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An Architect's View

GTD - Getting Things Done

December 31, 2008 ·

I've been experimenting with a variety of "todo" managers over the last year, trying to find one that fits my needs. I have been a fan of 43actions for most of 2008 because it offered a nice iPhone-compatible web application that was fairly intuitive and, with Fluid allowing me to have a "desktop" version of 43actions, I had synchronized access from both my iPhone and my desktop. The problem was that it was a web app so it didn't have any integration with either the iPhone or, more importantly, the desktop.I looked around at what other folks were using. I evaluated pretty much everything people suggested to me (thanx everyone!) and tried really hard to like OmniFocus: it's very powerful, it has an iPhone app as well... but it's just too overwhelming for what I need. My CTO, Richard Bennion, was a big OmniFocus fan but it just didn't work for me. Richard turned me onto Notebook (from Circus Ponies - what a great name for a company!). It's a computer rendition of a big, ruled notebook with sticky tabs and dividers etc. You can draw pictures, write todos, write general notes. It synchronizes nicely with iCal. It adds a great right-click context menu globally that lets you clip items into notes. It's really very, very good and I was extremely tempted to buy it after the 30-day trial. It has no iPhone equivalent, however (and, of course, iCal doesn't expose todos on the iPhone - why, Apple?). In the end, I went with Things (from Cultured Code - another great company name!). It looks like a standard Mac application (like Mail or iTunes) and has a hot key for quick task entry, no matter what app has focus. It now has a native iPhone application that synchronizes over wifi, while providing almost all of the functionality of the desktop version, allowing you to easily manage your tasks on the go as well as at your desk. The desktop version synchronizes with iCal as well. It's not quite as "pure" GTD as 43actions but it supports tagging which gets you close to contexts and it has some nice features around scheduling tasks (so you can have repeating tasks as well as tasks that can't start until a specific date). If you sign up for their newsletter prior to launch (see the website), you can buy the desktop version 20% off so you can get the desktop version and the iPhone version for the normal price of just the desktop version. It's probably worth noting that the iPhone version is the best selling (paid) todo manager. Here's to a productive 2009 with Things!

Tags: iphone · osx · personal

15 responses

  • 1 andy matthews // Dec 31, 2008 at 9:43 PM


    Aaron West has lately been a big proponent of an app called Evernote. Never used it myself, but he can't stop talking about it.
  • 2 chad // Jan 1, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    If you have not made your final decision, I use Remember the Milk ( It is super lightwieght and has some great integration points already (twitter, jott, gmail), and an API to add anything else. This year I upgraded to the pro account for an additional $25 to get the iphone app. It is working great.
  • 3 Sean Corfield // Jan 1, 2009 at 7:37 AM

    Evernote is wonderful - I use it every day - but it is not a todo manager (although you can add checkboxes to notes). I use it to track and remember all sorts of things including whether my wife & I like a particular wine or a meal in a restaurant, by taking a photo on the iPhone and then adding notes. I like that it can publish a notebook for public viewing - I've used that to share notes with clients (when I was freelance) and also to share my CNG gas consumption (primarily with my wife):
  • 4 Sean Corfield // Jan 1, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    @Chad, I looked at Remember the Milk at one point but wanted more GTD-style functionality rather than just a simple todo list (and it's still more of a web app than an integrated desktop app which an important feature for me).
  • 5 Aaron West // Jan 1, 2009 at 10:12 AM

    As Andy mentioned I'm pretty crazy about Evernote but it's not a todo app (for me at least). I use it pretty much the same way you so Sean, to take notes, jott down ideas, write blog posts (and flesh out blog post ideas) screencap hand written notes, and more.

    OmniFocus is still very much the center of my organization though. I've been using it for 13 months now. Sean does make a good point though, OmniFocus can be overwhelming to folks.

    For me, Evernote + OmniFocus is a great combo.
  • 6 Brian // Jan 6, 2009 at 3:06 PM

    You might also check out Java-powered ThinkingRock at It's a purpose-built GTD tool that I've been using for a couple of years now. Exports ics files that you can import into any other app - I synchronize it with my phone and my Mozilla calendar. It's free too!
  • 7 Sean Corfield // Jan 6, 2009 at 3:13 PM

    @Brian, looks very clunky and I can't imagine how you could sync stuff to the iPhone (and be able to update / add new items on the move).

    The ability to enter new stuff via a hot key and to simply drag items around to organize them is important to me - and a full read/write client on the iPhone is a must-have.
  • 8 Luis Majano // Jan 8, 2009 at 9:52 AM

    How has working with Things been now since you purchased it Sean?

    Do you find the iPhone integration to be reliable?
  • 9 Sean Corfield // Jan 8, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    The update to 1.3 on the iPhone was a bit rocky. It adds support for tags (which have been in the desktop version for a while) and there were some bugs that caused a lot of consternation for existing users when they did an initial sync.

    If you're buying it new, you won't be affected.

    The workaround for existing users was to sync iTunes/iPhone, un-pair the phone from Things desktop, remove Things from the iPhone, re-sync (which re-installs Things with no data) and then re-pair and sync which forces clean data onto the iPhone. Not a huge deal but frustrating if you tried to sync first and it messed up your tags on the desktop (which it did slightly with mine).
  • 10 Daryl James // Jan 9, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    Have you tried Reqall? I have used it on my iPhone and Mac, and it works great. You can even call in and leave speech-to-text notes for yourself. If you get a chance, check it out. And thanks for the heads up on the others here.

  • 11 Sean Corfield // Jan 9, 2009 at 12:28 PM

    @Daryl, I don't see a native desktop app for Mac on their site. As I've said, I don't want a web app on the Mac - that's why I stopped using 43actions - I want a fully integrated native desktop app.
  • 12 Douglas Wilson // Jan 11, 2009 at 7:47 PM

    I just bought Things after researching for quite awhile. I bought the 1st gen iphone on day 1, and I have been WAITING for this ever since! It took way too long, but now my iphone is truly the power productivity tool I envisioned when I bought it. I'll tell you, it is awesome. Granted, it's only been four days, but that is four days of power use, with no issues and seamless syncing. It is extremely intuitive and tags let you add contexts (@phone, @computer, etc) no problem... it's not a "work around", it is the same exact thing. Create a tag labeled "computer" and add it to all your computer context items. To see all you computer items, click on the tag at the top of the screen. Brilliant. This product is absolutely worth it, 50 bucks gets you both the desktop and iphone app. The discount ends on Jan 15th, which is why I jumped now, and I suggest others looking for an easy to use yet powerful and solid GTD iphone solution do the same.
  • 13 Sean Corfield // Jan 11, 2009 at 9:30 PM

    @Douglas, glad to hear from a satisfied customer :)

    I ended up having to start from scratch with TD1.0 and TT1.3 and I'm still seeing problems sync'ing TT status changes to TD but Cultured Code know there are issues and they're working on them...
  • 14 Daryl James // Jan 12, 2009 at 9:42 AM

    Sorry about that. I didn't even think about it. I use the Reqall app on my iPhone.
  • 15 Sean Corfield // Jan 20, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    @all, TD 1.0.1 and TT 1.3.1 seem to have fixed all the sync'ing issues now so Things really rocks!