Autarchy of the Private Cave

Tiny bits of bioinformatics, [web-]programming etc

    Looking for a perfect Android app for TSW/GTD use

    13th March 2015

    I have recently realized that my planning habits are quite similar to what The Secret Weapon promotes. However, my planning is not as elaborate and detailed/structured as TSW, and I am using several tools:

    • Google Keep, an awesome note-taking and to-do lists application with a really good web-interface, and free;
    • Trello, convenient lists/projects/tasks management platform (especially for group work), and free;
    • Google Calendar, the de facto calendar standard for Android phones, and free;
    • my A5 format weekly paper planner, and… the only not free component.

    It is easy to see that I am using too many tools.

    In an effort to use less tools, and also to try some of the features of TSW, I’ve performed a brief search for GTD/TSW-compatible Android apps.

    TSW website is built around the Evernote app. However, I am not sure if this would be a good solution for me, as I have been already using Evernote since several years for longer-term note-keeping, and thus already have a bunch of notepads, notes, and tags there. Moreover, Evernote’s website mentions something about “offline notes” in the Premium (non-free) tier for mobile apps; this hints at the requirement to have internet connectivity to be able to work with TSW+Evernote efficiently through the day.

    Oh, before I forget: all the 4 tools that I am using have their purpose, with overlap between Keep and Trello.
    My A5 format paper planner (weekview compact 2015) is not a simple weekly planner; it has a structure that stimulates goal-oriented planning.
    More specifically, it provides means to plan:

    • the entire life, by specifying (succinct) goals in several categories (personal, work, family, social, and some others);
    • the next several years (there is enough space for just a few keywords for each year);
    • the entire current year (as an overview or a list of goals, without too many details);
    • each quarter of the current year (with more details: goals/tasks can have specific days or date ranges assigned, and have 3 priorities);
    • each week has 3 priorities for what you would like to accomplish;
    • there are also other important, useful, and well-designed elements, all with high attention to details.

    I mostly use the paper planner for quarter-level goals and tasks.

    Trello is my primary project and task management tool, both for work and personal matters (using different boards).
    It also really simplifies my weekly reports: I only have to check the Done list of the primary/project work board,
    and show it to my supervisor – which (showing/sharing) is also easy with Trello.

    I’m using Calendar for all the events which have specific dates/times, like meetings, deadlines, celebrations, etc.

    Finally, I’ve started using Keep not that long ago as a to-do list and note-taking application. It is extremely easy and quick to use, which explains this new adoption. I use it mostly as a short-term buffer for quick (shorter than 2 hours) tasks. I have 3 separate lists: home, work, and shopping :) The only component which is missing if I want to use TSW is tagging of individual checklist items, together with tags search. Other than that, Google Keep is plain perfect.

    The first app I had a look at was DGT GTD (alpha):

    • has “@-contexts”;
    • has tags;
    • has search for arbitrary tag combinations (both AND and OR logic);
    • no web interface, uses toodledo/dropbox/ftp for sync;
    • web-interface might be available through toodledo (which has its own limitations, see below);
    • overall: alpha, no easy-to-use web-interface, unclear future… though otherwise seems good.

    Next, I had a look at Toodledo:

    • has a free, but (seemingly quite strongly) limited version; in addition, it felt
    • somehow not easy to register, thus I have not tried it.

    Next was MyLifeOrganized:

    • way too commercial all over – you seem to need many pieces of (paid) software, (paid) cloud sync, (paid) plans…
    • no web-interface and no Linux support, only Win/Mac/iOS/Android, thus have not tried this one as well.

    I was leaving better contestants (like RTM, Remember The Milk) for later:

    • nice, convenient, light, keyboard-friendly web-interface;
    • free version syncs with web, but only once every 24 hours;
    • has locations (GPS-based) and tags;
    • has inbox, personal, work, study, sent pre-defined lists of tasks; you can define your own (and delete 3 of the pre-defined, if you wish);
    • can search for multiple tags using brackets, logical operators, and multiple per-task attribute filters (like timeEstimate, dueDate, etc – many of these!);
    • can save searches as smart lists (at least in the Android app);
    • tasks cannot be ordered manually, they can only be sorted by priority, due date, or name.

    I can see myself using RTM, which feels like a quality tasks-management environment. Syncing once every 24 hours is the only free version limitation that I am sensitive to, because I tend to use web-versions (Trello, Keep) while at the computer. If you are using for planning your phone only, then RTM might be a very good fit for you.

    Another detail which I find inconvenient is the inability to manually sort tasks. As I know from using Keep, manually sorting smaller tasks into their logical order by dragging is quick and easy. This RTM drawback could be worked around by sorting task list by name, and devoting the first 2 characters of the task text to its number (e.g. ’06 start scaffolding’). I am still unsure about RTM.

    Given the failure of the new contestants to fit my needs, I also had a quick formal look at the tools I am already using.


    • recommended by TSW website;
    • has tags and saved tag searches;
    • not sure if it keeps all notes available offline – it likely needs connection to function; it may keep the most recent notes offline, though – still have to test this;
    • not exactly a to-do list, thus (much more?) cumbersome to use than Google Keep (again, this wasn’t tested yet – consider this a prejudice);
    • free version has a 60 MB/month data upload limit, which should be more than enough for tasks management.

    I am going to try Evernote with TSW, and see if that works good enough. I’ll update the post with the results.

    Google Keep:

    • very easy and convenient to use checklists;
    • keeps all tasks local and always available; works offline, syncs when you have connection;
    • has an efficient, quick-to-use web-interface;
    • does not have tagging (only colors for notes);
    • lightweight in terms of size and resources needed.

    I’ll keep using keep, even if some other app becomes my primary for tasks management. It is simply too good not to use.


    • has a fairly convenient web-interface (though more complicated than Keep because of more features);
    • allows easy collaboration;
    • supports multiple boards, containing task lists, containing tasks, containing checklists and other elements, which all together enable fairly complex project management;
    • phone app caches tasks/boards that you access while online, and can later show those while offline, but
    • phone app does not allow changes while offline – you must have connection for the changes to have effect;
    • has tags (labels), but these are board-specific, so it is impossible to get a flat list of all tasks from all boards filtered by some labels/criteria.

    Right now I have tons of tasks in Trello, so I am not going to abandon it any time soon (unless I find a perfect alternative solution). I have already seen recipes online to adapt Trello to TSW/GTD use. This will not fix the necessity for internet connection for the app to work, though. It is also quite possible that tags + global flat list of all tasks from all boards might get introduced as new features into Trello, as it is developing dynamically and new features do get added quite often… Maybe I should leave a feature request for the developers, together with a thank-you for their excellent product.

    That’s it for now, I’ll update after some more app testing.

    Update 1: Trello can be quite convenient as a general GTD-like (but not quite TSW-like) app. I’ve set up a separate GTD board, with lists inbox, now, next, later, 8 project/watching/reading lists, 2 goal lists (one for the current year, one with general goals), some day, contemplate (no clear decision if an item has to be done at all), waiting, done, and discarded (something from any of the other lists which is [no longer] worth doing).

    Update 2: Google Keep now has labels (aka tags)! (It now also has recurring reminders, which is cool as well.) Tags seemed to be the only thing keeping (no pun intended) Keep from being a perfectly simple and lightweight GTD/TSW app! Or so I thought. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any way to search by several labels right now. You can search by note colors, and can select a single label to list all notes that have it, but no multiple labels… One last step missing to perfection?

    Leave comments if some of my statements seem wrong, or if you know a solution which would be capable of satisfying my needs :)

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