It's no wonder the majority of Lifehacker readers voted Remember the Milk the best web-based task manager out there. Remember the Milk's got all the best features modern webapps have to offer: email/SMS/IM integration, tagging, advanced search, keyboard shortcuts and even offline access with Google Gears. Chances are you work across several computers and need a single, always-accessible place to consolidate your work, personal, school, and family to-do's. Remember the Milk is a great way to do just that. Let's take a closer look at Remember the Milk's basic and more advanced features.
After you've registered for a free account at Remember the Milk (RTM) and log in, the homepage displays tasks in three tabs based on when they're due: today, tomorrow, and overdue. Click on the "Continue to Tasks" button on the upper right to start managing those tasks.
In the Tasks view, the tab labels switch to categories, by default: "Inbox," "Personal," "Study," "Work," and "Sent." (Yes, "Inbox" and "Sent" are initially confusing and not exactly intuitive "categories," more on those in a moment.)
RTM automatically includes a starting task in your "Personal" list due today called "Try out Remember the Milk." It's colored orange because it's marked as high priority. To add your own new task to your "Personal" list, click on "Add Task" (or simply hit the T key) and type in a description, as shown.
Hit Enter to save the new task in your list. Once you do, on the right hand side, a task box will contain editable details about that task. There you can set when it's due, whether or not it repeats, about how long it will take, and any associated web site addresses. You can even click on the "Notes" tab and add more freehand text information about the task (like directions to the salon or which stylist to request.) A simple task like calling the salon to schedule an appointment for a haircut probably doesn't need too many more details, but more complex tasks—or tasks you'll share with other users who may need more direction—are when you'll most likely use the notes and URL fields.
You can also prioritise tasks so that more important items show up at the top of the list in a particular colour. To do so, select a task and hit the number 1, 2 or 3 key to assign priority. To remove already-assigned priority, hit the number 4 key.
Now that you've added a task with details, you've officially completed your "Try out Remember the Milk" task. To mark it as complete, select the checkbox next to it, de-select any other tasks, and click the "Complete" button. It will disappear from your list. It's not gone forever, though. You can always see completed tasks for any list in the "List" box in the right sidebar. Click on the "1 completed" link to view the "Try out Remember the Milk" task.
Managing Lists and Tags
As you add your to-do's to RTM, you may find that you don't use the lists it's set up for you ("Personal," "Study," "Work.") For example, if you're not in school, you don't need the "Study" list. But you can delete that list and add other lists that do apply to you. To do so, click on the Settings link on the top right of any page in RTM, and then click on the "Lists" tab. Here you can select any list to delete it, archive it, or set it as your default.
To add a new list, click on the "Add List" link. The right RTM lists you create and manage depend entirely on your life, businesses, and current projects. I deleted the "Study" list, and added "Web Site," "Book," and "Home Improvement" lists to RTM, as shown.
Note: You'll notice that the "Inbox" and "Sent" lists have lock icons next to them. That's because they're permanent lists that serve a special purpose: to act much like email does. The "Inbox" contains tasks that you've emailed or added to RTM without specifying a list, or that other users have sent you. The "Sent" list contains tasks you've sent to other RTM users, like your co-worker or spouse.
In addition to categorising your tasks into tabbed lists, you can also slice and dice task lists down further using tags. In the Tasks view, select any task from any list and in the details box on the right hand side, click on "Tags" to enter keywords for a task. For example, you may tag the tasks on your "Home Improvement" list by room, as shown.
Once you've tagged your tasks, you can easily view the list of home improvement items for the garage, or for the patio, or for the home office, for example.
Warning: It's easy to waste time organising your tasks in a rich application like RTM, which has lots of ways to categorise and input information about something. Remember: our purpose here is to actually get things done, not build a perfectly-organised list. Use only the tags, fields and lists that will help you, not just satisfy some innate desire to perfect a complex categorisation system.
Setting Task Reminders
Remember the Milk can also notify you when tasks are due via a medium of your choice, like email, text message or instant messenger. For example, when you've got to pick up that package before the office closes at 5 pm, RTM can send a text message to your cell phone with a reminder at 4:00, with directions and any other information you need to get there. To set up task reminders in RTM, click on the "Settings" link on the top right hand side of any RTM page, and then click on the "Reminders" tab. There you can set how far in advance you want task reminders, and via what medium(s) you'd like to receive reminders, as shown.
