One of the most infuriating things about computers is knowing that we’ve done something before but can’t find how to do it again and we resent the time spent hunting for it

This is very similar to another very common situation – wondering whether it’s worth spending time to resolve small niggles, bugs, etc. The infuriation is probably because we’re in a hurry most of the time and we just want to get things done. We don’t want to divert our attention or time to learn or fix whatever it is that we know is missing or broken.

Infuriation - chewing a laptopIf this sounds familiar and you’re wondering if I’m about to give you the answer … sorry, I’m not. My strategy has always been to keep a list of “technical to-dos” that I’ll attend to when I’m “less busy”. This does work up to a point, but quite often the items that I put on the list just seem boring, tedious and not worth addressing when I look at them later. It’s only when I actually need an answer that the “issue” seems worth the effort of investigation. At any other time, when I don’t actually need the answer, watching Coronation Street seems like a far better investment of my dwindling stock of time. What’s more, lists like this tend to get rather depressing and even a little intimidating.

Niggling listSo, I’ve now added a refinement. I still keep the list, I add to it, and I do investigate and resolve items on it from time to time. The refinement is that I don’t feel guilty if I delete items that I haven’t resolved. My thinking is that, over the time that the item sits unresolved on the list, I will get a truer perspective of how important it is to resolve it. If it stays there for six months and I’ve never again needed the answer, then it’s probably not worth spending time on it. Now that’s what I call a touch of genius – convincing myself that it’s rational to strike an item off a “to do” list rather than attend to it! It’s not the deletion of the item that’s important, here, but the realisation that that may be the logical and best thing to do.

And just in case I’m teetering on the edge of feeling guilty or lazy or anything else that might make me feel uncomfortable, I like to think of those nature programs wherein David Attenborough tells us in hushed tones that the lioness peering through the grass at the herd of wildebeest is weighing up the cost in energy of chasing after her dinner and the chances of being successful, against the benefit of catching it.

Lioness, stalkingPretty good, that – comparing a boring and tedious Google search with stalking the savannah! It does make sense, though. After all, what’s going on here is a “cost/benefit analysis”. I think that one of the things that irritates us so much with these small “IT issues” is that we know in the back of our minds that if we had just spent ten minutes finding the answer a year ago then we’d have saved an hour by now (and suffered much less aggravation along the way). So, keeping an item on a list allows for a better judgement OVER TIME of how important it is to resolve it and whether the time spent to resolve it will be recouped in the long run.

And I think I should be allowed these flights of fancy involving lions and their dinner as I’m told that “Leonard” does mean “lionheart”!

Since I bought my Sony Tablet S I’ve been trying to consolidate all the different bits of software I use so that as much as possible is available on both my main Windows 7 laptop and on the Android tablet. “Android“, by the way, is the operating system on the Tablet. In other words, it does the job that Windows does on most computers. It was specially designed for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs where the screen is typically much smaller than that on a PC and where there is likely to be no physical keyboard.

So, if you want to move smoothly between a laptop and a mobile device with the same data and functionality available on each device then you have to consider:

  • Whether there is an identical or similar program available on both devices.
  • Whether these programs access the same data files so that you don’t have to worry about trying to reconcile different versions of your data.

As I said in my earlier blog on Tablet PCs, I am new to Android and I’m pleased and surprised at how good it is with these considerations. I haven’t got it all sorted out yet and some requirements are easier to satisfy than others, but so far I am encouraged and I think it is very possible for users with the typical needs and skills of my own computer support clients to get value from a smart mobile device. Some people may need some help to get started, but once things are set up they seem stable and user-friendly (Android devices, that is, not my computer clients – whose stability and user-friendliness is beyond doubt).

So, as part of that quest to get my main work needs met on a Tablet PC I went looking for a modern “Task Manager” (or “To-Do-List Manager”) that I could access from a Windows PC or Android Tablet.

ToodleDo logoI came across ToodleDo and certainly think it’s worth looking at. It works as follows:

  • It is web-based. You access it through a web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox).
  • Your data (tasks, reminders etc) are held by ToodleDo on their servers.
  • Consequently, your data is available from any computer that can access the internet. It could be a Windows PC, a Mac, a Tablet PC, a smartphone.

This “model” or “arrangement” of working through a web browser is becoming more and more popular. You’ve probably heard the term “Cloud Computing” and this is it. You don’t install a program onto your own computer, you don’t have to back up your data (if you trust whoever is hosting your data to do it properly), and you don’t have to copy or reconcile different data files between different devices. It’s not really new, of course: web-based email programs such as Hotmail have worked this way for years. But it’s now becoming more and more popular for other types of programs and one of the reasons for the growing popularity is this need to have the same data available on lots of different devices.

There can be disadvantages to this approach:

  • You may need to have a working internet connection to be able to access your data (but some programs allow downloading of your data onto your own computer so as to make it available “offline” – ie available even when there is no internet connection).
  • You may be concerned about the privacy and security of your data as it’s online (“in the cloud”) and outside your own control.
  • Web-based programs are often slower, have fewer features, and are generally less pleasant to use than the equivalent “local” program would be.

A ToodleDo Screen

A ToodleDo Screen - click on image to enlarge it.

Despite the disadvantages, you don’t have to have lots of different devices to make it worth using cloud-based programs such as ToodleDo. There’s no reason at all why you can’t use it on your one and only PC. Some of the things I like about it so far are:

  • It’s free (there’s a “Pro” version available that has an annual subscription fee).
  • There are lots of ways of classifying, sorting, and prioritising tasks.
  • It’s easy to use.
  • You can receive a daily email listing the most important tasks for the day.
  • You can create tasks/reminders just by sending an email to a special email address linked to your account. This is useful for creating tasks as soon as you think of them, but it also means you can forward an incoming email to this special address so that it’s on your “to do” list.
  • There’s a data backup/restore feature (but not, as far as I know, a method for working “offline”).

So, whether or not you use more than one computer, if you are looking for a Task Manager I recommend looking at ToodleDo. And if you are thinking you may want to be using a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet in the future then I would definitely recommend bearing that fact in mind when choosing any new program or way of working.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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