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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.

psimac's picture

Thanks to iCal Events, Mail Notes, and OmniFocus

I've never found the To Do list in iCal (or any app) to be very useful because I always seem to have a long list of things to do.

I used to use individual events in iCal to plan my To Do tasks. I would schedule a new event each morning for CALLS and TO DO. These were basically flat lists in which each item was distinguished by either a hyphen if it was still to be done, or a bullet if it had been done. My calls list would track the calls I needed to make for each day, and my to do list was an unordered list of things I had to do.

That worked great when I had less things to do and more time to do them. But as I've gotten busier, I have gotten very good at cutting and pasting things into the next day, and the next day, and the next.

I've switched to OmniFocus which is being released right in time for me. Great app; buy it.

I use OmniFocus to plan projects by breaking them down into physical actions, and then categorize the actions into contexts. I only started with it a couple of weeks ago, and for a few weeks before that I was using iGTD (also good). Currently, I probably only work out of the app 1% of the time. I actually used Context Mode last night during a meeting with my web developer so I could see the actions relevant to his being present. Usually, though, I just review my Inbox and go through all my Projects every couple of days to clarify, refine, classify into contexts, reorder lists, reorganize, and best of all: mark things that are done! For me this is much more useful than a simple "To Do" list.

Anyway, back to the original point: if I want to bring my to do list with me, I select the relevant context(s) (e.g. Errands) and print them, or I copy and paste them into a Mail.app Note. I also keep all my calls in a different note. The notes are synced to my IMAP email account (.Mac) so I can view and edit them on my iPhone.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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