I have just realized that it's been more than 6 months since I made the decision to incredibly simplify my daily tasks tracking and stick to the amazing Remember The Milk service. Having been one really happy customer of this service, I feel I owe a quick recap of my needs and a review of how RTM helped me meet them in a very elegant way.
Useable online and an iPhone app
For the past few years I've been quite happily using iPhone and that's why one of my pre-requisites for trying any new productivity approach is that it has a decent iPhone app.
Prior to settling with Remember The Milk, I've had a few weeks of testing multiple services – considering both free apps and paid ones. Quite a few of very expensive tools have a lot of functionality offered for an acceptable price, but I quickly noticed that for the first time in my life I wanted to simplify my approach instead of making it more app/process driven.
This was when I stumbled upon RTM. I've read a few reviews online and got really interested but the app (and the website) seemed too simple to be really useful for anything advanced. I already had a way of managing my shopping lists (mostly in Evernote with a bunch of checkboxes, really neat!) so wanted to be sure I won't lack any important functionality.
Turns out, RTM was a perfect balance of simplicity and productivity – you have ways to set up regularly reoccurring tasks, there's an easy way to specify priority and duration of a task. It's very easy to add tags and place a task in a list, so what more can you possibly ask? Add more and the simplicity will vanish, and who knows how this will impact your productivity.
Life without projects
Like many others, I've been avoiding using multiple tools for managing my personal and work related tasks. Keeping track of your tasks adds enough overhead to your daily self-organization effort without having to use different tools for different parts of the day. I've managed to stay faithful to this principle with a number of tools, but many of them were decided because of their built-in support for projects.
Now, if projects are supposed to be different from contexts. If you decide to use contexts for specifying the location where a task is to be completed (like @home, @laptop, @mobile, @work) then projects may be used for additional granularity in grouping your tasks. Many tools will also let you specify priority for the project or indicate a completion progress with a percentage, and it's usually possible to specify the start and finish date for a project.
What I found out is that I almost never used projects the way they're meant to be. For me they were usually nothing but a grouping. I didn't need the time-tracking or time-planning elements usually associated with project management. That's why I slowly arrived at the idea of using contexts as projects. There's no need to specify the location for a project via context, because project name includes a hint at the location anyway.
Within a few weeks I have departed from projects completely. I fell in love with lists in Remember The Milk. You can create as many as you like and they fit my day-to-day activities a lot better than a concept of projects.
For example, I can have a list for my current and future reading. I have a list for shopping. I naturally have the Inbox and Someday lists and keep a few more that really help organizing tasks. For any extra granularity I can always use tags. They're not contexts but act in a very similar way, so once again it's very easy to make them anything you want them to be – location or activity indicator, personal or work related, critical or a nice to have.
Customisable searches in RTM
I really, really like this feature of Remember The Milk: you can search for a task in more than one way, and then save the search conditions to be reused late.
There are quite complex searches possible thanks to the built-in syntax, but I keep it really simple and use search for finding future and past tasks still due for completion. Search queries are really simple, like due:today (for my current list) or due:yesterday (I check this every day to make sure I reschedule any tasks that I did not get a chance to complete in time.
There are whole pages devoted to explaining all ways to search your tasks. Naturally, you can access both active and completed (archived) tasks – no compromise there.
Simple notes for tracking progress
I've used this trick long before RTM (in fact, it was MyLifeOrganized where I saw it first a few years back): if you have a recurring task, it usually allows you to add notes which you will see every time your next task occurrence is due. Editing a single note or, as it's possible in Remember The Milk, to add new notes every day, is a perfect way to track your progress for a recurring task.
For example, If I have to learn/practice new words I can have a daily task which will capture my impressions from each day's practice session.
If I have my daily 30min of reading scheduled as a reoccurring task, it's really easy to see what I've been reading every day because I keep adding notes whenever I see a daily reading task.
The amazing syntax for adding new tasks
Last and most certainly not the least functionality gem of Remember The Milk: the amazing way of specifying all parameters of the new task right in the same field where you're typing your task's name.
Using a simple syntax you can type one expression which will not only name your task but also specify the due date and priority for it, and any tags if you feel like specifying them.
It's hard to underestimate this functionality. This feature was probably the deal braker for me – being someone who loves lean and functional interfaces, I was impressed from the very first few tasks I had created.
That's it, my Remember The Milk story. If you haven't used this service yet – please find 15min to try it today, you'll thank me later!