I am an absent minded person and use tasks and to-do lists extensively to maintain my sanity. I use a collection of tools to keep myself organized . I have talked about two of them already : Hamster for Time Tracking and Sunbird for reminders . Task Coach is the third tool I frequently use.
Task Coach is a very powerful task/to-do list management tool . There are many cool things to say about it – It is cross platform and hence you can use the same task list across OSes. It is even available for IPhone and IPod Touch ! It has an extensive set of functionalities and lot of ways to customize the app to suit you.
Task Coach Or Sunbird
There are multiple tools to maintain to-do lists – like Google tasks, Remember the milk , Sunbird etc. Each of them have its own set of neat features. One of the main reasons I use Task Coach is that it is desktop based. Web based to-do apps are cool and portable etc , but they do not offer the extensive set of features that Task Coach has. Also, I spend most of the time in front of my laptop and do not use any smart phones – So a desktop task manager seemed like the perfect option to me.
That narrows the choice between Task Coach and Sunbird. I use both of them extensively. The rule of thumb for me is that , if the task is very simple and needs a reminder then use Sunbird . This includes things like calling my family in India regularly, wishing my friends on their birthdays correctly, doing some regular system administration tasks each week etc. Each of the tasks are straightforward and have a simple structure.
I use Task Coach for more complex tasks. I use Task Coach if the task at hand has sub tasks – Or if I want to track the number of hours I spent on this project. (I also use Hamster to track the timing but it is easier to store the information along the task). I also use Task Coach when I want to categorize my tasks.
If you are in Ubuntu, you can use apt-get to install task coach.
sudo apt-get install taskcoach
If you are in other operating systems (Linux or Mac or Windows) , you can download the appropriate installation file from Task Coach’s download page .
If you are in Ubuntu, you can start Task Coach from Applications -> Office -> Task Coach. I guess the process is similar to other operating systems.
Playing With Categories
Categories is one of the important features in Task Coach. You use Task Coach to stay organized – but that does not mean your to-do list can be unorganized. You can use Categories to group your tasks in to appropriate bins. Task Coach has multiple neat touches that makes using Categories a breeze.
Creating a New Category
To create a new category, use Category -> New Category. If you have the Category viewer (more on this later), you can use it to create categories faster. Once you do that you will see a Categories window which has multiple options to create a Category.
The first tab is the Description tab. It has fairly straightforward options. You can enter a title and description. Additionally , you can specify if the sub categories are mutually exclusive. This means that if this category has two sub categories, then a task can belong to only one of them.
The next tab is the Notes tab. Categories in Task Coach are complex objects and can contain multiple notes . I consider notes as additional information to the category but which are not really tasks. For eg notes can include email Ids or Phone numbers, preferred way of contacting etc. As seen in the picture below, a category can have multiple notes.
The third tab is the Attachments tab. In this you can attach additional resources needed for the tasks. This can either be local resources like files. Or it can be remote resources like URLs. I typically use this feature to point to folders that contain the necessary relevant resources.
The last tab is that of Appearance. If you are using Task Coach extensively, you will amass a long list of categories and tasks and you will need a fast way to eyeball them. Appearance to rescue. This tab allows you to create custom foreground and background colors to the category. You can also differentiate them by varying icons and font but I usually find that colors do the job.
Advanced Categories Stuff
Creating categories is just the first step in using Task Coach. As you use Task Coach more, you will notice that you want to allocate tasks to finer categories. For eg, I had a single category called Research where I put most of my tasks. As my defense gets closer, I created two sub categories – one for Bayesian networks , the topic of my research and another for my thesis. What is more, I can set up notes,attachments and colors for each sub category which allows me to group them together.
Tasks are the meat of Task Coach. Tasks in Task Coach are complex objects with lot of features. I will try my best to introduce most of the important features.
