Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Some Productivity Tools Worth Considering

My year of Nozbe is coming to an end, so I started looking at some other tools out there to see if I want to renew Nozbe or switch to something else.

I used to use Outlook heavily. I still use it at work, because I have no other option. But for a personal productivity solution, I find it lacking. I like that Outlook (since 2007) allows you to see your tasks and appointments on the same screen, but Microsoft hasn't updated this functionality since. The only other tool I know of that shows you both calendar and tasks on the same view is Pocket Informant.

Also, you STILL, to this day, can't sync Google Calendar to Outlook. You can subscribe to your calendars, but you can't sync them. This is a deal breaker to me. I've played around some with Outlook for Mac, iOS, and Android, but I find it lacking for pretty much anything outside of email, with one exception: on mobile, Outlook can access multiple cloud drives at once. You can see Dropbox, OneDrive, GDrive, etc. all in one place. This is useful. But otherwise, I'm likely to use Apple Mail on my Mac and iPad, and the gmail client on my Note 5 for email.


I've used MLO off and on for at least 10 years. It's very powerful, but sometimes too powerful. MLO allows you to create task dependencies, and also to accomplish tasks in order. You create your tasks in an outline, and there's a to do list as well that is automagically generated. In the outline mode, you have pretty much unlimited depth. You can also designate a task as a goal, project, or folder.

The drawback is there's no Mac version. They're considering developing one, but it doesn't exist yet and there's no indication when it could be ready. The clients all cost money, and they offer a web sync, which you can pay for in periods of one month up to a year. I think a year is $25, which isn't a bad deal. The last time I paid for the Windows client, it was $50. Every time they release a major update, you have to buy it again. The mobile clients run from $10-20. Plus the sync. It can get fairly expensive, but if you need the power, it's worth it. One benefit though is you only buy the desktop client once. As long as you have a license code, you can install on just about any device.

Cybersecurity at my work blocks pretty much any website that could be useful, even LinkedIN (you can get to Facebook though; weird). MLO's site isn't blocked, and the Desktop client doesn't make any registry changes, so you can install it on a computer without admin access. I have the ability to use MLO at work, which is a bonus. Most of you don't work in such a restricted environment, so this isn't a factor for you. I have to take it into consideration though


I've played with Nozbe off and on since it came out in 2007. All of the clients are free downloads. Nozbe charges you for the sync though. I think it runs $99 a year. I got it on Black Friday last year for half price, which included a second user so I used it for my wife.

Nozbe comes complete with videos to teach you how to use it, plus some basic time and project management skills, Nozbe focused, of course.

It's available on every platform EXCEPT Windows Phone, and when I had a Windows Phone last December, the web client didn't work in the browser. Unlike some other platforms that are designed and behave differently on multiple platforms, Nozbe is the same look, operation, and user experience EVERYWHERE.

With the Pro version (cloud sync), you are allowed unlimited contexts and projects. I follow David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology (somewhat), so I use these features. I like that Nozbe lets you assign multiple contexts to a task. Some others restrict you to a single context. But what if a task fits into both @Work and @computer? Not a problem in Nozbe. Nozbe also allows time estimation. If a task takes 5 minutes or 3 hours, you can add this information, which can be useful for planning.

Nozbe doesn't have sub projects or sub tasks. You can put a checklist into a task. These can't be reordered though, and you have to keep opening the task to access the checklist. You can also leave comments on tasks and projects, to keep track of status, roadblocks, or changes. One of their videos suggests using project comments to track your motivation. Why did you want to get this done? You can use this when you want to use the project functionality to track a goal.

You can also color-code tasks and projects. This can provide a visual trigger. I use red for high-priority projects so they stand out. Blue I use for goals, because I find it pleasing.

Nozbe also has a web client, but this is blocked at work. Another drawback to Nozbe is it doesn't background sync well. If I forget to sync it deliberately in the morning, I'll get to my cubicle and find out it didn't sync since last night. Then I have to go all the way outside (I don't get a signal in the office) and wait for it to sync over cellular in an area where I have a weak signal, if any. This hinders me some days when I rely on Nozbe to keep track of what I need to do for me, which is the point.

