I am a task management nerd. I admit it. I wasn't always this way, but several years ago I decided to take the step from fairly organized to overly organized. I was primarily motivated by some conversations with my wife about things that needed to be done around the house or things that were part of some long-term projects for our family. As we discussed the status for some of those items, I realized that I had a huge problem - I knew exactly where I stood on getting those things done, but my wife had no clue. And how could she possibly have been able to figure it out? My lists of tasks were complete but were scribbled on sheets of paper and I had the same problems then that many people do today. I had no access to my tasks unless I was in my office at home, no way of easily conveying the status of various things to anyone else, re-organizing projects or even a list of tasks meant re-writing all of them on a different sheet of paper - the list of problems with my organization method was longer than my task list.
I started researching organization methods - Getting Things Done (GTD), Zen to Done (ZTD), Covey's methods. I looked at a lot of them. And quickly realized one thing - I believe that any one method works for one and only one person. Period. Even well-established methods like the ones listed here only exist because their creator refined them over time, put them down on paper and shared them with others. People who follow them to the letter of the law might find - as I have - that deviating from those methods slightly to create your own personal management system works best for them. I've taken elements of many different methods to form my own system and I continue to tweak mine as I learn more about myself and as I see different ideas from other systems and other people.
One central tenet of any system is how you choose to store your tasks. Hey - writing them on paper is perfectly fine. Many people do that with great success. However, I want mine stored electronically and I want them backed up regularly. I shudder to think about the nightmare scenario of having hundreds of projects and tasks in a notebook and then losing that notebook or having it be destroyed somehow. I've tried many different online task management systems and I also wrote my own system that I used for a long time. All of them have their pros and cons when I look at them in the context of my management system - some have way more cons than pros, too. Some people can't live without subtasks - I don't use them. Some people use tags for everything and others just want a few fields that they can use to classify their tasks. Some people use due dates for tasks and others think that practice is evil. There are enough online tasks management web applications out there to suit everyone and their needs if they look hard enough.
One of my main requirements for my system is constant access. I want to be able to see my tasks from any browser - especially from my mobile phone. For the last several years this has meant having a native application on my phone that synchronized with a central repository to provide me access to my tasks. The ability to add a task as quickly as possible wherever I am is paramount as is the ability to see what I need to work on and be reminded of it at any time. Most of the time, there are many native applications available for any one web application and there rarely has been a clear-cut best-in-class choice for me - I've typically tried them all and chosen the one that had most of the features that I needed.
Now I'm seeing a new trend - one that we've predicted here on the Track-It! team for some time. A number of online task management sites are rolling out HTML5 mobile web sites that work with the new HTML5 local storage APIs to provide full off-line capabilities for your tasks instead of providing a native mobile application. With these HTML5 applications, typically when you first login to their site, you are asked if you want to allow synchronization of your data. Once you agree, your data is downloaded into local storage in your browser. The mobile web application then works with the data in the browser local storage and this data is synchronized with their site on some recurring basis. This affords you the same ability provided by native applications - it allows you to work with your tasks when you don't have network access. And the huge benefit is that this mobile web application works on all of the major mobile platforms - you don't have to write several different native applications to support all of your customers.
In my mind, the advantage to this model has always been around the platform and architecture of the application. A native mobile application relies on a public API and, in the case of a third party application, that API may not provide all of the functionality that the full web site does. A cloud-based, HTML5 application that is deployed alongside a full web site should have access to the same information and resources as the full site. I actually have seen an instance where the mobile site for a particular product did not support certain functionality provided by the full site because it used their public API instead of another way of integrating with their site. I immediately dismissed the site as a possibility for my use because of this - there's not much excuse for this approach. Now, I'm not saying that a mobile web site should have every bit of functionality as the full product - actually, that's not the case at all. A mobile web site should be carefully constructed to expose the key functions that a user would need to access on the go. I've seen mobile web sites that were very difficult to use because they didn't adhere to this rule. The point is that an HTML5 mobile site should be constructed so that it can provide any functionality that the user might want or need - that it shouldn't be limited by the architecture of the system.
We designed Track-It! Mobile Web from the ground up to do just that - to expose the key functions that a Help Desk technician would need as they work on tickets every day. We are looking at other functionality that could be included in our Mobile Web that customers and others have asked for. From my standpoint, I'm thrilled because we are not limited in what we can put in the Mobile Web. Sure, we have to rethink certain things - our users are in love with the grids in Track-It! and they are way too heavy to render in a mobile browser - but re-thinking them means that we are able to come up with solutions that work on a smaller form-factor device. It certainly doesn't mean that we have to figure out how to provide the functionality in the product - just how it will look and feel as our customers use it. And that's a beautiful thing. We aren't wasting our time re-writing things so that they work in the mobile web. Instead we're spending lots of time with customers and other internal resources figuring out exactly how our customers use the new mobile web and asking them what they think will make it work even better for them every day.
I'd like to know if our customers would like to see off-line support for Track-It! Mobile Web. Do you think this would help you each day? Do you find yourself without network access and needing to manage your Track-It! work queue often? Do you think this would help you if your company has strict policies that cover whether or not you can access Track-It! Mobile Web from outside your firewall?
I'd love to hear your answers to these questions and any other thoughts you have on this topic. Post a comment here - send me a tweet - post on the Track-It! Forums - whatever you want to do. I'd love to hear from you!