Really Getting Things Done with the iPhone Remember the Milk App

I’ve been a longtime user of the Appigo’s Todo App and it was a wonderful application. However, Remember the Milk just came out with their very own native RTM iPhone application. RTM even hired a new developer to make this app. Needless to say, I haven’t looked back since the original announcement.

First off, the app is free but you need a $25 pro account to use it beyond the 15 day trial. Appigo’s Todo costs $10 upfront and also allows syncing with RTM Pro accounts but also syncs with the free web service Toodledo. Pick your poison. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding how detractors give these apps crappy reviews because they feel somehow violated by developers trying to earn a living by charging. They pay $500 for a phone but balk at another $25 or $10. There are cheap and free options out there so please move on. If you can’t squeeze at least $25 worth of value out of a great GTD service/system, then you’re probably not getting a damn thing done. End of rant.

Why did I move on from Appigo’s Todo despite using it daily and being a big fan of the app? I was always a fan of RTM before the iPhone but more of a casual user. I was on the lookout for something better than a pen and paper solution but portable. Try reorganizing, sorting or searching on a pen and pad todo list without spraining your wrist. Portability was key because the time I spend on trains (especially short transfers) or walking around are the precise moments when I have that extra bit of time to review tasks. Also, walking and seeing the sights stimulate thoughts and planning (many philosophers and academics get great ideas while on walks).

Right now Remember the Milk is possibly the most ubiquitous todo service out there. You can add tasks via email, Firefox (with the Gmail extension), twitter, and much more. You can even hack together your own with their API. What’s more the web app is first class. I really don’t need a complicated system. I just need a timeline of tasks that I can to plow through. Add it, do it, and forget it. Simple as that.

Why GTD? (veterans can skip this)

The major benefit of any GTD (Getting Things Done) system is externalizing the things you need to do in order to achieve the things that matter to you without having to load these things in your brain constantly. If you’re in the middle of writing something up and a coworker or boss passes an assignment to you, you just say “ok”, add it to your task list and go back to what you were doing like nothing happened. If something mundane like “oh yeah, I ran out of milk today” crosses your mind in the middle of the day, just add that to the list too. The important thing is to keep these things out of your mind so you can focus on the task at hand and if something crosses your mind, safely scoot them to the side without completely forgetting.

Why would you want to subject yourself to this discipline?

  1. Constant feedback: you will know what your day is worth.
  2. Better planning skills: you will learn how to break down big projects into a series of little tasks that will take you farther than you’ve ever been.
  3. Less procrastination: A great deal of foot-dragging happens when you don’t know how to get from A to B.
  4. Increase your capacity: You’d think that too much GTD will rob you of what little free time is left. Not so my friend, you’ll get more done in less time, meaning more time for you. Whether than means taking on more tasks is up to you. Maybe it means more work output or maybe it means making time for that hobby project or secret ambition.

Lately, I’ve been involved with a variety of extracurricular activity despite a demanding work schedule but it’s been a breeze so far. I even find the time to read a couple books a week and go to a couple parties not to mention organizing a couple.

The RTM iPhone App


What exactly makes the iPhone app so special?

  1. Fully featured: you can even make “smart lists (saved searches)” right within the app, not to mention RTM’s award winning language aware repeating tasks (i.e. “every last Friday”), tags, etc.
  2. Seamless syncing: they really did a great job with the syncing. It syncs at start up and in certain intervals while using the app. You rarely have to manually sync it unless you’re obsessed. Also, the state of syncing rarely gets messed up. For example, you can add something, complete it, sync it and it’ll all go through to the web service. I also use it on the commuter train that goes underground, overground, and through tunnels. It never fails me. Syncing is also faster than third party solutions (obviously).
  3. Stable: The developer really knows his stuff when it comes to creating a stable experience I really don’t remember when and if this app ever crashed. You can even add tasks while syncing without missing a beat.
  4. Nice interface: Some people don’t like the white text on blue header but this app is gorgeous.

Some things I miss from Appigo’s Todo:

  1. Quick add: one tap, input and done. I really miss this since my defaults for new tasks are “Inbox” and “due today”. This will cover a lot.
  2. Less tapping: Sort of related to the above. Appigo really optimized their app to save on extra tapping or dragging to add items, this is something RTM can still improve a lot.
  3. Missing icons: I really wish tasks had little “repeating” icons and tags under the title. I’m sure these will eventually come.

But why RTM?

It’s simple to use, just your tasks organized in actual lists or smart lists which are nothing more than saved searches that change as tasks come and go. It’s also fully featured. Their recurring tasks functionality is quite good, supporting every conceivable option you could need. You can use tags to organize tasks that span across various lists and use a variety of smart lists to cut across them so you have a variety of contextual lists. Their approach is very similar to the UNIX school of thought, “give people simple, polished building blocks so users can combine them to make great things”.

The team is top notch and responsive to community needs, clean design, and a sense of humor.

I was initially on the fence when the app first came out but it didn’t take long for the RTM team to make me a believer. Appigo did a really great job with their app and without it I wouldn’t have gone so die hard GTD if they hadn’t given me exactly what I wanted, a great iPhone GTD app that synced with RTM. However, if you already have an iPhone and love RTM, this app’s for you.