What ToDo 1.3.2 – a no-nonsense task tracking tool for small businesses

The number of programs out there designed to help you organize your to-do list is staggering–and growing steadily.

In just the past couple months, we’ve covered several here in Mac Gems, including Anxiety and Today. The latest task manager to earn a spot in Mac Gems is Objective Satisfaction’s What ToDo 1.3.2 (US$29), a simple organizing and calendaring utility that facilitates the coordination and tracking of your tasks. It is loosely based on the popular Getting Things Done (GTD) paradigm, but you don’t have to be a GTD adherent to use it.

What ToDo is aimed at consumers and small businesses that have many simultaneous projects in play, have some flexibility in how and when they work on them, and need a straightforward and detailed way to keep track of single and multi-part tasks. It supplements iCal’s list capability by letting you organize small pieces of larger projects which may or may not be strictly calendar or schedule related.

In contrast to iCal’s calendars and to-do lists, which work really well for people on a specific schedule, What ToDo lets you plan in a more incremental and organic fashion. Unfortunately, though the program lets you use .Mac to sync your What ToDo tasks between your Macs, the program is not interoperable with iCal. (You can also use the program’s XML Export function to make backups or to move tasks from one computer to another without having to use .Mac.)

Defining projects

What ToDo’s interface consists of a two-pane layout with a Shelf (shortcut pane) on the left and a task view on the right. In addition, there’s a retractable Detail drawer with a handy mini-calendar that lets you append notes and due dates to your entries. You can stick with the two-pane layout if you want.

In the task view, you can choose to view your tasks by Project, Context, or Due Date. Projects are larger things you need to do that consist of multiple, related tasks. You can create a bunch of separate tasks and then organize them into a project via drag and drop–dragging one task onto another creates a project folder containing the two. Contexts are broad classifications under which several tasks can be grouped; for example, e-mails that need to be sent or phone calls that need to be made. You can add or modify contexts and assign them to new tasks, or, in the Context view, assign tasks to contexts. You can also pull URLs from the address bar of your Web browser into the task view to add the Web site as a task. For the Due Date view, you assign due dates to tasks using the calendar in the Detail drawer.

Quirks and annoyancesDespite the clean and easy-to-read interface, there are a few places in which What ToDo’s operation could be smoother and feel more complete. For example, the program has no search function and it does not manage completed tasks in any way. It also has no alarm or notification system. And although the Detail drawer supports contextual menus (right-clicking) for Google searches and several editing functions, neither the Shelf nor the main task view offer such functionality. (Note that a Spotlight-search item appears in the contextual menu in the Detail drawer, but it doesn’t function; the developer explains that OS X inserts this item into the menu automatically.)

Another quirk is that when you drag a standalone item in the Shelf into another folder on the Shelf, the original item then appears both on its own and in the folder; you have to use the Minus (-) button to manually delete the standalone version.

This takes some getting used to. And using the Shelf to its best advantage is subjective. My preferred method is to enter a bunch of items in the task pane, and then create a category for all of them in the Shelf so that I can specifically access that group with a single click. However, you can also use the Shelf to enter items individually and group them together via drag-and-drop from the Shelf or from the task pane. Dragging an item and hovering over another item in the Shelf causes a spring-loaded action that lets you quickly move and rearrange your tasks as you complete some and add others.

Finally, during my testing, occasionally an item called Inbox appeared on the Shelf uninvited. Though this Inbox item was easy enough to get rid of, trying to find more information about it emphasized another weakness of the program: the Help system. The Help menu item points you to a single page on the developer’s Web site where some of its broad concepts are explained. But that page did not provide answers to all my questions. (The Inbox, by the way, is related to the program’s interoperability with the QuickSilver utility. According to the developer, the Inbox is the project in which items are added using a Quicksilver plug-in, using the Services menu, or when you drop a Safari URL or a text snippet on What ToDo’s Dock icon.)

Bottom lineWhat ToDo 1.3.2 is a clean, minimalist calendar, organizer, and to-do program that takes a more iterative approach to task management than iCal–an approach that may work better for some people. It’s missing some core functionality, however, and its price is rather high for such a minimal feature set. Although I was initially lukewarm to What ToDo’s approach, the more I used it and developed my own techniques for taking advantage of its strengths, the better I liked it. It does everything it sets out to do with a minimum of fuss. Plus, if you’re a QuickSilver user, it integrates well with that utility. It’s definitely worth a try for those looking for the best way to organize their tasks.

What ToDo 1.3 requires Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later

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