Once you created categories (and subcategories), the next step is to create tasks within them. To create a task, select Task -> New Task. (Ctrl + insert for keyboard addicts). You will see a new window with lots of tabs. If you feel it is cluttered, it is. But it also gives you enormous flexibility and power. The Description tab is fairly straight forward. One important field in this tab is that of Priority. You can assign different levels of priority to a task. By default, Task Coach orders the tasks based on their due date and priority. Priority is very important if you have multiple tasks in a category or multiple sub task inside a task.
The next tab is the "Dates" tab. This gives some options to specify when the task starts , ends and actually completed. Task Coach also has options to create reminders like Outlook or Sunbird. Again, you can set a task to recur based on some pattern and you will use "Dates" tab for doing it.
The Progress tab is used to describe what percentage of task is completed. The "Categories" tab allows you to assign the task to some Category. Task Coach allows a task to be in multiple categories/ subcategories at the same time. For eg, the test task I created is in all the categories I created. Note that if you have set your subcategories to be mutually exclusive, then the task can belong to only one of them.
In my opinion, "Budget" tab is misnamed. It allows you to do two things. It allows you to assign the maximum amount of time you allow yourself to do this task. For eg, I can give myself 10 hours to a task. You can track your time spent on this task and it keeps a track of your "time" budget. It also has a "Revenue" option which allows you to calculate how much money you have earned or should charge the client. In the screenshot, I have set myself a 10 hour budget. I have spent 2 hours already on the task which leaves 8 more hours. I charge $100 to the client and this means, the client has to pay me $200 as of now.
The "Efforts" tab is one of the most important tabs. It is highly useful to store the time you spent on the task. Basically an "Effort" is the time you spent on the task. There are two ways to enter an effort for the task : Manual and automatic. You use the Effort tab to enter efforts manually and also to verify the effort you spent so far in the task.
This was the way in which I entered the detail that I spent 2 hours in the test task that I created. For each task, you can have as many efforts as you want. Task Coach also has a convenient way to see all your effort details (or even group per day/week/month). The Efforts tab work in conjunction with the information in Budget tab. If you set any budget/revenue, it gets reflected in this tab.
The Notes, Attachments , Appearance tabs are straight forward. You can attach multiple notes / attachment to a task. See the discussion in Category for additional details. You can also set a task to have a foreground/ background different from its parent categories. For eg, I set my test task to have an orange color even though the individual categories used different foreground colors.
Of course, once a task is created, you can edit it by double clicking it. You can increase/decrease its priority , mark it as completed etc. You can add notes or attachments.
Efforts are an important topic that I want to discuss it again. Basically, an effort is amount of time you spent on a task. You can specify an effort on a task automatically or manually. If you are doing a task NOW, then you can start the effort tracker. There are multiple ways to do that : Easiest is to right click on a task and select "Start Tracking Effort". Alternatively, you can select Effort -> Start Tracking Effort . When you stopped working on a task , you can stop tracking effort in the same way as you started the effort.
The manual way to specify a effort happens when you want to make an entry in Task Coach , the time spent on the project at some time in the past. Again, there are two ways to do that – If there is a single effort to add to task, the easiest way is Effort -> New Effort. This will open a new window, where you can select a Task and add Start and End times. If you are going to add multiple efforts for the same task, then the easiest way is to double click on the task and open the edit task window. Go to the "Effort" tab and add multiple efforts to the same task.
Templates are one of the neat ideas in Task Coach. If you notice that you are entering similar details in task then it is time to create a template out of a task. A sample scenario is this : Lets say, I create tasks t1, t2. Both of them need same notes, attachments, colors, revenues etc. You can manually enter details for each task individually. Or you can create a template from the task and then use this template to create new tasks.
Lets say you have a task t1 which contains the settings that you want some future task t2,t3,t4 etc to contain. The first step is to create a template out of t1. So click on the task t1 and select File->Save Selected Task as Template. It will ask you to enter a name for the new template. Enter some meaningful name. When you want to create tasks t2,t3 etc , go to Task->New Task from Template and select the template you saved. This will create a new task with almost all the settings inherited from the old task t1. A very neat functionality !
