August 29, 2011

Task Management Tools: In the Office and on the Go

Joshua Poje

Staying organized can be a challenge. Between communications from phone, fax, email, text, social media and the web, lawyers are constantly inundated with information. It's all too easy to become overwhelmed, which can lead to blown deadlines and missed meetings. Because such lapses can negatively impact a lawyer’s bottom line, and can even lead to sanctions, malpractice and professional discipline in the worst scenarios, it's vital that lawyers find a way to organize the chaos.

Getting organized means becoming productive and efficient. In what continues to be a challenging economy, an organized office can increase the quality and quantity of work a lawyer produces while reducing the number of mistakes, waste and delays that often drive away clients.

Task management software offers lawyers a simple way to get organized. Complicated projects can be broken down into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks. Progress on them is easily tracked and, if desired, relayed to the appropriate clients or colleagues. And as with most technology tools, lawyers can access and update their task lists anywhere they go.

A good task management tool alone won't make a lawyer more organized. But a good tool can make it significantly easier for you to improve your habits and establish new, more efficient workflows in your professional life.

Here is a selection of popular task management solutions, from the bare-bones to ones with all the bells and whistles:

Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk, often just called RTM, is a web-based tool for managing tasks. Users can enter tasks with specific due dates, tag them for easy organization, and set up reminders via email, text or instant message. The task lists can be accessed anywhere an Internet connection is available, and mobile apps are available for the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android. RTM also integrates with popular email tools like Gmail and Outlook. RTM is free for a basic web account, or $25/year for a Pro account that includes priority email support and access to the mobile apps.

Todoist is another web-based task manager that's designed to be fast and intuitive. It includes built-in calendaring features that allow users to set due dates and establish recurring tasks, as well as create subprojects and subtasks to better organize their to-do list. Integration is offered for Gmail, Outlook, Firefox and Chrome. Todoist is free, but a premium version with extended features is available for $3/month.

Outlook Tasks
The task management features in Microsoft Outlook are often overlooked, but are convenient for those already familiar with the mail program or uninterested in moving their tasks to the cloud. Because the features are built in, they integrate seamlessly with other elements of the application. For example, right-click on an email and flag it for follow up in a week, and you've automatically created a new item on your to-do list. The To-Do Bar available in Outlook 2007 visually displays the tasks, making monitoring these tasks effortless.

Outlook Tasks is a basic feature of Outlook included in all new versions.

Google Tasks
Google Tasks is a relatively bare-bones task manager that’s built into Gmail. Users can convert emails into tasks, set due dates on tasks to have them automatically loaded into Google Calendar, and access the tasks from the web, mobile devices and even an iGoogle homepage. Google Tasks is a free offering, as are Gmail and Google Calendar.

Getting Things Done Outlook Add-In
David Allen's extremely popular book, Getting Things Done,sparked a new focus on productivity and task management, and the GTD Outlook add-in is a tool designed to let Outlook users easily implement the GTD system without leaving Outlook. The tool helps you clear your Outlook inbox, set up reminders and tasks, and more. A full plug-in license is $74.95.

Tasks on the Go

Productivity is no longer just an issue for the office. With the rise of laptops, smartphones and now tablet devices, lawyers take their work—including their tasks—everywhere. Here are a few of the apps available on iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android for managing tasks on the go:

Task Apps for iOS (iPhone/iPad)

Task Apps for Android

This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members.  Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.

Joshua Poje