We all have more pressures on our time. Most of us are juggling some day job commitment, church ministry, maybe a side hustle, our own spiritual growth and not to forget family matters. Managing our tasks on a day to day basis as well as on a longer term basis is a really struggle for most of us, so it’s no surprise there are so many different task management and todo lists applications and tools out there.
In many ways they are the “hello world” post of app development, I’ve heard more than one story of an app developer wanting to make an app, needing a tool to help them manage the project, trying a whole host of different tools and then deciding to make their own tool to (finally) solve their own itch and problem.
This is great because it means there are a variety of tools which you can use and will suit your own habits, needs and productivity types. However, the bad news is that you may end up endlessly switching between different todo apps looking for the right one for you, or wondering if there is a better option out there for you.
So last year (and this year) I tried a whole load of different task management tools to see the strengths and weaknesses of a wide variety of different todo applications so I could recommend some good choices to you. Unfortunately I have not been able to personally try every single option due to two factors:
- I don’t have unlimited funds (some are VERY pricey).
- I don’t have the time to try every app out there (there are so many).
However, I have tried a couple of new options since last year’s review and thanks to some recommendations from friends, I have added some new options.
With that in mind, this is going to be the layout for the rest of this review:
- Analogue Tools
- Non-Apple (Exclusive) Tools
- Apple Only Tools
- GTD Tools
- Team Tools
- Kanban Tool
So let’s get started!
Let’s set some ground rules before we jump into the mix, we need to have some criteria for evaluating these tools so that we can pick the better tools from the mediocre tools. As such, I am using the core components of the GTD system for our criteria.
They are as follows:
- Capture (recording your ideas quickly and easily)
- Processing (getting your ideas to the right place)
- Review (reflecting on your tasks, eliminating unnecessary ones, adding extra tasks etc)
- Organizing tasks
And a couple of extra aspects which are also important for a good task management system such as:
- Monitoring your productivity (how many tasks have you completed over a period of time)
- Prompting (tools such as notifications to encourage you to do actions at the right time)
However, aspects such as user interface, design, features and so on will be viewed in light of these criteria, after all it doesn’t matter if your todo app can sing and dance if that doesn’t actually help you get through your tasks.
Analogue Task Management Tools
For some people, paper is more than good enough for them to get and stay organized. The original GTD system was based around paper and there are plenty of other markup systems to help you organize your thoughts and ideas such as the Bullet Journal and the Dash Plus system.
That’s one of the great advantages of paper, you can switch system, cut parts out, grab a new book, and draw all over it. Of course, sometimes freedom is a barrier for some people and you miss out on some of the great digital features like permanency, syncing, reminders based on time, location and so on. If those don’t matter for you, then paper will see you right.
Funnily enough, this year I started using paper a lot more to stay organized myself. For some reason I found that the process of detailing my day the night before on a piece of paper was really useful. It helped me really take in the time specific commitments I have coming up and the projects I wanted to do. Best of all, I can make a road-map for the day that fits all on one page with the information I want there.
A couple of suggested tools for paper include:
- Moleskin Journals
- Field Notes
- Rite in the Rain
- Flashcards with a paperclip (or the Hipster PDA). Of course, you can just use any old slip of paper for this system.
- Easy and cheap to replace
- Not limited to text (great for visual thinkers)
- No expensive phone/computer needed
- Easy to start again
- Regular replacement costs
- Doesn’t sync
- Easy to lose data
- No notifications or reminders
- No integration with files or documents
Non-Apple Exclusive Task Management Apps
This may seem like a strange title for a section, but basically, there are two broad groups of task management apps. Some which are on every platform (pretty much) and those which are only on Apple devices. It’s not completely true, but it might as well be. If you have or use non Apple devices, these apps are for you.
I am a big Todoist fan, So bear that in mind as this review will be biased. Todoist is very clever as it is adaptable. You can use it as a very simple set of different lists OR you can dive deep and add custom perspectives, priorities, recurring tasks, hierarchical projects, and so on.
