Learning to use MeisterTask felt like yet another project on my to-do list in 2021


Imagine, if you will (or don’t imagine, because you’re already here), that the amount of work that needs to be done is large and overwhelming. Imagine trying to make sense of it by organizing the information, sorting it by priority and due date, and eventually bringing order to the chaos. That’s the goal of a good task management system. At best, they function smoothly and fade into the background.

This is not the case with MeisterTask, which demands so much of your attention that it feels like an extra project in itself. There are so many little confusing details and features that don’t work as well as I’d like. Using the software to its full potential would require a lot more work, not less.

What is MeisterTask?

Productivity software is a crowded market with free and paid options, including Trello, Asana, Monday, Airtable, Notion, Things, Todoist and others. MeisterTask is positioning itself as a competitor to Trello, and at first glance it’s clear why. The can-ban-style system uses cards to keep track of tasks that can be moved horizontally across columns on the project board. The basic version is free and includes 3 projects with an unlimited number of participants. The Pro version, with an annual fee, is $8.25 per user per month. The most advanced features are unlocked in the Business version, which costs $20.75 per month per user. A similar level of Trello costs $10 per month per user (again, with an annual fee).

The default column names are “Open,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” This indicates that MeisterTask is optimized for ticket-style programs. Click the + icon to add a task that can be customized with notes, due dates, checklists, and more. The free MeisterTask tier integrates with two of the following three services: iCalendar, Harvest and Zapier. It will not work with Slack, at least not until the Pro level. The extra features available in Trello’s business level make it a better value than the Pro level in MeisterTask. You get a lot for an extra $21 a year per person. The two services are in an arms race for features, so most of them are available on any platform. The decision will likely come down to price and which service is easier to use.

My first “WTF” moment occurred when I realized that you have to mark the card itself as done. In doing so, it is marked with a green checkmark as “completed.” In that case, the “Completed” column doesn’t seem to make sense. And the completed task doesn’t drop to the bottom of the to-do list cards. Instead, I’m looking at duplicate information cluttering up my list.

Being able to mark a card as done forces me to use it for larger projects (like writing an article) rather than smaller tasks (“schedule an interview”). However, I can’t put due dates on items on the card’s checklist or pin them somewhere (more on that later).

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The terminology can be… confusing

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

What Trello calls “boards,” MeisterTask calls “projects.” Let’s be precise-these are boards, and the neutral term doesn’t obligate you to use them in a certain way. Since Trello named its features first, MeisterTask is stuck. Unfortunately, it matters to me. If I create a board for every project currently in my field of vision, I have almost 20. Not every project fits into a card-based hierarchy. Sometimes I need general notes unrelated to specific cases. In that respect, Things is exceptionally useful. You can have a “project area” with general notes and subprojects neatly nested within it.

If I know I need to schedule an interview by Friday, it should be a card in MeisterTask with a due date. If it’s part of the same story, what is the unit of the project? Is each list on the project board one story? Then I lose the visual benefit of using a can-ban-style tool. Is each project board one story? I probably don’t have enough tasks to fill the columns. If each card is a story (MeisterTask calls them tasks, my brain breaks down), then I can’t put due dates on intermediate steps in the card checklist. I would have to track those deadlines elsewhere.

I tried to mirror my Trello system in MeisterTask, thinking it would be a fair comparison, but I never got around to it. Finally, I realized that it’s about the extra features of MeisterTask that Trello doesn’t have.

The key to true productivity is figuring out when you’re going to get work done. It’s a combination of your calendar and to-do list, and that’s where Things really shine. Time blocking, popularized by Cal Newport, is when you look at your day and assign tasks to available time. Now you know not only what needs to be done, but when it will be done.

MeisterTask has a similar feature, but its partial nature makes it worse than its complete absence. On the main screen, you have general lists (such as Upcoming or Waiting For) where you can put important tasks from any project board. Unfortunately, you have to do this in addition to the fact that you’ve already entered information in the cards. The need to remember to include this feature introduces enough uncertainty that you can’t rely on it.

When MeisterTask was supposed to make my life easier, it demanded more from me than I could give.

In contrast, Things automatically populates its “Upcoming” list based on the deadlines you’ve assigned to your tasks. They move to the “Today” list when they are due or on the day you have scheduled to work on them. It’s elegant and simple. To replicate this in MeisterTask, I would have to pin and un-pin tasks individually, looking at all the due dates for each task in each project.

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Small but significant flaws

It’s not clear who owns the tasks: Tasks also don’t automatically count as mine unless I assign myself to them, which is a bizarre manifestation of being my own boss. Even working on a team where tasks can be assigned, I would prefer that they go by default to whoever created them. Leaving them “unassigned” just hides them.

Timekeeping can be misleading: The craziest and most absurd feature in MeisterTask is the “Time to complete” notification, followed by a message about how many people have “contributed”. The first feature captures the time between when the card is created and when you mark it as completed. It has nothing to do with the actual amount of time it took you to complete the job, and I can easily see how this performance observation is used by managers for idiotic purposes. For example, adding a two-hour task that you don’t have to do until next month will make it look like you spent weeks on it, which will take away your incentive to add it in advance.

If you really want to know how long your tasks are taking or how much time you’re spending on projects, use a stopwatch or time-tracking software like Noko. If you just want to see if something is abandoned, Trello has a feature that makes cards look old and fragile when they’ve been lying around too long. It’s a handy visual reminder that something is abandoned, and you can turn it off.

It tries to determine who gets “credit” for completing tasks: I can’t fathom the arrogance with which a contribution feature should be added to software like MeisterTask. Most of the work is bound to happen outside of the tool you use to track work, so this feature is well-suited to overlooking people’s work and putting credit where it shouldn’t be. I imagine this feature was created in good faith, but that’s where they went wrong. Given the ample evidence that what is measured is managed, this feature is irresponsible.

Bottom line

I can’t say definitively whether MeisterTask will work for you. Honestly, the odds are pretty high: it has a lot of valuable features and integrations, and any tool gets more convenient with practice. If the company moves to it, employees will adjust because they’ll have to.

However, the initial feeling of overwhelm is something I couldn’t get over. When MeisterTask was supposed to make my life easier, it demanded more from me than I could give.

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