Choosing the right to-do list application
Hello everyone! If you’re a list-maker like me, you’re constantly leaving notes in a variety of different places – on Post-Its, legal pads, a document on your computer, and six different apps on your phone. I know I switch apps every time I find a new one I like - a process inevitably accompanied by transferring all my accumulated to-dos and bits of information to the new service. So, in the interest of not transferring everything to a new list every other week, let’s take a look at some of the most popular to-do list apps out there and narrow down which ones will work for you.
From what I can tell, effective to-do list-to-person matching has a lot to do with figuring out the way you think about your tasks and what kind of interface is intuitive to you. With that in mind, try out this flowchart and let it take you to the app of your dreams.*
*No guarantees, refunds, or do-overs.
Team management apps
Trello. I haven’t actually used Trello myself, but Peter Campbell had some great things to say about it on his blog for LSC. Basically, it’s a very streamlined team collaboration application.
It’s composed of a set of lists - as many as you need - and within each, “cards” or individual tasks/projects. Cards can move with a simple drag-and-drop between lists, so many companies seem to use them for “to do,” “doing,” and “done” columns. You can assign members of the team to each card, make notes and checklists within each one, upload files, and vote on projects to reflect priorities. Trello keeps track of all activity on a particular card, so you can follow who did what and when. It’s available across a wide array of devices - tablets, smartphones, and desktops.
What it’s good for: teamwork; collaboration and transparency for a team working on multiple projects.
Producteev. Built specifically for team collaboration (although sharing costs $20/month), Producteev is organized by different “workspaces.” Tasks can be assigned to collaborators, color coded, viewed by due date on a calendar, labeled by category, and given a priority level – all from keyboard shortcuts as the task is created. Each task can also contain subtasks, and you can sort the list in a variety of ways.
What it’s good for: teams working on specific projects.
Detailed and feature-rich apps
Doit.im. Tasks are added in Doit.im’s Inbox feature, and you can sort them into categories later. Doit.im comes with a set of time-based categories: Today, Next, Scheduled, Someday, and Waiting – and you can also add your own “Contexts” (or categories, like “work” and “home”). Separately from Contexts, you can also have a set of Projects to assign tasks to. You can “smart add” tasks with keyboard shortcuts (like # to specify a Project, @ to specify a Context, and ^ to specify a start date) to sort them automatically. Tasks can also be tagged and displayed by Start time, Deadline, Context, Project, or Priority level. You can also add notes to each individual task and send tasks to email addresses. You can set reminders or repeats for tasks as well.
What it’s good for: a fairly detailed set of lists. Great for project-based tasks.
Toodledo. Tasks are organized into folders and can be assigned due dates and times, priority levels, can be set to repeat, and can include notes. One feature I liked is that you can make some tasks optional, such as events that you may or may not attend and regular chores that can be skipped sometimes. Once the optional event’s due date is past, it’s removed from your list so it doesn’t clutter things up.
Toodledo also really shines in its ability to sort your tasks. Not only can you sort them by due date, priority level, or folder; you can actually sort them by up three criteria at a time. In the video below, for example, the narrator sorts tasks by priority level, and within each priority level by folder. It can also tell you when you should be starting tasks and track how long it takes you to complete them, so that you have some idea for similar tasks in the future.
Toodledoo also automatically creates a “Hotlist;” the most important and immediate items on all of your lists. You can set the criteria for this; usually, it’s items that are coming due soon, have certain tags, are starred, or other, similar factors. Toodledo is available on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry as well as online, and has a lot of other features I haven’t talked about, so check out their website or YouTube channel for more.
What it’s good for: keeping an extremely organized and sort-able list of diverse items all in one place. Would be especially useful for people who like to rank items by importance as a primary method of keeping track.
Astrid. I’m not an Astrid user myself, but the app does have a loyal following – for good reason. Astrid allows you to create folders, which contain lists of items. You can set items to repeat (monthly, weekly, even minutely – which might be a bit much) – a feature which I liked. Another feature I like is that you can add items to multiple lists and only have to cross them off once. For example, I can add an item from my “New blog post ideas” list to my “to do today” list, then only cross it off once when it’s done. Like many of the other apps discussed here, you can also set priority levels, due dates, and reminders for yourself, as well as sharing lists with other users. You can also attach photos or other files to tasks if you’d like, add comments, and forward emails to firstname.lastname@example.org to have them added to your list.
Astrid is available through its website as well as on Android and iPhones. If you’re a list-maker and also want to keep track of some extra bits of information associated with some tasks, this is a great app for you.
What it’s good for: making and sharing lots of lists, both personal and professional, on-the-go. If you want something a little more feature-rich and capable of tracking a lot of information, this is a great app for you.
