Wunderlist

I had been looking at a replacement for Outlook tasks for the longest time. Since Windows Phone 7 came out, Microsoft’s mobile offerings for Outlook tasks have been… sub-optimal.

I had heard of Wunderlist through sites like Lifehacker and The Verge, and in 2014 6Wunderkinder released a new real-time sync engine as well as new beta versions for Windows Phone and Windows 8. I thought it was about time I switched from Outlook, so I gave it a shot.

A year later and I’m still using it every day.

Wunderlist is intuitive and easy to use. The free version does more than other apps, and it’s totally cross platform with first-class apps for Apple’s platforms (including Watch), Android, Windows and the web. It features recurring to-dos, subtasks, reminders, due dates, multiple lists and folders to organise them. Smart views let me order the to-dos by today or this week. This is where I spend most of my time when actually doing things. I like working through to-dos in due-date order, across all of the lists.

The latest new feature was a Wunderlist API. Integration with Slack and Sunrise has been useful, but I’m still waiting on integration with Outlook (coming soon) and IFTTT.

wunderlist-ui

Now Wunderlist is part of my Action Management System and vital to how I get stuff done. Here’s how I have it set up.

Inbox

The Inbox is where I collect any of my to-dos as I record them. I try to keep my inbox fairly minimal, so I regularly review it. I often put links or other small reminders to myself in here and check them off without ever organising them into folders. The way I use inbox is in a similar way to my email: it’s a great collection point, but it should be regularly emptied – either by doing the to-do, or organising it into one of my folders.

Actions

Anything that takes longer than a couple of minutes goes from the Inbox and into here. Pretty much anything goes, as long as doesn’t fit into any of my other lists. I regularly review this list to add due dates or subtasks.

Habits

Daily, weekly, and monthly habits are stored here. All of these to-dos are recurring, so as soon as I check them off they return for the next date. For example, every week I review my finances and every month I review my projects list. These will appear on my weekly smart list as they need to be addressed.

Wishes

There are often things I am thinking about doing or getting which are either just ideas or not feasible right now. This is where my wish list comes in. Putting items in here gets them off my mind into a place where I can review regularly.

Waiting

This list keeps track of any items I’m waiting for including Kickstarter projects, deliveries, book and music release dates and other things like that. I also use list to keep track of things that I am waiting on from people too, including items loaned to friends.

Projects, Objectives and anything else

All of the above to-do lists are actually inside a folder marked ‘Personal’. As well as this folder, I also have a folder called ‘Projects’ which contains number of to-do lists for projects I am working on – and these come and go depending on what’s happening in my life. In fact, some of these lists may even be shared with other people.

Currently I also have an ‘Objectives’ folder which is keeping track of a some bigger picture things I want to achieve, but this is not permanent. I like to keep things flexible inside Wunderlist, and creating ad hoc lists and folders makes it easy for me to do so. I always review my to-do lists once a week a week anyway.

The Death of Outlook & Exchange for Task Management

Windows Mobile

Rewind to around 2005 – 2006, I had recently discovered the works of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and I had started looking for more resources and found the likes of Merlin Mann and others. These people were telling me that it was possible to do all the things you want to do by keeping track of all the tasks and commitments in a simple, trusted system.

Just like now, I was living mostly in a Microsoft ecosystem – I had a Windows Mobile Smartphone, I used Outlook & Exchange for my email and all my computers ran Windows.

I read a book called ‘Take Back Your Life! Using Outlook to Get Organized & Stay Organized‘ which took many of the principles behind Getting Things Done and implemented them in Microsoft Outlook to help keep track of what’s important.

  • Outlook Tasks – universal capture for all ideas as well as a single place for next actions
  • Outlook Calendar – the ultimate way to track professional and personal commitments
  • Outlook Email – a large amount of incoming tasks would come through email and processed directly from the inbox
  • Outlook Notes – sticky notes that could be used to make lists and capture ideas to be processed later, this was later superseded by OneNote for Windows Mobile – a separate download.

Outlook was ideal for this, because it also synchronised using both Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync – software that ran on your computer and would sync your Windows Mobile device when attached. As Windows Mobile was my mobile operating system of choice it included Tasks, Calendar, Email and Notes without any extra software. It was Outlook, in my pocket.

Windows Phone

Fast-forward to 2012 – 2013, and the importance of Outlook has diminished significantly. Not by my choice.

The support for Outlook or Exchange Tasks in Windows Phone is very low. In Windows RT the situation is even worse, there is no way of getting access to Exchange tasks without third party software, and no way to flag emails to follow up. If I can’t use it on all my computers, it’s not worth using the feature at all.

These days I use a combination of other apps to follow up on actions – the Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging applications allow me access to Exchange Mail and Calendar – but I manage notes and tasks through OneNote – which is fantastic for capturing but not so hot for reviewing, processing or planning.

