Ahh, the new year is nearly upon us. And, naturally, it's that time to start making a list of all the things that you'll likely end up putting off in 2010. The dreaded "New Year's Resolution" list is really just a fancy way of saying, "I'll get to it." Right? But it doesn't have to be. Post-it notes can be ignored and shopping lists can be misplaced, but there's no stopping a concrete digital solution from reminding you of all the things you promised yourself come the drop of the ball January 1.
That said, you don't have to use this week's batch of friendly to-do and reminder tools to just keep track of your resolutions. These various free and open-source software programs do much more than just that. From integrating with existing online tasks lists, to delivering GUI-free methods for organizing tasks, to tracking your online auctions (no less), these apps deliver a virtual smorgasbord of options for keeping your life in check. You'll never look at another Outlook calendar or Google reminder the same way again.
Simple. Easy. Efficient. This lightweight Adobe AIR application calls up a miniature instance of Google Tasks right on your desktop. You won't need to pull open a Web browser just to access your task listings. And since this is literally just connecting to Google Tasks, you'll always have the most up-to-date list of things to check off whenever you launch this app--an ideal solution if you're accessing Google Tasks from multiple workspaces. Combine this program with the ever-useful Always on Top Maker to create a permanent window that lists the things you have to do! Google Tasks might not be the best application of Google Tasks in a desktop environment, but it's certainly one way to rip this feature straight out of your browser window.
Yes, it's another Adobe AIR application. However, Doit.im is a comprehensive project management application that delivers a bunch of different options for keeping track of everything from smaller to-do items to larger efforts. It even uses the power of the cloud to synchronize itself across multiple instances of the application, ensuring that you'll always be accessing your most up-to-date scheduling no matter which of your many computers you're using. Add multi-step tasks, invite friends into your project chain, and organize your tasks by time (to showcase the next actions you have to take, elements due by tomorrow, or elements due at some point in the future).
With mobile versions of Doit.im in the works, it's only fitting that you start integrating this useful tracking program into your daily routine. You'll soon be able to take it with you wherever you go!
For more urgent to-do requests, TimeLeft is a basic alarm clock app that's been stuffed full of different add-ons and features. The combined result is a program that truly leaves no stone unturned when it comes to keeping track of your activities, be they time-sensitive or general "to-do" items. An integrated countdown mode gives you the exact time before a specific deadline hits, and the program's sticky-notes feature allows you to clutter up your desktop with any specific reminders you want. You can schedule events as one-shot items or as recurring elements--a number of complex rules built into TimeLeft gives you a wide latitude for customization. And when I said "stuffed full of add-ons," I wasn't kidding! TimeLeft even includes an auction countdown feature for keeping track of your online shopping.
If you're totally into command-line environments (here's looking at you, Linux converts), then Org-mode might be the scheduling app for you. This program isn't for the faint of heart: Installing it requires you to first stick Emacs onto your machine. From there, you'll have to work through a variety of commands just to get the program up-and-running. And since Org-Mode is text-based at its core, don't expect to be able to just wave your mouse around and click on a few boxes to get your outlines or schedules working correctly. These challenges might be a lot to handle for an average user. However, Org-Mode delivers a commanding amount of functionality for being text-based. And just because it lacks a GUI doesn't mean that its stuck in the Stone Ages: Org-Mode users can even sync what they do in the program to their iPhones.
I save this for last, as Evernote is really the Alpha and the Omega of note-taking, reminding, or whatever else you want to call "keeping organized." This super-simple application works on an awesome trifecta of platforms: mobile, Web, and desktop. You can type notes directly into the program, append pictures, organize your notes with tags, and even split your notes into multiple notebooks at the click of a mouse. Organizing and searching for your notes using Evernote's powerful interface is as easy as it is quick, and the program even transforms the very text or handwriting from notes you've inputted into the application into searchable elements.
I could go on, but just know this: Evernote will send your file cabinets and notecards trembling for the corners of your room. You will not find a more comprehensive application for note-taking, bar none. And don't forget to synchronize it across your mobile devices as well!
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!