Remember the Milk. RTM is one of the most robust services I’ve looked at. Aside from the features mentioned regarding other apps (setting due dates, priority levels, dividing items into a series of lists, and sharing tasks and lists with other users), you can also add locations and map your tasks – which could be helpful in planning errand trips; add tags, repeats, reminders, and even estimates of how long the task will take. You can add tags and links to related sites; you can postpone tasks, and you can make notes.
When you sign up for the service, you’ll be assigned an email address which will add tasks to your list; you can also use the “Add task” bar on the site and app, which uses keyboard shortcuts to make adding details quicker (for example, “@library” will add the location to a task, and “^next Friday” will add next Friday’s date as the due date). On iPhones, you can use Siri to add tasks.
Remember the Milk also integrates with a number of other apps, like Evernote, Gmail, Twitter, Google Calendar, and a browser bookmarklet. Check out the website for a full listing.
What it’s good for: keeping a very detailed list of action items. If you want an app that will keep track of every detail of your task list and integrate with everything else in your life in the meantime, this is it.
Taskos. This is a simple to-do list that can sync with Google Tasks on Android phones. I used for a while, and liked how simple it is and the widget you can add to a home screen. Taskos lets you enter items by typing or by voice, and you can add priority levels, due dates, and categories (like “Home,” “Work,” and “School”). Later, you can view tasks sorted by due date, importance, or category. You can also share tasks with other Taskos users. If all you want is a to-do list, this will work great.
What it’s good for: a simple, streamlined, on-the-go to-do list.
Any.Do. This app is set up a little differently from the others reviewed. Like other apps, you can add tasks to different folders and set due dates. However, Any.Do also has what it calls “Any.Do moment,” which you’re encouraged to do at the beginning of the day. It’s a short process which scrolls through all of your appointed tasks for the day and allows you to decide when to do each: today (at what time?), tomorrow, later, or mark it as done. You can set it to remind you when a task is upcoming and enter the task’s location. When you complete tasks or finish the Any.Do moment, it gives you encouraging little messages (“10 items completed! You rock!” or “Go get it done!”).
Any.Do is available as a Chrome extension and as an app for Android and iPhone. It also integrates with Google Tasks and now with Any.Do Cal (a calendar feature) and will soon add its own Mail and Memo features.
What it’s good for: planning the immediate future (today and tomorrow, mostly, though you can also set tasks farther in the future than that) with a simple, clean interface. If you want to plan today and maybe tomorrow without plugging too many details into your phone, this might be a good app for you.
Wunderlist. I haven’t used Wunderlist, but it seems like a pretty middle-of-the-road type of app. Meaning, it’s essentially a simple list-making app, but you can add a decent amount of detail with sublists within items, as well as reminders, due dates, and recurring tasks. Wunderlist lists are also shareable with other users for group collaboration. A neat feature is that you can add a browser extension to Chrome, Safari, or Firefox to add items (from Amazon, Etsy, or other services) to your Wunderlist with one click.
Wunderlist is available on iPhone and Android for free (as well as online); for $4.99 a month you can add unlimited subtasks, background personalization, and soon, file attachments.
Conqu. Another fairly middle-of-the-road app, Conqu is fairly straightforward about entering tasks – you can specify how long the task will take, a flag color (color-coded priority levels, basically), due dates, a “context” (or category, like “work” or “home”), and – interestingly – the energy level you’ll need to complete it. You can also add notes and assign it to a particular “project.” Conqu also features a “back burner” for items you don’t need to work on right away, and a bulk editing feature so that you can, say, move a group of items easily to tomorrow’s to-do list.
Conqu is available for Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows phones. There’s no web interface as of now.
What it’s good for: fairly straightforward to-do lists with some details included but not too much in the way of notes or attached information.
Todoist. Built in HTML5, Todoist is especially speedy, as these apps go. Another bonus: you can access tasks even when you’re not connected to the Internet. It can handle multiple categories of tasks, nested tasks (or subtasks), due dates, priority levels, and color coding. Emails can be set as tasks from a Gmail, Thunderbird, or Outlook account with one click, and a Todoist icon can be added to your desktop browser for instant access to your lists. It can also track your productivity, based on how many tasks you complete.
Todoist is available on the web as well as Android, iOS, and Windows phones.
What it’s good for: basic, streamlined, prioritized to-do lists.
Simple lists + notes
WorkFlowy. This is one of my current favorite to do lists, because the way it’s set up is so uniquely useful. What I like about it is its flexibility: it’s simple and infinitely collapsible. What I mean is, you start out with a list, and within each item on that list you can make another list. Within those sublists, you can make more lists, and so on until you dig all the way through the Earth and reach China.
