Project management with Taskpaper. 2 Weeks in the review.

by Milind Alvares

Project management with Taskpaper. 2 Weeks in the review.

by Milind Alvares on December 9, 2008

A while ago I had written about TaskPaper 2.0 release. I based my opinions on half an hour of working around and dismissed it as something that lacks power and depth. That caused a little revolt in the comments about how great and powerful TaskPaper really is. I also got an email from Jesse Grosjean, the developer of TaskPaper, politely telling me to take a hike and to actually give a serious look at TaskPaper before writing such preposterous statements. So I took it upon myself to use TaskPaper and only TaskPaper for two weeks and give my opinion on the application. 

Getting things done with TaskPaper 2

Being a Things user on the iPhone and a Desktop I’m used to event based tasks, where each task is a separate object. Taskpaper takes a different approach, instead presenting itself like you would write notes on a sheet of paper. However, under this seemingly simple approach lies a very powerful project management system as I soon came to realise. 

The basic structure is simple. You have Projects, notes, as tasks. Notes and tasks can be tagged just by typing @tag, and can be struck out by typing an @done. Adding tags is super easy, as TaskPaper learns what tags you want and auto suggests them as you go. Moving my whole Things database to TaskPaper took not more than 10 minutes. This is partly because I’m a fast typist, partly because I don’t have many things to do, and mostly because it is so freaking quick and easy to add events to TaskPaper. 

I found looking at TaskPaper gave me a much better idea about my events to be done than going through the different views that Things offers. Of course, Things has a different approach to presenting your events, so in a different case scenario where I have a lot of projects going on, I would much too much prefer the “Next” view that Things offers. Nevertheless, for this instance I give TaskPaper the edge. 

While I didn’t really come across search, Jesse gave me some great search techniques that are possible with TaskPaper. 

For example to hide all completed tasks in a given project “TaskPaper review” just type:

project TaskPaper and not @done

Jesse also mentions that TaskPaper can be extended using AppleScript, which unfortunately I didn’t feel the need to test out (being that I’m not such an advanced user).

One would argue that in Things you don’t even see the completed projects as the default is to file away all the completed items. And even in cases where items don’t get marked, the faded view of the events is much clearer than the strikethrough way of TaskPaper. Yes, I would have liked it if the strikethrough text also faded out a bit. I say this knowing very well that TaskPaper has a “Things inspired” skin, which imitates the exact same faded view. I would have also liked to have the option of marking items as done by check-marking a box. 


(I found the Things-inspired theme a little unnatural, and is a waste of screen real estate)

I also found that there are no auto sorting options. I would have liked for my completed tasks to move down (with nothing less than a cool Core Animation effect), and maybe have the option to sort them by priorities or tags. 

One of my biggest complaints however is the lack of iPhone support. I think with any GTD, having an iPhone app which syncs is an absolute must. I have heard rumours about Jesse making an iPhone app, but I haven’t asked him yet. Although, if TaskPaper could only sync with iCal (for which it would have to be an event based application), there would be no need for another iPhone application. Of course,

So how does TaskPaper fare at the end of it all? I like it. Leaving aside minor issues like the strikethrough text, and the auto-sorting, using TaskPaper has been a real pleasure. I found the striking red icon very quick to locate in the dock (yes, it matters), and adding and managing projects a real charm. 

However, I will be moving back to Things because of the splendid iPhone support, the syncing with iCal, ability to schedule tasks, and the ability to quickly add events using the global hotkey. I will however withdraw my initial premise that TaskPaper is for Grandmas. It is a really powerful GTD application with a brilliant UI. The moment Jesse releases an iPhone app, we’ll be talking again.

In the meantime I’d highly recommend you give TaskPaper a good look. It is a whole new experience from traditional GTD apps like Things and OmniFocus, so much so that even the iPhone app might not matter.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris

“and the ability to quickly add events using the global hotkey”

Assuming TaskPaper is open, use Shift-Cmd-Return for the quick entry dialog.

   

Leslie

Kudos to you for doing a real review. As someone who makes software everyday there is nothing worse then a drive-by review. The more complicated the task the software is designed for the more insufficient a quick review is.

The usefulness of Smoking Apples just went way up in my book.

   

Tommy Weir

What TaskPaper does is provide a simplicity that Things and OmniFocus lack.

That’s what makes the difference.

There’s no futzing. No endless possibilities to structure and finesse. Just, here’s your list. Get on with it. That is very refreshing somehow.

And as you say, a lot of power hidden away. It’s a good partner with VoodooPad, another great text+juice app. Use Taskpaper for projects and todos, and VoodooPad for supporting notes and research.

It has another benefit over OF and Things in that it’s better than either of them as a standalone list maker. I recently did my Christmas list in it, sorted by shopping destinations.

jesse Grosjean is a cool developer, he openly recommends OmniFocus and Things on his site, the update to 2.0 was free. TaskPaper is coming for the iPhone, there’s an active forum on his site discussing it’s development.

   

Milind Alvares

@Chris: “Assuming TaskPaper is open”. Well that’s the problem. I’m not saying it is painful to click on the icon and all the task, just saying that this app misses that functionality.

@Leslie: Thanks! In fact, most of our reviews are done after using the application for at least two weeks. When TaskPaper 2 press release was issued, I thought it be better to just go through the app a bit rather than just rewrite the PR. I also explicitely mentioned that it was a ‘drive through’ review.

@Tommy: I haven’t checked with Jesse but yes I hear that an iPhone version is coming. Might make the switch then.

   

Lidel

This is why I love Smoking Apples. You realised you were wrong and wanted to find out why it was. It doesn’t matter that in the end you do use Things, but you were willing to change you opinion. Smoking Apples is my new favourite blog and I’m deleting tuaw from my bookmarks.

   

PM Hut

I think some of the most important features of a good Project Management software is its reporting tools. Have you managed to check the reporting tools of Taskpaper, and if yes, what do you think of them?

   

Troy Gilbert

“I would have also liked to have the option of marking items as done by check-marking a box. ”

If you click on the bullet in front of a task it’ll add the “@done” tag.

If you click on the bullet in front of a project, it’ll filter the view to just that project. Ditto for @tags.

I think two critical points are missing from this review:

1) TaskPaper is fantastic for project management because of its blur between outlining tool and to-do list. I was always torn when managing projects: notes and ideas kept in one place, tasks in another. The way TaskPaper works my notes, tasks and projects are a very fluid thing, which is very powerful in my mind.

2) TaskPaper has all the advantages of a text file plus all the advantages of a GUI. In TaskPaper, you just start typing. Want something to be a project? End the line with a “:” and it auto-formats. A task? Start it with a “-”. You edit it just like a text file, it’s just as flexible. And you can cut-n-paste to-and-from TaskPaper with that same simplicity, which is excellent for grabbing a list of tasks from an email, or updating your teammates on your own task lists.

As you point out, the biggest weakness of TaskPaper is its lack of event-based task management. Of course, I see that as an advantage (I use Remember The Milk for my actual to-do’s) because the event-based nature of the other task lists makes notes a secondary (or worse) feature.

You are absolutely right, though, Jesse is a brilliant user experience designer. WriteRoom, TaskPaper… even his iPhone apps for kids, Bubbles and Letters. As a software developer myself, I find his app designs to be truly inspiring.

   

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