Dr. Mac Looks for a Lovable List Manager for Mac and iPhone

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #109


There are three kinds of people: Those who make lists; those who don’t make lists; and I wish I could remember the third kind, but I didn’t write it down on one of my lists…

As you probably guessed, I’m the first kind: An inveterate list-maker who is never without a notepad, notebook, Post-it note pad, or iDevice. I’ve told my family for years: “If you need me to do something or be somewhere, make sure I put it on my to do list or I’ll forget it before you even leave the room.” 

I keep lists for everything. What kinds of lists? At any moment I have between 5 and 10 lists going: a master To Do list, To Do lists for projects, lists of phone calls I need to make and letters I need to write, shopping lists, wish lists, lists of potential article topics, and more. Until fairly recently, I never left my office without a pen and notepad for writing down whatever I needed to remember. When I got back to the office I’d transfer any little notes to my lists, which I maintained on yellow legal pads. 

I knew from the start my Mac would be much more efficient than a pen and paper for making and managing lists, so for the past 30 or so years I’ve been making the transition from pen-and-paper based lists to file-based lists. In that time I’ve tried literally dozens of apps for managing lists or tasks.

One thing I learned early on was that an outline makes a nice, natural framework for a list. So most of the list managers I used in the early days were actually outline processors such as ThinkTank, More, and Acta.

An outline is an excellent framework for a list.

While outliners worked OK for managing lists, I always felt the computer should do more of the heavy lifting. For example, I believe list items should include due dates, priority levels, and tags. And the software should automatically archive completed tasks. I also realized that an outline is great for hierarchical lists, it’s not the best framework for date and time-based events like appointments, meetings, flight times, and the like.

Over time I figured out that, at least for me, the Holy Grail would be fast, easy data entry anywhere, using any device. My dream system would be designed so I could add new items quickly and easily using any of my Apple devices. And, of course, I needed something that synchronized items and events on all devices in (near) real time. The bottom line was that I needed a To Do list app that integrated seamlessly with a calendar.

For years I used iCal (now known as Calendar) for both to-do lists and events. Its to-do features were weak, but I had yet to find something that worked better. Then, a few years ago, Apple introduced Reminders, which helped a lot. Around the same time I switched from Calendar to BusyCal, which made things even better. I’ve been using BusyCal and Reminders ever since.

While that combo was pretty good, I never stopped looking for something better. In the OS X era I’ve tested close to a dozen list-making/time management apps including Things, OmniFocus, and many others. And I’ve read a bunch of books on productivity and task management, but until now I found all the software I tried and books I read were too complicated, too simple, or too crappy. The bottom line is that while my Reminders and BusyCal-based system doesn’t suck, I’ve finally found something I like even better. It's called The Hit List from Karelia Software, with versions for the Mac (US$49.99) and the iPhone ($14.99), and a free syncing service so every item on every list appears on every device in (near) real time.

Next: The Hit List for Mac and iPhone

Page 2 - The Hist List for Mac and iPhone


What makes The Hit List better than more than a dozen list-and-time managing apps I tried previously? The biggest difference is that unlike many of the others, The Hit List doesn’t try to adhere to any specific system of task management. The problem I've had is that many of the other apps try to adhere strictly to a task management system — usually David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). And while I’ve read the book and use some (but not all) of its organizational ideas, as a system it doesn’t work for me. The part I’ve adopted includes the concept of tagging tasks with “contexts,” such Internet, Writing, Telephone, Car, and so on.

I like that the Hit List doesn’t force you to use contexts; instead it offers a flexible combination of contexts and tags. I use contexts in the traditional manner — to quickly see tasks that are doable at the moment.

My "context" tags begin with "@" (Mac)

My "context" tags begin with "@" (iPhone)

Other niceties include optional start and due dates, Today and Upcoming views to display items from all of your lists with due dates within the next 3 or 7 days respectively, automatic logging of completed tasks, smart folders, and a notes field you can show or hide for each task. Finally, I love keyboard shortcuts and the Mac version offers them in abundance, including my favorite: a global Quick Entry shortcut that's smart enough to add the URL of the page you're viewing and optionally tag it with a context (like @web).

The Hit List's intelligent Quick Entry window 

Another thing I like about The Hit List is that it offers the option of syncing its lists with lists in Apple’s Reminders app. For me, that meant trying it was painless — everything from my lists in Reminders appeared in The Hit List in seconds. It also means that in a worst-case scenario – if I had no Macs or iDevices available, for example — I could still access all of my lists using the Reminders web app at www.iCloud.com.

There’s a free demo (of the Mac version) at Karella's website, so if you like lists but aren’t thrilled with your current solution — whether it’s Reminders or a complicated third-party app — give The Hit List a try.

If you’re a list junkie (like me), you’re gonna love it. 

And that’s all he wrote.