RTM vs Nozbe vs Nirvana. The best GTD Solution?

UPDATE – I’ve been using Remember the Milk for a year now. Check out my latest post about what I’ve liked about using RTM this last year, and what I’d like to see get changed. My 1 year Anniversary with RTM! My thoughts on our relationship…

There has been quite a lot of Web-based To-Do lists managers launched in the last couple of years. I blame the iPhone for this trend! It is a good trend in my opinion. I have been using a few Getting Things Done(GTD) apps this year to see what works best for me. I started by using Nozbe, then for a few reasons(not just that I am the curious type), I started trying out Remember the Milk(RTM), Nirvana, using Gmail as a GTD solution, and finally I have experimented with Evernote. I have written a few articles on the site about my initial impressions on these. Check them out when you have some time…I have been using three on a consistent basis the last couple of months, and wanted to share with you my thoughts on the experience.

The 3 main contenders are: Remember the Milk, Nozbe, & Nirvana.

Here is a small list of the criteria I am looking for in a good, always accessible To-Do List Manager. In no particular order…

  1. It has got to work in the most common web browsers. Yes, IE included…
  2. It has got to have a functional iPhone interface!
  3. It has got to be affordable. Money Talks baby…
  4. It has to be able to remind me of the shit I need to remember without me thinking about it.
  5. Does it work(whether designed that way or hacked) as a true GTD solution?
  6. Is the User Interface cluttered or easy to understand and use?

OK, not a small lists of demands, so let’s see how they faired.

Web App

Remember the Milk‘s standard interface is the least appealing of the bunch. The developers have left streamlining the interface to the very popular, A Bit Better RTM Firefox Extension. This is great for us Firefox users not yet using 4.0beta, or Google Chrome, but at work I use IE8, and occasionally Safari, and am forced back into the standard Tab based format.

The power of RTM is the smart lists and search function. All my projects are tagged with a P- or W- to distinguish a personal or work project. There are quite a few articles out there about RTM. Use the google to tailer it to your needs.

You can  see the various contexts/tags on the right. @home, @errand, etc…Clicking on them will bring up all the tasks with those tags. Overall, RTM works quickly in all the browsers I use at home and work. Part of the reason is that there is no drag and drop. On the plus side entering in tasks is fast! RTM has a new feature called Smart Add. It is like Twitter tags on steroids! Using shortcuts when entering in your data, you get drop down options. For instance, if you use ^, it knows you are creating a due date and will offer up today, tomorrow, or any date you select. The same goes for things like location(@), tags(#), priority(!). I have yet to use a to-do list manager that offers such slick shortcuts to enter tasks in.Overall, the web interface could use some updating, but hopefully never at the expense of the imputing of data!

One thing that is missing from the UI is a calendar. Though I will get to how the reminders and Google Calendar integration work later on, it is something you need to manually create yourself. The powerful search filters allows you to sort tasks with due dates, so I made one with uncompleted tasks due today or later. But, it would be nice if the calendar came standard…

Overall impression: Screaming fast task entry, compatible with all browsers, not very appealing to look at.

Nozbe has a very, um, green almost cartoonish web interface. My initial reaction to their colour choices is ‘yuch’. Sorry.

The contexts on the right have a selection of cute little pictures to visually associate them. All the lists/projects are nicely laid out on the left hand side. All the contexts and lists are drag and drop and can be sorted to your heart’s content. That is nice when using Firefox, Chrome, Safari, but Nozbe does not work great in IE8. I don’t blame them, as I hate IE, but I am forced to use it at work. Drag and drop is messed up, and it runs very slowly.

Entering in tasks is easy if all you are doing is typing in a task with no actions or contexts associated with it. Keyboard shortcuts work nicely to get around, but after using RTM, Nozbe does feel slow in getting the stuff into it. Something as simple as typing ‘due tomorrow’ will add the due date, but the text is left in your task description. RTM only keeps the task. It’s like Nozbe is not smart. haha. On the plus side, the calendar is a nice way to sort your items chronologically once you’re done.

Overall impression: Gross green cartoonish look, nicely laid out lists and contexts, bad IE support, slow data entry.