I used the name Task Viewer as the generic name for the primary window of Task Coach. You can see my sample window here.
You can see two important panes – One which shows all the tasks and other is the category viewer. The primary pane is where all your tasks are shown. It shows by default the most important attributes of the task – Title, Categories, Start and Due Date. If you want , you can alter the attributes it shows from View -> Columns. There are two primary views of the tasks pane – Tree and List view. You can use the drop down near the tool bar to toggle the views.
You can use the category pane as a filter to show only the tasks from a selected set of categories. For eg, if I want to see only tasks from my Thesis category, I will check that category and uncheck all others.
Task Coach has lot of very useful "views". To access them select View->New Viewer and select the viewers available. My favorite viewers are the category , calendar and effort. These are alternative ways of looking at your tasks and very useful.
Task Coach also has a filter option to select a subset of events based on some condition. For eg , you can hide completed or overdue tasks. You can see all tasks that are due next week and so on.
By default, the tasks are sorted by Due Date. You can alter that from View –> Sort and selecting the field.
You can access Task Coach’s preferences from Edit->Preferences. Most of the preferences are the sensible ones. One change, I will suggest is Files->Auto Save after every change. Some times, I make the changes in Task Coach but forget to save them. Since I use AllTray to hide them to panel, some of the changes are lost during shut down.
Syncing/Sharing Task Coach To-Do Lists
Task Coach is available in all major operating systems. Lot of time , you will want to sync your task / to do list across OS or machines. There are many different ways to do it.
1.If you want to share across operating systems in the same machine, then the easiest solution is to put the tsk file in a common folder and let the Task Coach in individual OS access the same file.
2. If you want it to be accessed across machines, you can use services like DropBox or Ubuntu One. Just mark the folder containing the tsk file to be synced . Repeat the same process in the next machine. Now changes in each machine will be reflected across machines.
3. Task Coach supports SyncML. You can sync it using any Funambol server. A list of the available server is at the wikipedia page for SyncML.
4. Use Task Coach Portable. Store the files and the program in a USB disk and carry it wherever you go.
1. It look a while for me to figure it out . But Task Coach has support for drag and drop. This means you can drag and drop files to create attachments.
2. You can export tasks, categories as HTML or CSV. If the task contained efforts, then they can be exported as ICS files.
3. You can print list of tasks or email them .
4. Task Coach internally uses the tsk file which is nothing but xml. I do not see any reason to tinker with the raw data, but I can think of lot of additional data mining that can be done using the information.
5. Task Coach has a portable edition which can be used to have tasks on the go.
Potential Usage Cases
Task Coach is a very flexible and powerful application. This means it is possible to have multiple use cases. I have explained how I use it at the start of the post. If there is some complex task with lot of sub tasks , I use Task Coach. It allows me to track my progress and do some useful annotation on the tasks. It also allows me to simultaneously do multiple tasks at a time. I also have multiple categories for handling different scenarios. For eg, I have categories for my blogging, research, self development, programming projects, my course work , long term things etc. The flexibility that Task Coach provides is amazing.
I also work as a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) in my university. I use Task Coach as a pseudo project management and tracking application. So whenever I get some email on a task, I make an entry in Task Coach and add the email text as description. Since it also has effort tracking and priority, it makes an excellent project management and tracking tool.
I know a friend who uses Task Coach to work as per the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. Since Task Coach is very flexible, it is a simple matter of creating appropriate categories and subcategories to get GTD going.
Task Coach is a very powerful tool for maintaining to do lists and task management. At first, its interface might look cluttered or even worse unintuitive to beginners. But trust me, it is this flexibility from which Task Coach derives its power. You will start loving it once you get a hang of it. Have fun with Task Coach !