Thoughts on To-Do Lists & Personal Information Management (PIM)

Have you ever had an A-HA moment for something that only makes sense in a smart phone?

I had one of those with a to-do list. To-do list apps are essentially personal information management (PIM) systems. Because you carry your smart phone all the time and it is always on, a smart phone is an idea platform for a personal information management system such as a to-do list app. You may not be at your office or in front of your personal computer all the time. But a smart phone? That is always with you permanently powered on.

In addition, the push notification capability of a smart phone allows a to-do list app to remind you of your tasks without your making the effort of actually looking them up. This way, your tasks are guaranteed to appear on your peripheral vision whether you are remembering or not.

(Image from Flickr:

You would think that there would be many easy-to-use to-do list apps in the market. I also expected to find a reasonably good free app in this category because it is something that can be so useful for so many people. Nope. This wasn’t the case unless I give up the feature of a to-do app that initially made me realize how useful it could bee on my smart phone, i.e., push notification. Also, many To-do list apps had a user-interface that is truly far away from user-friendly.

If a to-do list app requires a user to select priority, folder, due date, reminder setting, due time, repeat setting in six different screens after entering the task name, certainly the user will abandon the system. Similarly, if entered tasks don’t send out a push notification, those tasks may never become visible in users’ peripheral vision. So, the value of the PIM system significantly decreases. Also, even a smart phone is not always looked at. Users may have a stretch of time during which they are paying more attention to their emails, Twitter, or calendar on their computers. So the integration with these channels in data-input and reminder-push would significant increase the worth of a PIM system. In addition, nobody wants to work in a hideous-looking interface. So the user interface should be not only functional and efficient but also aesthetically satisfying.

Many information systems can benefit from considering these factors to increase their chances of being adopted and continuously used by users. In today’s environment of constant information overload, attention is a scarce commodity and information organization is a critical activity. Many information systems will need to cater to information consumers’ needs of efficiently organizing their information. How many information management system do we see that succeeds in meeting all these requirements?

P.S.   A good article to read :
Jones, E., H. Bruce, et al. (2008) – I Give Up! Five Factors that Contribute to the Abandonment of Information Management Strategies. It lists visibility, integration, co-adoption, scalability, and return on investment as five factors that contribute to the abandonment of information system by users.

About Bohyun (Library Hat)

Bohyun Kim is the Associate University Librarian for Library Information Technology at the University of Michigan Library. Formerly, she was the Chief Technology Officer and Professor at the University of Rhode Island Libraries.
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5 Responses to Thoughts on To-Do Lists & Personal Information Management (PIM)

  1. Amanda says:

    I just use the “notes” app that comes for free with iPhone/iTouch. It is very user-friendly–a lot like the digital post-it notes that you can use on a Mac.

  2. DerikB says:

    Have you tried Remember the Milk? I’ve been using for a long time, it is very feature rich, has an easy add task function that requires only learning a couple codes (ie # precedes a tag, ^ precedes a due date). It has all kinds of notification options (email, im, sms, etc.) and mobile interfaces (which honestly, I haven’t tried).

  3. Library Hat says:

    I used to use the Notes app. And then it filled up and also I started forgetting checking them! So I needed something to remind me.

  4. Library Hat says:

    Yep, that is what I ended up with. But the annual subscription fee seemed expensive, which is required to use their iPhone app. But after trying a dozen to-do app both free and not-free including Toodledo, I decided to pay for convenience. I love its interface and the convenience of input. Toodledo is just as or even more powerful but inputting is very painful. If you need a To-Do app, I recommend RTM.

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