Get It Together: Seven Apps and Services to Organize Your Life

Maximum PC Staff

In an increasingly complex world we’re expected to think faster, do more, and rest less than ever before. In most occupations, multitasking is a must, making the ability to manage one’s time and tasks effectively arguably the most vital skill any employee can bring into the modern workplace—and that’s just during the work week. After hours and on weekends (if you’re lucky enough to have them), keeping track of family events, time with friends and personal projects can be enough to bring those with even the sharpest of minds to their knees. Fortunately, there’s a ton of technology in place to help you make the transition from being a failed life planning chump to an organizational champ. To get you started, we’ve put together a list of a few of our favorite organizational apps. No matter whether they’re web-based, free or bound to your PC, they all have one thing in common: They’ll help you organize that herd of cats you call a life.

Evernote

When it comes to taking notes and keeping all of your ducks in a row, it’s pretty hard to beat Evernote . For the low, low price of absolutely free, Evernote can be downloaded to most platforms including Windows, OS X, iOS, WebOS (sigh), Android and Blackberry’s QNX Playbook operating system. Lacking that, your Evernote account can also be accessed via any modern web browser.

Evernote makes it easy to take, edit, and review typed notes, lists, voice, and video memos on the fly. Should your workflow require you to keep tabs on online content, Evernote’s got your back, offering up a web clipping extension compatible with most major internet browsers. Just click the Evernote icon in your browser bar, select the content you’re interested in and then raise your arms like Steve Holt in a gesture of victory as the web content is clipped, captured and sent to your Evernote account for review at a later time. What what’s more, the PC version of Evernote will even allow you to share all of that crucial content via a number of popular social networks including Twitter, Facebook and email.

Additionally, power users can extend the service’s functionality even further through the use of Evernote Trunk applications, which allow Evernote to integrate with popular mobile application like Quickoffice Pro HD for Android and iOS, Skitch, Reeder and Instapaper. If for some reason all of this still isn’t enough for you, it’s also possible to rock a premium Evernote account which’ll allow you to transfer up to 1GB of content per month, upload and search through PDF files, and wicked fast image recognition.

To be honest, it’s pretty hard for us to find a downside to using this user friendly, highly customizable service.

Google Calendar

When it comes to organizing your life, it doesn’t get any more basic than a calendar. For the majority of Westerners, the Gregorian calendar has been the way to go since first being introduced by Pope Gregory XIII back in 1582. In 2006, Google upped the Pope’s Gregorian game by introducing Google Calendar —the free time management web application that we all know today. Subject to the company’s legendarily long trial periods, Google Calendar didn’t come out of beta until 2009, but once it did, the web app proved stable and reliable enough to become the de facto scheduling and task planning application for countless amateur and professional taskmasters around the world.

Google Calendar is free to use, but requires that each user of the web app sign up for a Google account. The greatest strengths of Google Calendar are the web app’s flexibility, ability to be accessed via multiple platforms, and the ease of which it allows users to share their calendars and collaborate with other Google account holders. By using Google Calendar, you’ll be able share your calendars with the important people in your life, compile tasks lists, set up multiple calendars to deal with a wide variety of scheduling duties, receive email reminders of impending appointments and tasks, and make it accessible via most smartphones applications and web browsers (as well as select calendar desktop clients like Microsoft Outlook).

Until recently, if Google Calendar had an fault, it was that it wasn’t available for offline use. Fortunately, the good folks from Mountain View are now offering the web app’s users the ability to access, interact, and edit their calendars offline through the Google’s Chrome browser.

Microsoft OneNote

If you prefer a little more freedom to decide how to organize your life, Microsoft’s insanely versatile OneNote application might be the way to go. Available as an individual application or as part of Microsoft Office 2010, OneNote allows for free-form entry of your important information as you see fit. Users are invited to organize their information into virtual notebooks and pages, each of which can hold a wide variety of information including typed notes, screenshots, image files, audio, HTML, video, hyperlinks, handwritten text (provided your PC or Windows tablet supports it), tables, and information from other Microsoft applications like OutLook, Excel and Word.

There are appliances to set up checklists, send snippets of text or whole notebooks to email recipients, and schedule meetings all from inside of the application. OneNote saves data automatically as it is entered, making it a great choice for over tasked academics or scatterbrained freelancers, and boast the ability to save information locally synchronize to a Sharepoint server or through Microsoft’s SkyDrive service. As with Google Calendar and Evernote, OneNote users are also able to access their data through their smartphones, provided they’re rocking an iOS, Android or Windows Phone handset.

Without a doubt, OneNote is a powerful tool, but it has a few serious faults. First, let’s talk about the price: As a lone application, it’ll set you back over $100. As part of Microsoft Office? Well, let’s not get into how crazy expensive that can be. With so many other free alternatives out there, it’s hard to justify forking over that kind of cash. Second, and perhaps more importantly, for individuals looking to organize their lives, the anything-goes nature of the OneNote could end up being more of a hinderance than an actual help, as even with powerful search capabilities, all of those free form notebooks and pages can quickly spiral out of control.

