What to do?

Filofax, Things, The Hit List

Back when Things was in beta I was a pretty avid user, but (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) when its price ($50) was announced I baulked, and never ended up getting a license. This was a shame because it’s a fine product, but — I think — too expensive.

Now (as others have pointed out) a product is either worth its price (to you) or not. If not, don’t buy it. Fair enough. I didn’t buy Things. Things has done quite well, thanks very much, without my help. They seem to have a staff of nine people (and they still can’t do syncing between two Macs). Build a better to-do-list manager and, apparently, the world will beat a path to your door.

It’s still cheaper than dead trees…

By way of comparison, Filofax (don’t you hate companies that require you to divert to a country-specific site from their .com address? If you’re going to do that, figure it out from my IP you morons) continues to sell their diaries for north of $100 (personal size refills for the “daily week on two pages” diaries — which ruled my life in earlier times — sell for $10.50). And it’s not like Dayrunner is significantly cheaper (in Australia and the UK, “filofax” is a household word, like aspirin, but not so much in the US, at least not on the west coast).

Remember The Milk

For a while, I used Remember The Milk, which has the huge advantage of being web-based and — if you want — free. (Sadly, it seems to offer no compelling reasons to upgrade to the paid-for version.) Unfortunately, RememberTheMilk’s UI just isn’t very good. In fact, it sucks. The way it handles selecting tasks and doing stuff to them (the single central user interaction) is abominable. I’ve been using it for weeks and it still annoys me every time. (It’s free — go try it and see for yourself.)

If I were the developer of RTM, I’d focus on fixing the core UI. The feature set is pretty much fine, but it’s a royal pain to simply mark items complete (the “checkbox” selects the item, you need to hit a button to mark it complete).

Every so often I would check back on Things to see if (a) its price had gone down, (b) it had been upgraded in functionality to a point where its price was justified (e.g. syncing multiple Macs), or (c) there were discount coupons compelling enough for me to take a leap of faith that (b) would happen before they charged me — let me guess — $25 for an upgrade. After a while, I started seeing a lot of comparisons between Things and The Hit List.

There’s no question that The Hit List owes a lot to Things. The developer of The Hit List quite openly admires Things (and even seems to agree on pricing, cough). Once I realised that The Hit List would, if anything, be more expensive than Things I decided to write my own to-do-list manager (or, rather, build one into my “does everything I need, and nothing I don’t utility gizmo” that I’ve been thinking about but never getting around to write for years). Then I realised I already owned a license thanks to Macheist 3.

The Hit List vs. Things

My take on The Hit List vs. Things is that it steals the best features of Things, including the global “hit this key to send a task to your inbox” while adding super keyboard control (it’s a nice feature, but I hardly ever use it). You can basically build and modify your to-do-list without touching the mouse.

I’m no “my hands must never leave the keyboard” (i.e. emacs) fanatic, but it’s really handy to be able to move to-do items around using TAB and WASD, or to add tags by simply typing “/<tag name>” while entering a task description, or to move due dates using [ and ]. It’s not just that it has shortcuts for almost everything, but it builds on shortcuts (like WASD) you probably already know and it also displays common shortcuts at the bottom of the main display (until you learn them and turn this off). Very, very slick.

It even has a timer function built in so you can time a task for billing.

I only really have minor complaints. My biggest annoyance is that you can’t operate in the “today” view as you can in any other view (because if you add a task in “today” then, by default, it’s not “today” which… it’s nasty…). What I’d like is for you to be thrown into the project tab of the item you’re editing as soon as you start adding stuff to it. Or something. The interaction of tag/project hierarchy and dates presents a bit of a conundrum.

For a product that isn’t even 1.0, it’s really very nice. But I wouldn’t pay $50 for it.