How to Trust an App Developer with Your Data in Getting Things Done 16

I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again – be very careful about which app you use to help you remember things and get things done.
I’ve talked about it in both my Evernote and Springpad books, mentioned it several times in this blog, and even talked about it in a webinar. With the increasingly growing market share of “to do” apps, we’re seeing players coming out of the woodwork saying they’re “true GTD” apps, apps that say they’re the “simplest way” to get things done, et cetera.
It’s a growing space and as a result, app developers worldwide are trying to capitalize with freemium models, pay per app models, and there’s also the free ones, too. The problem is that getting things done and remembering things is a serious business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom, a burgeoning rock star, a student, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or a sales professional. Whatever your job is, you need to know that if you are going to store information in their cloud, that it is safe, reliable, scalable, and most of all – you have an exit strategy in the even they fold or you decide to move on. To me, those are the most important aspects you must focus in on if you are serious about your data.
Look, I don’t talk much about Microsoft’s OneNote on this site, but the truth is that, well – they’re Microsoft. You know that the data you keep with them will be safe, reliable, scalable, and you can have some export exit strategy. For that matter, even Apple’s iCloud Notes is the same. SimpleNote has a great exist strategy and can export all of your notes. Obviously both Evernote and Springpad does – as that is near and dear to my heart. Todo apps like Remember the Milk, Toodledo, and Producteev all have exit strategies as well. Believe it or not, an exit strategy is so important, it’s the reason why so many people still prefer Gina Tripani’s Todo.txt with Dropbox as a backup. Why? Because it’s a text file and because it’s backed up to Dropbox. I know many others who are still using Google Drive‘s Spreadsheet for getting things done. Why? It works. And, it’s backed up to Google’s servers.
I recently discovered Trello offers a beautiful way of being able to organize your projects like a virtual whiteboard. It’s genius – especially if you’re in sales. You can create a virtual whiteboard with lists that represent each of the stages in the sales cycle. Then, each “index card” represents your deal you’re working on. Clicking it will turn it over and on the “back side” of the card, you can add tasks, notes, documents from Google Drive or from your computer, and assign due dates, as well as members of your team. It works great by yourself or with others on your team. The app is very clever but I was very cautious.
I read up on the CEO/Founder and it is Joel Spolsky who worked on the Microsoft Excel Team. Not only did that make me feel better, but Trello is completely transparent in its development cycle! It created it’s own software development white board where folks like you and I can add our thoughts. Then, they can move the cards across the development cycle until it shows up in the next release. Finally, I felt so much better when I saw that you can export all of your data. Now, I don’t know much about a JSON file, but I have heard you can re-import it into other apps. I bring this up because it satisfies some major requirements I have for my data.
The sad truth is that with so many app developers looking to make the prettiest, most simple, and the most beautifully designed todo and remembering everything app, we cannot be fooled by just pretty looks. Because the other sad truth is that there are app developers who do come out of the woodwork and lose funding. And then what? What happens to your data? It’s gone with no real way to export and then re-import into another app.
In many ways, it reminds me of what Chris Mayo told us in his guest post about how he organizes his notes in Evernote. (As a footnote, this continues to be one of the most read posts on this site!) With a simple YYMMDD Keyword Keyword Keyword syntax with every note he makes in Evernote, it frankly doesn’t matter whether he’s using Evernote or not. With one export of his notes, he can easily import into another app like OneNote, SimpleNote, or Springpad and pickup where he left off. No need for tags or notebooks – it’s all organized by date and keyword. That’s honestly one of of the smartest things I’ve seen and one in which I’ve employed as part of my workflow with everything I do – even handwritten notes!
I tweeted not too long ago that long time veteran in this space Peter Tamte, former founder of MacSoft developed what might be the only real Evernote app killer that has been introduced in this space: it’s called Projectbook. I actually held off on writing my review of the app because I found – at least in its infancy – way too many issues. Aside from the fact that it’s dependent upon the iPad, there’s no real exit strategy. My data is stuck there.
I want to wrap up this post by imploring you as a friend, consultant to your productivity needs, and trusted advisor in this space, to please be careful about what apps you download and the level of trust you’re giving them. As I noted in the beginning – getting things done is a serious business. Remembering vital pieces of information is serious business — no matter your profession (including my wife’s who is a stay at home mom!). Don’t trust your data to just anyone because the app looks nice or because they say they are a true GTD app. Do your due diligence. Who is the CEO? What is their development strategy? Do they even share it on their site? Where did they receive funding and how much? Where is your data stored? Importantly, what is their exit strategy so that you can safely export your data and import it into another app of your choice.
Your Next Actions: Take a look at the apps you use and apply this test. After doing so, do you still feel safe trusting your data with these companies? Let me know in the comments below!

About Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a productivity coach, keynote speaker, author, and podcaster. He is most well known for his eBooks, Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, Simplify your Life with Springpad, and Make it Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook. Daniel is also the co-host of the GTD® Virtual Study Group podcast.

  • deane

    Dan- Funny you wrote this because I have been emailig Evernote support about “the exit.” What is the exit from Evernote It seems to me the backup is an Evernote specific format

  • sarah

    Thanks for the good read. My husband and I were discussing apps for gtd the other day. Funny enough he came home yesterday and decided to back to the old fashioned pen and paper method while he decides which app to use.