These lists are also searchable and share-able; choose whatever section you’d like to share, grab the link, and anyone you send it to can view and edit (if you allow editing) that portion of the list.
You can use WorkFlowy from the website, or as an app on your smartphone. The app is a little cumbersome to me, and you can’t access it offline, so it’s not ideal. However, the site is so useful to keep pulled up throughout my workday that I just stick with it. I highly recommend WorkFlowy!
What it’s good for: project management, and anything that needs to keep track of lots of pieces of information or interrelated steps. Integrates notes with lists in a robust yet simple manner.
Google Keep. My other current go-to app, Google Keep integrates with - you guessed it - Google’s suite of products. It’s part of Google Drive and allows you to make notes, checklists, and upload pictures. You can color-code lists and archive them once you’ve finished the project.
The reason I like Google Keep is the mobile app. The widget integrates neatly into my Android phone; it’s simple and straightforward.
What it’s good for: simple lists and notes to yourself that you can access on-the-go.
Evernote. You can use Evernote to make lists of tasks, but what it’s really good at is keeping track of lots of information. “Notes” are sorted into various “Notebooks” (makes sense); each Note can consist of text, photos (as uploads or from the web), audio recordings, or documents; you can also insert checkboxes to make lists and add reminders when items are due. Items are searchable (even text within photos!), and users are encouraged to tag and add locations (though Evernote automatically geo-tags your notes for where they were made) items to make the search feature better. You can share notes with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, and as a link.
Evernote is available for iOS and Android as well as Windows phones and Blackberries (in addition to the desktop interface). The team has also put out a number of other linked apps (like Evernote Food and Evernote Hello), which you can check out on their site.
What it’s good for: project management, especially in cases where the work is very visual. Anything you can see keeping in a well-organized digital version of a notebook. Task list functions are fairly minimal; data storage is the main thing.
OneNote Mobile. If you’re a fan of OneNote on your desktop, here it is for smartphones – Android, iOS, and of course, Windows phones. It’s organized similarly to Evernote, in a set of notebooks, each containing notes. It has the added bonus, though, of being able to add tables and charts, record notes by microphone, as well as adding pictures and checklists like Evernote.
What it’s good for: project management, research, and anything else you’d keep notes for in a digital notebook. To-do list functionality is minimal, because its main function is keeping track of your notes.
Handle. If you get your to-dos largely from emails, then Handle might be a great tool for you. It plugs directly into your email, where you can classify unread emails as “Must do,” “Should do,” or “Want to.” The categorized emails are then brought over to your task list where you can specify if you need to get to them today or at a later date. The full email is saved (under the default heading of its subject line) as a task. You can interact with your task list through a series of pretty simple keyboard shortcuts. For those that find themselves switching back and forth between task lists, emails, and calendars, this is a great way to integrate all three.
What it’s good for: people whose task lists come mostly from emails and want to integrate tasks, emails, and calendars into a single, wildly efficient productivity machine.
Clear. Built specifically for Apple products, Clear has the prettiest interface (and one of the simplest) so far. It’s built around three layers of navigation: the main menu, your list of lists, and the content of each list. It’s very streamlined in that it’s only a list: you don’t add due dates, priority levels, color coding, or anything else. You can drag-and-drop items to a higher position on the list, indicating a higher priority, but that’s about it.
What it’s good for: a minimalist’s to-do, shopping, and other basic lists.
Google Tasks. Many of us are familiar with Google Tasks as the application embedded within Gmail. You may be acquainted with its simple list-making capability, but there are some more robust features that I, at least, was not previously aware of.
For one thing, emails are easily converted into tasks and tasks with due dates are placed into your Google Calendar. You can also have multiple lists - say, a grocery list and to-do list, and access Tasks in a separate app on your smartphone. It’s simple, but the integration with your email and calendar make it stand out.
What it’s good for: keeping track of tasks and due dates in a simplified, on-the-go way.
Do It (Tomorrow). The big “sell” on this one is that it will help you procrastinate (Procrastinators, unite! …tomorrow.) Seriously, though, it’s built on the idea that you can’t do everything in one day, so the app makes it very easy to push off tasks you know you won’t get to, so that you don’t focus on them.
Other than that, it’s pretty simple. There’s only one list to add tasks to, no tagging, and no other details to add: just a list of items that you can continually push off until tomorrow. Plus, it has a nice “book” interface (complete with a coffee stain) for that I’m-writing-an-old-fashioned-list-but-better feel.
Do It (Tomorrow) is available for free on Android and iOS smartphones, and for $4.99 on iPad.
What it’s good for: a single, simple, no-fuss list that doesn’t make you feel bad for procrastinating.
Have fun choosing and “Go get it done!”