Why Traditional To Do Apps Fail

Posted 01/07/15 by James and filed under:

Most list manager apps work pretty much the same. Badly. At least for everyday productivity.  You create a long list of to do task you need to do and then when you are ready to do them, you are shown the entire list of items to choose from.  It’s too many tasks to really comprehend.  The confused mind usually opts to do nothing.  They are fine as special purpose lists, but not great for using as your every day productivity tool.

Sure, you can filter the list by arbitrary things such as priority or due date, but many times those are false dates, not real deadlines and as such don’t really compel you do complete the task on that date.

Filtering your list by priority is also a problem, as priorities can and should change based on circumstances that change rapidly throughout the day.  So you at 4:30 pm in the afternoon when you look at your task list and see priority 1 is to write a report for your boss and you only have 30 minutes left in the day, you tend to beat yourself up and maybe shut down your task list all together.  Just because the priority 1 task wasn’t what you had the time or energy left to do right then!

This in my mind is why people tend to fail when using a traditional to do list application.

So What Does Work?

Based on GTD principles, the way GTDNext handles tasks is a little different from most list managers and to do apps.  The difference is small but incredibly powerful and important. 

Here is how it works.  When you create a task list in GTDNext you are encouraged to break down large tasks into each physical step.  These collections of steps are called a project.  In GTD any task that has more than one step is called a project.  So instead of writing down the task of “Build Fence” you turn that into a project and break it  down into the logical steps or tasks it takes to build a fence.  “Build a Fence” is really the outcome you are looking for.  You can’t “Build a Fence” as a single task, so you break it down into steps.  Zenhabits has a good blog post on the concept of Next Action  and why it is so important, if you want to read further on the topic.

To properly break down a task like build a fence could take 10 or 20 tasks.  It’s impossible to do all 20 tasks at once. You can really only do one task at a time.  So when it comes time to actually do your work you don’t really want to see all twenty fence building task.  You only want to see the one or maybe two tasks that you can do right now.  That’s the power of GTD and GTDNext.  We only show you the next task you can do right now.  Once you complete that task, we automatically promote the next task on your task list to be a “next action” and add it to the next action list.

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As you increase your projects from one, to ten, twenty or thirty or more the power of handling next actions in this manner becomes more and more obvious.  Instead of having 300 or more actions on your list you only have one action per project.  This drastically reduces the scanning your eyes and brain need to do when choosing a task and is what makes GTD such a powerful concept.  Very few online task managers handle tasks this way.  This is what normally causes a traditionally to do list to fail.  Visual overload.   GTDNext is one of the few, and one of the only online task manager applications that handles next actions for you automatically.