The Quest for Simple Task Management

Two days ago, I wrote this in response to a piece by Joshua Schnell on managing tasks:

Getting too wrapped up in how I manage my tasks doesn’t leave me any time to actually do my tasks.

My buddy (and former boss at our college’s newspaper) Trey Heath wrote this, concerning the same topic:

I am a huge fan of GTD and since I started following the methodology four years ago, I can say without a doubt that GTD has made me 100% LESS productive.


But I believe this is a widespread problem. I am an extremely unproductive productivity geek and I’m pretty sure there are thousands of people out there like me. I am fascinated by people’s work flows and the search for the best technique to help me get through it all every day. Using those ideas effectively however is another story.

Johnny Canuck has shared his frustration on the topic as well:

So what do we do when we can’t seem to juggle our Superman proportion of new tasks? Most of us try a new tool. If this shovel doesn’t get rid of this pile of dirt fast enough, maybe this back-hoe will? I’m the first one to jump on board of that train on thought. In the last year, I’ve abandoned MS Project for OmniOutliner when I moved to the MacBook Pro then I flirted with Basecamp before coming back to a TextMate .txt page and then finding OmniPlan which I am still testing. For my day to day tasks, life got even more crazy.


So to run down the list I’ve used in no particular order: Text page, OmniOutliner, RememberTheMilk, OmniFocus, Milpon, Google Tasks, our office whiteboard and in a fit of desperation pad of paper (not even a Moleskin).

It’s clear there has to be a better way of getting things done. GTD is getting in the way.

At the heart of all of this frustration is the desire for simplicity.

We have captured the holy grail of simple writing. The Simplenote + Notational Velocity + Dropbox solution for notes is the easiest, simplest way to keep up with notes across multiple devices.

Minimalist writing environments are all the rage these days. For example, the new iPad app Writer, while attractive, has led to several jokes about the need for a simple writing solution.

But we aren’t there yet when it comes to simple task management.

I’m in no place to review all of the major GTD apps available for the Mac and iOS. I am by no means an expert on David Allen’s GTD system. All I know is that I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to manage my tasks, and more often than not, the management of tasks gets in the way of me completing the tasks themselves.

At the end of the day, I don’t give a crap about categorizing tasks due to location, topic, tags or what color shirt I’m wearing. All I need is a convenient way to list tasks and their deadlines. Nothing more; nothing less.

Shockingly simple, I know.

For me and my simple needs, Things and OmniFocus are overkill. With systems like this, I spend more time entering tasks than doing them. When I was using Things, by the time I was done going over the day’s to-do list, it was time for lunch. OmniFocus just gives me seizures.

For years, I’ve used Remember the Milk to get things done. It is a relatively flexible system, but I’ve been growing more and more unhappy with it. I think the very option to use of priorities, tags and contexts makes me nervous.

On the analog end of things, I have found that keeping a physical, paper notebook full of tasks to be frustrating. Not only is it another item to carry around everywhere, editing tasks and deadlines on paper is too messy for my tastes.

Starting earlier this week, I’ve been using TeuxDeux for task management. And I love it. It has no lists, no tags and no notes. Just task names, due dates and a place to keep “someday” tasks.

I don’t have to squeeze my tasks into any complex parameters so the “system” works.

All I do to distinguish work tasks is adding an asterisk to the end of them. If something needs additional notes, that information lives in the Simplenote universe. When I complete an item, I cross it out. If I don’t get to it, it gets moved to the next day. That’s it.

I think I’ve found the Simplenote for task management. Tasks and due dates. Why does anyone need more?