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Review of TreeSheets used as a free offline single-user Kanban software

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Here I'm reviewing TreeSheets for the specific use case of offline single-user Kanban software.

TreeSheets is software with open-ended usage designed for data and productivity purposes. It's free and open-source, and is available for PC, Mac, and Linux. It can be used for a multitude of things depending on what you want to do with it. You're limited by your own imagination more than by its capabilities.

My usage of it as an offline single-user Kanban software is therefore just scratching the surface of what TreeSheets can do. However, I wanted to review it for that specific use case because:

  • that's what I personally use it for, and it has really enhanced my productivity
  • it's hard to find offline single-user Kanban software that is free

The need for offline single-user Kanban software

No, we should not need to resort to a whiteboard and sticky notes in this day and age!

A physical Kanban board

While there is plenty of Kanban software out there, the vast majority either requires a web connection, or is not free, or both. For example, perhaps the best-known Kanban software out there, Trello, requires you to log on to the Trello website to use it. That's not a big deal given how easy it is to be online, but in principle if you're the only one using it and you don't need anyone else to see it (and you only need to access it via one device) there is no reason for it to be online.

But when it comes to finding offline Kanban software, it's not easy! For awhile I relied on non-Kanban options, like LifeOGraph, a journaling and note-taking application. Yet, while this list-style journal could keep track of my to-do list, it just didn't have the at-a-glance Kanban boards. I loved and missed the "To-do", "In progress" and "Done" boards when I used the online Kanban software Meistertask.

It seemed for awhile that the choices were either going to be offline journal-style (e.g. LifeOgraph), or online Kanban (Meistertask, Trello). I really wanted offline Kanban though.

Finally, I found TreeSheets. It's a "free-form data organizer" which sounded like something I could apply to use Kanban-style. Let's find out how it holds up!

Pros

  1. Available for all 3 major platforms: PC, Mac and Linux.
  2. Very easy to learn how to use. There is an interactive tutorial when you first open it. You should go through it immediately after installation; it's the fastest and easiest way to figure out how it works and how you can apply it for your own purposes. They don't assume any particular use case on the tutorial, which is good. It took me only around 5 minutes to do the tutorial.
  3. Visually appealing and customizable; you can customize colors to anything you want. You also have 3 broad options for the overall style of how the data is presented: bubbles as in my image at the top of the page; grid cells - a little like a prettier version of a spreadsheet; or lines - more like a mind map showing connections. For most Kanban purposes I'd imagine you'd want bubbles, but you can set it up how you want. You can also change fonts, again also for a selection or for a single cell.
  4. Hierarchical - you can put sub-items, and sub-items of sub-items, and so on at a click of the button (the "Insert" button). It's a huge help for Kanban where you want to add info to a task but not distract from the main task itself. This hierarchical aspect is something you'll learn in the first minute or two of the tutorial, and it's super-easy.
  5. Focus on what's important - change text size either of one cell or a selection of cells. This is particularly helpful if you wish to write smaller text for sub-items. A key feature is that you can even make your text so small that you can't even read it. When you zoom into that area, it becomes visible upon zoom. The advantage is that it's yet another method you can use for minimizing distracting information until its needed.
  6. Fold cells in or out - ideal for archiving "done" items. You can just fold desired cells together at the click of a key shortcut, and they show a plus sign (+) before them. You can toggle that off with the same key shortcut to display the items. This is yet another method where you can have lots of info in a way that doesn't take up tons of space.
  7. You can control width of columns. You need all your Kanban boards to be visible at a glance, so you don't want super-wide columns that require you to scroll sideways. You can easily set the column width at the start with a simple command. Then text automatically wraps once it gets to your column width limit.

Cons

  1. The clickable menu commands seem to work via keyboard bindings. This is perfectly fine in most cases. The downside is that if your operating system uses that particular keyboard shortcut for another purpose, you'll have to delete that keyboard shortcut in your operating system before you can use that command in TreeSheets. This is true even if you're using your mouse via the TreeSheets point-and-click menu and not via a keyboard shortcut. Maybe not all operating systems will have that issue, but it came up on my Linux system: the operating system defaults overrode the TreeSheets commands. I was therefore unable to use certain operations in TreeSheets altogether until I'd turned off those keyboard bindings in my operating system. This is not a big deal though; in my case it only affected two commands. You won't have to sit there and change a whole bunch of stuff.
  2. For using TreeSheets as Kanban you'll need to be sure that you put your tasks inside the task cell as shown at top of page, to avoid you accidentally deleting other tasks along with the desired one. In other words, make a task cell called "to-do" and make its tasks be sub-cells of those, as shown in my pic at the very top of the page. Don't just make a column cell called to-do and have similar column cells of tasks below it. Otherwise it's too easy to accidentally also delete from adjacent cells. If you don't believe me, make a test sheet the second way and you'll soon see what I mean. This is not a problem or a bug, it's just the way TreeSheets is designed to work. For most purposes it's how you'd want it, but that's not necessarily the case for applying it to Kanban.
  3. You can't drag and drop. Instead you'll want to cut and paste. Again, this is not a bug, but simply is how the program is designed to work. This is not a problem, since it's super-easy to cut and paste from one board to another. However, this might take a little more getting used to for those familiar with standard Kanban software where drag-and-drop is the default.
  4. No support for different types of data such as dates (as far as I can tell). I could not find a way to have a date field. I can enter dates but they are just seen as text by the program, so I can't add a due date to a task. I can type in something that looks like a date, but TreeSheets just sees it as a bunch of text, and there is no support for sorting things by date, as far as I could see. In my opinion, this is somewhat of a limitation in general (not just for Kanban purposes), since a data organizer should indeed be able to utilize dates as a specific data type.

Conclusion

Yes, it is possible to use TreeSheets as an offline single-user Kanban program, and it is working well for me. However, I could not find a way to handle date fields in TreeSheets, so if adding a due date or sorting by date is important to you, then TreeSheets may not be ideal for you.

If dates are critical for your use case, then I recommend using Meistertask, although that is an online Kanban that you will need to have an internet connection to access. If you are frequently working outside of the home or office, finding safe and secure Wi-Fi can be a challenge in itself.

Which way you go depends on which is more important to you: having a) offline access or b) support for date fields. It's not a question of right or wrong but of what is best for your needs and your workflow.


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