When it comes to “To Do” Lists, MLO Rocks

I’m really interested in Personal Information Management (PIM) tools, and I want to write about them some in coming  posts.

People in the Real World who know me know two things about me and personal information management (let’s just agree right now to call it PIM):

  1. I’m passionate about the theory and practice of keeping personal information — such as goals and dreams, but also such as steps and calories — and using it to hopefully make myself a better person.
  2. I am a fickle user.  I’ve been through 15 or 20 To-do list managers in the years I’ve been doing this.  If a new one catches my fancy, I’m not afraid to put in a lot of work to move from Old to New, and usually right away.

Until two weeks ago I was pretty happy with Todoist, a cloud-based app with some very nice features.

It ran on everything I’ve got — two desktop PCs, a MacBook Pro, two iPads, an Android phone, and a Windows VM  — and was pretty fun to use and good-looking.  I ditched Toodledo because the implementations were different on Android and other platforms, but mainly because Toodledoo didn’t treat Goals, Projects, Tasks, and Subtasks as if they were all fundamentally the same thing.

Any Lisp programmer will know what I mean (and I was one once): they’re all nodes and lists.

Todoist wasn’t perfect in this respect.  It had Projects, which could be organized into hiearchies, and it had Tasks which could also be organized into hierarchies.  But the two were quite distinct from the user’s point of view, and I can only imagine how different they were in the implementation.

But it was nice to have hierachies: it meant I could break a multi-step thing down into subsidiary steps for at least a few layers, and it meant that my Projects could contribute to goals, which were just Projects way up in the hierarchy.

Then My Life Organized (MLO) entered my life, and I’m not looking back.

At first blush, MLO is a step backward.  It’s essentially a desktop app with app versions for mobile devices (and, sadly, no version for the Mac… yet?).

I’m not a fanatic about the cloud.  My main utils for the cloud have to do with talking to phones and tablets, which seem to have a hard time syncing local copies of the data and work well with the cloud.

I do like having the same functionality on every device, and the lack of an MLO Mac version may do me in eventually.

But what makes me delighted with MLO is that the whole system is a hiearchy of tasks, from topmost goals to “next actions”.  I love it.

Why is this great?  You can go straight from a top-level “task” of “be sparkling” to “write great stuff” to “write the Great American Novel” to “Vomit out the first draft” to “Finish Chapter 1” to “Research Venusian bathing practices”.  And as you check stuff off, you pop back up.

Moreover, MLO allows you to rate the importance of a task (and its urgency, a nice distinction from 7 Habits days) relative to its parent, which allows you to get a very nice linear view of all your “next actions” sorted by filtered importance/urgency in the hierarchy.  A task that is desperately important to a goal that is “meh” will fall lower than an “average” task relative to a more important goal.

I gotta be honest.  A lot of this stuff seems cribbed from “Life Balance”, an app I used with great pleasure maybe 10 years ago but which didn’t make the transition to the multi-device/sync/cloud world very well.  Unlike Dropbox, Life Balance sync didn’t “just happen”, it took a lot of work, and a lot of failed attempts to sync.

But Life Balance was the first time I ran across the top-to-bottom hierarchy and the relative importance slider, and it won my heart.

(For all I know, LlamaGraphics got the idea from somewhere else.)

If MLO got the idea from Life Balance, they just ‘fess up to it, be generous, and move on.  They’ve taken the idea a long way.

More on MLO in coming posts, I’m sure, but for now, I’m dewy-eyed in love.


4 thoughts on “When it comes to “To Do” Lists, MLO Rocks”

  1. There’s a flat view of terminal nodes in the tree, ordered by an algorithm that includes importance, urgency, have-I-made-this-a-goal (there are weekly/monthly/yearly goals). The top n items in the flat view (where n is your WIP limit) should be the “doing” candidates.

    That said, I haven’t tried to get an explicit Kanban view. I find the “top n of the flat view” to be what I need. Maybe I’m a kink, but I like to see my “Kan’tBan” stuff alongside my Kanban.

  2. For Mac users it’s a non-starter. Also, since my personal and work calendars are Google maintained, that’s important. My quick googling indicates that there is no Google calendar integration.

    What would you suggest for Mac users who want Google calendar integration?

    1. My late ex Todoist runs on Mac and every platform, has superb gmail integration. I never tested the google calendar integration, but I noted in passing that they have it and I would bet it’s pretty good.

      That’d be my fave for Mac-centric

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