Question

What apps should a modern take on Personal Information Management include?

For decades, email, contacts, and calendars have been shipped together as a bundle in everything from Microsoft Outlook to today's Google Workspaces. Email always got the focus; calendar and contacts always seemed to get the short stick, tacked on as extras. And sometimes there'd be a basic notes tool thrown in seemingly without much thought.

But what should a Personal Information Management tool include? If you could build the modern take on Outlook and more, what would your ideal personal information app include?

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mister-chad's avatar

I'm a big fan of trying to have everything in one place or at least having all the different places talk to each other. I've tried so many apps and tools over the years and have never found something that works for everything. I still have hope that it is possible and that the solution will be easy to use and implement and available across platforms. I know, probably a pipe dream.

Currently loving Obsidian for my notes and clipped content and everything else. Interlinked Markdown for as much of everything as I can because it is the most flexible and not tied to a specific proprietary app. I've figured out workflows for a lot of my needs.

I think tasks/to-dos should be integrated with a calendar since both are usually time-based. So much easier to see everything in one place. Amazing how hard that is to find these days. There are apps that are good at one or the other, but rarely both. Currently using TickTick since it has the integration, but it is quirky and has issues. I'm a teacher and find that recurring tasks with some variations (like canceled classes) are too much for TickTick. So I have a Google Calendar linked in. Was using Todoist with Google Calendar integration and may switch back to that. Quirky as well, but not as much.

Still wish I could squish calendar and integrated tasks into Obsidian. Then I would have everything in one place. I've tried things like Notion and Zenkit but they felt too much like databases and had too much overwhelm for buttons and knobs and settings. Plus, they both broke on my too many times when something important needed to happen.

I currently have several emails for different parts of my life and they are all on different platforms (microsoft, gmail, etc). I use Outlook on iPad and Android phone since the different accounts all get integrated into one app. Desktop Outlook is too messy and overloaded for my needs, so I use Ferdi (open-source version of Franz) to combine everything into one interface. There are plenty of alternatives out there these days that do this. I don't mind migrating content out of email to my notes or calendar, but can see the benefit of having email integrated too. These days our communication streams are more than just email though. Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc. Everyone seems to be trying to find a solution that integrates everything. I wish them luck.

4 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @mister-chad )
7d

@mister-chad Thanks for sharing your PIM stack here!

Interesting that TickTick is your favorite to-do list app. What's your favorite thing about it?

On Ferdi, do you find that type of setup works better than pinned browser tabs?

1 point
mister-chad's avatar
@mister-chad (replying to @maguay )
6d

hello. I've tried pinned tabs and they were functional, but felt like they were getting in the way of other stuff. ferdi is good for separating email from other browsing because they feel like different workflows.

1 point
mister-chad's avatar
@mister-chad (replying to @maguay )
6d

ticktick isn't my favorite to do list app, just the one I'm currently using. It has annoyances, but does what i need for the moment. would happily drop it if something else came along that better fit my needs. I mostly like integrated tasks and calendar because the two really are the same thing to me. also like that it works cross-platform so my info is available to me everywhere.

1 point
brownmachine's avatar
@brownmachine (replying to @mister-chad )
7d

@mister-chad check out Quantime! We bring tasks and events together in a single place, along with added automations and intelligence for your calendaring.

1 point
mister-chad's avatar
@mister-chad (replying to @brownmachine )
6d

quantime looks interesting. I like the ideas of timeboxing and adding in downtime as part of the schedule. how does it handle recurring tasks? can you add notes to tasks? maybe I should just try the beta, huh?

2 points
brownmachine's avatar
@brownmachine (replying to @mister-chad )
6d

@mister-chad we actually have 'routines' instead of recurring tasks, so we book time flexibly depending on your availability for daily or weekly recurring tasks. For example, Quantime will intelligently reserve, let's say, 30 mins for Lunch based on your availability between 11:30 and 2:30, then reschedule it if a conflict arises.

And yes, 100% you can add notes to tasks, or categorize them by tags or calendars.

1 point
maguay's avatar
11d

I tend to prefer "best of breed" individual products rather than all-in-one apps, and so my default take is that email should stand alone—perhaps with tight integration with a CRM for contacts, a Notes app for reference, a Calendar for events, and so on.

I could almost imagine a different take on the PIM app that's more contact centric. Imagine a list of contacts ordered by how recently you'd communicated, showing all emails and chat messages across all platforms with that person, along perhaps with co-scheduled events and video calls. And if that was deeply tied to a notes app, with backlinks like Roam Research, you could have a detailed view of all the personal information that goes through your apps and services every day.

Or, in another direction, perhaps a mix of 1Password and the Apple Health app would be closer to a personal information manager, as those two keep much of the most sensitive personal data we record on our devices.

With the phrase personal information manager though, I almost think social networks to a degree filled this space. Maybe that's why the set of apps hasn't attracted as much attention, with standalone email apps being now more common.

