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Digital GTD: A Review of the ‘Tracks’ Software

As some of you might have read in the recent interview I did at Black Belt Productivity (thanks guys!), I’ve moved from an all-paper GTD system to a hybrid setup. The primary difference is the employment of Tracks to track my projects, actions and a sort of basic, digital tickler. This wasn’t a whimsical decision, mind you. I toyed with several different web-based GTD applications before deciding on Tracks, including Nozbe and Vitalist. Tracks seemed to have the most usable interface with the least amount of fluff. So, I installed it on my webhost and started inputing all of my projects/actions. Here are my thoughts/reactions:

Short version: Tracks has a long way to go. It’s got some decent features, but it’s not ready for prime time. For the longer review, read on…

Having used Tracks for about a week now, here is my initial list of problems with it:

  1. Speed – This is the chief problem, in my opinion. Moving between pages always takes way too long, usually around 15-20 seconds (sometimes much longer). It will also error out at least once or twice a day, forcing me to begin another lengthy reload process. I haven’t dug around under the hood or anything, but my initial thought is that the database and queries could definitely be optimized.

    This is probably going to be the deal-breaker for me. I need to be able to (very) quickly add next actions and projects and Tracks simply doesn’t allow me to do that.

  2. No ‘Someday/Maybe’ – Personally, I make somewhat-heavy use of the Someday/Maybe list. It gets reviewed and edited regularly, sometimes more often than my weekly review. Simply put, there’s no way for me to add a project and assign it to this list. Honestly, I find this puzzling as it’s one of the main tenets of a canonical GTD implementation.
  3. Hoop-Jumping – In order to add a project, I have to click on ‘Projects’ (wait 10 seconds for that to load), then scroll to the very bottom of the project list, then click ‘Create New Project’. This gives you a little input form with name and description fields. Type in your stuff, hit ‘Add’, then wait another 10 seconds for the page to refresh. Now, my new project is at the bottom of the list. If I want to add a Next Action, I have to click the name of the project, wait another 10 seconds, then click ‘Add a Next Action to this Project’. Fill in the fields, click ‘Add Item’ and wait another 10 seconds. Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this…

    At this point, I’m now at least 40 seconds into the process, and I’ve define the project and the NA (10 seconds is a very conservative estimate, by the way). This is unacceptable.

  4. AJAX is Clunky – Tracks relies heavily on AJAX calls for many of it’s smaller-scale database operations (adding new NA’s, marking NA’s as complete, adding Notes, etc.). These actions are also subject to the 10-20 second wait period I described before, and often go off into cyberspace, never to return.
  5. No Sorting of Anything – My project list is somewhat lengthy, probably 60-80 projects as I write this. Way more than will fit on a single page without scrolling. Once you mark a project as complete on the Projects page, it stays in the same position in the list as it was before, but now says ‘Completed’. There’s no way (that I’ve seen, anyway) to sort projects by status or even hide completed projects altogether.
  6. NA Lists show All Actions – Sometimes, when I’m defining a project, I’ll have an idea what the first few physical actions should be. Call Mike, then call Bob with whatever Mike said, etc. So, if I create actions called “Call Mike” and “Call Bob”, they both show up in my NA list. In my opinion, I should be able to order NA’s chronologically, and have only the first one appear in the contexts. Once I complete that action, the next one should appear – etc. I don’t know if I’m asking too much (and I certainly might be), but having “Call Bob” and “Call Mike” in the same, unordered list seems counterintuitive and problematic when your goal is to “point and shoot”.

Now, in the interest of fairness, here’s my list of things Tracks is doing right:

  1. Interface – Aside from the slowness, the UI is actually laid out pretty well. But, it definitely needs some more quick-style actions like ‘Add Project’ and ‘Add NA’ (the type of thing that should be available on every page).
  2. RSS – The fact that I can (though, don’t) read my NAs and projects in my favorite RSS reader is nice. It also supports a text-only feed, which could be useful in exporting to other devices/applications.

Needless to say, I’m not terribly impressed with Tracks. It has potential, for sure, but it definitely needs some fine-tuning before it’s ready for production use. Perhaps it’s time to revisit Vitalist…

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