It was a gentle buzz at first, “You free? Time to finish TechNotes column.” I just glanced at the reminder on the phone while in a meeting last week in a coffee shop. The reminder was repeated on the tablet. I chose “snooze” in both devices and told the app, Astrid, to remind me again in three hours.
Then the reminders came in torrents and with more pressing urgency, “It’s time (urgent task here)” and “No more snoozing! (another urgent task here)” as my phone and tablet laid out a long list of things I was supposed to do and tasks that were nearing deadline. The klaxon of notifications (my alert tone is the sound of a modem initiating and completing a connection) provided me with the push to end the meeting on schedule.
From being a device to call people and later to send messages, the phone has increasingly become our main computer.
For many people, the phone is already the main e-mail client, at least for reading messages if not for sending these. Increasingly, it is becoming our primary media consumption device and interface to social networking. It is truly the dawn to the age of mobile.
But if there’s a function that transitioned to mobile ahead of others, it is scheduling and task management. Even before phones became “smart,” people were using their clunky GSM mobiles’ alarm system to prompt them for tasks that needed to be done.
With smartphones, task management became more robust with the introduction of such features as categorization and prioritization of tasks, synchronization across multiple devices and platforms and even collaboration with other people.
Here are a few apps and services that you could use to manage your tasks and projects in your phone and tablet:
Astrid. This is my current favorite task manager. What’s good about Astrid is that it is available in both iOS and Android. While it does not have native Mac or Windows apps, you can just use either a website wrapper like Fluid to turn it into a Mac app or install it within Google Chrome through the Web Store.
Astrid offers a minimalist interface that’s quick and responsive, which is important in a task management service and app.
Entering a task in Astrid is straightforward. You don’t need to immediately categorize it or designate its priority or even identify who is responsible for it — all these things you can do later.
Astrid also does mobile phone notifications well although I prefer how it does notifications in Android over in iOS. In Android, Astrid puts one notification bubble for each task due on the top screen of the device. In iOS, it only displays one notification bubbler on top of the application icon. I can’t even find task due alerts in the Notification Center.
Astrid offers collaboration and task sharing but I have never tried it yet. The people I collaborate with would kill me if I suggest yet another online collaboration system.
Another robust task management option is Doit.im. I first tried the service more than a year ago but stopped using it. I recently checked the site and found that it now has multi-platform support: iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and a beutifully designed Mac app. In my quick test of using its web and beautiful Mac app, however, I found entering tasks to be cumbersome.
Users of iPhones and iPads have a built-in task manager called Reminders. It’s a great tool to keep track of tasks but lacks native synchronization between devices although you can sync it with your Calendar app.
For synchronization of calendars, however, nothing beats Google Calendar, which allows you to sychronize events among multiple applications, devices and platforms.
Podio. For collaboration, however, I depend on Podio, a free project management service that was recently purchased by virtualization company Citrix.
InnoPub Media, the journalism start-up that I co-founded with my wife, uses Podio to manage all its projects. It’s such a useful app for companies, especially smaller ones and the start-ups.
Podio shares most of the task management and tracking, document repository, bug tracking, online planning and meeting capabilities of most project management systems. But it surpasses them with its app-based feature. You can add feature sets by choosing from among the many applications offered in the Podio app market. Many of the apps come in packs that give you a ready to use system for your projects.
Among the popular packs are Simple Project Management, which comes with apps to manage projects and deliverables and set up meetings. Another popular pack is Business Development, which comes with apps for writing business plans, keeping track of inspirations, managing partnerships with companies and people, prioritizing market segments, planning business decelopment sprints, keeping track of incubators and storing all pitch materials.
Podio also allows you to create your own app to fit your workflow.
Podio comes with apps for the iPhone (that you can also install in iPad) and Android devices. While it does not have a native desktop client, you can use it with Chrome by installing it from the Web Store.
Another good group collaboration app is Asana, which was built by a Facebook co-founder. Asana wants to be the Facebook for work. It offers an app for the iPhone (which I find to be slow) but no official one yet for Android.