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[Ask HN] How do you organize your tasks/to-do lists?
27 points by rob 2730 days ago | hide | past | web | 56 comments | favorite
Just curious.

I might be old-fashioned, but I'm still using a pen and notebook. I'm thinking of going digital, but all of the online to-do list applications are far too complicated — I don't care about categories, tags, or priorities. I'd just like to be able to type in a list of tasks for a given day and hit a box to mark them as done.

WeekPlan http://weekplan.net

As a fan of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I have developed WeekPlan. It allows you to keep your whole week and your goals in perspective. (Thanks to http://teuxdeux.com for some of the UI inspiration)

The feature I find most powerful and yet almost invisible is the Overall Quadrant indicator. It tells you in which quadrant (cf. the book) you are spending most of the time this week by showing a different color. Your goal is to have it green, Quadrant II, important tasks but not urgent. Trying to get the green light has been very efficient to help me keep focused on what matters.

(I developed most of it in eight hours using a combination of asp.net MVC and jQuery and was really impressed by the productivity you get out of these two.)

+1 for org-mode

While on-topic, just want to clear up misconceptions of org-mode. It is different from all the software/website task managers mentioned here. You can think of it as a meta-organization tool. A org software factory if you will. You can customize it to exactly how you want your thoughts, tasks, notes, etc organized.

See http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html for an idea of the sheer breadth of options available to make it work exactly for you.

This may sound like a lot of work, but there are a lot of sensible defaults, which is why most org-mode tutorials that scratch the surface make it seem like a sibling to other task management software. The base case the OP wants would simply be:

  S-M-<RET>: create new TODO
  C-c C-t D: mark TODO as DONE
If I may pilfer a quote, org-mode "outshines other [task management solutions] in approximately the same way the noonday sun does the stars." (Neal Stephenson on Emacs)

The simplest, easiest to use online ToDo app is Google Tasks. You can access it using small window in Gmail (look for "tasks" on the left-hand side) or full-screen ( https://mail.google.com/tasks/canvas ) or on the iPhone/Android ( https://mail.google.com/tasks/ig )

I have also wrote a native iPhone app client for Google Tasks so that you can use it offline http://www.geetasks.com

Wow, great job man. I've been looking for something like this for a LONG time. Downloaded and tried it out with the lists I already have in there, and great stuff.

Happy users carry me through the day of work.

I'm so not missing my corporate job.

BTW, I have forums over at http://geetasks.com, stop by to say "hi"!

You might know this then: How do you get a page of just GAFYD tasks?

https://mail.google.com/tasks/ig?pli=1 works for normal gmail, but fails miserably for GAFYD

this one is clean, simple and functional. Everything you need

No pre-made org software has ever felt comfortable enough for me, so I roll my own.

I have a series of text files organized how I like. I added syntax highlighting in TextMate. I also wrote Ruby scripts that automate any parts that would be tedious if done manually. My calendar is just a glorified text file, specially formatted for ease-of-use.

I also wrote my own TextMate bundle that turns TextMate into a wiki, which is my exobrain.

Finally, whatever you end up doing, I would recommend doing something similar to my "jot" script. Basically, whenever I have an idea or come across something I want to address later, I hit F10, a dialog appears, I type my thought into the text box and hit enter, and then the message is saved in a file called jot.txt. At the end of the day I clean out my jot.txt. This allows me to capture ideas as they come to me without breaking my momentum of what I'm currently working on. You can find that script here: http://techiferous.com/2009/12/streamlining-your-workflow-wi...


Quite simple interface. Write your list, easy to manage times with the shortcuts (just go: ^ then type your due-by date, ie: tomorrow or friday and it'll set the date), and you can print it off if you still enjoy the nostalgia of pen and paper

Absolutely nothing works better for me, I've tried a lot of things from paper or post-its to writing my own software or using flat text files. I have paid for the pro version ($25 and can be accessed on an iPhone or Droid, web-only version is free) for two years now and I'd gladly pay $100 for it.

RTM is brilliant I've found. I've got access to it from pretty much anywhere (within gmail, in my browser, on my phone etc), so its a great way to keep tasks organised.

37signals Backpack. http://backpackit.com/

For more information read this article: http://patrickrhone.com/2006/06/27/backpack-new-gtd-implemen...