The newest member to the game is Nirvanahq. In some regards, they have a lead on the others in that they have the most up to date and modern looking UI. I wrote an article on my first impressions a couple of months ago, and as I mentioned before, I absolutely love the look of Nirvana. It reminds me of a web-based e-mail or even Mail.app in Mac OSX.

The tasks are drag and drop most of the time(except IE8 of course), and sorting and moving them around is easy. Moving a task into Scheduled gets it out of your inbox right away. This is something sorely missed with RTM and Nozbe.

Nirvana is still a beta and has some work to do from a GTD stand point. I will get into that later, but the biggest complaint I have with Nirvana online is that it is not very intuitive to sort by contexts/tags, have completed tasks automatically hide(both RTM & Nozbe due this just fine) and you either have to have all your tasks within projects show in Next Actions, or none… Not to re-hash this, as I have talked about it before…There is a fix on the way, and to be fair, Nirvana is very new, and a couple of months from now my first impressions may not be valid.

Keyboard shortcuts work nicely, much like Nozbe, and tabbing around the task fields makes entering them in faster than Nozbe.

Overall impression: Very nice looking, limited browsers it supports, still working on a final 1.0 release.

iPhone App

I am a stickler here, but to have a useful To-Do List, it needs to be on my iPhone! Here is how the iPhone experience is for all three…

Nozbe has a paid iPhone app that I have used for the last 6 months or so. It has the same green interface, but it is nicer to look at on the phone vs the web app! I love the simple home page. I can get to all my projects, Inbox, contexts, calender, Next Actions, etc. Pretty much everything I need to sort by is there. Very good Nozbe!

Entering in Tasks is simple if all you are doing is typing in a task. If you need to add a context, due date, time frame, etc, you need to ‘edit details’. You are then taken to a new screen where you are prompted to select what action is needed. Then, you are taken to another screen to complete the step. Very slow. Nozbe needs to implement some ‘smart adding’ features like RTM in their task entry, especially on the iPhone…

Overall Impression: Fantastic sorting abilities, poor task entry beyond the basics, and green again…

RTM has a great iPhone app. It is free now with only one sync per day, which may be fine for some, but I purchased the pro license for $25, and have unlimited syncing.

The first thing I like about the app, is the ability to sort by lists, contexts/tags, location(Woot!), and have the calendar items due showing at the bottom of the page. I have quite a few projects not showing on the page, but they are all there from the web app.

The biggest thing I absolutely love about RTM on the iPhone is the ability to search by location or nearby. You need to authorize the app to use location services, but what a wicked feature! If I need something the next time I am in the nearest city, I can tag it with that city’s location. Sweet action. On top of that, you can add as much detail to locations in RTM, so even if you are within a few blocks of a forgotten errand, selecting ‘nearby'(found on the bottom far right under more),  you will get a list of tasks listed by proximity.

I don’t know why I love this feature so much, but there is something about entering in a task that you tag with a location, and then have RTM show you what tasks you are able to complete in the real world.

How about entering in tasks? This is also an experience you will love. When you add in a new task, you are greeted with a subtle drop down of choices. RTM has implemented their Smart Add feature and boy it helps on the iPhone. Here is a screen shot of what they look like. It is a great, fast way of entering in all the data and metadata you need to tag, add due dates, create re-occurrences, etc. without it taking FOREVER, as it can in other To-Do Lists.

Overall Impression: the way I expect the iPhone app to be! Enough said. Wow…

Nirvana: The new player in the group doesn’t yet have an iPhone app. They are working on it but as they haven’t got it up and running, they have come out with a mobile browser version. It works fast, and you can sort quickly by project, Today, Next, etc…The issue I have with Nirvana, and the main problem IMO, is that you can’t sort by contexts/tags. If I am out and about, I want to be able to sort by @errands. If I have a few minutes to makes some calls, @phone needs to be accessible. It is not with this version.

When entering in tasks, Nirvana does have all the necessary metadata right below, so selecting tags, due date, etc are easier to get to than Nozbe.

