In the pursuit of task managers done right, I investigated several applications, starting with OmniFocus. I went on trying out Things and The Hit List and today I am reviewing 2Do, the last of the task managers I found to run on the Apple platforms. Ironically, the last also proved to be the best.
When I set out to try the major task managers for Apple’s platforms, I did so with the expectation that none of them would meet my criteria:
- Easy to use; not forcing me to think about how I best enter items
- Flexible in terms of how I enter tasks, what “task” means to me at any given point in time, and which methods I can use to manage them
- Helpful with organising my life, both professionally and personally; how easy the app would make it to discern between these two areas.
To be honest, the first contact with the developer wasn’t too positive. I couldn’t reach him by email — still can’t for that matter. He prefers Twitter’s PM and I respect that, but I don’t find it too comfortable. The one thing that made me cross the line nevertheless was the time 2Do has been on the market so far. Just as Things, it has a large and loyal user base. Unlike The Hit List, it hasn’t changed development teams.
So, without further ado let’s see what it’s all about, this app 2Do. 2Do is available for the Mac and for iOS devices. It's the only task manager with an iOS version that has identical features on the Mac. The reviews of this task manager I have read often claim it's complicated, while it really is not. True is that you need to read the user guide to use it to its fullest potential. If you jump right in without spending some time learning the hidden features, you'll find yourself managing your tasks with the same level of efficiency as with any of the other task managers. However, if you dig deeper you'll find 2Do to be the most flexible task manager on the market, popping up its alerts and nag screens only when it's needed.
2Do has a sidebar with task lists, a main panel for the tasks themselves and a right sidebar where you can list tags and locations. At first sight, there's not much to set this app apart from others. The first hint at its superior feature set comes when you start using both the Mac and iOS versions. The iOS app is not a crippled version of the Mac one. It's an exact mirror of the Mac app. On an iPad, you can do the exact same things with 2Do as on a Mac — only the keystrokes and screen locations differ. Even the ability to create custom list groups is available on the iPad as it is on the Mac. More importantly, the search capabilities of the two versions are identical as well.
Task creation is where 2Do first shows its power and flexibility. Tasks have a title, a tag area and a Notes area. They also have a lists 'tab' showing the list that will contain the task. This 'tab' isn't just static text. It's actually a drop-down menu enabling you to instantly change the target list for the task. So, if you create a task thinking it should be listed under 'chores' but decide it's better listed under 'home', you can change the target while you're editing.
By using the extensive context menu or the context-aware buttons, you can also attach actions to a task. The most obvious action is to set an alarm to go off at a specific moment. Alarms can go off via the Notification Centre, but on a Mac you can also opt to go through the 2Do extension (an optional install). The 2Do extension supports nag alerts, to make sure you’ll hear the alert once, turn it off… and forget about it.
Much less obvious is that you can set the alarm to go off on a moment that is defined by the start and due dates you set in the task entry area. Except for visual and audible alarms you can attach to a task, you can also attach a Google search, an email message entry, or a phone call even. It’s not that 2Do will launch Mail, Messages or Safari automatically at alert time, but clicking on the button in the task field will launch Mail and enter the address (Mac, iPad) or start an email message inside 2Do with (part of) the message (iPad) for you!
2Do has a GTD Inbox, but only if you insist — you’ll need to set it up in the Preferences. However, if you opt the iPad version to work with the Email to 2Do in-app plugin, the GTD Inbox is the easiest way to enter tasks using email messages. The Email to 2Do plugin allows you to pull in messages as tasks from an email account using various combinations of rules for messages to be regarded as a task by the app. For example, I can set it up so that only messages with “todo:” in the subject line will be entered in 2Do’s Inbox. However, it’s flexible enough to allow entering messages as tasks using different restrictions. Tasks can then be allowed to enter the system from multiple senders, with various subject lines, etc.
Email to 2Do is set up with security in mind and the methods to safeguard your iPad system, 2Do and your mail are outlined extensively in the plugin user guide. One security measure is that the email account doesn’t use your iPad’s Mail app — it’s all done within the 2Do app.
Except for these elements that confirm 2Do’s high degree of flexibility and power, I also found its synchronisation to be out of the ordinary. You can sync 2Do on any device using iCloud, Dropbox, Toodledo and CalDAV servers. The 2Do developer has a preference for Dropbox, but as I don’t particularly trust Dropbox, I tried iCloud synchronisation instead. iCloud enables Siri as a task creation tool and syncs via Reminders. It’s fast, but Smart Lists will not sync and unused tags won’t either. Only Dropbox will sync everything.
In other task managers, I couldn’t make out why I should use tags besides adding a context categorisation to a task. In 2Do I found tags to be indispensable and the reason is that you can pause tasks via tags. Imagine you’re working on a project that has items sharing the same tag for deliveries that need to be paid. Now imagine the delivery of those items to have been delayed. By putting that one tag on hold, you can immediately make these items invisible. On the iPad it’s as easy as swiping the tag and selecting “Pause” from the options.
2Do has tag groups and custom list groups as well. It’s every way as powerful for organising tags as it is for tasks. Its search capabilities and associated Smart lists functionality are just as impressive. You can create a “fuzzy” search by checking the Soundex option. This will find items including the ones that you have misspelled. However, if you want to create a Smart List, you often need more accurate search capabilities. Well, they’re all there. You can search for tasks that become important within the next 3 days — that’s a Smart Search or List that’s included by default.
I created a Smart List that shows me what I’ve actually checked off my to-do list for the day. It took me a few seconds to set it up — I read the user guide and knew I just had to enter “type:donetoday” in the Search field and hit the plus icon at the left to create the Smart List. You can even search for tasks that have an action attached to them, combine search criteria, etc, etc.
I could go on about 2Do, like for example that you can quickly change the priority of a task, move a task to another list, create projects but also checklists, switch between “focus” states with one click, quick-look tasks, set automatic alerts for recurring tasks, print … the list goes on and on. 2Do lets you do it all and in most cases you’re offered multiple pathways to get there — the app flexes itself around your work style.
In my opinion, 2Do is a true gem, both on the Mac and the iPad — and I reckon on all other iOS devices as well. It’s the task manager you should at the very least try out. You won’t need to change your habits or workflow. It will adapt to you and it will actually make you work smarter.