Firetask is a Low-Cost Alternative to OmniFocus

Task and project management apps such as OmniFocus and Things aren’t just popular, they’re a necessity for anyone wanting to keep track of tasks and projects all the way from start to finish. While I probably spend more time trying out new GTD apps than actually getting anything done, I’d be completely lost without any sort of task management app that lets me track individual tasks and projects.

My latest GTD distraction is Firetask, a project-orientated task management app that promises complete and simple control of your tasks so you can spend less time procrastinating and more time, well, getting things done.

Project Management

Apps such as Clear, Remember the Milk or Reminders are great task management apps but they serve a more linear purpose of simply building a list of tasks and checking them off as and when completed. Project-based task management apps provide much more organisational control and for multiple projects in multiple areas of responsibility.

Firetask describes itself as a project-orientated GTD app, allowing for some serious organisational options. Rather than dealing with simply a number of different task lists, Firetask provides full project and category management.

The developers of Firetask have taken David Allen’s Getting Things Done book of task management, the author who coined the very phrase, to heart and have designed the app to be as efficient as possible. Readers of the book will likely feel right at home while many of the features will still be familiar for anyone switching from another method of managing tasks.

Projects let you separate tasks for different objectives while categories can separate tasks into different types, such as meetings, phone calls or errands. This allows for you to not only view what’s coming up next in a project but also meetings you may be attending across all of your active projects.

The App

Firetask looks like it belongs on iOS 7, which is both a compliment and a complaint. The app has removed all previous skeuomorphic design choices it had previously and dived straight into the iOS 7 design pool.

Firetask may be one of the most modern apps for iOS 7, though it can be a little too minimal at times.

Firetask may be one of the most modern apps for iOS 7, though it can be a little too minimal at times.

Unfortunately, the app isn’t easy to navigate at first. None of the toolbar options are labelled so you’re having to guess what they mean. Each section is titled but it does mean you have to actually go into them to see what they are called. I’m not sure why that is the case, as the iPhone version of Firetask includes labels.

Thankfully, the rest of the app is more suitably annotated and adding new tasks is easily done with the permanently placed new task button on the top right, denoted by the + symbol.

The Task Detail view provides everything you need to organise tasks, including emailing and converting tasks. Reminders work via push notifications work just as you’d expect, with the added benefit of being able to set them for any time, not just a due date.

Projects and Categories

Tasks can be assigned to both projects and categories either independently or simultaneously. How you use either of these functions is up to you, though Firetask includes a number of default categories to give you some idea how best to use them. They’re all completely customisable so you can truly make the app your own and change it to work for you, not the other way around.

Firetask features some exceptional task management tools, including Categories.

Firetask features some exceptional task management tools, including Categories.

Projects and Categories can be added just as easily as tasks, provided you’re in the right section.

Task Status

Like many other project management apps, there’s an In-Tray for you to dump tasks into so you can organise them later. I often have bursts of ideas, especially for a new project, which means I’m usually entering task after task after task. An In-Tray lets you get the tasks written down first before spending time organising them.

Most tasks can be entered straight into the In-Tray for organisation later.

Most tasks can be entered straight into the In-Tray for organisation later.

Each task features a status, going way beyond many other task management apps and provides a way of tracking the progress of a task. Within most other apps, tasks are simply waiting to be done or done, you check the box when finished. With Firetask, you can not only mark a task as done but also whether it’s in progress, cancelled, actionable or even put it off completely. The developers really seem to understand that tasks aren’t simply a boolean value — they can have different stages of completion.

Strangely, the In-Tray and Scratchboard are actually classed as a task statuses, which can be a little confusing if you’re moving from a more traditional task management app. Within Firetask, the In-Tray is technically a status as it’s a task that has yet to be assigned, started or dealt with.

Throwaway Tasks

I like to keep my work-related tasks and projects separate from personal ones, since most of them just tend to be reminders to buy groceries or take something to the post office. For these temporary tasks, Firetask has a scratchpad where you can simply add one-off tasks that, while you still need to get done, don’t require organising. It makes the perfect personal to-do app as each item within the Scratchboard can still be assigned a project or category if needed.

The Scratchboard is perfect for adding those random tasks that don't otherwise need their own project or category.

The Scratchboard is perfect for adding those random tasks that don’t otherwise need their own project or category.

Similar to the In-Tray, the Scratchboard is classed as a task status so it can prove a little confusing to begin with, until you realise that you can easily convert it to a proper task within a project if the need arises. As someone who often uses tasks as a way of jotting down a potential project idea, Firetask includes a clever option of converting a task into its own project.

Collaboration and Syncing

Firetask is very much an app you can use either individually or within a workgroup. Although there’s no syncing between users, Firetask does offer its own syncing platform which provides full task and project synchronisation to Mac and iOS devices running the app. Use this on your own or, provided your team all want to share the same information, have everyone use the same account.

Firetask includes a comprehensive URL scheme which comes in handy when emailing tasks as it includes a complete URL that other users can click on to automatically import the task into their own app. This URL scheme works across the Mac and iOS apps so it doesn’t matter what device you open the task in, it will create it regardless.

On the topic of collaboration, should you assign a colleague a task or project to complete, Firetask includes a Waiting For category specifically for tasks that have been assigned to other users. Again, while there is no interaction between other user’s Firetask apps, the app does include Assignee information that works similar to project, letting you assign the name of a colleague to keep track of who is doing what. Project managers will certainly find this useful when delegating tasks to team members and provides a way to keep track of how each of them are doing with their assign tasks.

Organise Your Tasks

Keeping track of when tasks are due or seeing a daily rundown of all current tasks that require completion can be done by the functional Organise section. Tasks can still be edited within this view so you could keep the calendar open and easily change a task’s status.

Organising and getting an overview of when tasks are due lets you stay on top of your workload.

Organising and getting an overview of when tasks are due lets you stay on top of your workload.

Unlike Firetask for Mac, there is no calendar view, though the Organize panel, reiterating the fact that Firetask for iOS is more a versatile companion app to its Mac counterpart.

Conclusion

As GTD apps go, Firetask is one of the most comprehensive I’ve ever used and, in some ways, is what I’d describe as OmniFocus for the rest of us. For anyone looking for something that provides more control over tasks and projects than Things but doesn’t want the learning curve, or cost, of OmniFocus, Firetask is a perfect middle ground.

Some things will take some getting used to, task statuses especially but this is certainly one of the best intermediate GTD apps I’ve used. Its advanced feature set and ease of use, as well as great iOS companion apps, has me seriously considering ending my long standing relationship with Things.


Summary

A great project management app that offers far more flexibly than a simple to-do app, with some great features and seamless syncing.

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