It is also on almost every platform including having a web interface and a Windows mobile (yup, Windows mobile) interface.
There is a premium option to access all the features. The premium option is also really cheap (a couple of bucks a month) so it won’t break your bank if you do upgrade, but the free option maybe enough for you anyway. The premium version adds on some extra fine tune controls with great customized filters, location alerts, greater notes and the ability to track your productivity over time as well.
- Minimal interface
- Multiple labels (categories?)
- Can share tasks and lists
- Cross platform support
- Pro version requires subscription charging
- Interface may be too “minimal” for some.
Last year Wunderlist was acquired by Microsoft which boost its credentials. Wunderlist supports so many platforms that I’m willing to bet you can use it on your device.
Wunderlist has a collection of lists that you can add and remove from. You can also share lists with other people to open up the option of collaboration. You can use hashtags for contexts if that’s your thing and you get some really nice backgrounds which you can choose from. If you wanted to pay for the pro version then you can also add unlimited files to tasks, unlimited sub-tasks and assign as many tasks to others as you like.
- Free profile is good enough for many
- Apps for pretty much every platform
- Beautiful backdrops
- Great sync service
- Shareable lists
- Lacks some advance features for GTD fans
- no inbuilt context (though that can be hacked)
Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk is a legacy app that has been around for ages. It also supports a variety of platforms, and like Wunderlist and Todoist, it has free and premium versions. The premium version adds reminders (pretty important) unlimited syncing and syncing with outlook and costs $25.
With Remember the Milk you can also tie in with other services like Evernote, Google Tasks and Google Calendar.
- Free and premium
- Syncs with other services
- Simple interface
- Free service misses important features
- Lacks some advance features
Apple Only Task Management Apps
Apple has a great indie developer scene and this means that there are some great applications which are only made for iOS devices and Macs. Task management tools are no exception. With that in mind here are some great tools which are only on Apple.
Reminders is a great simple solution for people who are all in on Apple. If you have an apple device with you all the time, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t use an Apple only solution. Furthermore, because it is made by Apple, you get some nice handy little benefits. It supports Siri input for tasks.
- Time and location specific reminders
- Built in already to Apple devices
- Too simple for some
- Only for Mac and iOS
Some of the really clever features include the search function which can be used to create perspective and then saved for later, or used only once. This makes it really easy to have a simple interface and set up, but get more complex when you need it too.
It also has a good “nagging” mode, where it will keep asking if you have done something till you either mark it done, or delay it for later. Finally, 2Do can add an “action” to a task. This lets you do some basic actions such as calling a person, opening a Google Map to a location, sending a message, sending an email, or opening a URL.
That’s a pretty unique take compared to most task managers which only mark what you have done.
- Simple but can scale as and when you need it to
- Can launch actions
- Nagging reminders
- One time fee
- Upfront cost is higher than some.
- Limited to Apple devices (and Android)
GTD is a popular productivity system and for good reason. It includes many aspects which can really help people get unstuck, even if they are a little confusing when you first hear about them (what the heck is a context, and how is it different from a project?) with that in mind, here are a few powerful GTD tools.
Omnifocus has a gorgeous, clean and simple interface. Omnifocus encourages users to enter in data for projects and contexts as a hardened GTD practitioner would. The forecast view is a popular way to see the upcoming tasks for the day, week and calendar appointments too.
The addition of flagged tasks, location based reminders and Siri integration make it a great choice for iOS and Mac GTD enthusiast.
- Beautiful interface
- Make the most of iOS features like Siri
- Forecast view
- Can be adapted to not quite GTD
- Easy to add tasks
- High price of each app
- Not as adaptable as some tools
- iOS and Mac only
Nozbe was developed to be a GTD tool and has many of it’s principles build straight in. What makes Nozbe a great GTD choice is its integrations with other tools (such as Google Drive, Evernote, etc) and it’s team collaboration aspect. Something that is rare among GTD specific apps.