3 points
brendanciccone's avatar

I'm a simple man, I use the native macOS and iOS versions of Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Notes, etc. I find them to be straight-forward enough to utilize for virtually everything in my personal life and work. I really dislike how Outlook is setup and much prefer separate apps, seeing as I don't always need all the info displayed at one time. In my opinion, Google does a much better job in Gmail/G Suite at combining the tools without feeling overwhelming.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @brendanciccone )
7d

@brendanciccone Honestly, Apple's built-in apps do a great job at covering the basics. Apple Calendar even for years has had a natural language tool to add events, similar to Fantastical just buried under a button.

It's interesting how web apps lend themselves to that light integration that Google Calendar and Gmail have, where you can basically run them fully separate, or have Google Calendar as a sidebar inside Gmail, and more. That type of crossover could be useful in a far wider range of software.

So Apple Notes is your primary notes app too? I've found myself using it more lately for handwritten iPad notes, but still haven't started typing notes in it by default.

1 point
brendanciccone's avatar
@brendanciccone (replying to @maguay )
6d

Yeah, Apple Notes is my primary place to take notes. If I weren't using Apple's stuff though, I'd likely just use Google's suite of alternatives, although their icons are awful (for now) haha.

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @brendanciccone )
6d

It's crazy how similar all the icons are now!

Google Keep is a fascinating tool. I can't see it being my only notes app, but it's one of the best takes on the post-it note style of apps. And being able to jot something down in Google Keep then open it in a sidebar in Google Docs is appealing.

2 points
mister-chad's avatar
@mister-chad (replying to @brendanciccone )
6d

I dig the Apple tools as long as you are invested in the entire Apple ecosystem. Unfortunately, I'm using a mix of different OSs. Teach on Mac with Mac in my office, Windows laptop, iPad, Android phone. I need something that works across the spectrum. I've never had much luck getting things from Apple to play well outside of Apple.

This goes beyond just Apple-made apps. There are some really intriguing apps that are made for just Mac or iPhone that I would love to try, but the OS limitation is an immediate Nope for me.

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @mister-chad )
6d

@mister-chad that absolutely makes sense; Apple stuff tends to be very focused only on their devices and platforms. Though, there are web app versions of Apple's Mail, Notes, Calendar, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote on icloud.com that are surprisingly good for the little focus they seem to get in Apple announcements and such.

2 points
brendanciccone's avatar
@brendanciccone (replying to @mister-chad )
6d

Yeah, if I were not completely invested in the Apple ecosystem, it would be a subpar experience. I definitely don't blame you for trying to go all in on Apple though.

1 point
ITAMRocks's avatar

Having worked as a sysadmin for PIM/workflow/groupware tools for the best part of two decades (yes, I'm a yellow-bleeding Lotus Notes guy) the biggest single challenge for that sector has been a lack of interoperability between calendar apps. For what seems to be a trivial feature set it's incredibly difficult it would seem to be able to engineer it so it.just.works
The reason it's bundled with email so often is because it's easy and universal to use SMTP email as a transport mechanism. What it lacks of course is genuinely useful stuff like availability lookup (hey, that was even hard to implement within organisations on different instances of the same PIM platform) and automation. It's way in need of a major revamp and an open standard that any tool can use. Yes, it might put personal assistants out of a job but I shudder to think what a huge productivity hole "Book me a meeting with Jon on Monday please" is for the economy. Its just so damn hard.
I do like Calendly because at least that handles the common use case of booking a meeting for me with multiple people from another company, and does a reasonable job of integrating with Zoom and other apps. Also handles reschedules and cancellations reasonably well.
Overall, Calendaring is one of those things that looks trivial but really isn't. You've got to handle timezones, DST changes, local holidays, reschedules, repeat meetings on unusual frequencies (e.g. every 2nd Tuesday & Thursday). No-one has solved it in 30+ years.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @ITAMRocks )
6d

@ITAMRocks Thanks for sharing your experience!

Calendars are an oddity in tech. On one level they're interoperable like email, where an invite from one calendar app can be pulled into another calendar app seamlessly. Instead, it's this half open, half customized standard that doesn't quite work right and so you end up with this like this workaround @nbnite was looking for to sync Google Calendar and Outlook Calendar.

What do you feel like needs done better beyond what Calendly is doing today in filling the booking meeting productivity hole? One of my favorite things about it is showing meeting times in each person's timezone; makes it much simpler than trying to covert timezones every time.

On Lotus Notes: Do you still use any modern version of it (currently HCL Domino)? If not, is there still something you miss from Lotus Notes you haven't ever been able to replicate elsewhere, especially on calendars? Somehow I feel like I've missed something in my tech experience by never having used it.

1 point
bigal123's avatar

Des Traynor built this template based on this Tweet, thought it might be relevant here. Here's what the Tweet said:
* Your email is what others think you should work on.
* Your Todo list is what you think you should work on.
* Your calendar is (usually) what you actually work on.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @bigal123 )
5d

Ohh love that framework, thanks for sharing @bigal123!

1 point
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