I haven't found anything better than a written list. There's something really tactile and satisfying about crossing items off it.

Every few days I rewrite the list onto the next page, drop things that are no longer relevant, expand items that are sticking around. The physical nature of the list, and the ritual of recopying it are really powerful, to me. Plus the fact that I recopy it frequently helps keep it from getting out of hand and naturally prioritizes it.

I say this, but I've been out of the habit lately. I need to start doing this again.

IIRC, writing stuff down is better for recall than typing.

OneNote -- it has been said it's the best piece of software to come out of Redmond.

One note is shockingly good. The easiness with which you make items "doable" is awesome. You then move them around as you like.

I made a post about it some time ago on here, and at that point the poster asked for the opposite (not too simple).

You can find it here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1108498

I have since added a few minor details, but largely it's the same. I still feel a bit bad for ripping off their design, but heck, it was just up my alley. But in all honesty, it sounds like http://teuxdeux.com/ out of the box would be just your thing. Personally I wanted to be able to have it stored "locally" where I had full control.

And to answer your question: I use what is outlined above and it works really well for me. The only drawback, perhaps, is that my "To do Some day" list has gotten pretty big. Everything I can't do right now but find interesting, or every little idea end up in that container. Not sure if that's entirely bad, though.


TeuxDeux is very, very close to what I'm looking for — I'll give it a try for a couple of days. Too bad they don't have an iPhone version ready (even just an iPhone-optimized site).

Glad to be of assistance. :)

It's on the "Todo Some Day" list to make my version of it talk SyncML which would enable it to synchronize with existing mobile apps out there. I never considered porting the UI, but maybe that's an idea, it is really suitable for cellphones.


I've tried a number of different options - online and local files - but I've settled on Vim's taskpaper plugin (see link below) and a tasks.taskpaper file that I keep in sync across machines using version control. I don't actually even use Taskpaper itself, since I don't really want another application for this - just a file with a reasonable, and hackable syntax. (The syntax is simple enough that it's dead easy to whip up a script for any kind of display or search or munging you might want to do with your tasks file.)

Taskpaper.vim plugin: http://www.vim.org/scripts/script.php?script_id=2027

Recommendations for highlighting taskpaper files: http://www.praytothemachine.com/evil/2007/11/06/taskpaper-an...

I'm working on an app for this - Speckle (http://speckleapp.com). The main feature is that Speckle has multiple checkboxes per task, so if you're working in a team, or even just if some tasks take longer than others, you can check them off bit by bit.

Not in any one single way :-)

I think you might want to look at http://www.toodledo.com/ - it is actually quite powerful (aka "complicated") but the amount of complexity is user configurable. So if you don't care for a certain category, you can just tell the system to ignore it.

The main advantage of something "online" is that it is easy to attach supplementary information to a to-do item - a file, a message-ID...

I use a hybrid of post-it notes, online calendar, paper notebook, toodledo, and e-mail. GTD it isn't - but it works.

[Edit - toodledo also allows you to assign tasks to other users. It is not quite implemented in the way I would like, but their deveoper is very user-friendly and they are always working on it, so I am optimistic.]

Nothing wrong with paper and pen but you need a system to make sure things don't fall through the cracks. I use and recommend the Franklin Planning system now Franklin Covey. http://www.franklincovey.com/

Gootodo (now called Goodtodo) is the best solution I've found. It's simple, without categories, tags or priorities (other than sorting by position). The differentiators for me are: calendar-based to-dos. I can create a to-do that I don't actually need to act on until next week, and it won't show up until then.

Also, awesome email integration, where I can forward an email to, for example, apr14@gootodo.com, and the body of the email will be attached to a to-do that shows up on that date. This is a fantastic way to get in the habit of emptying your inbox as well. Things you have to do don't linger there, you just forward them to your to-do list.

Simple and elegant, and more than worth the $3/mo I pay for it.

Emacs' org-mode. I've been using it for the past several months and love it. Some links:



I use http://toodat.com

I wrote it myself because, like you, I didn't like the complicated nature of the other tools out there. It's pretty basic but it works.

