This post needs to start with a disclaimer. I was initially going to compare two task managers, Remember the Milk and Toodledo, giving equal time to both as I put them through the paces. But along the way, something strange happened. As I put the two services to the test, I fell head over heels for one of them. I’m talking about the kind of love I previously have only felt for Evernote and LastPass. This post will still touch upon both Remember the Milk and Toodledo, as each one is useful in its own way, but you will see a bias here, and a more thorough discussion of Toodledo, as I abandoned Remember the Milk after a few days of using both.
If you’re sold on Toodledo, also check out our post on melding Toodledo with Getting Things Done.
Why a Task Manager?
Why do you need a task manager, when you could just use your memory, email inbox, or paper? Or maybe you’re a Getting Things Done fanatic, and have tried Bobby’s excellent method of using Evernote as a GTD tool.
I had taken a look at task managers in the past, and even had a mothballed Remember the Milk account, but nothing ever made me say “I need to keep using this.” My task management system consisted of sticky notes on my desk, emails to myself, and liberal use of the “Mark as Unread” button in my Gmail inbox.
Recently, though, as I felt more and more disorganized, I decided that I needed a system, and set off to try out several task managers. Eventually, after trial and error, I narrowed my search down to three: Remember the Milk, Toodledo, and Todoist. While Todoist is very elegant and easy to use, it lacked many of the features I needed, so I narrowed my search down to Remember the Milk and Toodledo. Both received great reviews around the web, and, important to me, both had an iPhone app.
Usability and UI
On a complexity scale, Remember the Milk sits somewhere between Todoist and Toodledo. One of the nice things about Remember the Milk is that, out of the box, it is simple and easy to use. If you’re looking for a task manager that you can dive right into it, then Remember the Milk is a better solution than Toodledo.
Remember the Milk’s interface is simple, although it took me some time to realize that the way to perform certain actions on a task (such as moving it to another list, changing its priority, deleting it, etc.) was by using a dropdown menu just below the tabs near the top of the screen. Remember the Milk does use AJAX, which enhances the smoothness and elegance of task entry. Remember the Milk makes setting up a task easy. You simply type in the task, and hit enter. You can then set the various task options in an area on the top right of the page.
Options and Features
Remember the Milk makes it easy for new users to get started. You can switch between a few predefined Lists on the front page, such as Personal, Work, and Study, and enter tasks into the big entry box below the tabs. Whatever you enter will go into that list. In your Remember the Milk settings, you also can create different lists. For example, I created a list for 40Tech.
Each task that you create can be assigned to one list. From there, you can assign tags to a task, set a location, set a due date, designate whether the task should repeat, set a task priority (1, 2, or 3), and enter a an estimate of how long it will take to complete the task. You also can associate a URL with the task, and associate notes with the task.
Remember the Milk has some other nice touches. When you set the priority of an item, a rectangular box to the left of the item will change to a different color, making it easy to pick out your higher priority tasks. Remember the Milk’s search feature is very powerful as well, allowing you to search by almost every task characteristic you can imagine. You also can enter tasks by emailing them to a RTM email address.
Although Remember the Milk’s simplicity is one of its strengths, it does have some customization options that make it more powerful. You can save searches, which adds those searches as tabs to the right of your lists. For example, I have a saved search that displays all the high priority items in my Work list. Tags also give you some flexibility, as you can add multiple tags to a task. Some users use tags as a way to overcome RTM’s lack of subtasks (a task within a task).
Remember the Milk is a clean, fast, and easy to use task manager. There aren’t many customization options, though. You can use the tagging feature to mold Remember the Milk to suit your needs, but that felt a bit like a workaround to me. But if you don’t need to mold a task manager to your own system, Remember the Milk is a strong choice.
Remember the Milk Summary
Strengths: Ease of use, AJAX interface, saved searchs.
Weaknesses: Limited customization, lack of subtasks.
Target user: Someone who likes an easy interface, and doesn’t require too much customization.
Usability and UI
One of Toodledo’s strengths is just how customizable it is. That customization means that it isn’t as easy to pick up, out of the box, as Remember the Milk. You will need to make some decisions on how to use it, whereas Remember the Milk guides you along. For example, Toodledo doesn’t have predefined lists like Remember the Milk, but does have Folders, Contexts, and Tags that you can populate to your heart’s desire. I use Contexts to designate my tasks by type: Work, Personal, Errands, and 40Tech.