Over the years I have actually moved away from using purely digital capturing and planning tools, favouring paper notebooks in some cases. However, I feel that Microsoft has not done enough to keep the functionality that they used to have for task management, and that they’re missing a trick by letting the functionality fall behind.

By focussing their smartphone and tablet efforts on consumer tasks and social networking, I believe they have lost a lot of the value they had by giving users ‘Outlook in their pocket’ – I hope they bring it back.

Digital Junk

I know a lot of people who are file collectors, ranging from keeping every possible bit of information which has a memory attached to it, to keeping all their emails even though they’ve dealt with them.

I personally feel that a lot of this stuff can weigh us down, so I try to keep it all to a minimum. But there is always going to be a lot of ‘digital junk’ that has to be dealt with – even if you are careful about what you keep.

The ‘Spam’ folder

One of the biggest sources for digital junk is obviously spam, by letting email into your life you’re opening yourself up to all kinds of rubbish. Because email was essentially invented by hippies, there’s no system in place to force users to prove who they are – this means you can send an email from Bill Gates without any email servers batting an eyelid.

Yea sure things are better these days, but I still tend to get quite a lot of spam. I also have a policy where any email address that isn’t trusted is automatically put into my spam folder. Because of this I tend to check my junk email at least a few times a day. Oh the joy.

The ‘Junk’ folder

I tend to make a folder called Junk inside my profile (C:\Users\Julian\Junk) where I stick any files that I haven’t yet decided where they should be (or if I need them at all!) Usually I just chuck everything from my Desktop into this folder when I’m done with it.

Saying that, I don’t usually keep anything on my Desktop at all. I only tend to use it for creation of content that is about to be uploaded or put into another project folder that I’m working on.

The ‘Downloads’ folder

Downloads probably the ‘buit in’ Windows folder that gets the most junk I have to sort out. Downloads tend to be a mixure of stuff you want to keep, stuff you wanted to just open to view, and (in my case as a developer) millions of documents that I’ve downloaded from one of Branded3’s internal tools.

Ahhh first world problems.

Still Missing in Task Managment for Windows Phone Mango

So a while ago I wrote about some exciting additions to task management in Windows Phone Mango, and I thought I’d touch on what I still think is missing.

OneNote

OneNote for Windows Phone is pretty good and I use it all the time, I especially like the fact that To Do tags can be shown in notes.

But unfortunately other types of tags that you can add in OneNote for the PC still don’t turn up. They do turn up on the web client though. The same happens with tables and ink and other formatting.

Also you still can’t pin a section to the home screen, but you can pin a notebook or a shortcut to creating a new note.

Tasks

Tasks in Windows Phone Mango are great, and even support different exchange accounts with highlight colours that match the calendar…

But tasks are hidden away inside the Calendar app. I’d much prefer to be able to pin the tasks directly to the home screen, with a count of tasks due. I’d also like to see a way of pinning ‘new task’ much like you can pin a ‘new note’ in OneNote – unfortunately this hasn’t been implemented in the current release of Windows Phone.

What else is missing

On the topic of being unable to pin things – here’s a selection of things that I’d like to see pinnable in future versions:

  • Wireless Settings (on and off)
  • Flightmode Settings (on and off)
  • Blueooth Settings (on and off)
  • Task List
  • Individual Tasks
  • New Outlook Task
  • A OneNote Notebook Section
  • Individual Pictures (you can pin an album though)
  • Individual Calendars

While this is not a list of everything anyone could possibly want to pin (I’m sure there are lots) these are just the things I’d like to be able to pin today.

Task Management in Windows Phone Mango

At least one* of the 500 new features in Windows Phone Mango is the addition of the to-do items in the Calendar app.

The fact Exchange Tasks was not supported in Windows Phone 7 was a very sore point for a lot of users. Some even going as far as to say that the platform was not suitable for business at all until this was rectified.

It’s understandable for users to be upset. Task support has been in the Windows Mobile platform since forever, and users have come to expect it to be there. Currently the best solution is to buy a task application like the one by APPA Mundi which I use (and seems to be the best of the bunch) – but paying for something that many feel should be baked into the operating system leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

The to-do list is included as part of the Calendar application in Windows Phone Mango – not a separate application. There is no support for folders or categories – which is somewhat annoying – and all tasks from each account is just shown in one list. But the synchronisation of the tasks is much more robust than is available in third party applications, and includes the handy features of being able to see tasks with a due date on the calendar (though  this doesn’t seem to show up on the tile) and the ability to have reminders pop up just like an alarm or calendar appointment.

As a ‘power user’ of tasks in Outlook, I’d much rather the this as a separate application in future versions of Windows Phone. I’d also like to see the ability to use organise tasks with folders and categories, and to be able to pin each of these to the start screen in a similar way to OneNote’s impressive implementation of tiles.

Until then, I’m probably going to end up using some combination of APPA Mundi tasks and the built in support.

* I’m unsure how they count a ‘feature’