Nozbe syncs to Google Calendar, so when you have a task that has to be done on a certain day, it shows up on your calendar. This is useful. It also syncs to Evernote and Dropbox. I wish they'd add OneDrive, which I use far more.


Wunderlist is another one I've played with off and on since it first appeared on the scene, but I haven't given it enough attention to evaluate it very well. The free version is simple and powerful and syncs across all devices. They have apps for both Windows Phone and Windows 10. When I got a Windows Phone in early 2014, Wunderlist was the only major task management system available for it. They pro version is $25 for a year, which is fairly inexpensive.

Like Nozbe, you can add a checklist to a task in Wunderlist. And you can reorder this checklist. You can easily drag and drop tasks between lists. However, you can't add a context to a task. I think this might be available on pro. That means you can't make a task both a context and part of a project, because you have to use lists for this and you can't put a task in two lists. But you can have sub lists, and I think sub tasks.


I downloaded Todoist this past weekend, and haven't played with it much yet. Like Wunderlist, it seems simple and easy. But features like contexts and notes are only available in the Pro version. They offered me a free month of pro, so I might take advantage of it to try it out. It also seems available on every platform.


I've used Evernote pretty much since the beginning. I used Evernote 1, and was a beta tester for Evernote 2. Most of you learned about Evernote in 2008, when it became version 3 and expanded to multiple platforms and offered a cloud sync. Evernote originally was blue, and was based on being an infinite scroll. In 2008, they brought in some investors and a new CEO, who was a Mac user. This inspired the change.

Some people use Evernote for all their task management. Others think of it as a "digital file cabinet". I keep my journal in Evernote. You can create checklists, and highlight and markup text, but it doesn't have OneNote's ability to add other symbols.

One funny thing about Evernote: it was originally designed for tablets, and had the ability to write with a stylus. In Evernote 1 and 2, I used to draw with the mouse cursor. Their handwriting and image text recognition goes back to Evernote 2. That was one of the things I had to test out as a beta tester. This functionality disappeared in Evernote 3, and was added back in within the last year or two, even though it's been on tablets for years.

Microsoft OneNote

This is another one I've used since the beginning. OneNote was another program originally designed for tablets (Microsoft had a tablet edition of Windows 98; I think even 95 OSR 2 could run on tablets). Handwriting in OneNote disappeared for several years.

The problem I have with OneNote is its best feature is ONLY available in the Windows desktop client. Not in the Windows Store client. This is the "find tags". I use this at work a lot. I take meeting notes, capture actions and other important topics, then use "find tags" to go back through and make sure they get into Nozbe and Evernote in my personal task management system. But I can't use this on my Mac, iPad, or Note. Hell, the Android version of OneNote can't even open password protected notes. Fail, Microsoft.

The Mac and mobile clients have a feedback mechanism. They claim to encourage you to submit feedback. I've submitted several requests for "find tags" in the other clients, but so far whenever I see an update and check the notes, it's something stupid like "bug fixes" or some other functionality I don't care about.

But, through OneDrive, OneNote syncs across all of your devices.

For now, I see both Evernote and OneNote as a way to take notes or save information and capture action items that must then be put into Nozbe so I can get them done. Evernote can function as a document scanner through your phone's camera. They have an app, Scannable, for iOS. When I was buying my house earlier this year, I used Scannable for documents I had to submit, including my 110 page divorce agreement because the mortgage company insisted on it. But at least now I have it in pdf format.

Apple Reminders

I know people who use Reminders heavily. For me, they're too limited for anything besides asking Siri things like "Remind me to take the pizza out of the oven in 20 minutes".  (Hell, Siri is still too limited for anything besides that). David Allen Company publishes a guide showing you how to use them for GTD.

I still haven't used apps like Omnifocus or Things, which still seem to be Mac and iOS centered. I think one of them may have a Windows client now. They also seem a little too expensive.
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