Midnight Inbox, Ghost Action and Actiontastic

Battle of the GTDs…

In the past years, when you wanted to use the GTD workflow, you pretty much had to do it by hand, by using a Hipster PDA or something in that vein. Using a computer could help in a purely “maintenance” way, by storing and sorting your notes, using text files or a wiki, but it wouldn’t help you show the next actions based on the current context, for instance. You still had to do the organizing yourself.

(Side note: One exception to this is Life Balance from llamagraphics – this very smart app lets you create actions with specific contexts and priorities, and based on this information suggests what should be your next action. Since this is a Palm application, you could take it anywhere with you, and it would switch contexts depending on the time. Too bad I couldn’t keep up using a Palm, and that the Mac version looks kinda alien on the platform — this is still the best implementation of GTD I’ve used. End of the side note.)

But NOW, all this whining and crying is OVER, because TONS of GTD apps are showing up on the Mac! Joy. Are they any worth?

Separated at Birth

This lack of GTD applications has always puzzled me — in theory, the workflow shouldn’t be exceptionally difficult to implement, you just need a way to 1) enter actions and assign them to a context and 2) browse through the actions depending on the current context. Once you have this working, that’s when you can actually make a difference, by providing the smart and creative interface that will bind everything together smoothly. But the basics are pretty simple.

This is obvious when you try and compare Ghost Action and Actiontastic: these two (independent!) apps look like they’ve been separated at birth. Both feature three tabs on top to switch between contexts, actions and projects, a source list on the left, and a list of actions in the center. The user experience is basically the same with both apps. You create a few contexts and projects, enter a few actions, and then the app will suggest your next action. Very simple. On a purely cosmetic basis, Actiontastic (screenshot) looks somewhat more up-to-date: the metal window has no borders, there’s a filter widget that reminds of Spotlight… but Ghost Action (screenshot) has a few features of his own: it can sync the next actions with iCal, .mac and isync-enabled PDAs and phones, which is pretty important for this kind of app (this is apparently coming to Actiontastic, but it’s not there yet). Still, the choice is pretty difficult. Personally, I like Ghost Action, but I don’t have any convincing argument apart from that it “feels” better (also the source list elements are not aligned correctly in Actiontastic — I know, I am vain).

Midnight inbox

Comparing these last two apps with Midnight Inbox also shows that given the same basic elements, if you are motivated you can still create a unique look-n-feel. Midnight Inbox couldn’t look more different (screenshot on Flickr) than Ghost Action and Actiontastic. The developer had its goals set up obviously very high when designing Midnight Inbox – the entire GTD system seems to be reproduced in a very comprehensive way. The main drawback of this completeness is that it’s not very obvious what to do. The fact that the nomenclature is very different doesn’t help – here the inboxes are labelled “Collect”, “Process”, “Organize”, “Review”… but it has the potential to be extremely useful, and it looks absolutely gorgeous (try it out and you’ll see). It’s still a little soon for using it fulltime though – Midnight Inbox is still in beta (and will stay like that for quite some time IMHO) and affected by lots of bugs (it crashes often). The developer was initially optimistic about the release date, but it already slipped twice (it certainly looks like the developer tried to do too much too soon). I sure hope that a stable version comes out soon, though — with its great looks and functionality, Midnight Inbox would be a sure hit.

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4 Responses to Midnight Inbox, Ghost Action and Actiontastic

  1. Jon Crosby says:

    Just so that you don’t lose any sleep over this, the new beta coming out this week features enhanced source list alignment 😉

  2. Pingback: Ghost Action - followup « Bloody Fingers

  3. vnoel says:

    Hey Jon, thanks for the heads-up ! I’m still going back and forth between Ghost Action and Actiontastic, so I’ll keep checking the new releases you come up with. Bon courage!

  4. I’ve spent months comparing all these things, trying to maintain lists on all of them to see which is most useful; I end up using EasyTask the most, which is not the slickest Mac app and has some weird bugs, but I love the ability to drag a group of items to a new date and have them updated automatically. And now there’s What ToDo, which lacks some features in the first version, but has a very attractive and usable ui.

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