October 23, 2021

Learning to use MeisterTask felt like yet another project on my to-do list

Imagine, if you will (or don’t because you’re already here), that the amount of work to be done was large and overwhelming. Visualize trying to wrap your mind around it by organizing the information, sorting it by priority and due date, and ultimately bringing order to your chaos. That’s the goal of a good task management system. At their best, they function smoothly and fade into the background. 

That’s not the case with MeisterTask, which demands so much of your attention that it feels like an extra project all on its own. There are so many tiny confusing details and features that don’t work quite as well as I wanted them to. Using the software to its full potential would have required so much more work, instead of less. 

Full-featured project management software • The Agenda is innovative • Can be used with teams of people
Some features don’t make sense • It’s a lot of work to set up and use • Not as good of value as competitor options
You can use MeisterTask if you have to, but it wouldn’t be our first choice.

⚡ Mashable Score
2.0

What is MeisterTask?

Productivity software is a crowded market, with free and paid options including Trello, Asana, Monday, Airtable, Notion, Things, Todoist, and more. MeisterTask positions itself as a Trello competitor, and on the surface, it’s clear why. The kan-ban style system uses cards to keep track of tasks, which can be moved horizontally through columns on a project board. The basic version is free, and it includes 3 projects with unlimited members. The Pro version, if paid annually, works out to $8.25 per user monthly. The most advanced features are unlocked in a Business tier, which costs $20.75 monthly per user. Trello’s equivalent feature tier is $10 monthly per user (again, when billed annually). 

The default column titles are “Open,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” It suggests that a ticket-style software workflow is what MeisterTask is optimized for. Click the + icon to add a task, which you can customize with notes, due dates, checklists and more. MeisterTask’s free tier integrates with two of the following three services: iCalendar, Harvest, and Zapier. It won’t play nice with Slack until at least the Pro tier. The extra features available in Trello’s Business Class tier make it a better value than MeisterTask’s Pro tier. You get a lot for the extra $21 a year per person. The two services are in an arms race with features, so most of them are available on either platform. The decision will likely come down to price and which service feels easier to fully use. 

My first “WTF” moment came when I realized that you’re meant to check off the card itself as done. Doing so marks it as “completed” with a green check. In that case, there doesn’t seem to be a purpose for the “Done” column. And the completed task doesn’t drop to the bottom of the to-do list cards. Instead, I’m staring at duplicative information cluttering up my list. 

Being able to mark a card as completed makes me want to use it for bigger projects (like a story) as opposed to smaller tasks (“schedule interview”). However, I can’t put due dates on items in a card’s checklist, or pin them anywhere (more on that later). 

Terminology can be… confusing

I spend a lot (too much?) of time thinking about project management tools, and lately I’ve been repeatedly tripped up by the distinction between a project and a task. It’s a fuzzy line that MeisterTask blurs even further.

What Trello calls “boards,” MeisterTask terms “projects.” Let’s be accurate here  –  they are boards, and the neutral term doesn’t prime you to use them a certain way. Since Trello named its features first, MeisterTask is stuck. Unfortunately, it made a difference for me. If I make a board for each project currently on my radar, I’ll have nearly 20. Not every project maps neatly into the card based hierarchy. Sometimes I want general notes outside of to-dos. Things is exceptionally helpful in this regard. You can have a “project area” with general notes, and sub-projects nested neatly beneath it.  

If I know I need to schedule an interview by Friday, that needs to be a card in MeisterTask with a due date. If it’s part of a single story, what’s the project unit? Is each list on a project board one story? Then I’ve lost the visual benefit of using a kan-ban style tool. Is each project board one story? I probably don’t have enough tasks to fill out the columns. If each card is a story (MeisterTask calls them tasks, my brain is breaking), then I can’t put due dates on intermediate steps in the card’s checklist. I’ll have to track that deadline somewhere else.

MeisterTask's default settings are confusing. Not a great start.

MeisterTask’s default settings are confusing. Not a great start.

Image: Alex Hazlett

I tried to mirror my Trello set-up in MeisterTask, thinking that would be a fair comparison, but I never could quite get it to stick. Finally, I realized that the issue was in the extra features MeisterTask has that Trello doesn’t. 

The key to real productivity is figuring out when you’re going to do the work. This is a combination of your calendar and your to-do list, and it’s where Things really shines. Time blocking – popularized by Cal Newport – is when you look at your day and slot your tasks into the available time. Now you know not only what needs to be done but when it’s getting accomplished. 

MeisterTask has a feature like this, but it’s partial nature makes it worse than not having it at all. In the home screen you have overarching lists (e.g. Upcoming, or Waiting For), where you can pin important tasks from any project board. Unfortunately, it’s on you to do this on top of already inputting the information in the cards. Needing to remember to power the feature introduces enough uncertainty that you can no longer rely on it. 

When it was supposed to make my life easier, MeisterTask asked more of me than I had to give.

In contrast, Things auto populates its “upcoming” list based on the deadlines you’ve assigned your tasks. They move to the “Today” list when they’re due, or on the day you’ve scheduled yourself to work on them. It’s elegant and simple. To replicate this in MeisterTask, I’d have to pin and unpin tasks individually, reviewing all my due dates on every task in every project. 

Small, but meaningful, drawbacks

It’s not clear who owns tasks: Tasks also aren’t automatically considered mine unless I assign myself to them, a bizarre manifestation of being my own boss. Even when working in a team where tasks can be assigned out, I’d prefer that they default to the person who created them. Leaving them “unassigned” just keeps them hidden. 

Time tracking can be misleading: The most maddening, absurd feature in MeisterTask is the “Time to complete” notice, followed closely by a message indicating how many people “contributed.” The first feature records the time between when you created the card and when you marked it as completed. It has nothing to do with the actual amount of time it took you to do the work, and I can easily see this productivity surveillance being used by managers in idiotic ways. For instance, adding a two-hour task you don’t need to do until next month will make it look like you spent weeks on it, disincentivizing you from adding it in advance.

If you actually want to know how long tasks take you or how much time you spend on projects, use a stopwatch or a time-tracking software like Noko. If you just want to see that something’s been abandoned, Trello has a feature that makes cards look old and brittle when they’ve sat too long. It’s a handy visual reminder that something’s languishing, and you can turn it off. 

It tries to determine who gets “credit” for tasks: I can’t fathom the hubris required to add a contribution feature to software like MeisterTask. Most work will necessarily take place outside of the tool you’re using to track the work, so this feature is ripe for overlooking people’s work and giving credit where it’s not due. I imagine that it was created with the best of intentions, but they’re way off base here. Given the ample evidence that what gets measured gets managed, this feature is irresponsible.

The bottom line

I cannot tell you definitively whether MeisterTask will work for you. Frankly, the odds are pretty good: It’s got a lot of valuable features and integrations and every tool gets more comfortable with practice. If a company switched to it, employees would adjust, because they would have to. 

However, that initial feeling of overwhelm is something I couldn’t push past. When it was supposed to make my life easier, MeisterTask asked more of me than I had to give.

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