Got Milk? Using Remember the Milk for Task Management

About a month ago, Ryan Cordell gave a great overview of a fine task manager: Cultured Code’s Things. It’s a powerful application. I was intrigued enough by it that I actually purchased a copy last summer.

I ended up deciding, though, that it wasn’t quite right for me, for two reasons:

First, I have separate work and home machines, and I need to keep them in sync with each other. Yes, using a service like Dropbox, it’s possible to keep two machines in sync with one another, but as Ryan noted, you have to be cautious when doing that. I’ve had enough experience with data lost to bad synchronization that I didn’t want to risk losing my tasks to stupid user error.

The other deciding factor for me came in September, when I moved to an Android phone (I’d been using Things on an iPod Touch). There is, unfortunately, no Things app for Android (nor is there a web interface), and what’s the point of using a smartphone if you can’t take your task list with you?

So I decided to take a second look at a service I’d tried briefly before: Remember the Milk. RTM is a web-based service that syncs with applications on the iPhone (where you can use RTM’s own app or the Appigo’s ToDo), Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Android platforms. It can also integrate with GMail and Google Calendar, and it’s possible to post tasks to it using QuickSilver or Twitter.

Since I haven’t yet implemented GTD into my own workflow, I’m not the person to give a  rundown of how well it works for that. What I can do instead is point you to Emily Boyd’s post on using RTM as part of a GTD system.

One of the things that I’ve found really useful is RTM’s list feature. It’s possible to add tasks to lists (e.g., “Home,” “Family,” “Teaching,” “Research”) that can be used as part of any organizational system–I still tend to think in terms of “roles,” which was part of the FranklinCovey system I used back when I still used a paper planner. Sorting tasks into lists helps me keep track of which items belong to which part of my life, which is sometimes important for prioritizing.

Perhaps the biggest task-management challenge for me is remembering the task in the first place; if I don’t get it into that basket or inbox, I’m in trouble. This is where RTM has been the biggest benefit to me. Because there are so many ways of entering tasks into the system, I really have no excuse for not making note of them. The means of adding tasks include:

  • Entering the item directly into RTM’s web interface.
  • Emailing the task to an email associated with your RTM account.
  • For Mac users: Using the RTM for Quicksilver plugin (a warning: this plugin quit working for me a while back; I don’t know whether that’s a general problem or a problem with my particular setup). This particular tool allows a user to assign a task to a particular list very easily.
  • Via direct message in Twitter. (If I don’t have a Twitter client open, I use QuickSilver for the purpose. I’m using this script to accomplish the feat on the OS 10.4 machine at work, and this plugin to do it on the 10.6 machine at home.)
  • From an email message using the Remember the Milk for GMail extension for FireFox. (N.B. This extension sometimes breaks when Google makes changes to GMail. The RTM team stays on top of it and tends to get a fix out very quickly.)
  • Entering the task from one’s iPhone, Android phone, or Blackberry.

A nice feature that saves time when entering tasks is RTM’s ability to understand common-sense language. For example, if I wanted to write a new ProfHacker post next Thursday, and I wanted to add that task using Twitter, I’d tweet “d RTM Write ProfHacker post next Thursday,” and it would add the task to my inbox with a due date of February 25.

Since I’m often away from my computer, the portability of RTM has been critically important for me. I make frequent use of the Android app:

Lists in RTM’s Android app

Tasks in a list

Remember the Milk is available in two versions: free, and Pro. The Pro version is a $25/year subscription, and is required for users who want priority email support and/or the ability to make use of the smartphone applications. A smartphone isn’t necessary to use RTM on the go, however. It will work with any phone that has a web browser and a data plan, and RTM’s mobile interface is quite good:

Lists in RTM mobile

With the exceptions noted above (and the ability to take part in RTM’s Pro Tester Program), both free and Pro versions have the same functionality. Both allow you to search, prioritize, set reminders, tag items, and set locations and repeating tasks. It’s even possible to subscribe to your task list via RSS or using iCal.

Remember the Milk is a simple but powerful tool that can fit a variety of working styles. If you’re looking for a new task management system, it’s worth checking out to see if it meets your needs.

All images in this post were created by the author.

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