RTM supports several instant messenger networks for IM reminders, including AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, Jabber and Skype. To receive text message reminders on your cell phone, use the dropdown to select your cell phone service and add your mobile number.
Note: Make sure RTM knows what time zone you're in so you receive reminders when you expect. In the Settings area, select the "General" tab and make sure your time zone is correctly listed there.
Quickly search for tasks from RTM's search box, located on the upper right hand side of any RTM screen. (You can use the Ctrl+Shift+/ keyboard shortcut to move your cursor into the search box without reaching for the mouse, too.) By default RTM only searches the main task line of currently undone tasks across all lists, not notes, completed or archived tasks. To extend your search (or narrow it by date or list), click on the "Show search options" link, which offers several input fields for narrowing your search results, as shown.
Advanced Search Operators
You can also do a complex search in RTM from the single search box using advanced operators. For example, to search for the word "salon" in your "Personal" list, enter list:personal salon into the search box. Other useful advanced search operators include:
- priority: Specifies the priority of the tasks you're searching. For example, priority:1 will search the highest priority tasks and priority:none will return all tasks that have no priority assigned.
- dueWithin: and due: Specifies a date range for due date. For example, dueWithin:"3 days" returns tasks due in the next three days. (Note: enclose any descriptions that involve more than one word in quotes to associate the entire phrase with the dueWithin: operator.) Similarly, due:"Oct 10" will show you all the tasks due on the 10th, and due:never displays all tasks with no due date set.
- timeEstimate: Specify the estimated amount of time a task takes. For example, timeEstimate:"1 hour" returns tasks that will take an hour; and timeEstimate:"< 1 hour" tasks that will take less than an hour to complete.
Save Searches in "Smart Lists"
If you do particular searches often, you can save those searches into "Smart Lists" for quick access to those search results. For instance, to save a list of "quick tasks"—items that will take 20 minutes or less to complete, run a search for less than 20 minute tasks (enter timeEstimate:"< 20 minutes" into RTM's search box.) On the right hand side, click on the "Save" tab to make this search a Smart List. There you can name your Smart List—I called the less than 20 minutes to complete list "Quick Tasks"—and save it. From there, the "Quick Tasks" Smart List will appear below all lists, and show you a subset of tasks that you can complete in less than 20 minutes. Here are some useful suggested Smart Lists.
More RTM Techniques
More useful Remember the Milk features include:
- Offline access: Get organised with RTM even on an airplane! Using Google Gears you can sync your RTM data to your local computer, edit it when you're offline, and sync back changes when you're back online.
- The Weekly Planner: Users who like to work with their to-do list on paper should print out the weekly planner view at
http://www.rememberthemilk.com/printplanner/your.username/. (Substitute your.username with your RTM name in the URL.) Available from RTM's default homepage (click the "Weekly Planner" link), this page gives you a week's worth of tasks with priority and list information and large checkboxes ready for you to X off with your pen. Similarly, on any given list in RTM use the "Print" link in the List box on the right hand side to print out all the items on that list.
- Add tasks via email: RTM users who live out of their email inbox (or have easy access to email on their mobile phone) can easily dash off tasks and send them to RTM via email. In the Settings area, go to the Info tab and copy the special, private Inbox Email Address that RTM has assigned you to your email's address book. From there you can send tasks via email to RTM: simply put the special email address in your message's To: field and the name of the task in your message's subject line, and leave the message body empty. Send the message and the task will appear in your RTM Inbox. Advanced email users can even assign priority, tags, and notes using special message formatting rules. (See the details on how to compose your task email messages to fill in RTM task fields.)
- Keyboard shortcuts: Switching between mouse and keyboard to navigate RTM's web interface can become tiring quickly. To get around faster and more efficiently, teach yourself RTM's extensive set of keyboard shortcuts that let you access almost all of its features without reaching for the mouse. Print out a copy of RTM's keyboard shortcut reference.
- View your RTM tasks on your calendar or homepage: You don't have to be at the RTM web site to see your tasks and due dates. Subscribe to your due tasks in iCal, Google Calendar, or view them on your iGoogle personalised homepage or Netvibes.
Phew! Beyond all that, RTM also offers a host of sharing features this post didn't even touch on. How are you remembering the milk and everything else in your life with RTM? Let us know in the comments.