  • Omnifocus in that regard is really good. You can sync it via wifi, or you can sync it via their cloud servers. But most importantly, you are storing ALL of your data offline. Offline became a must for my productivity needs. Seriously.

    There is a new app out there called IQTell and they are really good GTD app that integrates in all of your Getting Things Done tools like: Evernote, Google Calendar, Gmail… Now their biggest issue is offline access.

    They import pretty much all of your data on their S3 Amazon servers, and they are serious Israeli team of 30 people, and love this project to the death and back, so I trust them. But as I said, no offline access, and lack of mobile support really kicks me in the head and makes me stick to reliable tools like Evernote and Omnifocus.

  • @deane. yes if you choose the ENEX Evernote format (a XHTML format): this an archive to be re-imported in EN. But if you choose to export note by note as HTML, you’ll have the body text note and the attached files in a resource folder.

    Note in EN:

    Output HTML files:

    HTML main file with note body (no formatting) and relative links to output files:

  • deane

    Phillippe. Thank you for that info. It is just what I needed.

  • Hey all – this comment somehow didn’t make it to Disqus, so pasting it here:
    From Sarah: “Thanks for the good read. My husband and I were discussing apps for gtd the other day. Funny enough he came home yesterday and decided to back to the old fashioned pen and paper method while he decides which app to use. “

  • Indeed! Thanks, Phil! Great information as always!!

  • Thanks, Bojan! I agree 100% about finding an app and sticking with it — and, knowing what your criteria for personal success must look like. As to IQTELL, I haven’t tried it — but with all of these, I look at it cautiously! 🙂

  • Thanks, Deane! Just seeing Phil’s comments now – glad he was able to answer your questions! Phil’s a great guest blogger on the site and has lots of great knowledge in this space! Thanks!!

  • April Sanchez

    Dan, I’m really struggling with keeping my data in Springpad as I’ve stuck with them for over 2 years and the app is getting harder & harder & slower for me to use. I’m really tired of reporting things to their people with little progress made.

    While I consider switching to something else, I am curious about your exit strategy from Springpad. All I see from them is an .HTML export. That was at least a backup for me and gave me some comfort (I’m up to around 1800 “springs”.) but now that I’m considering leaving, I’m dreading the task of recreating my items in another app. I haven’t researched much because I don’t know which app I want to use but I’ve never heard of an app importing from HTML (XML, yes, but not HTML).

    Just curious as to your exit strategy.


  • Hi @google-94bd59737b02b00e372ae52137a02366:disqus – You’ve asked a really good question. First, I’d want to know what kind of slowness you’ve been having with the Springpad app. I’ve got a very close connection with the Springpad team, so perhaps, I can help out. I would just hate to see you lose out on the collection of almost 2,000 notes in Springpad – especially if it’s what you’re using to stay organized. It is a monumental task indeed – no matter the service you’re going from. Let me see if I can help you before you go through that arduous process.

    If you really want to export from Springpad to another service, like Evernote, you can take a look at these instructions from Lincoln Lim: But for sure, let me know how I can help you with Springpad, first!!

  • Tomer Run

    I second April on Springpad being too slow and defiantly not as snappy as quick tools such as Any.Do (might it be the html5 technology which makes some new apps light-speed?).

    I also love the springpad concept, but haven’t been using it much the past year since it’s slooow (especially when switching between areas with internet connection and without) and also that terrible tag system is ruing it for me… 🙁

    These two topics have been posted on Springpad forums many times though…

    At the moment I beta-testing IQtell, enjoying the speed of Any.Do and giving Trello a chance. The latest update of has also made it very tempting again, but I don’t want to scattered too much.

    Hoping for something which is all encompassing soon Task+ calendar +email+web curating (meaning bookmarks,notes,highlights a-la Diigo)

    Pocket Informant is getting closer as well, but again, too clunky and not speedy enough…

    I do still use Springpad for curating, and the only reason I do it there and not on Evernote, is due to the free (slow) support in offline mode.

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  • one

    It’s interesting: You say you want the data in the cloud to be “safe”, but only write about loosing the data or having no exit strategy.

    But for me, “safe” also means that nobody else could access your data. I agree that GTD is serious business – you plan and expose every aspect of your life in these notes and to-dos. But, evernote’s passwords have been hacked, dropbox has had security issues in the past (twice if I recall correctly). These services are attractive targets for hackers, as they hold so much sensitv information and a security breach could happen anytime!

    Currently I am also using Evernote, but I am looking for a more secure solution:
    – Evernote with a client-side encryption would propably the best thing, but will not become reality because of the way EN indexes the information
    – some “portable”-GTD would also be interesting. By portable I mean, that your data is saved to an SD-Card which you can plug into your Windows PC, Linux or Android Phone. But, also, hard to realize, because these systems use different file formats.
    – what I will try is the Wi-Fi Synchronization of mylifeorganized, so that my data won’t be in the cloud at all. By now, the only solution I’ve come up with…

    Do you have any thoughts about this? Do you use any kind of encryption?

    • Thanks for the really great and very thoughtful comments. I can completely empathize with you. We want both convenience and security. We all define security a bit different, but at a 50k’ level, we want our data to be our data. Unless we pay for enterprise and not consumer based apps, we’re likely not going to get enterprise security.

      On the other hand … there’s always notebooks! 🙂

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