Things on the desktop and the iPhone. If you buy into the GTD system, I'd recommend it. The iPhone app syncs via WiFi to the desktop app whenever you're connected to the same network (I'm hoping syncing via the 'cloud' is coming soon). Ubiquitous capture is what it's all about, and Things is good at it.

It also helps that the app is simple and well designed. I don't use the tagging or much of the scheduled tasks features. Otherwise, there isn't much that beats pen and paper.

Maybe it's just me, but maintaining a task list is about as troublesome as finding one that does just what you need.

I get e-mails for business related tasks. Outlook flags posts sent directly to me (as in, I'm in the TO: box, not part of a group or CC'ed) and I'll check them out.

Anything else is stuff I want to do. I don't often forget that I want to do something, thus no list necessary. If I do miss something... well there's always free time in the future.

I used to be mostly pen and paper for capture and on-the-go lists, with a little bit of RememberTheMilk for larger lists (like the GTD someday/maybe lists, etc).

Now that I've got my Nexus One, I'm using Shuffle (http://code.google.com/p/android-shuffle/). Although I still haven't migrated everything out of RTM.

GTD style git.

I have a private repo on git-hub with minor things I am writing (i.e. not multi-week projects), priority registers (only allow myself 3 things on it), lists of things to read, list of things to do in spare time, list of ideas for future projects, and directories with notes on books and practice applications that I write when learning something new.

It's very effective for me.

I like using Toodledo:


I like it because it's free, and I can even sync it with my iphone free - just have to pay $1.99 for the app

Nice clean interface, has a nice Google Chrome extensions, and for me it is intuitively how I order things - by date and importance. I just use "Project -> Task" to signify next actions within projects

A visually pleasing but very simple site: http://teuxdeux.com/

I am a huge fan of DevTodo: http://swapoff.org/DevTodo

It's a todo list designed for development projects (you can put a todo list in any directory), but I use one in my home directory for just the basic stuff: add and mark complete.

You pretty much described http://culturedcode.com/things/iphone.

These were the best $10 I spent on an iPhone app by a very wide margin. It is simple, but not simplistic, and it is really well designed and executed.

Uncommon around here, but I love Outlook. I've tried Gmail, Thunderbird, and others but nothing handles the Email + Contacts + Calendar + Tasks problem as well as Outlook, IMHO.

I've also used Basecamp, but I like having my To Do list integrated with my email.

Thanks for the suggestions everybody.

For now, I decided to go with Google Tasks. It's very barebones and simple, but it's just what I was looking for and they even have an iPhone-optimized version (I will also look into GeeTasks).

Be sure to let me know what you think of GeeTasks, as can be seen at my forum http://geetasks.com I always answer all inquiries.

I went ahead and purchased the Pro version this morning. Really nice and works great. I didn't like how you couldn't indent tasks on the iPhone web version, but GeeTasks does it. :)

Well, there's a reason people are paying those huge bucks for GeeTasks :-)

I find OmniFocus to be very helpful. The difficulty is making sure you enter everything.


Second the vote for OmniFocus. The key for me was synchronization between multiple computers and the iPhone. The iPhone app seems a bit like an afterthought (it's very slow to update, even when using their suggested tweaks), but synching between computers works great.

Pen and paper.

When I had my blackberry (before it got damaged) I wold use the "memo" area a lot. It was the most convenient way to make sure I could note down tasks that came up as they came up.

Recently switched from white board/notepad to http://speckleapp.com, which is made by HN member elliottkember.

I'm a fan of Todoist.com

Pretty simple, plus a nice Web API. I wrote some command-line tools and an Android app to work with it, so I have a few ways to read or edit my list.

Toodledo, via the web and the App Store app. Though I'd be using the mobile version of Things if it synced to anything other than a Mac application.

I use t (one of my own projects): http://stevelosh.com/projects/t/

I think google's tasks can do what you need... it has more than what you probably need but you don't have to do that.

I use post it notes. But there is also a little known feature of gmail that has a very simple task list mechanism.

I am hoping that the ipad will help me get better organized with e-mail, calendar, etc.....


When I had jobs that required me to use Huge Enterprise Planner v 10.0, i copied my tasks as succinctly as possible to notepad. It's lightweight, doesn't get in the way, and just works. Todo.txt, and I keep it to 10 lines per day.

Google tasks is fine for me


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