App Review: GTD with tasks@hand | webOS Nation

App Review: GTD with tasks@hand

by Tim Stiffler-Dean Wed, 06 Apr 2011 9:22 am EDT

The Getting Things Done (GTD) crew is about to get a welcome surprise from the developers at Knowified Software in the form of a webOS app that will help you, well, get things done. We've reviewed other methods of GTD on webOS devices in the past, like that of Outline Tracker (which syncs with Backpack and Basecamp), but Knowified Software has decided that these other methods just aren't what they are looking for in a GTD app. Which brings us to their new product, tasks@hand. By the way, if you don't know what GTD (Getting Things Done) is, you can either try to figure it out by reading through this review and using the app for yourself, or be better prepared by checking out some information on the official GTD website.

"Sophisticated without being confining, the subtle effectiveness of GTD lies in its radically common sense notion that with a complete and current inventory of all your commitments, organized and reviewed in a systematic way, you can focus clearly, view your world from optimal angles and make trusted choices about what to do (and not do) at any moment. GTD embodies an easy, step-by-step and highly efficient method for achieving this relaxed, productive state."

From: What is GTD?

Sounds good, huh? While we were a bit skeptical of the system ourselves at first (how many other productivity methods have we tried in the past) but after a few days of being regular GTD'ers, we found our old habits to be inefficient at best. We could create a whole website to really dive into the GTD method if we wanted to take the time to teach you all of the details, but luckily someone else already has. Instead, let's get down to business with that new GTD webOS app: tasks@hand.

First impression of the app: it's pretty good at making a somewhat complex method of time management easy to get into (and it's also much simpler to use than other GTD apps in the catalog, while remaining fully-featured). We got started with the tasks@hand app as complete GTD newbies, so that we can give the app a true review from the perspective of a new user. After nearly a week of using it, it was pretty easy to keep up with the system and actually manage time a bit better (to be the most productive). There is still a bit left to be desired with what the developers hope will become the #1 productivity app in the catalog, but you'll have to jump after the break to read the full review.

Time-Manager or Time-Waster?

One of the concerns that we had when first getting started was whether or not this app was going to be another that just sits in the launcher to never be opened again (we always want to open these productivity-type apps, just never get around to it). Luckily, after a few days of forcing yourself to work with the app, it starts to become an easy habit to stick with, if only because we actually noticed the effects of renewed efficiency that came with the GTD method.

The concept is simple: By breaking down your major projects into smaller tasks and milestones, and then using contexts and deadlines in the advised way, you will be able to finish more tasks in a shorter amount of time. When first launched, the app gives you some example contexts and tasks to show you how it all works, but to be honest they weren't as much helpful as they were confusing to know what to do next. So instead, we wiped the app clean of data and started fresh to poke around the crevices on our own accord. Here's what we found:

Starting at the very largest organizational division of 'contexts', you can define the different general types of projects that you will be working on. For us there were three main contexts; work, home and play. These contexts are the over-reaching divisions that house each of the projects you are going to work on, and allow you to group those tasks together to see, at a glance, what you could be doing next (whether you are at work, home, or have some play time). Within each of those contexts you can assign Projects (like 'Build Garage Office'), and within each of those Projects you can set Parent Tasks (or what we would call Milestones, like 'Put up Walls'), and then further break those down into Sub-Tasks ('Buy Lumber').

With a lack of time-analyzing graphs or calendars or stop-watches or other flashiness, the app keeps the focus where it needs to be, the task at hand, and keeps it off of those wasteful habits that many of us can easily fall into: productivity analysis. The more time you spend looking at what you have and have not done, the less time you are actually spending doing your job. If asked to describe this app in one sentence, it would be like this: "tasks@hand puts tasks in front of you and then runs scared out of your way so that you can get the job done."

When using the app, keep these few things in mind:

  • Don't set a deadline for every single task unless it absolutely needs one. Just make a list of tasks and work on them whenever you have the time or convenience of doing so. 
  • Don't work on projects under a specific context when you should be working on your other tasks. You categorized them that way for a reason, so stick to it. Don't do something under the "Home" context, when you are at work, for example.
  • This app is very much about disciplining yourself to complete tasks in an efficient manner. If you aren't good at managing your time well, forcing yourself to use this app can be difficult, but well worth it.
  • You may wonder if using an app like this actually takes more time to use than finishing the tasks immediately. That may be true for some situations, but we all know that you don't always have the chance to do a task right away when you think of it. It is all-to-easy to forget a task later on if you didn't already put it down somewhere (like in the app).
  • When adding a new item to a task-list or project, be sure to fill out as much detail as possible (what context, parent task, sub-task, deadline, related people, state, etc...). If you don't, you may actually spend precious moments later on trying to figure out what the purpose of the task is, rather than completing it. 
  • Each time you do anything with any task, make sure that you change the State that it is in. On the dashboard scene of the app, you'll be able to see what tasks you need to work on next (under Next Action), or which ones you may never even get to unless you have the time/desire (Someday/Maybe). This confused us a bit at first (why should we use that feature?), but it made sense after a few days and now it is a very valuable feature.

Might have asked for more...

There are a few problems that we ran into with the app that we hope will be fixed in the future. One of them, and perhaps the biggest, was the confusion that we had when first getting started with it. If we, webOS power-users, are confused about what to do or the importance of doing it in a certain way, how will your average user feel when they first launch the app? A simple tutorial scene (or even just a video link to YouTube) would do wonders for getting people introduced to the concepts behind the app.

The other thing that we missed was being able to add attachments to each task. If I had an image that needed to be edited for an article here on PreCentral, I would create the task that would alert me to editing that image, but then have no way to attach that image to the task so that I could remember which one it was later on (same would go for text documents and other file types). While the developers have also created the ability to add a contact to a task, there is an unfortunate bug that makes this feature unusable for webOS 2.0 users, so we never got a chance to attach contacts to a task either.

Lastly, with no easy way to backup your data to the cloud (and thus to other devices), a lot of users may not give the app a chance to work its magic on them. In our own use, we never found a need to sync the data with a desktop computer in any way, since the phone was always with us at all times for quick use, but there could be a number of people who would need a feature like this before they consider using the app.

But then again, the developer has made it clear to us that the app is still under active and heavy development, so we may very well see these features and more come in due time, which is all we can really ask for at this point. Bottom-line is, if you are a hardcore GTDer that has been waiting for a simple app to come to webOS so that you can start getting things done the way you like, then tasks@hand may be a good choice for you to try out. For those of you who haven't gotten into the GTD method before, the app may be a bit to swallow at first, but it can't hurt to try.

If you want a straight-forward rating, we'll give it a 3.5 out of 5. It's a good start to an app with a lot of potential, and we can see it being developed to be very useful to its users. Yea, we'll keep using it for the time being, if only to stay with the good habits that are being formed because of the app, but we're really (really) looking forward to the updates that will hopefully come in the near future. Is it worth the introductory $2.49 pricetag that it is coming with? Absolutely yes. It has saved us a lot more time than wasted, and we all know saved time equals saved money. Two bucks is a very small price to pay for a decent app like this, even if it does have a few small glitches.

Grab it in the app catalog and be sure to leave your own review of the app yourself, once you've checked it out for a few days.