Five different categories of task managers - how do you pick?

There are a million different ways to manage your “task list” these days – and it can be extremely difficult to choose!

If you’re just getting started on your journey to find a task manager, it might be helpful to understand what different kinds or categories there are.

Analog

Analog has surged back on the scene in recent years, partly in thanks to the Bullet Journal. I think analog is a great place to start managing your life. The friction paper introduces helps you be a bit more thoughtful about your work, as well as helps you prune out unnecessary items. I mean, who wants to copy a task you’ll never do from one notebook to another?

Some examples of analog systems include:

  • Bullet Journal
  • Autofocus
  • Full Focus Planner
  • Timeblock Planner

List

Most people are familiar with a basic task list. Apple Reminders is easily the most notable. You put items in, check them off, and maybe add a reminder date or put the item on a specific list. The feature set of these software tools is usually fairly limited, but can be a great starting point for smaller lists or specific purposes.

List style software includes:

  • Reminders
  • Remember the Milk
  • Google Tasks

Project Managers

If you’ve been around the productivity space for any amount of time, you’ve heard of the project managers class of tools.

Major players include:

  • OmniFocus
  • Things
  • Todoist

There are many more as well. These are the power user systems which offer great flexibility in terms of organizing and structuring your projects and tasks. However, the feature these tools are known for is their ability to slice and dice lists to see your tasks in multiple views. Using these “perspectives” as OmniFocus terms it, you can see the right tasks at the right time.

The downfall here is these tools can take a long time to set up, get going, and use comfortably because there are a million options. I would say these are not great tools to start with if you’re just getting going, and that opting for analog in that case is a good idea so you can understand what you need from a software tool.

Collaborative

Collaborative tools exist to help teams manage tasks and projects together. Not everyone will need a collaborative tool, but if you do, you’ll appreciate having the ability to work with others in an easy, streamlined fashion.

Examples of collaborative, workplace-oriented task tools include:

  • Asana
  • Taskade

Personal Knowledge Managers

This is the newest category on my list as this class of application has only emerged in the last couple of years. A personal knowledge manager is a software where you put all your information in it – notes, tasks, projects, ideas, thoughts, etc. These tools have the capability to organize this data in a meaningful way.

The main contenders here are:

  • Obsidian (my personal choice)
  • Roam
  • Notion

Notion is an interesting case, as it’s primarily used as a collaborative tool. However, Notion does work well as a PKM software, too.

What have you chosen?

I’m interested to hear – what category do you primarily use? Are there any categories you’re interested to hear more on?

What category does your primary task management tool fall into?
  • Analog
  • List
  • Project Manager
  • Collaborative
  • PKM

0 voters

A little surprised DEVONthink didn’t make the list in Personal Knowledge Managers

To be fair, I use OmniFocus as my second brain and an analog planner for my daily driver.

2 Likes

It was mainly an example list, but does DEVONthink do tasks? IIRC it doesn’t but I can’t remember for certain.

That’s fair! How’s that system working for you still?

I did that for the first quarter of the year then it abruptly stopped due to a lot of traveling and not having my notebook with me. I really think it worked well and should probably reboot that process.

On the flip side. I’ve really strayed from OmniFocus since the beta came out and have been using Things3 again.

2 Likes

The digital brain + analog planner approach has worked well for me now that I’ve refined the workflow a bit more.

Brain: Obsidian
Planner: Timeblocking & Capture

1 Like

Obsidian intrigues me. I’ve been using Craft the last few months and toying with Obsidian. I can’t really decide where either of them fit in - if they will fit in to my workflow. I like the concept of linked notes a lot. I am also “playing” with PARA to see if that has any benefits. How do you like the iOS app for Obsidian? I do have the iOS app. I paid to support the devs. My problem with obsidian is that 1) it’s an electron app and 2) I just don’t know what automations I can come up with because of 1. What I don’t like about Craft is that 1) E2EE is non-existent 2) it’s starting to feel to me (and I could be wrong) that their development path is just weird with blocks, calendars, etc. I don’t know that I can stick with Craft.

I’m planning on doing a video on my setup for next month to give an idea of what’s possible.

I honestly haven’t found the need for integrations at this point. Everything within my normal day to day has fit in Obsidian quite well.

The Dataview, Kanban, and Tasks plugins are what have done it for me. These three (mainly Kanban/Tasks) have enabled me to handle my entire workload in Obsdian.

2 Likes

I’ve had to retrain my muscle memory a bit with the OF4 beta. I’m actually quite liking it.
It’s much easier for me to use OF4 on my iPhone and iPad now. Quick Open and the projects/tags sidebar panel helps me to focus my lists from an endless, scrolling malaise into shorter, manageable lists.

Any time a new version of an app comes out, I have to remember that buttons move and screens change. It’s a matter of discovering where the furniture has been re-arranged. Are you finding it difficult because of muscle memory?

I carry a messenger bag to hold my iPhone, iPad, notebook, pocket knife, emergency flashlight, and wallet. There are times when I prefer to take out my A5 notebook instead of my phone or iPad. I had to train myself to always carry my notebook. If the A5 notebook is too big, I have one of those Levenger wallets that have a slide-in compartment for a stack of index cards and use that instead.

2 Likes

I still have a love affair with pen-and-paper that’s hard to let go of.

If I kept everything digital, I’d get the temptation to start wandering in OmniFocus and look for other easier tasks to work on. If I put my MITs (Most Important Tasks) on to paper, I’ve committed myself to focusing on those tasks today. My notebook is always open on my desk to remind me of my MITs.

It’s a hybrid system that works well especially under heavy duress or emergencies for me.

2 Likes

A little bit of that, yes. Things that were engrained just feel “off” now and it causes too much friction. I am trying to play with it more to get a better handle on the UI but careful not to do too much because it’s beta and will likely change some more. On that note though, the bigger issue is it’s beta and things just don’t work smoothly and the UI is horrific right now IMO.

2 Likes

@lostintime I see you voted PKM in the poll. What are you using, and how’s that working for you?

I am experimenting with Notion and find it very flexible. Like @wilsonng above I am also a self-confessed notebook-person (I almost never leave the house without :notebook_with_decorative_cover: and :pen: )

2 Likes

Awesome! Notion has some powerful tools.

I, too, have become more of a notebook person in recent years. There’s something so nice about carrying around pen and paper vs. using a phone.

1 Like

Here’s an overview of how I’m using Obsidian as a productivity tool.

1 Like