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Chaos Control to the Rescue

Spoiler alert. No, this is not a game.

Anyone who regularly visits MD knows that I have this thing about tasks and task apps. I went as far as to offer a bounty for a functional (by my definition) Windows Phone task app back in 2010. I finally found something that worked, and worked well, in Clever-To-Do. A great Live Tile, recurring tasks, backup capability, etc. But what was missing was a way to tie the tasks back to the desktop. Clever Software has had a web based solution in beta for about a year, and they keep hinting to a Win 8 app. But so for, nothing worth talking about. I have tried nearly a dozen Win 8 task/todo apps to date and none of them come even close to providing a minimal level of functionality.

Before I move forward with this I need to take a step back. I am a Franklin Planner guy from long ago. From there I evolved to Franklin Planner software (which synced great with my Palm btw), and then on to Franklin for Outlook. Finally I went with pure Outlook for a number of years. Stopped using Outlook in 2009 when it was no longer relevant (for me) and have only recently started it back up again with my Office 2013 subscription. But I am finding Outlook to be a bit clunky for my current needs (a small company without ever leaving the my desk). And let’s face it, Tasks or To-Dos in Outlook have always been the red headed stepchild to Contacts, Calendar and Mail. So while Outlook is superior to say, Windows Live Mail, for the tougher stuff, I find the built-in Win 8 email client adequate. And easier to use,  for my day to day needs.

When it comes to mail and contacts, I like to maintain separation between my personal and business life. I don’t mind seeing both on my phone, but my office desktop does not need personal and staff notify emails cluttering my business accounts through the day. I already monitor five business email accounts and four personal accounts (on my personal PCs) using the Win 8 client. I don’t want nine mailboxes within the same client. It’s confusing enough as it is.

Tasks are a different story though. I need to see my personal and business tasks together to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. At 57 I am not ready to admit that I am forgetful, but I will admit that sometimes I need to remember too much. My (literal) internal hard drive is overdue for a defrag. I am not one of those guys who creates 20-30 tasks a day just so he could feel good about checking them off. But there are always 5 or 10 things on the list that sometimes need to be addressed, or deferred, as time permits. Because of my personal/business separation policy noted above, Exchange accounts or other solutions are not an option for me having a combined Task list. And web based products do not offer things like, always connected, Live Tiles, auto-sync, etc. No, I need a product with its own server that will allow me to install, login and sync from any device, be it computer or phone. That’s a tall, but doable order.

Introducing Chaos Control, a GTD based time management application for; Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Web ( you know for, like iPhone, iPad and Mac  UPDATE: The developer has informed me that there is in fact a version available in the App Store for iOS). Oh, it’s also available for Symbian, but does anyone really care. It’s a light app, without any Settings (except for setting up syncing) and minimal use of buttons, icons, etc. Like other GTD (Getting Things Done) apps, it includes; Projects, Contexts, Due Today/Tomorrow, and something called Chaos Box which is a place to park things that don’t need immediate attention. But most importantly, you can install it on your WP and your Win8 devices regardless of the way you currently login to them, create a sync account, and all your tasks will sync between all your devices. What a concept!

The apps work flawlessly, but they are lacking some key features that hopefully will be addressed in the short term. The Win 8 app has a nice Live Tile that flips through tasks that are currently due. But that could take awhile to see, say four or five tasks. Might as well open the damn app already. I would much prefer to see three or four single line tasks listed on the Live Tile (like the free To-Dos app) and scroll as needed to show all the currently due tasks. Also, the app auto-syncs on open, but not on close, or after adding/updating a task. So if you don’t force a sync when closing, other devices won’t get the update on open. I did get a reminder popup on my Win8 desktop, but the app is not setup to run in the background. Would be nice to have that Live Tile update automatically. Finally, if I activate the reminder for a task on the desktop, that checkbox does not transfer to the phone. Probably because reminders are handled differently on the two devices.

The WP app does have a Live Tile, sort of. It only displays a count of tasks due today, and can only grow to single wide. This needs to be a double wide tile, with 3-4 lines of due today tasks on each side of the tile. The tile only updates after opening the app, so no Background task functionality yet. That’s a critical feature for the phone. Another nice feature request for both platforms would be the ability to create recurring tasks, which I use quite a bit. Otherwise, the sparse functionality of the apps actually make them easier to use IMHO.

I have already installed the app on my home/office desktops, notebook, Surface RT and L900. Same tasks on all screens. It’s a beautiful thing indeed.

For a dedicated server, you are not going to get this stuff for free, although the WP and Win8 apps both offer a Trial version. I didn’t bother with trials though, so you will have to tell me what limitations they may impose. The WP and Win8 apps will set you back $4.49 for each. You can find the WP app here. If you are using Win 8 you know how to find the app in the Store. Right? Here is the link to the developer’s website for additional information.