Task management for academics

Task management is a tricky topic in academia: Faculty members and students alike juggle a lot of different tasks while pursuing many different projects; often in collaboration with others. Yet, our projects often don’t require the same level of organization as in the corporate world in which tasks are delegated, have fixed start and end times, and are populated with resources and attendees. At least as a graduate student right now, I therefore don’t need a task manager with all bells and whistles. On the other hand, a simple to-do list is not powerful enough to juggle various research projects with teaching and other commitments. That’s why I am using the free Wunderlist task management apps.


Manage your tasks on all your devices

Wunderlist is an elegant task management solution that blends a small feature set with a wonderful design. It avoids the complexity of other task managers without compromising on the most important features. Of course you can have multiple lists to sort your tasks, you can add notes, due dates, and reminders to your tasks, you can make some tasks your favorites, and you can sort your tasks using various filters. You can also share certain lists with other users.

What gives Wunderlist the edge over similar to do list apps is that it is available for basically every device that comes to your mind: besides apps for Apple portables (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) and Android, Wunderlist is available as a web-app and as desktop clients for the Mac, Windows PCs, and even for Linux PCs (this review is based on the iPad, iPhone, and Mac apps). Apps for Blackberry and Windows 7 phones are also in the works.

Given this variety and the ability to sync between devices via the Wunderlist cloud, you will never loose your to-do list again. And let me repeat the best thing: Wunderlist is totally free.


Forget about the learning curve, not your tasks

Another reason why I am such a big fan of Wunderlist is their pleasant design. The interface gets pretty much out of your way and visually rewards you for adding and finishing tasks through unobtrusive animations. You are also able to customize your background, and Wunderlist will send you well-designed friendly reminders of today’s tasks to your email inbox.

All of these features come to you without clicking through never-ending menus, making it fast to add tasks and keeping the learning curve of Wunderlist as flat as the back tire of my bike.

Wunderlist (here on the iPad) allows you to customize your background, which in some strange way keeps me motivated to finish tasks. The more tasks I close, the more I can enjoy the beautiful photo.

Use Wunderlist as your long-term university companion, not your PA

Of course, some things could be added to Wunderlist. Due dates of your tasks (if specified) will not appear in your calendar, there is no option to add geo-information to your tasks, there is no quick-add shortcut in the desktop app, and I sometimes find double entries due to syncing issues.

Wunderlist sends you friendly reminders to your email inbox.

Even if you would like to see these things, I suggest that you give Wunderlist a try. Given how easy it is to use, it is a great place to collect ideas, sources, and actions that do not have to be implemented immediately. For example, you can note down ideas you want to integrate in your research project at some later point in time, collect books you want to read over the summer, or share a shopping list with your spouse. Many of these things do not need to have specific due dates or places associated with them, and putting them into Wunderlist keeps your calendar or another, more feature-packed task management system free from clutter. This way you can be sure to have all your (long-term) ideas with you, without worrying that your calendar fills up with things that distract you from your daily schedule.

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