The market for task management apps seems to be one of the most active of all. There are so many variations on this theme that it’s very easy to end up spending more time on finding, setting up, and tweaking your tools than you do on actually getting things done.
It also seems that the quality of such apps is also steadily improving, as new contenders build on the success of older, more established tools, or learn from their errors or exclusions.
Today we’re considering Firetask for Mac, which promises to combine aspects of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology with more traditional systems using due dates and priorities to manage your task list.
Join us after the jump for a walkthrough of Firetask’s main features…
Firetask began life as an iPhone app nearly two years ago, and this Mac companion is fairly new to the market. The first thing to observe is that the developers have spent time on ensuring Firetask looks good:
The main window is divided into two sections, with a list of Focus areas and additional ways of categorising your tasks in the left hand panel, and the rest of the window given over to your tasks. The uncluttered, legible design makes it very easy to get going with Firetask. And if you’ve used any another task management app, chances are that you’ll be up and running in a very short time.
It’s a pity, given that so many of us do dart around between task management apps, that developers don’t spend more time on exporting your tasks and making it possible to import from one app to another. Some apps do provide such facilities, but Firetask offers neither import nor export features.
So, since you can’t import, if you want to make the switch from, say, Things, you’ll need to manually transfer across your tasks. Happily, Firetask makes this quite easy to do.
As you’ll see in the screenshot above, just about everywhere you go in the app, you will find an ‘Add new task’ field. So, whether you’re looking at your list of categories…
… or your Someday list…
…you can simply click on that line and start typing. Once you’ve entered the task title, you can set the task’s due date and priority. Some fuzziness is understood in setting the date: so ‘tomorrow’ or ‘Wednesday’ will work, but ‘next Wednesday’ won’t.
There is a dropdown calendar available to pick dates, but, curiously, it’s not visible when a line is selected, so you need to select another task, and then mouseover the new task in order to see the disclosure triangle and view the calendar. A priority can be set by clicking on the icon in that column and then selecting from a range between ‘Critical’ and ‘Trivial’.
There is also a Quick-Entry panel that lets you quickly add tasks to a specific project from anywhere in the app (initiated either from the toolbar or with the cmd+n keyboard shortcut). This is less useful than the system wide quick entry system in OmniFocus, Taskpaper, or Things, but of course it’s still welcome.
As with opening the Quick-Entry panel, adding a new project can be done either from the toolbar or via a keyboard shortcut.
From this dropdown panel, you can set all the parameters of your project, from title to completion date, category, and priority, as well as adding any notes you might need to refer to in relation to the project. Once your project is set up in this way, you can go about adding tasks by selecting it from the project list.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself working on a task and then realise that, actually, this one is a project, after all, consisting of several steps or sub-tasks. That’s where the ‘Convert to Project’ button on the toolbar comes in handy.
You may have noticed that all the tasks in the previous screenshots have little icons beside them. These are indicators of their category, and you can view all your tasks by category by selecting that heading from the left hand panel. This is a variation on the traditional GTD language of Contexts.
Firetask comes with all the standard GTD categories/contexts already set up, and you can add any others that you might need (as well as selecting a fitting icon):
This is a nice feature: in looking at your Today list, you can click on the word Focus at the top right of Firetask’s window to narrow your focus down to display tasks due only today and tomorrow, or due in the next 3, 5, or 7 days. You set the extent of your focused view in the app’s Preferences:
Firetask on the iPhone shares the desktop version’s clear design – actually, I suppose it’s the other way around, since the iPhone app came first.
Setting up wifi sync between the two clients is extremely straightforward, and syncing works simply and well. Of course, only having wifi sync is limiting, since you need to be on the same wifi network in order to sync your tasks. Some people seem to be able to get on fine with this, though it’s one of the reasons that I have found Things unusable, and I know that many other users agree.
Firetask is a very good looking application, and offers all the main features required from a task management app. Sync with its fine iOS companion works smoothly and without hitch.
At $49, it’s significantly cheaper than Omnifocus ($79.95), but less than a dollar cheaper than Things ($49.95). I recommend you download the trial version of Firetask and give it a go. It’s a very nice app, and if you’ve never used a task management app before, then Firetask will quite possibly do everything you need, and do it elegantly and well.
However, if you’re one of the many who have tried just about every GTD-type app around, then you might find it restrictive. Other apps offer more flexibility and the ability to set things up in more varied ways that might better suit your workflow. For all its good looks and smooth functioning, Firetask still feels like a young app, and it’s easy to imagine it gaining more depth in future releases.
Personally, I’ll be sticking with Omnifocus – it’s more complicated, sometimes to the extent of being downright frustrating, but in all my explorations of similar apps, I’ve not yet found anything that I consider a real contender. Add to the desktop app the very fine iOS versions, and though it’s expensive, Omnifocus still remains my app-of-choice.
How about you? What’s your choice in this category of app?