Product Design: Keyboard Shortcuts for Task Complete Icons

Filed Under Mindjet


April 2, 2010

We love hearing your suggestions about how to make the product better. Sometimes this results in major new features, but the little things can make a big difference in your productivity too. And even simple requests can have interesting twists. Today I want to tell you about an example of this, and get your feedback.

Many of you like to use MindManager for to-do lists and project management. Some of you have asked us to make this easier by adding keyboard shortcuts to apply Task Complete icons:

task info

For various reasons, it makes sense to introduce a new command for this purpose: Next Task Complete Icon (Ctrl+L). There are several places we could show this command, but that’s another discussion. For now, the important thing is that it would advance the selected topic’s Task Complete icon to the next one in the Task Complete group. If the selected topic has no Task Complete icon, the command would add one.

This brings us to our first question: If “next” adds a Task Complete icon, which one should it add?

The most straightforward answer is to assign not complete Task Start. However, most requests for this feature actually ask for a keyboard shortcut to assign complete Task Done. If that’s what you really want, then you’d have to use the command several times. Up to 9 times, in fact, since there can be up to 9 different Task Complete icons in a map. That’s a lot of typing to save a little mouse work.

There is an alternative: it’s common to use the Shift key to reverse the direction of an operation, and we’d probably support that for this new command – in essence, we’d introduce two commands:

Next Task Complete Icon (Ctrl+L)

Previous Task Complete Icon (Ctrl+Shift+L)

If you wanted complete Task Done, you could use the second command. The downside to this is that you’d have to know that the second command existed, which means either that we’d expose it in our menus and controls – adding a bit of clutter – or we’d have to rely on you to figure out that you could do it, based on your experience with MindManager and other software. It also means that the most popular choice would require three keys for its shortcut, instead of two.

There is another alternative: if there is no Task Complete icon in the topic, instead of applying the first icon in the group, the command could apply the last icon. Using that approach, the most-requested icon (complete Task Done) would be the first one you’d get, and the next-most-requested icon (not complete Task Start) would be next, using the same two-key shortcut. (We’d most likely support Shift-key-to-reverse as well.)

This brings us to our second question: If the selected topic’s current Task Complete icon is the last one in the group, and you use the “next” command, what should happen?

There are at least two choices: wrap around to the icon at the other end of the group, or clear the icon. The argument for clearing the icon is that people who like managing these icons via keyboard will probably appreciate being able to clear them as well. But the two questions are related: if the answer to question 1 is “apply the last icon in the group”, and if the answer to question 2 is “clear the icon”, then repeated uses of the shortcut would have the net effect of simply applying the last icon and clearing it. There are ways around this problem, but they add complexity to what is supposed to be a simple convenience feature. (Obviously, the same dilemma arises for the “previous” command.)

See what I mean about twists? Even this straightforward request demands tradeoffs. Designing productivity software is about maximizing clarity, performance, and aesthetics (usually in that order). Ideally, these reinforce one another, but sometimes you have to give up a little of one for some more of another.

Right now, we’re leaning toward this combination:

  • add “next” and “previous” commands, but only “next” is explicitly visible
  • if the topic doesn’t have a Task Complete icon, “next” applies not complete Task Start
  • if the topic doesn’t have a Task Complete icon, “previous” applies complete Task Done
  • “next” and “previous” both wrap around without clearing the icon

In this case, we think that optimizing for the most common request might make the shortcuts harder to learn. We’re willing to trade off performance for clarity; we’d rather start with a simple, clean set of rules as our baseline, and add complexity if feedback warrants it. There’s also the possibility that the bias toward Task Done is simply an illusion – it’s a fairly small data set.

What you think? Do you have a different idea? Have we missed an important case? Let us know in the comments.

Lars Jensen

Manager, Design & User Experience


19 Responses to “Product Design: Keyboard Shortcuts for Task Complete Icons”

  1. Lars Jensen, Mindjet

    Hi Nick – Unfortunately this did not quite make it into MM 9.0. It was very close though. (I had to decide between adding this and fixing Date & Time.) It’s still on my short list for a future release.

  2. Andy

    I have since found out out that I can simply drag a checked icon from one item to another to copy it. That is easy enough. I did not know I could do that. So if one item in the map is already checked as done, all I need to do is drag the icon to the next “done item” to mark it as done and the icon will be copied there. Problem solved for me.

    Not sure if this is the right place to ask this, but I wish I could save several maps in one view and then open all the maps together, like in excel a document by default has 3 tabs I an see all three tabs when I open that document. I am a teacher and I would like to save and open 5 maps at one, one for each day of the week and and save that view as say week of 5-24-10. It is a pain to open each map when I really wanna see all 5 at once and scroll through them. I could not find a way to do this. Can it be done?

