Back in December I wrote about how I had switched from OmniFocus to Flow (getflow.com) as my task management system. I don’t think one can really get a sense as to how good a task management tool like this is until they’ve use it for a year, but I wanted to update you on a few things I have been finding now that I have close to six months of usage under my belt.
These are random thoughts in no particular order.
Lists, Workspaces, And Sub-Lists
The organization of Flow is much different than many other task management apps I have used. For starters Flow allows you to have many different sections where you can have different collaborators — Flow calls these ‘workspaces’ and they make a lot of sense. Flow is giving a nod to today’s work environment where people are often working with others who are not necessarily a part of their company, but an important piece of the overall project.
Workspaces in that sense work really well, and I have four setup: – Personal – Day Job – Project 1 – Project 2
What’s odd is that Flow won’t allow you to set one workspace as your personal workspace. Instead Flow is always showing you your personal workspace as if it was a 15 person team’s workspace. That’s a bit annoying because there could be simple changes made to a fully private space to make it more useful. Things like changing ‘comments’ to ‘notes’, and turning off the rather useless dashboard (useless that is only if you are the only person in the workspace).
Flow further breaks down your task storage with lists, residing inside workspaces. Each list can have sub-lists, and all of that gives you a very GTD/OmniFocus ‘project’ based planning tool. I’ve been playing around with these lists and have come to realize a few things:
- Lists should absolutely be project based when in a workspace with more people than just you. Having just one master ‘to-do’ list simply doesn’t work once you start working in a team setting.
- In your personal workspace lists work really well for categorizing your tasks. (e.g. Costco, Office, Home, Bills, etc)
- Sub-lists are great for showing small projects inside of categories in both team and personal settings. So you can have a master list of ‘Design’ and then break that down into the different designs you need (e.g. Tutorial, Icon, etc).
It’d be fine if Flow stopped there, but it also allows adding sub-tasks to a main task. So if my task is “buy groceries for party” then I can add sub tasks within that task that is my actual shopping list, which is useful if said task doesn’t just fit into my ‘Costco’ list, or if I want to take a trip to Costco just for that set of items.
At first I thought sub-tasks solely added another layer of obfuscation to my task management, but I have come to find that it is actually very handy. While I don’t use it for my shopping lists (as I cited in the above example) — I have found it to be killer when a task suddenly becomes so much more than just another task. These are like mini-projects in a way. Not always useful, but indispensable when you come across the need for sub-tasks.
One issue with sub-tasks is that the main task is only ever shown and complete or incomplete, no matter how many sub tasks have been completed. Therefore you could have a task with 19 of 20 sub tasks done, but it still looks just as incomplete as it did when it was originally created. I’d love for there to be more indication of status in Flow (for sub-tasks and in general).
iOS is buggy
I’ve found that the iOS apps are rather buggy (which is odd since they mostly feel like web views). By this I mean that often I have to quit the app out of the tray, or log back in, to get the app working. Recent updates have improved this, but it is very annoying.
The iPad app is really annoying because it is portrait only, I just don’t get this move.
Overall I am downgrading my initial ratings of the iOS apps to average at best.
Fluid is great
Since there is no full-fledged Mac app I run Flow in a Fluid instance. That’s not always ideal, but for this app it actually works really well. The biggest annoyance is the lack of native keyboard shortcuts, but I haven’t been bothered by this enough to consider it a deal breaker.
Menubar is perfect
The official menubar app for Mac works perfectly for quick entry, but it is annoying that a workspace is pre-defined instead of easily being typed in. To change workspaces requires touching the mouse, and I really try to avoid that if I want to do anything “quick”. Also the lack of repeating options in the entry panel is limiting if you regularly create repeating tasks. You actually have to jump into another Flow app to make a task repeating.
Right now here are some of the main annoyances I am facing:
- Repeating tasks need some work. You have to create a task before you can repeat it, as I stated above, and that’s rather annoying. I’d also like to be able to set repeat dates like ‘first monday each month’ and ‘the 5th, or the closest day to it not on the weekend, each month’, but so far I don’t know of any app that does such “sophisticated” of repeat patterns.
- Lack of start dates is killing me. I think OmniFocus spoiled me here as I constantly am deferring tasks as a way to have a defacto start date mechanism. This is the only thing making me want to go back to OmniFocus.
- Need real iOS apps, not just web views and not a portrait only iPad app. It’s just crazy. I reiterate this because of how imperative it is.
- Quicker way to defer tasks is needed badly. Often something comes up and I know I won’t get to any of today’s tasks until tomorrow. In OmniFocus I could use a script to defer everything, or key through the due fields to enter new times, in Flow I have several clicks on each task to defer them. This is as close to a deal breaker as I have come with Flow.
I am still sticking with Flow, but only for now, as it is only better than OmniFocus in some ways and not all. The real question is whether the areas that Flow is better in are worth some of the reduced functionality and only more time will tell on that front.