Remember The Milk

We’d be remiss if we forgot to enter Remember the Milk on this list. Ideal for individuals who thrive and survive by checklists, Remember the Milk has been an indispensable part of thousands of people’s organizational lives for years. Using the service requires setting up a Remember the Milk account, but the two minutes it takes to complete the setup process will be amongst the best you’ve ever spent on an administrative task.

Once you’re good to go, simply navigate to Remember the Milk’s homepage, sign in and get that life of yours in order. New tasks are entered into a field at the top of the screen, and can be sorted by priority, due date and category, making it easy to stay on top of what’s important. While the web-based version of Remember the Milk is powerful on its own, upgrading to a pro account for $25 a year brings even more functionality to an already stellar service, by giving subscribers access to Android, Blackberry and Outlook synchronization. Additionally, subscribers who have iOS devices and opt in for pro account will be treated like the special snowflakes that they are by Remember the Milk’s adding functionality to the iPhone and iPad’s already very respectable Remember the Milk applications.

While there’s no denying that Remember the Milk can be an invaluable organizational tool if used on a regular basis, the fact that it is so dependant upon an internet connection for most platforms can cripple it in some situations.

Toodledo

Another great option in the same vein as Remember the Milk is Toodledo , Available for use via your web browser and as an app for Blackberry, Android and iOS devices, Toodledo keeps user’s lives in line through the use of customizable filters, alarms and as with Remember the Milk, a checklist. Toodledo’s interface is insanely customizable, allowing users to decide what tasking information appears in the service’s user interface and where it shows up. While this may seem like a minor feature at first blush, having the ability to control the amount of information you’re dealing with can have a huge impact on your productivity.

As with Evernote and OneNote, Toodledo provides users with some basic word processing functionality through the use of a notebook interface. User generated notes can be organized into notebooks for easy reference.  There’s also an option to Toodledo also allows users to import data from in a number of popular formats including CSV, XML, text files as well as offering support for Palm Pilots and iCal.

In a bid to provide an added layer of security to your organizational life, Toodledo even offers users the ability to back up and restore their Toodledo database to their PC. Perhaps the most interesting feature offered by Toodledo is its ability to help users schedule their busy days and prioritize tasks through the use of a few sweet algorithms. In our experience, the service does a decent job of figuring out what’s a priority for us, and was able to schedule tasks accordingly. Still, as with any mathematical equation designed to do our thinking for us, it’s not an exact science. You may find that you and Toodledo won’t always agree about what’s important in your life, or where a task should be placed in your day’s pecking order.

Todoist

Again with the online services! Designed for use by project-oriented users, Todoist makes project management planning child’s play. When it comes to a GUI, it doesn’t get much more user friendly than what Todoist has on offer. Users are invited to get the organizational ball rolling by creating a project, which in turn allows for the building of a task list. Tasks can be assigned completion dates, alarms and a priority rating. Todoist makes it possible to move tasks from one project to another, making it easy to modify your workflow as your priorities change.

As with the other organizational apps and services discussed in this feature, users can also organize their tasks and projects with meta tags to make searching for data a breeze, even if your list of tasks or projects number in the hundreds. Firefox and Chrome users have the option of installing an extension to their web browser that adds Gmail integration, the ability to clip pages for reading at a later time and a number of other useful features into the mix. Should your day take you away from your desk (perish the thought), you can take Todoist with you thanks to the fact that as with Remember the Milk and Toodledo, Todoist also boasts mobile app versions of its web-based interface with support for most modern smartphones. As an added bonus, their mobile apps provide offline support, making it easy for you to manage your projects and tasks anywhere your life takes you.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of its interface—Todoist is one powerful organizational tool that’s more than worth your attention.

Thinking Rock

There’s more than a few disciples of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) task management philosophy, and with good reason: by routinely taking stock of one’s tasks, it becomes a lot easier to figure out what’s a priority in your life and what can be pushed to the side for a while or discarded all together. That kind of task streamlining means less stress for you, and that, friends, is a win. Thinking Rock allows GTD devotees to get their task management on with a simple, but powerful, mind-map based interface that provides an at-a-glance understanding of what you’ve got cooking at any given time.

Tasks entered into Thinking Rock can be filed into the traditional GTD categories of actions, projects, sub-projects, reference items, someday/maybe items, or goals.  Having the ability to structure tasks into projects and sub-projects provides invaluable organizational flexibility, making it easier to make sense of the chaos that comes from too many unwrangled tasks. Best of all, as Thinking Rock is Java-based, users can install it to Windows PCs, Apple computers, or Linux boxes and enjoy the same feature set right across the board.

Unfortunately, unlike the other applications we’ve outlined here, Thinking Rock’s mobile offerings are bleak at best. As far as we could see, there’s no dedicated app allowing smartphone users to interact with their Thinking Rock database on the go, and as the Getting Things Done method to task management is fluid to say the least, the fact that Thinking Rock’s developer suggests users take their GTD worklist with them on their Android or iOS devices as a PDF, or print it out as a Jasper or pocketmod note almost seems like a cruel joke.

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