Saturday, October 18, 2008

Franklin Covey PlanPlus for Outlook v 5.0 - Revisited

  • The task list doesn't always re-draw correctly when deleting or moving tasks - and then if you edit a task subject line, you're actually editing a different task than you think - or worse, you're deleting a task you have not yet completed. Maybe for most people that just means something small, like they'll lose their job, but for me I see it as even worse, because I rely on this program to remind me about these tasks. I know I shouldn't, but I do. So here's the real problem - if I ever remember this accidentally deleted task, and think "I should do X - I then remember that I've put it in my planner, and will be reminded when appropriate, so I forget about it again, and this item will *never* be addressed, even if I remember it! To worry about each item and double check to make sure it's in the planner is to defeat the purpose of using the planner - which is to allow me to relax, knowing that I can't forget anything because it's being remembered for me.

  • If you delete a recurring task instead of marking it finished, it will let you do this without asking if you're sure. I don't like a nanny-program any more than the next guy, but there is no icon or indicator of any sort that a task item is set to recur. So, again, PlanPlus makes it very easy to delete data without realizing it was ever there. If I could remember, on my own, which tasks recur and which ones don't, I probably wouldn't need the program at all. My work-around: whenever I set a task to recur, I mark it "(recurs)" at the end of the line. It's not a perfect work-around, because the line may be too long to see the mark, but without an indicator of some sort it's the best I can do. This is particularly annoying, because earlier versions of Franklin Covey planner software (Ascend) had such indicators, along with indicators for notes.

  • Here's one you can play with: make a change to an item in the home view. If you hit enter, it creates a new task and moves the focus there, thus encouraging you not to hit enter if you want to work with the same item. However, if you don't hit enter or click somewhere else, and if the change you made changes the sort order (like a name change changing the alphabetical order) and you subsequently click and drag the task to a new date or to the trash, you will be moving the wrong task. There will be no indication that you are moving the wrong task, until you can't find the task you moved, and of course you won't know which one that is, because you didn't mean to move it in the first place, and it didn't show on the screen when you did it.

I just re-read that last item, and even though I wrote it, and understand it, it makes almost no sense. It certainly wouldn't make any sense to someone who hasn't used the program.

Here's the upshot: If you change a task in a way that changes how the list of tasks sorts, at that point it's easy to end up losing a task item without knowing it, and with no way to retrieve it other than restoring the entire database from a backup - which offers up its own full set of problems, such as losing all recent changes. Since each task item can hold documents, pictures, recordings, full notes, and many other things, losing one task could amount to losing months of work.

True, trusting months of work to any program would be a bad idea - but it would be an exceptionally bad idea to trust months of work to *this* program!


The data integrity issues I mentioned only have to do with the user interface, not the back end. I always worry about the inner workings of programs that have poor outer workings, but in this case PlanPlus for Outlook uses Outlook for the inner workings, so I continue to use the program. If I had used the stand-alone version, and the UI was this bad, I would have stopped using it already.

A thing that has nothing to do with data integrity: When I mark a task finished, the focus follows the finished task to the end of the list - why would I want to look at it again? And failing that, why would I want to look at all the other finished tasks? Don't you think I might want to look at my next highest priority task? If you're going to scroll to the bottom of my list every time, at least put something funny down there, like a note that says, "cut it out and go home" or something.

I'm now checking my PlanPlus task list for items I've marked: BLOG - REVIEW - PLANPLUS. Because PlanPlus's project function seems to be essentially worthless, I've found that if I mark my tasks hierarchically like such, I can always find them alphabetically, by project. Because I've got too many tasks for PlanPlus to handle, I can't simply go to the master task list, I have to go to the Quick Prioritize window, where I can find the tasks I'd like to work with, then move them to today so I can read them or mark them finished. Yes, it's very clunky, but it works. My original problem with getting the software to work was really only this - it takes 45 minutes to two hours to open the master task list. I assumed that was an error and there was something more fundamentally wrong. Since it turns out that this is not an error, but expected behavior, I can only say, "I'm sorry I thought that was a bug. What was I thinking?!?"

I only found two such items on the master task list, and it turns out I've already addressed them. Luckily PlanPlus made this take an extra five minutes, so I had time to type a bunch of meaningless words for you to peruse. Wasn't that fun?

Ok, so I was wrong. I did just as poorly with this review as the last. But you learned a little more detail, along with one important thing: 8 months later, using the program nearly every day - and I still don't like it. YMMV.

- Trevor.

Jackson, GA

2008-10-18 (Happy Birthday Danielle - why am I always writing about PlanPlus on someone's birthday?)