Use The Hit List to get things done with Mac

Vincent Danen has tried several of the productivity applications for Mac and has found a new one that he recommends: The Hit List. Here is his overview of how it works.

Vincent Danen has tried several of the productivity applications for Mac and has found a new one that he recommends: The Hit List. Here is his overview of how it works.


David Allen sparked a revolution in the way people work with his Getting Things Done book and methodology (GTD) of, well, getting things done. As a result, the Mac currently enjoys a number of programs that allow you to create lists with the flexibility of the GTD workflow instead of traditional and simple, to-do lists. Not to say there is anything wrong with a straight-forward list of things to do, but for those who prefer to work with the ideas of contexts, areas of responsibility, status of items, and so forth, they can really streamline the way they work by using one of these applications.

I've tried quite a few of the productivity applications, including iGTD, Things, OmniFocus, and The Hit List. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but of these, I've really become a fan of The Hit List. While Things and OmniFocus both have iPhone counterparts, The Hit List promises one in the future, so if you're looking for a marriage of desktop and iPhone, The Hit List may not be your best choice right now (although there are ways to get these items on your iPhone — or, in my case, Blackberry— using syncing with iCa).

The current lack of a good syncing mechanism is the only downside for me of The Hit List. OmniFocus has great syncing features (sync to disk, Bonjour, MobileMe, and WebDAV) but also has the weakest UI of the bunch, in my opinion.

The Hit List allows you to organize tasks by contexts, tags, and folders. It supports smart lists so you can have dynamically-generated lists based on custom tags, due dates, priorities, and more. It is really quite flexible in that regard. Unlike other applications, The Hit List also has a tabbed interface so you can create multiple tabs and have them sitting in a particular folder or list. I routinely have multiple tabs open: Inbox, Today, and Upcoming as well as a few smart lists such as Waiting For and Everything.

The Hit List interface

It also has a card view that allows you to focus on exactly one task at a time. This is great for tasks with heavy notes, allowing you to see everything at once. It also allows you to edit the task easily, and to prevent the distractions of multi-item lists if you really need to focus and get a single task done.

Finally, the feature that really appeals to me is the excessive use of keyboard shortcuts. Almost everything you want to do can be done via the keyboard, which is great and makes it even more efficient. For instance, to add a new task in the current list, just hit Enter. When typing in the title for an item, use the @ prefix to set the context or use the / prefix to set a tag. As an example, a to-do item entitled, "Update wiki with new mutt information @computer /<30m /Personal Web Stuff/" creates a new item and assigns it to the computer context with the tags, <30m and Personal Web Stuff without having to click an extra button or drag the item to a particular list.

Right now, The Hit List is still in a public beta so it's not a finished product as of yet. Having said that, it is extremely solid, and I found it much more pleasant to use than Things. The Hit List is a commercial application, and while it is in this beta stage you can pre-purchase it for less than it will be when it comes out of beta. I'm very pleased with how it syncs with iCal and DayLite (which allows me to get tasks on my Blackberry), and even how I have managed to integrate it with GeekTool to display upcoming items directly on the desktop. You can download it from Potion Factory's Web site.


Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

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