PTO is a very simple task manager, more suited to the AutoFocus crowd than the GTD folks. (If you’re already lost, try reading this.) But it goes about things in a rather novel way: rather than emphasizing the need to do things, PTO makes it easy to, well, just put things off. Each task can be deferred by a fixed amount of time with just one tap. The period to which tasks are put off can be changed in the app’s settings.
The screen consists mostly of a collection of sticky-note-like boxes, each containing an task. A task is an item that only has two parts: the task description, and an optional due date.
There’s a simple icon-based menu at the bottom, and the settings and add-item icons at the top. The bottom menu bar contains only four trays. The layout of all the trays is basically the same, giving a nice uniformity to the interface.
The Inbox tray is for quick input of items without worrying about putting due dates on them. No matter what tray is active, creating a new undated task will file it in the Inbox. The Today tray contains tasks that are due today. Any new task with a due date of today will get filed there, no matter in which tray it was created. The Put Off tray contains tasks that are due in the future, including tasks that you put off. The Done tray contains completed tasks. And that’s pretty much it.
The Inbox contains undated tasks; the idea being that either you work on them whenever you want, or delete them with one tap each if they become irrelevant, or you assign them a due date in which case they get refiled automatically in either the Today tray or Put Off tray.
Tasks in the Today tray can be marked complete (which moves them to Done) or deferred (which advances their due date and moves them to the Put Off tray).
Tasks in the Put Off tray can either be marked complete or moved to the Today tray. And things in the Done tray can be either deleted entirely or moved back to Today.
Each of these actions is done with a single tap, and switching trays is also a one-tap action. So using PTO is very fast and easy.
I like the tray-specific nature of the actions. While they might seem limited compared to more complex task management apps like Toodledo, I found that these simple actions are really all one needs, given the lightweight nature and underlying philosophy of PTO.
As far as it goes, PTO is quite a remarkable app: clean, robust, and easy to use.
But it has what I see as some rather serious shortcomings too.
First, it doesn’t sync with anything. This means you can’t back up your tasks, and you can’t integrate your PTO tasks with anything else. Given how simple PTO tasks are, syncing with Google Tasks could be the best thing the developers could do to solve this problem. Too bad Google doesn’t seem willing to release an API for Tasks. There are other services that could be used.
Second, users should be able to vary the amount of time by which tasks are put off, each time a task is put off. You might want to defer one task by a few days and another by a week. As it is, PTO doesn’t let you do that. What might be better is to let you set a range of deferral periods as a setting (e.g. between one and 14 days), then when deferring a task, a popup of buttons is presented and you choose the number of days to defer the task.
Third, the sticky-note-ish rendering of tasks is too narrow. Basically, you have about 10 characters per line, which just isn’t enough; tasks are just too hard to read. I recommend that items should be arranged in a single row where each item spans the screen, and that a slightly smaller font be the default. I also suggest that the developers implement support for landscape mode.
Fourth, there’s no way to batch-delete everything in the Done tray. Even though PTO requires a single tap to delete a task, it can still be quite painful to march through a series of deletions if you’ve accumulated 50 or 60 completed tasks. It would be good if there were a “delete all completed tasks” button.
Finally – and this might seem minor – the steampunk wood-grain theme is just too retro for me. I recommend having at least one other theme that’s more modern and in keeping with the general style of the iPhone itself.
So in the end, Put Things Off is a really interesting app that takes quite an innovative approach to task management. It has a clean and intuitive interface. But it still needs some work. While it might be useful for the occasional user of task management, it isn’t enough for someone like me who depends on an airtight task manager to get me through the day. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on, though, and I look forward to updates.