Toodledo’s interface, while not pretty out of the box, is very functional. Like Remember the Milk, Toodledo uses AJAX, eliminating many page reloads. Want to change a task’s context? Click on the task’s designed context, and select the new context in the dropdown menu without every reloading the page or having to click a “Save” button.
Toodledo supports different user-created styles, using Greasemonkey or Stylish. With just a couple of clicks, you can drastically change the appearance of Toodledo. The screenshot above shows my setup, using the “Toodledo by Nonimage” style. The look is very similar to the base Toodledo look, but I find the colors to be easier on the eyes.
Options and Features
The columns in the screenshot above show only some of the options that are available in Toodledo. In your settings page, you can specify which columns you want to use. I use the following columns: Star, Task, Folder, Context, Priority, Due Date, Due Time, and Length. Other available columns include Tag, Timer, and Start Date, among others. You can also arrange the columns in whatever order you want, although the Star column must always be first, and the Notes column must be last. There is also an option to toggle to a more basic view with one click, which will hide most columns from view.
A strength of Toodledo is the manner in which you can slice and dice your data. As with Remember the Milk, Toodledo lets you save your searches, but the available searches are almost mind boggling. You can set up, in essence, arguments in your search, using “and/or” parameters. While Remember the Milk’s advanced search instructions suggest that such searches are supported, Toodledo allows you to set up these searches with a few clicks. You don’t need any knowledge of Boolean search strings.
All of Toodledo’s features let you use it how you want to use it, not how the developer envisioned you would use it. I’ve implemented a Getting Things Done system of sorts, and use Folders for that purpose. For example, some of the folders I created are named Someday, Actions, and Projects. In my GTD system, I start each day by going through my “Next list” (those items I target during my weekly review), and adding a star to those tasks that I want to accomplish that day. I then have a saved search that lists all tasks that meet the criteria of being in my “Next list” folder, in my “Work” context, and that are starred. I have several other saved searches, including what I call my “weekend” search. My weekend search contains all tasks that are in my Next List folder, AND are starred, AND have a Personal or 40Tech or Errand context.
Like Remember the Milk, the free version of Toodledo does not support subtasks. So, for example, I could not create a task of “create new website,” with subtasks of “pick theme,” “set up database,” and “write content.” Unlike Remember the Milk, however, Toodledo’s paid account does offer subtasks. In addition to subtasks, Toodledo’s Pro Account retains your completed tasks up to 2 years (on a free account, it is 1-6 months), gives you access to stats and a task scheduler, gives you an SSL connection, and several other features. A Pro Plus account has all of this, plus 5 GB of storage for any files you want to upload with your projects. A Pro account is $14.95 a year, while a Pro Plus account is $29.95 per year. You can find a full comparison here.
Toodledo’s usefulness can best be measured by looking at the results. In my case, there is no question it has made me more efficient. My staff at work joked that they needed to get me out of the office more, because I was generating much more work for them than normal. I credit Toodledo for much of that increase in productivity.
Strengths: Customization features, AJAX interface, saved searchs, powerful.
Weaknesses: Not as pretty as RTM without some customization. Harder to grasp in the beginning. Can only have one context and one folder per task.
Target user: Geeks who want to tweak a task manager so that it fits their needs.
Remember the Milk and Toodledo are both great products, with loyal users. When I first looked at Remember the Milk and Toodledo, I was actually more impressed with Remember the Milk during the early going. Remember the Milk, out of the box, is easier on the eyes, and easier to jump right into. The more I used them, however, the more I was blown away by Toodledo.
In making a choice, it really comes down to personal preference. The short answer is that Remember the Milk is simpler, and a good choice if your needs are basic, while Toodledo is more complex, but more powerful and able to be customized. Toodledo will work better for someone who has specific needs, and doesn’t mind tweaking an app.
I’ve really just scratched the service of Toodledo’s features. I haven’t even touched upon the Goals, Scheduler, or Booklet feature (some of which are Pro features). If you’re looking to get organized, I strongly recommend that you give Toodledo a try. A 7 day trial of the Pro account is also available, in addition to the free account. The best way to try Toodledo is to make a committed effort to use it heavily for a day or two. You may be daunted by its options and interface at first, but once you get comfortable with it, you’ll appreciate just how powerful and easy it is under the surface.
Do you use a task manager? If so, share your experience with us in the comments. If not, do you think you might consider using Remember the Milk or Toodledo?