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The Missing iPhone To-Do App: Not Missed

I thought for sure the one thing that would nag me about the iPhone when I finally got one was its lack of a to-do list app. To my surprise though (and maybe it makes sense, as I'll explain), now that I have an iPhone I haven't felt the need for a to-do app at all. It's an egregious omission for most people to be sure, but for me it's turned out to be a non-issue. To understand why, I need to provide some context.

I work with serious time constraints. As a stay-at-home parent, I need to think hard about what I can actually accomplish with my son hanging on my pant leg, or during a few hours of nap time in the afternoon. Very rarely do I execute the classic GTD use case where I say, "Let's see, I'm at my desk right now with a phone and a computer: so let's look at my @calls, @online, and @printer lists to see what I can do." Instead, it's usually, "He's occupied with his Legos for next 10 minutes, so what's the most important thing I can knock out before he starts screaming for a popsicle."

In that sense, my contexts are "with the kid" and "without the kid." I'm very limited in what I can do con toddler, and I have to be prepared to do everything possible the second that status changes to sin toddler. So carrying around my entire task list, sliced and diced into neat contexts with due dates and dependencies to peruse at my leisure, doesn't do me a lot of good.

Years ago I was a dedicated Palm/Treo user, but during one of my patented switches I decided to scale back to carrying a standard cell phone plus some index cards or a notebook to keep track of stuff. Until last week, I'd been working this way for over a year, and I've developed some pretty useful ways for planning ahead, printing out a portable copy of my agenda or jotting down a subset of my larger list to do each day. Instead of carrying every possible contingency by default, I had a conservative, tactical plan.

Part of this grew out of necessity; I simply couldn't go running back to the computer every few minutes to look at iCal. But it also fit my new "work" environment. I needed something fast and easy on which to scribble reminders, something impervious to pureed foods and projectile fluids, something easy to shove into a pocket while I was juggling a squirmy kid, dog leash, diaper bag, and stroller handle. And because it wasn't an entire list of everything on my plate, it made me focus on just the few things I could reasonably tackle that day, instead of being paralyzed about what I couldn't.

So why bother with an iPhone at all? I don't really have to answer that, do I? It certainly upgrades the ways I can waste that interstitial time waiting on the boy to finish his lunch. And I'm not above peeking at my email to start thinking ahead about what I have to work on later. But I don't really miss that iPhone to-do app, because had it been there, I wouldn't have given up my notebook anyway.

samuelet's picture

Tada list

A few folks have mentioned (indirectly) in this post the good folks at 37signals, but have failed to mention Tada list . I consider this the "killer app" for the iPhone, at least for GTD folks. For free, you can set up as many to-do lists as you like, all linked on your own subdomain at tadalist.com for easy access.

They have it ported to the iPhone in such a way that it might as well be an Apple created application--it loads with the neat all-the-way-across bars that make you forget you are using Safari. What I particularly like about it is that you can create and edit the list from your computer, and it is basically instantly sync'ed to your iPhone (since it's on the web).

They even have a feature where you can allow other people you choose to also have access to your lists. I shared a list with my wife just this week to record thank you notes we need to write for Christmas gifts, and either of us can add items, or mark them as completed. I think we might try something similar for shopping lists.

It won't sync with calendar programs for sure, but I find that having a Firefox window with my various lists in tabs open on my work machine is not all that different--especially since they are always current.

From some of the things I have read about the iPhone, these web applications have been part of the plan all along--rather than releasing their private inner workings to the whole universe, Apple lets anybody play in Safari and so they can keep the "real programs" (and real profits) to themselves. I remember years ago laughing at Apple for keeping their computers so closed (and slightly behind the times) while I computed away on my Tandy 1000 and then my Amiga--but whose laughing now?




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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