Firetask is a Low-Cost Alternative to OmniFocus

Task and project management apps such as OmniFocus and Things aren’t just popular, they’re a necessity for anyone wanting to keep track of tasks and projects all the way from start to finish. While I probably spend more time trying out new GTD apps than actually getting anything done, I’d be completely lost without any sort of task management app that lets me track individual tasks and projects.

My latest GTD distraction is Firetask, a project-orientated task management app that promises complete and simple control of your tasks so you can spend less time procrastinating and more time, well, getting things done.

Project Management

Apps such as Clear, Remember the Milk or Reminders are great task management apps but they serve a more linear purpose of simply building a list of tasks and checking them off as and when completed. Project-based task management apps provide much more organisational control and for multiple projects in multiple areas of responsibility.

Firetask describes itself as a project-orientated GTD app, allowing for some serious organisational options. Rather than dealing with simply a number of different task lists, Firetask provides full project and category management.

The developers of Firetask have taken David Allen’s Getting Things Done book of task management, the author who coined the very phrase, to heart and have designed the app to be as efficient as possible. Readers of the book will likely feel right at home while many of the features will still be familiar for anyone switching from another method of managing tasks.

Projects let you separate tasks for different objectives while categories can separate tasks into different types, such as meetings, phone calls or errands. This allows for you to not only view what’s coming up next in a project but also meetings you may be attending across all of your active projects.

The App

The app is rather contrasting in terms of its appearance as its toolbar and sidebar looks pretty dated dated and out of place in Mountain Lion yet its main interface has a very iOS 7-like look and feel.

Firetask mixes an iOS 7-like appearance with some Aqua-like elements that seem to be a little aged.

Firetask mixes an iOS 7-like appearance with some Aqua-like elements that seem to be a little aged.

Everything is laid out clearly and easily though similar to the toolbar, some of the icons (especially Today) look somewhat dated and don’t fit in with the flatter design choices in the rest of the app.

There are some UI quirks, however, such as having to find the sweet spot to double-click to enter or amend a task as the app seems to quite picky about where you click to edit a task. There are also some hidden fields with no labels, so double-clicking certain parts of the tasks would bring up the due-date calendar. For these types of fields, a heading would really be beneficial as it can be quite unintuitive to attempt to add or edit these fields.

One of the ways a due date can be added is directly within the task, though there's no real indication of where you should be clicking.

One of the ways a due date can be added is directly within the task, though there’s no real indication of where you should be clicking.

You have to be lightning quick when changing a task’s status if you’re clicking on its status box, if it is set to completed for more than a second then it disappears from your list. It can be frustrating if you’re wanting to change it’s status and needed to cycle through to the beginning and you’ll end up just using the task detail window.

Projects and Categories

Tasks can be assigned to both projects and categories either independently or simultaneously. How you use either of these functions is up to you, though they’re all completely customisable so you can truly make the app your own and change it to work for you, not the other way around.

One of the many ways tasks can be organised is via Categories.

One of the many ways tasks can be organised is via Categories.

Quick Entry

Adding tasks is as simple as double-clicking within an existing task list or using the Quick-Entry option. Using either of these options allow for an easy way of entering tasks though the Quick Entry box provides more information.

A Quick Entry box, accessible via the app or keyboard shortcut, allows for easy task insertion.

A Quick Entry box, accessible via the app or keyboard shortcut, allows for easy task insertion.

Firetask for Mac includes some powerful features for keyboard junkies that let you assign tasks to projects and categories using #hashtags and @assign keywords. Instead of entering a task name and then using the mouse to change the assigned project or category or editing the task later, which can be time consuming if you have a lot to choose from, you can simply use keywords to assign a task to a project and category with no extra effort. I could easily create the task “Configure new web server #myproject @development which will place the task within the project My Project and assign it the category Development. This is a killer feature for organising tasks is made much, much simpler.

Task Status

Like many other project management apps, there’s an In-Tray for you to dump tasks into so you can organise them later. I often have bursts of ideas, especially for a new project, which means I’m usually entering task after task after task. An In-Tray lets you get the tasks written down first before spending time organising them.

Each task features a status, going way beyond many other task management apps and provides a way of tracking the progress of a task. Within most other apps, tasks are simply waiting to be done or done, you check the box when finished. With Firetask, you can not only mark a task as done but also whether it’s in progress, cancelled, actionable or even put it off completely. The developers really seem to understand that tasks aren’t simply a boolean value — they can have different stages of completion.

Strangely, the In-Tray and Scratchboard are actually classed as a task statuses, which can be a little confusing if you’re moving from a more traditional task management app. Within Firetask, the In-Tray is technically a status as it’s a task that has yet to be assigned, started or dealt with.

Throwaway Tasks

I like to keep my work-related tasks and projects separate from personal ones, since most of them just tend to be reminders to buy groceries or take something to the post office. For these temporary tasks, Firetask has a scratchpad where you can simply add one-off tasks that, while you still need to get done, don’t require organising. It makes the perfect personal to-do app as each item within the Scratchboard can still be assigned a project or category if needed.

For those still using Reminders for simple tasks not worth creating a project for, Firetask includes a Scratchboard for tasks that have little importance.

For those still using Reminders for simple tasks not worth creating a project for, Firetask includes a Scratchboard for tasks that have little importance.

Similar to the In-Tray, the Scratchboard is classed as a task status so it can prove a little confusing to begin with, until you realise that you can easily convert it to a proper task within a project if the need arises. As someone who often uses tasks as a way of jotting down a potential project idea, Firetask includes a smart option of converting a task into its own project.

Collaboration and Syncing

Firetask is very much an app you can use either individually or within a workgroup. Although there’s no syncing between users, Firetask does offer its own syncing platform which provides full task and project synchronisation to Mac and iOS devices running the app. Use this on your own or, provided your team all want to share the same information, have everyone use the same account.

Firetask includes a comprehensive URL scheme which comes in handy when emailing tasks as it includes a complete URL that other users can click on to automatically import the task into their own app. This URL scheme works across the Mac and iOS apps so it doesn’t matter what device you open the task in, it will create it regardless.

On the topic of collaboration, should you assign a colleague a task or project to complete, Firetask includes a Waiting For category specifically for tasks that have been assigned to other users. Again, while there is no interaction between other users’ Firetask apps, the app does include Assignee information that works similar to project, letting you assign the name of a colleague to keep track of who is doing what. Project managers will certainly find this useful when delegating tasks to team members and provides a way to keep track of how each of them are doing with their assign tasks.

Tasks Overview

Keeping track of when tasks are due or seeing a daily rundown of all current tasks that require completion can be done by the functional Calendar and the accompanying Organise section. Tasks can still be edited within these views so you could keep the calendar open and easily change a task’s status. It’s a feature that is exclusive to the Mac version of Firetask and which isn’t available within the iOS apps.

Conclusion

As GTD apps go, Firetask is one of the most comprehensive I’ve ever used and, in some ways, is what I’d describe as OmniFocus for the rest of us. For anyone looking for something that provides more control over tasks and projects than Things but doesn’t want the learning curve, or cost, of OmniFocus, Firetask is a perfect middle ground.

Some things will take some getting used to, task statuses especially but this is certainly one of the best intermediate GTD apps I’ve used. It’s advanced feature set and ease of use, as well as great iOS companion apps, has me seriously considering ending my long standing relationship with Things.


Summary

A great project management app that's offers far more flexibly than a simple to-do app, with some great features and seamless syncing.

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