I keep defending Nirvana because I love their interface so much, but on my iPhone, they need to get the iPhone app out before I can use it on a regular basis.

Overall Impression: Fail. Sorry to say it, but the iPhone experience is not yet thought out, and it needs work…Good job in getting a mobile version out during beta, but needs are needs…

Reminders, & Google Calendar Integration

No GTD system can be complete without trusted reminders and calendar integration. Whether you use the calendar for a Tickler file(stuff you may want to look at on a particular date), or something with a real deadline, it is important that you get reminded when you flag a task! I use Google Calendar and Gmail as my trusted systems for such reminders. I will need my GTD system to either integrate my due tasks into Google Calendar or remind me via Gmail. How do RTM, Nozbe, and Nirvana fair?

All three GTD apps have the ability to email you a daily reminder list. I really like having a list of all my due items e-mailed to me every morning.

RTM has both email & text reminders in settings as well as iCal integration and RSS feeds of all your lists. Google also has Labs features that integrate RTM into the sidebar of Gmail, or right into Google Calendar. They are easy to find, and easy to set up. The RTM labs has a nice little button on the calendar everyday that you can click that drops down your RTM daily due tasks. You can look at them, edit, and even mark them complete.

Nozbe has a two way sync with Google Calendar, and also has RSS & iCal integration. This is a bit hard to find, as you’d expect the links to be in settings. You need to go to your calendar and select the little arrow next to ‘Info’ to be given the options. But, once set up, Nozbe is well integrated with Google Calendar.

Nirvana only offers a daily reminder e-mail, but there is plenty of talk on their forums to have Google Calendar syncing. I think it is only a matter of time.

Overall Impressions: RTM & Nozbe are well placed to remind you of all the things you need to do daily! If you are a Google Calendar user, they do a great job there. Nirvana needs to work on this for sure!

Price! How low can you go?

With full feature sets, you are going to need to open your wallet…

Nozbe recently changed their pricing structure. They offer a free account with the ability to have up to 6 projects and 6 contexts. Very limited, but for those with a simpler life than myself, this may work for you. Their iPhone app is $4.99. If you are a real GTD user, you are going to want at least the personal account. Very pricy in my opinion! $9.95/month. Ouch. Maybe I am just a cheap bastard, but there is no way that I am forking over $124/year. I originally signed up with a Solo account at $75 for two years. The price has more than doubled.

RTM has a more affordable price. $25/year for their pro account and this includes unlimited syncing with the iPhone, and priority e-mail support. The iPhone app is free too. Much more affordable…You can run RTM totally free as well, without too much issue.

Nirvana, well, they have no pricing yet as they are still in Beta. Once they have a full featured GTD solution, I could see people wanting to pay for such a nice looking app.They also need an iPhone app, ASAP! I can’t use it until this happens…

Final Tally

RTM, Nozbe, and Nirvana can all be set up as a fully functional GTD system. Though I love the look of Nirvana, it is still in the works. Go check them out and get involved in their community in creating a great app!

Nozbe is a great GTD solution and is well entrenched in the on-line community. They offer Evernote and Google Calendar syncing, so you have no excuse to have any task fall through the cracks. They are too pricey for me now, and for the true GTD’r, there is quite a debate on whether Nozbe is a true GTD solution(Inbox as a project debate…). Go get the free online account to start and see if Nozbe floats your boat…

Remember the Milk
Image via Wikipedia

Remember the Milk is the Goldilocks and the Three Bears for me. Not too pricey, not too cheap, as in features. Their Smart Add feature is Gold. At $25/year for a full pro account, it is a steal! You can even function with their free account as long as you don’t need to sync your iPhone more than once a day. Unlimited lists, contexts, great location tags that remind you of your tasks in the real world, and smart add make for the best To-Do List Manager out there! Go get Remember the Milk. Before you forget…


13 Replies to “RTM vs Nozbe vs Nirvana. The best GTD Solution?”

  1. Nice article.
    You should also look inside Producteev – I’ve chosen that one. And also Doit.im got my interest.

    1. I checked out Producteev. It looks really good(as in pretty). I have a few problems with it that I’m sure can get ironed out over time. Entering tasks is a bit painful. Good if you use your mouse all the time, but I like to enter tasks on my keyboard, and Producteev doesn’t seem to have any good keyboard shortcuts. It does have some smart tagging features, but they don’t always work.

