I’ve done quite a few Software Spotlight articles covering various applications that I use on a constant basis. And while each of these applications deserve the spotlight in their own respect, I have come to rely on a service more than others: Remember The Milk.
Remember The Milk is a simple cloud-based task management system that provides all the functionality needed to run a reliable GTD system without much extra overhead. What RTM lacks in fancy features, it makes up for with integration with many other services out there, like Google Calendar and Twitter.
So, why has RTM become such an integral part of my lifestyle?
With any reliable GTD system, RTM manages to integrate with the rest of my lifestyle, allowing me to keep myself accountable and allow me to do what needs to be done when I have time, where I am and with the proper amount of information to back up a task.
Remember The Milk has several time-based features that keep me on my toes, and allow me to better plan the time that I have available for the tasks that are on my list.
First, we have the simple “Due Date” functionality. Any task management system needs to have this functionality in order to accurately represent what needs to be done in a meaningful way.
As you can see in the screenshot above, I can set a due date for a task. Traditionally, a task should have a due date according to when it is actually due. The way I use RTM, on the other hand, I set a task as due at the beginning of a period in which I have ample time to complete the task. This allows me to better schedule when I can actually do a task, rather than when it has to be done by. I find this to be a much easier solution to the motivation problem, as I know that I have a certain amount of time to complete this task. This ties in with the later discussion of the integration with other applications that I use.
Another feature you can see in the above screenshot is the “Time estimate” field. If I have a general idea of how long a task may take, I am better able to schedule it when I know I have that much free time.
The location features of RTM is one of the shiniest examples of how it does in fact make my life easier to manage. The user saves locations (based on Google Maps addresses), and can then assign a task to that specific location. The location functionality coupled with the Android application brings a whole new method of making sure that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.
Let’s imagine that throughout the month I record all of the small items that I need to pick up on my next trip to Walmart. Having the RTM app on my phone makes this a natural process that doesn’t have to take up a whole lot of brain real estate. So, I need to pick up deodorant, Cheez-Its and a size 8 Torx screwdriver.
After a month, there is no way I would possibly remember these items, as they are completely unrelated and on different sides of the store. I set the location to Walmart in my RTM account, and forget about these items.
So the time has come for my monthly pilgrimage to that terrible store to pick up my medications. Because I set the location to Walmart previously with this task, my Android phone alerts me as I enter the Walmart parking lot that I have a task near this location. I didn’t remember that I needed those items, and now RTM helps me remember.
Though not technically a location, I can also set a URL for a task. If my exam above is to be taken on Blackboard, I now have the link right in my reminder, which then doesn’t require me to switch contexts in order to complete. I can simply click the URL in the reminder, and off I go.
Put these two “where” features together, and it makes for a powerful system that keeps me on task. I know that I have a task to complete which will take 1 hour, needs to be done on Blackboard, and I will be at school when I have that free period of time.
Every task has several bits of information associated with it that give the task a more solid meaning to me when I am due to complete it.
The first bit of information that is associated with a task is its List. I have several Lists set up which give me a bit of perspective on the purpose of any task that is associated with a List:
My Lists are broken down into the major categories that I have to deal with.
For more fine-grained control on a given task, I also have Tags that can be assigned to each task. I have an overall “Study” list for all school-related things, and a tag for each class.
When I combine all of these elements for a task, I get a very simple and effective set of information at first glance without having to resort to digging for the information I need.
If I just glance at the task above, I see that it is in the “Study” List and for my Astronomy class. It will take about an hour and a half to complete, I’ve scheduled it for 12:20PM and to take it at school. I can also include some Notes, such as what chapters the exam covers, and whether or not it is an open book exam.
The most obvious benefit of using RTM is that I can have an Android client with me at all times. In addition to the client on Android, I also have a widget that sits on my home screen, showing me a quick overview of the tasks that I have due for the day. In addition to the client itself is the notification features combined with GPS data from the phone, and I get a great way to remember even the smallest tasks.
The beauty of having an Android phone is that everything is powered by Google. I use Google Calendar to keep track of my appointments, and it’s all synced perfectly to my phone. Changes made on my phone sync to the net, and vice versa. Because I’m super-forgetful, having a calendar with me at all times that is ubiquitous to my working environment is a huge plus.
The default Google Calendar integration isn’t exactly what I needed, as it simply displays the tasks for the day after clicking an icon. Since I use my RTM tasks as a time management system, setting tasks due at a time when I can complete them, clicking an extra icon is not desirable, as it introduces a new layer of abstraction.
I went in search of a method which allows me to view my tasks in the time slot that is relevant, and I found such a method here. This way, my Google Calendar agenda is not only filled with the appointments I need to keep, but also with the tasks that I have planned for the days ahead.
I use Twitter all the time, and RTM integrates well with it. From Twitter, I can direct message RTM and have a task quickly added to my default List.
The final way that I integrate RTM into my workflow is with iGoogle integration. When I load up my browser’s home page, I get a look at what tasks I need to do, as well as the benefit of the other gadgets such as Gmail, Reader and Calendar.
Adding to the slowly growing list of applications that I actually pay for, RTM has become an indispensable part of my workflow. For only $25/year, I can use the Android client, and also get that warm, fuzzy feeling that I’m supporting a project that actually means something to many people.
I would highly recommend going Pro with Remember The Milk. This is a service that I hope will be around for years to come, keeping me doing what I need to be doing. If you’ve never used RTM, go check it out. The basic account is free, so you have no excuse not to.
Do you use Remember The Milk? Leave your impressions in a comment here, and let me know your use case and how it differs from my own.