Task Management is built on an Illusion of Completion

Tasks, or To-Do Lists, are such an established pattern in applications that they’ve replaced “Hello World” as the defacto boilerplate code for any new framework.

A To-Do is typically just a checkbox and some content. Get groceries. check. It’s a sturdy UI pattern, like a paper clip in the real world.

The checkbox DOM element has been around as long as forms, fields, and submit buttons. But the checkbox is not the right UI element for a Task.

The only evidence I have of this is the vast repository of unchecked tasks I have accrued over the years.

Some tasks can indeed be checked off, but more often, tasks function as reminders. It’s different than standard content because it implies action. But that action is very often not fleshed out, and it may not ever be complete.

For example, I could make a task item to “Answer client’s question.” If only it were so simple. A question can be sufficiently answered for a time, and then things change, and it’s no longer a sufficient answer. It’s expected that one answer will produce one or more questions. Answering a client’s questions is like entering a race, a heightened high-stakes kind of conversational dual. Unlike a race, there is no clear finish line.

A lot of To-Dos are more open-ended than we care to admit.

One thing all task and knowledge management software has in common is the checkbox pattern for tasks. Each tool advertises the wonderous things it can do with your To-Dos including reports, assignments, etc.

Using a checkbox for tasks is like using a paper clip to hold up clothes on the clothes line.

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