines of thanks for the tips, I haven’t set those things up and they will really help. Also that it goes to show how valuable sharing information is, especially when some sites/apps rely on discovering stuff for yourself on the whole. I also thought about setting up that thing where a new window for Nirvana automatically opens when I open up Internet Explorer at work, which I think could be good for me.

  • For implementing GTD you can use this web application: http://www.Gtdagenda.com You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  • I’m using Nirvana as well! Have you read the Getting Things Done book? It’s useful to see the basis behind the system, as Nirvana works quite closely to its schemes.

    Generally I’ve found the GTD system quite useful, and Nirvana good support for it. Sometimes I stick to it quite firmly, and other times I’m less dedicated, though. There’s a couple of things you mentioned here that I haven’t been doing: should probably go and check them out!

    • Thanks Katie – I have read some of the GTD book but not all of it – your comment has spurred me on to bring it to the top of my reading pile again! 

      I’m familiar with some of the principles and work to them, but others I don’t use consistently. I’d certainly like to take more advantage of contexts for instance which I use sometimes but not others. Not really sure how to manage this in Nirvana – with areas feature or tagging with contexts like @office and @home?

  • Matthew Mezey

    Just as long as we all remember to do our weekly GTD reviews…

    ‘Empty your Mind’! 😉

    Matthew

  • November now – do you still use Nirvana?  I have been on the wait list for an invite for a while, do you know of any miracle way that would allow me to gain access?

    Best

    — Ran

    • I do still use Nirvana – I continue to try other tools but I keep going back to Nirvana despite the mobile problems it has been having – their desktop app just suits the way I work. They are hoping to launch properly soon so may be holding back on the invites until that is sorted. Check out their blog for more information: http://blog.nirvanahq.com/

      • Thanks!  I checked the blog going all the way back to February, and there is no mention of this.  They would not have the early gmail mechanism where an existing member can invite new members, would they? 🙂

        • No I’m afraid not – as it’s still in beta they do all the approvals and existing members can’t invite people. I hope you get an invite from them soon!

          • They just sent me an invite code – thanks much!  Next I need to decide whether to start with N1 or N2.  Nirvana recommends I start with N2, but I have seen posts saying there is much functionality missing there.  Any ideas?  Thanks!

          • I’m using N2 as this is the one being developed. There were initially some differences but N2 has more advanced features now. Hope you like it!

          • Thank!