Thursday, December 29, 2011

Task management

Well, I'm back to using Remember the Milk after a few months' using Producteev. There's nothing wrong with Producteev, and there was nothing wrong with Remember the Milk when I switched before. I just feel like I need a little change. Plus, RTM now has a free and pretty Android app. I experimented with different options because I wasn't really sure what I was looking for in task management. I think I have a better idea of what I need now.

There are two phases (for me) in publishing a textbook: development and production.

In development, I work closely with the authors to craft a good chapter. I'll work on each chapter for two to three weeks (sometimes more), then send it back to the author for a revision. That happens two or three times per chapter. There are several steps that happen in that two-to-three week period, like reading reviews, revising the art, writing a memo, etc. For these tasks, it would be great to have
  1. subtasks (the steps taken to complete a chapter's edit)
  2. an ordering feature, where I can say, "I can only do this task after that one is finished"
  3. templates, so I can make a task (e.g., Chapter 1), and the template will fill in all the subtasks
In production, things go much more quickly, and I'm assigned tasks by email. An organizer will send me a file with a note, "Here's Chapter 1, please send any corrections by Friday." For these, I also work closely with the author to compile corrections from various sources, like old emails or random notes (as well as my head). For these tasks, I'd love to have
  1. a "convert email to task" function, or even better, a shared task management app where the organizer can simply forward me the task, with the chapter attached
  2. task-associated notes, where I can store loose corrections waiting to be made, even if the chapter isn't ready for me yet
  3. a "waiting on" function connected to email, so when I'm just waiting for an author's reply, their reply will automatically move the task from the "can't do this yet" box to the "do this" box.
Remember the Milk and Producteev are both very powerful task management apps that can do at least some of these things. But the real limitation here is that there isn't an app we're all using. We've had limited success using Google Docs for organization among the editorial staff (there's four of us) and Box.net among authors and editors for simple file storage. But until everyone is comfortable using a system, it won't work.

This is part of why I'm so excited about things like Google+. They've taken a system of communication similar to Facebook or Twitter and improved upon it so that it can serve as a forum for conversation comparable to email, but for more than two people. (If only they'd thread comments!) I can only imagine what Google would do for task management if they tried.

My hope isn't that Google takes over social media or task management, but that they improve upon the existing formats and make them interoperable. In other words, if I'm using Google+ and you're using Facebook, we can still share and comment on each other's posts. Likewise, if I'm using RTM and you're using Producteev, we can still assign each other tasks. I can dream, right?

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