    • Lars Jensen, Mindjet

      Hi Andy – The “drag marker to copy” shortcut also applies to text markers (now called Tags in MindManager 9.0), resources, and start/due dates (assuming you have MindManager 8.2). If you hold down Ctrl while dragging, you’ll move the marker instead of copying it.rnrnRegarding multiple maps in one file, the closest you can come to this at the moment is to embed maps into a “master map” as attachments to a topic. Any topic can have multiple attachments. You can then open, edit, and save them just as if they were stored in a folder. The main difference is that the master map will have to be open the whole time. Excel-like “sheets” are a feature that we have considered, so thanks for this feedback.

  3. larsjensenmindjet

    Hi Andy, we're still thinking about it. Although my original blog post wasn't specific, it concerned MindManager for Windows, which hasn't had a release since then.

  4. Andy

    What happened with this? So far none of these options for task done work in mind manager. I wish you would pick one of the solutions and just try it out. I think there are users who use keyboard shortcuts and those who use the mouse. The shortcut people would figure it out no matter how you do it if the option existed. I also wish there were a universal “repeat action” shortcut like f4 works in microsoft excel. Re-do often does not work in mind manager like repeat action does in excel.

  5. MichaelDeutch

    Or, building on what Alex suggests, should the map cycle through the available status in your map? In other words, your map markers & available %'s should dictate which task % is next in the cycle. For a to do map, you may just want to cycle between not started and complete…

  6. Alex

    I think I see what you're saying. If I've got it right, then the sequence would be (if there was no task icon) Next – Task Start, Next (again) – Task Complete, Next (again) – 25%, etc.

    While I agree with this approach, there are a couple of other issues. First, I think at some stage the cycle through should clear the task icon entirely. Second, do you set up the shortcuts to cater for the people who want to cycle through 10%, 25%, 35% etc – or just those who want to do 0%-25%-50%-75%-100%?

    • MichaelDeutch

      Or, building on what Alex suggests, should the map cycle through the available status in your map? In other words, your map markers & available %'s should dictate which task % is next in the cycle. For a to do map, you may just want to cycle between not started and complete…

      • Alex

        I like Michael's approach, especially having a simple yes/no for to-do lists, though it would involve being able to easily reduce the default five states (0%, 25%, 60%, 75%, 100%) as well as increase them. At the moment (as I understand it) you have to explicitly delete each of them individually.

        I know this is getting complicated, but it might be helpful to offer two additional sets of task complete icons as alternatives to the default set of five when setting up a new map – simple “yes/no” and the expanded set. These could of course be varied later by the user by deleting or adding percentage levels (or the exceptional circumstances options that Nick mentions, which I think should include another, say yellow, icon for deferred), and the Next command shortcut would simply cycle through whatever the current set is (plus clear the task icon).

  7. Nick Duffill


    Another way to approach this is based on the frequency of use, providing keyboard shorcuts for the most common cases and skipping the rest. The benefit of a keyboard shortcut for something that is used very rarely is small, and the price of designing a solution that makes all cases possible might make it less usable for any of them, as you say.

    From my own experience, the top 3 actions related to the percent-complete value, in order of frequency of use, are

    1. Assigning the 0% complete value to a topic to turn it into a task
    2. Changing a percent complete value from 0 to 100%
    3. Changing a percent complete value from 0 to some other value to indicate that something is under way but is not finished.

    I hardly ever change from one partially completed value to another, or remove the percent complete value from a topic once one has been assigned, or go backwards from 100% to a lower value. So for me, a keyboard shortcut that cycled from no icon to 0%, then from 0% to 100%, then from 100% to 50% would cover more than 90% of cases in 1 keystroke, or a maximum of 3. (There would have to be special handling for percent complete groups that did not have a midrange value).

    I imagine that the demand for assigning the 100% complete icon to non-task topics arises because the 0% complete value was never assigned to a topic that always was a task, just never explicitly identified as such. So a simple way to go from nothing, to 0%, to 100% would not fail to service this need.

    While I am here, something I miss frequently in the task complete icon group is a status that indicates that a task could not be completed, or somehow failed, hit an obstacle, got cancelled, became redundant or was otherwise abandoned. This would be very helpful in real world applications – not all tasks go through a nice lifecycle from definition to progress and completion. Currently, the only choices for an abandoned task are to leave it as unfinished or remove the percent complete indicator, neither of which really reflect its actual fate. Maybe a green tick for completed, and a red cross for abandoned?

    Best regards

    • Lars Jensen, Mindjet

      Hi Nick, thanks for the careful analysis. I agree about the need for an icon to indicate an exceptional task status of some kind. In fact I plan to devote a post to it. There are a lot of potential nuances there.

    • Stefan

      As always ;-))
      I completely agree with Nick. Having “nothing”, 0%, 50% and 100% for the shortcuts is completely sufficient. Having other percentages available via mouse (5% resolution is absolutely enough) is fine.
      And I like the idea of “task abandoned” very much. So far I use “completed” and write a comment. But to have another symbol would be very helpful and available for filtering.



      • Greg

        It is important to have a full icon representing 100%. The tick means done, however, it would be more useful having a full icon.



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