      I like the Google Calendar syncing(really great) and the full calender via from right within the web app. I also like the IM, Google Chrome extension, and the ability to email full emails with attachments.
      The iPhone app seems to duplicate the tasks in the web app and it is not very good for tagging, adding due dates, etc…You seem to have to manually sync the tasks too and it is not very intuitive as to how to do it. I had to go to the forum to get the solution.

      One thing that is not too good from my point of view( I am a GTD’r as you know), is that you can enter in tasks in the Inbox, but once it is there, it disappears! What is the point of that? You have to then navigate to “All my Tasks” to find them. The Inbox is the place to dump everything and later tag, label, assign, schedule, etc…

      Producteev does have promise though, and I will keep it on my radar… Thanks for the comment and suggestion!

  2. I’m looking for good Mac/iPhone GTD. I’ve tried ToDo and Toodledo.com what do you think of them? I found them clunky for data entry. Now that I’ve read GTD book and want to try that system, how does ToDo do with GTD?

    By the way, I LOVE Notational Velocity and Simplenoteapp instead of stickies or SimpleText

  3. Oh, I have LOTS and gobs of projects each with lots of subprojects and layers,and I’m having trouble figuring out how to organize them: For example
    Home Renovation
    1 carpeting
    go to carpet store XX
    2 granite countertops
    – go to xx store
    – research on web
    3 buy new appliances
    – dishwasher
    x research on Sears
    x go to store
    x talk to friend
    x talk to cousin

    So, should I make each of the sub projects (like buy new appliances, be its own project? or can they be sub projects under home renovation, and how many layers down can RTM go?

    ToDo didn’t go that far down, and that has stopped me. But Nozbe is too expensive $10 per month!

  4. I took a look at ToDo and it seems to be more of a mobile app, which is fine, but I like having a good web interface too. I didn’t want to sign up for the site, so you will have to experiment…

    Toodledo, as I have commented in the past, seems extremely old compaired to the most recent offerings, and in my opinion the layout is to confusing.

    As for the subprojects thing, Nozbe does a really good job adding labels that you can assign projects to. So, in essence, the project lists become the subprojects and the labels are the project.

    In Remember the Milk, I use smart searches to create levels above my projects. For instance, I will tag a project and save that search with a code. So, I have saved searches with W(work), H(home), and also have saved searches for locations. I can have multiple projects within these tags.

    In your example of your home renovation, I would just name each of your projects as HR-carpet, HR-countertop, HR-appliances, etc…That way they are all grouped together and a quick glance will show you which ‘subprojects’ you are still working on…

  5. Hi there,

    I was wondering if you had a chance to try Apollo, http://www.apollohq.com
    Apollo doesn’t just do project management: it does contact management as well, plus timers, calendar, cases&deals, etc.

    We worked _really_ hard to get the interface right. I think we managed! It’s very AJAXy, and very snappy. And yes, it works on every browser.

    We have an initial mobile version.

    Let us know what you think!


  6. Some other interesting contenders:
    gQueues (http://www.gqueues.com/main), and ActionComplete (Actioncomplete.com)……

    I’m going with Nirvana based on gut (I read an interview with the founders and like heir attitude ).

    Hope they don’t come out of Beta and start charging too much.

  7. Hi,

    I recommend Organisemee (http://www.organisemee.com), which seems to be pretty new.

    It has a clean and simple interface. You can set up and edit new task lists quite easy and enter new tasks quickly. Okay, there seems to be no keyboard shortcuts currently.

    It offers a great reminder function – you can set reminders over a period of several days and multiples time a day – and you can get them by email and SMS – for free.

    You can also assign tasks to others – and vice versa. It is not just sharing, like with other applications, but real assignment. When the contact has accepted the task, it is in his responsibility. So it enables real collaboration.

    There is also a mobile version.

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