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by Michael Shapiro | June 4, 2010

Buying and learning a new task management application, and figuring out how to incorporate it into your daily workflow, has, at times, seemed to me a dubious way to increase one's productivity. How often does the payoff exceed the extra time invested at the outset? And even after learning the system, how much time can one spend organizing life without actually doing the tasks at hand?
 
A new task management app just released this week, Producteev Two, takes an interesting approach to the problem. The platform-independent application resides online, and it offers various methods of managing your tasks. Once you sign up for the account, you can add tasks via the online interface -- or via e-mail, by sending them to task@producteev.com; there's even a Gmail gadget that allows you to manage tasks through the Gmail interface. The application also supports various other messaging services, such as Gtalk, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM, ICQ and Twitter. So if you're on IM all day, you can easily add a new task to the platform when you think of it, without launching a separate application.
 
This setup lends itself particularly well to collaborative work environments, an important point for planners working with geographically scattered teams. For instance, you can link to the colleagues with whom you're working on a given project (a Workspace, in Producteev parlance). In that case each of you can see the tasks and note when each is completed, and you can communicate about the tasks within the Producteev platform if you wish. In that sense the application works a bit like a streamlined version of SharePoint or Google Wave, focused on task management.
 
The platform can also push notifications to you, either through your desktop environment or an iPhone app that was just released. The free iPhone app syncs in the background with the online account, keeping all task statuses up to date.
 
Most interestingly, Producteev Two is free for individual use — actually, you can collaborate with up to two other users before being charged. After that a tiered pricing system is applied based on the number of collaborators, and includes support and reporting functionality.
 
My own recent desperate efforts to manage a growing number of tasks led me to evaluate another program, a Mac application from Cultured Code — called, simply, Things. I'd been using Things for about a month when Producteev demo'd its new product for me. I noticed the similarity of the program interfaces right away: each makes it extremely easy to add a task to the to-do list, and to see those tasks posted in front of you, begging for your attention. That simplicity is what I've loved most about Things. You can jump right in and start using it, even before you familiarize yourself with the more advanced features of the program, such as filtering by keywords and delegating tasks. But even the more advanced features are straightforward, and require just a bit of time with the application. Things is the first such program I've used in which I don't feel like I'm wasting time getting organized.
 
As opposed to Producteev Two, though, Things comes at a price -- $49.95 for a desktop Mac version, and an additional $9.99 if you want to run the app on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. Personally, I prefer the convenience of having access to my to-do list even when I'm not online -- and would pay for that, although I think an additional 10 bucks to sync to one's iPhone is a little steep. (Producteev promises a desktop Mac version of its app will be available later this month, however, which also will be free for individual use.)
 
That said, the collaborative features of Producteev Two are as robust as they are precisely because the data all resides online.  With Things, delegating tasks to teammates is possible, as long as every teammate owns a license to the software (volume pricing is available). But because the data doesn't reside online, functionality such as syncing is more limited; even syncing from a desktop to an iPhone is a bit more limited, as both devices must be on the same Wi-Fi network in order to sync. I found this aspect to be frustrating; because Things is a third-party app, the data will not automatically transfer when syncing your iPhone and Mac via a USB cable. Apple doesn’t allow that.
 
Despite that drawback, Things is definitely worth a look; a free two-week trial version is available. Likewise, a free two-week trial is available for the team version of Producteev Two.