What is the best word for “task”?

Here’s a thing we have noticed: all the words for “todos” (as we think of them) feel not-quite-right. I suspect this may be why there are so many todo-apps or task trackers, and so few happy users of such products.

“Todo” as I have seen it is generally used for small things, or things with no firm delivery date. Most people would not describe a presentation you had to deliver to management on Monday as a “todo”, for example, while you might say “commenting my code is a todo” or “is on my todo list”. It also feels like something you decide for yourself, and not something someone (like you boss) gives you; “here are your todos” feels like a rare phrase. (In fact, as of this writing it has 9 results in Google. Not 9 million or 9 thousand, I mean the number that is 1 less than 10.) “Todo” is a very common word, with 2 billion google hits.

“Task” is more formal, and feels like something given to you be someone else, but is less common than “todo” with only 0.5 billion hits. (It has 158K results in Google in the “here are your” form, wildly beating “todos”.)

“Job” has a primary connotation of “what you do for a living”. “Goals” are more final or end-state oriented. “Objectives”, while technically correct and loosely used enough to mean “anything you are trying to do”, is a mouthful and less frequently used; only 0.3 billion hits there.

As far as I can tell, there is no word in English that means “something you want to accomplish, which may or may not be given to you by someone else and may or may not have an end date”. Maybe this is the reason the “task tracker” or “todo app” space is so crowded, and yet customers are still dissatisfied: there is a gaping hole in English to describe the problem. As a result, it is easy for customers and businesses to talk past eachother; when the words don’t exist to describe the goals succinctly, the only words you can say are the ones you don’t quite mean (and everyone gets confused).

So what is a good word to use? The standard startuppy thing is to invent a new word, like AirBNB or AirPaper, and make its definition the thing you want. My current favorite is French for “task”: “t√Ęches”, pronounced “tash”. As far as I can tell, this is a monosyllabic word that has no common use and is very close to the thing I want to talk about. Should this be a thing?

 

ben