- Very GTD focused
- Supports a wide range of platforms
- Team support
- More pricy than some
- Too complex for some people (has limited free version)
Although many tools can be adapted for a GTD system, IQTELL was developed with a GTD system in mind. IQTELL has a web interface, Android and iOS app, so unlike some of the previous mentioned options, it can be used by PC and Android users, too.
IQTELL has apps for both task management and email management which help you bring items into their GTD system as well as support for Evernote and other applications to bring in the system. The review system is the best I’ve seen around as it helps you change perspective easily. The major disadvantage is the pricing system is high with a free trial before becoming a minimum of $5.95.
- The most complete GTD system
- For PC, Android, iOS and Mac users
- Email and Task apps
- High monthly recurring price
- Must use GTD system
Team Task Management Apps
Asana is actually the app we used to collaborate on for the second ChurchMag Press release “Social Media Handbook: Church Edition” and Editor in Chief, Eric Dye’s personal tool. It let’s you assign tasks to team members and discuss items surrounding the tasks and projects. You can then add files and send them back and forth.
You have granular notification settings so that you won’t be buzzed all hours of the day, but still get the most important notifications over critical tasks and you can keep your personal tasks separate from group tasks (so if you need to break the tasks down into smaller steps or just need to run a personal errand, you can keep that private).
Asana has also undergone a refresh in September 2015 to make it even more awesome. It has a really fresh and cool interface with nice animations and graphics. Plus they’ve improved their combination of conversations and actions to make it a more easy experience for beginners new to Asana.
- Communication as well as tasks
- Separation of team tasks from personal tasks
- Can upload and share files
- Integrations with a variety of tools
- Free for most small teams
- Communication and actions can get confusing
- More complex than some
Azendoo has a similar mentality to Asana in that it has tasks as well as conversation built in. It also features integrations with different service to help you share files and assets. This makes it a great choice for team collaboration beyond simply signing tasks or discussing tasks (and Minecraft) in a Slack or HipChat channel.
- Combines communication and tasks
- Easily share files
- Integrates with a wide variety of tools
- More limited functionality when not paying (only one workspace)
- Similar issues to Asana
Kanban Task Management Apps
Trello is like a digital cork board and cards. However, being digital, this allows for some rich data cards that you couldn’t get with traditional paper tools. We’ve been using Trello for a couple of projects at ChurchMag and I find it great for keeping track of the photos we’re putting out on ChurchMag Press. We can come up with idea, make a checklist for the set, then move it along a process of being shot, being edited, sent out to the ChurchMag newsletter, put up on ChurchMag Press and so on.
If you are managing a project with many different people and it’s useful to see what is progress and where things are bottle-necking, then Trello and the Kanban method is for you.
Gneo (Priority Matrix)
The Eisenhour/Stephen covey priority matrix is a classic task management tool and one that I sometimes use on a piece of paper. In essence, you put tasks along two factors.
- How urgent
- How important
So a task like saving your child from a burning building is both urgent and important (if you don’t do it quick, they will die) whereas something like surfing the web for nothing in particular is neither urgent nor important.
Gneo helps you organize your tasks along these lines and so tackle the most important and urgent things first. Currently this is only an iOS app and there is no Mac app, but you can sync with Evernote tasks to manage your tasks there.
Taskpaper is to task management, what markdown is to writing. It is a writing syntax that you can use in any plain text document (.txt) to create task lists and take action on them. By using plain text formats and a writing syntax, it is highly flexible. You can have notes in with your tasks, create projects and add tags all by just typing a character.
There are a variety of task paper apps mostly found on iOS and Macs (though there are some windows apps too) for managing task paper files.
There are a wide range of task management tools out there and every year the list keeps growing. What is right for me might not be right for you based on your needs. The great news is I’m sure there is a good tool out there for you but before you go changing your app, make sure your approach isn’t the problem and that you have investigated all the features of your tool.
If I had to recommend a tool to someone, I’d suggest Todoist, it’s flexible, can be free, and works on a wide range of platforms. It can’t do everything, but for the average person, I’m sure it will be good enough.