Sometime last year, frustrated by the complexities of the majority of task-tracking and GTD apps on the Mac (I’m looking at you, OmniFocus), I spent some time exploring the software that’s already built into OS X. That is: To Dos and Notes in Mail.app, and those same To Dos in iCal.
I turned more of my information into Events in iCal. Deadlines and reminders, which in the past had been undated items linked to particular Projects in OmniFocus or Things, now became dated To Dos or Events.
This worked quite well for me, but I found that I wanted to have easier access to my calendar, without needing to keep iCal open all the time. I tried using Bjango’s excellent Organized), but in general I don’t use Dashboard, so an ordinary app suited me better.
I considered a few options, and the one I liked most was Second Gear Software’s Today. Read on for a walkthrough of the basic feature set.
What It Is
Today is a focused display of a single day’s calendar events and tasks:
To Do, Today
By default, as the name suggests, Today is oriented to the current day. Despite that, the mini-calendar at top left can be used to navigate to any particular date, and the arrow controls at top right allow you to scroll back and forward from day to day.
How It Works
Events are displayed in the colours of the calendars they are associated with in iCal, so it’s easy to work out a system to let you know at a glance what Project a particular event is linked to.
You can also filter which calendars are displayed in Today – just open the app’s Preferences and switch to the Calendars tab:
That’s really handy if you’re syncing your iCal via Google Calendar or MobileMe, and you only want to see your Home schedule when you’re at home and your Work meetings at the office.
The first and second buttons at the bottom of the main window allow you to add Events or Tasks via simple windows:
Today also allows you to set a keyboard shortcut so that it’s easy to create Tasks or Events without needing to lift your hands from the keyboard.
And the remaining two buttons toggle display of Tasks, and open a menu from which you can access Today’s help features and Preferences, or print a daily agenda.
New in the recent upgrade to Today 2 is the ability to see the future – specifically, calendar events for tomorrow:
Nice Touches, and Some Frustrations
Because Today uses Snow Leopard’s CalendarStore framework, it links directly with iCal, so there’s no delay at all in updating changes made either in iCal or Today – as soon as you add an Event or Task in Today, it’ll appear in iCal, and vice-versa.
If you’re using BusyCal instead of iCal (and why wouldn’t you?), because it uses the same framework, it’ll also work seamlessly. If BusyCal is set as your default calendar app, then double-clicking an Event in Today will open it in BusyCal.
Mousing over any Event changes the display to show the location, if one is set. This has proved useful recently, as my schedule’s become much more complicated – to find out where I am, my wife need only call up Today and hold the mouse over the listed event and she’ll know.
You can personalise and tweak Today’s Alarms to suit your needs – the preferences you set here will appear in the Alarm selection menu when you create a new Task or Event.
It would be nice to be able to set more than one of these at a time, such as an email a day in advance of a major deadline, followed by a pop-up message six hours before the paper is due. You can do this in iCal and in BusyCal, but not in Today.
I was frustrated that Today seemed to have reverted to a read only calendar as the default, until I figured out that this had to do with the arrangement of my calendars in iCal – reordering them there immediately fixed the problem.
It’s worth spending a few minutes in iCal making sure you have things set up in exactly the order you need them, since Today is going to reflect this arrangement precisely.
One thing that I particularly like about Today is the ability to set it to display in the menu bar, rather than in the Dock. Then you need only click on the small ‘sun’ icon to display your day’s To Dos and meetings.
On the whole, my reversion to using OS X’s built-in tools as my main organising hub worked well for a while, with a few provisos. For some reason, Apple hasn’t worked in repeating To Dos, and this turned out to be more of a drag than I would have anticipated.
BusyCal addresses this lack, but repeating tasks created there won’t show up in iCal or Today (and don’t sync to any of the iPhone apps that can work with your iCal To Dos).
I had also grown used to using Tags and/or Contexts to filter my task lists, and found that the simple Priority filtering in iCal just wasn’t flexible enough for me without some serious hacking. These limitations in the system of course impact the usefulness of an app like Today, which quite transparently interfaces with iCal’s framework.
At the moment I’ve moved to more of a hybrid system, including BusyCal, OmniFocus, and a paper notebook and diary. It’s imperfect, and there’s some duplication, but it works quite well. Today is the latest addition to this system, and so far it’s working well for me, though I only use it – as I only use iCal and BusyCal – for keeping track of Events.
For this use alone, I would recommend Today. But if you, like me, need more from your To Dos, you might find yourself better served by a more powerful solution. I’ve had to return to the behemoth that is OmniFocus – complicated as it is, I’ve not found anything that does the job better.
What do you think? Are iCal’s To Dos sufficient for your needs, or do you also need several apps working alongside one another to get everything done?