Syncing Outlook Tasks with ToodleDo Using gSyncit (Part-1)

Dec 12, 2012

As you probably know, in the MYN/1MTD task systems I recommend using either of two Task Servers: Outlook/Exchange and ToodleDo. Each has its own advantages; and now you can access all the advantages by using both and keeping them synced using the software gSyncit.

A while back I wrote that I’d heard good things about gSyncit, but in that article I mentioned that I had not tried it yet, and so could not endorse it or explain how to use it.

Well, recently I started using gSyncit and I find it works great—it has greatly expanded my mobile task management options. So it’s time to write this up so you can try it too.

Article in Two Parts

I am going to present this article in two separate parts, otherwise it will get too long. In this first part I’ll talk about why you might want to sync tasks between ToodleDo and Outlook in the first place, and how it works at a high level. I’ll also mention some harsh realities to keep in mind when doing this.

Then in Part 2 I’ll follow with detailed gSyncit setup and use instructions.

Why Task Syncing is needed

There are a lot of reasons to want to sync tasks between ToodleDo and Outlook. In general though it’s all about mobility. You see, ToodleDo offers more MYN/1MTD mobile solutions for tasks than Outlook does, so copying tasks to ToodleDo opens up many more mobile options.

For example, my specific reason for syncing was that I found no task software on the Surface RT that allowed me to fully manage my Outlook tasks stored on my Exchange server. So I set up gSyncit to sync tasks between my Outlook Exchange server and a ToodleDo account, and I now use ToodleDo to manage tasks when I am using the Surface RT. Any changes I make there get posted almost immediately back to Outlook. This works great—and I am quite happy with it. [By the way, you might think using Outlook’s web app would work on the Surface RT; it does, but unfortunately it does not have enough features to fully manage MYN/1MTD tasks.]

So in general, any time you don’t have a way to manage Outlook tasks on a particular mobile device, using gSyncit to sync with ToodleDo may be your answer.

Before you get started though, you need to understand what you are doing. If you don’t think it through first, data syncing can lead to unintended results. When using gSyncit, there are two cases to consider: Outlook without Exchange, and Outlook with Exchange.

Outlook without Exchange

The first case to describe is the simplest one: using Outlook without Exchange. In this case you probably have a POP mail server like Yahoo, or have Hotmail, Gmail, or something similar.

You may know that in this case, Outlook stores your tasks on your computer’s hard drive, and so you have no easy way to store your Outlook tasks in the cloud for use with mobile devices. So we’ll use gSyncit to allow you to use ToodleDo as your cloud-based tasks server and access your tasks through it.

Here’s how that looks in a diagram; notice that gSyncit is represented by the red arrow:

The blue mobile devices box in the lower left represents devices with ToodleDo access. For example a web browser on a tablet (or a Mac or PC) can do MYN/1MTD task management through ToodleDo. Or if using a smartphone then an app like Pocket Informant, or Ultimate To-Do List (both on Android), or ToodleDo’s own apps (on iOS) all have MYN/1MTD capability. See this page for more information on ToodleDo’s MYN/1MTD options.

Outlook with Exchange

When you use Outlook with Exchange, things are different. In this case, your tasks are stored in the cloud on the Exchange Server. In other words, Exchange becomes your tasks server and you can access them from multiple computers running Outlook.

However there are only a few mobile apps that access Outlook tasks off Exchange in a MYN/1MTD compatible way; two come to mind: TaskTask (on iPad or iPhone) and Touchdown (on Android or Windows 8 Store Apps). But nothing is available yet that works in a browser for MYN/1MTD.

That’s why we’ll use gSyncit to move tasks to the ToodleDo server to open up our mobile MYN/1MTD options (that’s what I did to solve my Surface RT problem).

However, one very important point about gSyncit is that it runs inside the Outlook client software, not in the cloud. So there’s no direct connection between the Exchange server and ToodleDo’s server. Rather, Outlook must be open and running on a PC to sync tasks through it, between the servers.

Here’s how that looks; notice again that gSyncit is represented by the red arrow.

The yellow mobile devices box in the lower right represents devices with an Exchange-based tasks app on them like I listed above. And the blue mobile devices box in the lower left represents devices with ToodleDo access (also listed above). So if I change a task in the first, once gSyncit runs on the PC, the change gets registered in the second.

Possible Problems with the Exchange Solution

This sync architecture generally works fine, but it also could lead to problems. What if you are away from your Outlook-PC one day (it’s turned off), and you make a task change on the blue mobile device in the lower left corner, and want to see that change appear on the yellow mobile device in the lower right. The task change would never make it there since the PC in the middle is turned off!

Well, we solved that problem in this way. We keep a PC in the office with Outlook running all the time—we never shut it down, even when I am away. gSyncit is running on that Outlook with auto-syncs scheduled for every 15 minutes; so all mobile devices are kept in sync. This only works for one Outlook account at a time of course—if you had a company with ten people in it say, you’d need to set up ten computers—so it does not scale well. But it works fine for an individual who has an extra computer.

