Wednesday 11 November 2009

A first look at Toodledo

My ongoing quest to manage my email, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes from the cloud continues. I've managed to cover most of the above with Google Mail and contacts, Google Calendar and Evernote. Finding a task manager that I like the look of has proven tricky.

I tried to use the brilliantly titled Remember the Milk, but it's not designed to interface with Outlook. Unfortunately I spend a significant amount of my working life in front of Outlook 2007 which has very powerful task management. Using multiple task managers would not make my life easier.

I signed up to Toodledo a while ago, but didn't get around to trying it out. There was an Outlook sync tool, but it was pre-1.0 which didn't inspire confidence. So I left it a while... and went back to it last night.

The sync tool is now post-1.0 so I installed it and took my task list from Outlook 2007 into the cloud. I set Toodledo to map Outlook categories to folders so the organisation structure remains.

There is one downside to the Outlook sync tool: It syncs Tasks, but Outlook 2007 introduced another item called "To-Dos". Think of the "To-Do" list as all types of data that have been marked for action. This includes all tasks, but also all flagged emails, diary events and contacts. Apparently the To-Do list is not stored in the same structure as the Task list, so syncing it is not yet achievable. It's a minor point though and arguably not the fault of the sync tool.

One nice surprise about Toodledo is that it has a Notebook feature. Upon examining this I was surprised to find my Outlook notes had been copied across. They sync changes too, so although I'm primarily using Evernote for taking Notes, it's nice to know that anything I jot down in Outlook is made available as well.

I also spent a whopping £1.79 on the Toodledo iPhone application. This has a very pleasing and easy to use interface. The detail is there, but there's not too much detail to make it unusable. I've not had the chance to play with it too. It works when the iPhone is in airplane mode, so data appears to be cached locally. The aforementioned notebook is not available from the iPhone (that I've seen yet).

There are also integration points for Firefox, Google Gadgets, Twitter, Apple iCal and Dashboard as well as good old email and RSS.

It's early days and I've not used Toodledo enough yet to determine whether I want to commit to basing my task management around it, but initial usage is encouraging. I'll hope to implement some of the popular GTD methodology to it having just received a copy of David Allen's book "Getting Things Done". I just need to get organised enough to read it...

Saturday 7 November 2009

Working with Evernote

When it comes to notebook applications, Microsoft's OneNote is arguably the most powerful product out there. Unfortunately, as I commented in a previous blog entry ("Is OneNote a Cul de Sac"), OneNote - in its current form - is very much a single user, single machine application. Getting data into OneNote is easy, but accessing it remotely over the cloud is not possible.

Perhaps the most popular alternative is Evernote. This provides a cloud-based service that is free when a limited amount of data per month is created (a limit I am nowhere near reaching). Evernote can be accessed through the website, but also provides clients for Windows, Mac and the iPhone. This makes it a very compelling product to use, even if it's not quite a feature-rich as OneNote. If using Windows, it's definitely worth using the 3.5 beta release as the interface is much better (IMHO) than previous releases and is more similar to the Mac version.

One of the things I like about OneNote is the Notebook/Section/Page metaphor. It's possible to have multiple Notebooks (e.g., Work, Personal etc.) and each notebook can have section tabs. Within each section, multiple pages can be created. In comparison, Evernote has the concept of notebooks and pages. In order to work around this, I adopted a naming convention for my notebooks that describes what each notebook is for:

Personal: Holidays
Personal: Home Projects
Work: AIX Notes
Work: Business Planning
Work: Citrix

This effectively works around the lack of sections. (I actually realised after adopting this approach that when using OneNote, I only had a couple of notebooks for Personal and Work anyway and used sections to separate my data)

As for when to use a new notebook, I've adopted the approach that if I was to use a new physical notebook in real life (e.g., I'm attending a course), then I'll create a new notebook for it. This is what I did last week when on a Citrix XenApp course. All my notes were instantly available via the cloud to all my clients. I'm also using new notebooks for different projects.

Evernote isn't perfect. I'd still like the ability to click anywhere and enter text (like OneNote), and wish it handled proper text headings instead of just setting font sizes. But these are pretty minor. A native Linux client would also be nice, but the web interface works well enough for occasional use. One killer feature for me would be rudimentary drawing tools so I could illustrate notes with diagrams. In fact, I'd become a premium user for this feature.

Evernote is definitely worth a look if you're looking for a way to store all your notes together in one place, but access them from anywhere. A cloud win.