MYN Users Must Ignore ToodleDo Due Dates

1MTD users skip this next point; but MYN users, heads up.

Here’s another fine point to keep in mind. MYN users may recall that in MYN Outlook we ignore the Outlook Due Date field and use other methods of setting deadlines. That’s because of our emphasis on using start dates on all tasks in MYN, and because of a bad design in Outlook that forces you to always populate the Due Date field if a start date is set (see page 85 of my Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook book 3rd Ed. for more discussion on this).

So MYN users, when syncing between Outlook and ToodleDo, you will have to ignore the Due Date field in ToodleDo—it will contain erroneous information. This gets a bit odd since, during the sync, Outlook will populate ToodleDo with a due date for every task—you’ll see tons of due dates in ToodleDo appear after the first or second sync. But just ignore those. In fact, I recommend you hide the Due Date field in ToodleDo to prevent that from becoming confusing. And needless to say, you won’t be setting alarms on due dates in ToodleDo. Instead, just use the same methods for setting and alerting you to deadlines that we use in Outlook (again, refer to pg. 85 in the Outlook book).

1MTD Users: Due Dates Can Change in Sync

Users of the simpler 1MTD system, you can continue to use due dates, since you don’t use start dates on all tasks; but you should note the following. The ToodleDo software will allow you to set a due date that falls before a start date, even though that makes no logical sense. Typically this happens if you advance a start date to the future in ToodleDo, and forget to reset the due date. But in Outlook you cannot do that—you cannot have a due date that falls earlier than its start date. Previously, if you tried to sync a ToodleDo task like that into Outlook, gSyncit would detect the error and not sync the task at all (and probably present an error message). But, recently gSyncit added a feature (at my request) that, in that Outlook task, resets the due date to be equal to the imported start date. That prevents the error, and allows easier use of gSyncit (my thanks to the gSyncit team for making that change!). So note your due dates can change in that sync. You’ve been forewarned!

Setting up gSyncit follows in Next Article

Okay, that’s enough for the reasons, methods, and harsh realities behind syncing between ToodleDo and Outlook. In the next article I’ll tell you how to set it up.

Michael

6 thoughts on “Syncing Outlook Tasks with ToodleDo Using gSyncit (Part-1)

  1. Anthony Akin

    Michael, you might check out Remember the Milk. My company uses Outlook/exchange . I have been using a Windows Phone 7 for several years, and yes, the Outlook task management is lacking. That is why I started using the RTM, so I could have more access on my phone.

    Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  2. Dan

    Re: Possible Problems with the Exchange Solution
    ———–
    You would not necessarily need 10 PC’s – we have a home-made syncing solution setup for a different reason and it has multiple user accounts (each with email setup in their own Outlook) on the same PC (which is always left on). Obviously you need a fairly powerful PC – personally I recommend 8-to-16GB’s of RAM

    Reply
  3. Michael Linenberger Post author

    Wolfgang, thanks for your comment!

    You must have missed the sentence in the article above where I state:

    “By the way, you might think using Outlook’s web app would work on the Surface RT; it does, but unfortunately it does not have enough features to fully manage MYN/1MTD tasks.”

    The problem is that unfortunately, OWA doesn’t allow you to configure it’s task list to view it in the MYN/1MTD format—the sorting and filtering controls are extremely limited. It’s good for entering new tasks, but not for *managing* tasks (per the MYN/1MTD principles.). For that you’ll need ToodleDo at present (it’s web app *can* be set up for MYN/1MTD). Other RT apps that do work with MYN/1MTD, and Exchange, are on there way though (TaskTask is due out soon for the RT).

    But that’s not to diminish using OWA on the RT. It is very good for email–much better than the RT Mail App if you are online, so, yes, it is very handy to have on the RT! (the advantage of the Mail app is that it works offline).

    Thanks again! Michael

    Reply
  4. Jim Antaki

    Sorry to bother you, Michael.

    (Its just that I now have become so dependent on your Method, I become paralyzed when there is a hiccup in the system.)

    My question concerns synchronizing Toodledo with Outlook. Since the latter only has three levels of priority, and Toodledo has five, I’ve found that all my “Top” tasks in Toodledo get swept into the “High” category after synchronization. I really like the “Top” category, and hope that it is not an infraction on your MYN system. But I’m willing to do whatever you recommend… your advice has not failed me yet.

    Jim

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Jim, yeah, that’s what happens, they merge in the High section in Outlook. But that’s okay because we recommend using Top for Significant Outcomes only, and labeling those tasks with SOC at the start of the task name (subject field). That way when they come into the High section in Outlook, you see the distinction. Labeling SOC’s like this in the high section is one option we list in the Outlook book (see bottom of page 141 of Ed 3 or page 162 of Ed 4). Fine point: that means you’ll only want to add such SOCs in TD, to get the sync correct. Or you’ll need to move them back to top in TD. Michael

      Reply

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