I remember seeing a tweet stating that “todo apps are the ‘hello world’ post of app development.” You know, the one everyone has to make to get started as an app developer and usually comes about because they realise they need to get organised and dislike all the options currently out there.
There are thousands of different todo apps out there, and if you are not careful, you can end up wasting time switching between todo apps constantly searching for the “perfect todo app” (spoiler alert, there isn’t one) or building your own. So to save you time and to indulge that silly part of my brain that asks the question (I wonder what… is like) I wasted hours of my own time switching between todo apps and trialling out some of the bigger names out there (as well as some of the more obscure ones).
I accept that this will be quite subjective and you may well disagree with my opinion at the end. However, I believe that the criteria I use to evaluate the different app choices will be something which we can all agree on and instead of stating the “one perfect” todo app, I will instead suggest a selection of todo apps which are better for different people, and why they are better for them.
If you still disagree with me, fine, leave a comment below.
Here’s our roadmap for this little task management tool adventure:
- Best Analogue Task Management Tool
- Best Android Task Management Tool
- Best Team Management Tool
- Best Free Task Management Tool
- Best GTD tool
- My Personal Choice
Let’s set some ground rules before we continue, 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)
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.
Best Analogue Todo List
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.
A couple of suggested tools for paper include:
- Moleskin journals
- Field notes book
- 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 intergration with files or documents
Best Android Task Management Tool
I have been an on and off Android user for years and have an awkward relationship with todo apps. I’ve used a few and found faults with each one. Generally, I found them to be ugly, have a poor UI, lack some vital features or require you to adopt a full GTD system straight away.
This is no longer true and the different todo apps have improved dramatically in every aspect I mentioned above. The great advantages with Android todo apps is they are generally freemium (often with a free tier that is enough for most people) and usually have a web counter part which supports them as well. This is great for letting you access you todo list on a variety of platforms which can help you to view them from a different perspective. With all this in mind, the best Android todo app is:
Todoist is not just an android todo app but also has web support and works on Windows mobile, Blackberry, iOS, Windows, OS X, Chrome and so on. It has a beautifully clean interface (though maybe a little simple for some) and with the labels system, you have contexts, projects, basically the full GTD. It also has these interesting filters which you can set up to really break down your task into what you need to do NOW, helping you not to think about what you should do or waste time planning, but instead just do what you need to do!
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. This adds on some extra fine tune controls with great customised filters, location alerts, greater notes and the ability to track your productivity over time as well.
Strangely enough on Android, Todoist seems to have a less “material design” (the new design standard on Android) interface than iOS which seems to have adopted a stronger Material design look.
- 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.
An Alternative: Tasks: Astrid To-Do List Clone
A while back there was this incredible todo app on Android called Astrid. It had everything, simple to use, but also lots of power features if you wanted them. Unfortunately Yahoo picked them up and then promptly shut the service down. It was a real shame but the app still lives on…sort of.
In Tasks: Astrid To-Do List Clone you get a clone of Astrid, minus the Astrid sync service and a few other services that really made Astrid great.As such, your todo list is locked into your phone only, but it does have some nice features such as being aware of your calendar and brining up tasks to discuss if it sees you have a meeting. A very clever feature.
If you are willing to take a risk that this app will get updated (it seems to be a one man operation and as it is free, it doesn’t really encourage the developer to keep at it) and just need an app for your phone, then this could be a good choice for you.
- Can silence phone during meetings
- Smart reminders
- Completely free
- follows material design
- indie development (don’t expect rapid updates with all the latest features)
- Limited to just your phone (no sync)
Best Team Management Tool
Managing a team present a whole new set of challenges. Often you not only need to be able to keep track of what you are doing, what someone else is doing and what they have already done, but you also need to communicate and clarify what you want people to do, or discuss an idea with other members and help it evolve. Sometimes you need to be able to move tasks between team members, allow them to send files, screenshot or screencasts to explain what they have/will do and generally collaborate.
There are a host of offerings that seek to solve this problem, some treat each aspect as separate, the communication and tasks management, while others seek to combine them with mixed results. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, such as having fewer “inboxes”, focusing on one function, tracking what tasks other members have completed, better User Interface and so on.
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’s interface isn’t the most natural from the off, due to its combination of discussion and tasks, it can be a bit confusing where you have to go to do certain things. However, once you are familiar with it, it is very easy to use.
- Communication as well as tasks
- Separation of team tasks from personal tasks
- Can upload and share files
- Free for most small teams
- Online only
- Confusing interface at first
- Merges tasks and discussion
- Might be “one more app” you have to check
The Best GTD System
If you love the GTD system then you have a couple of clear choices. Omnifocus and Things. Yes, these are Mac and iOS only apps, but they are such great choices for a traditional GTD system.
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
Things is a bit more business than Omnifocus 2 and has a variety of ways to view data similar to Omnifocus with projects, areas and tags. The addition of tags helps for creating such lists as an energy, or time context which can be really useful to work out what you can get done when you have a few minutes free, or helping you to priorities time for a larger task.
Just like Omnifocus, it can link with Reminders to import task and can be used to add a location based reminder. However, Location based notifications and tasks aren’t supported in Things, so you can’t add a task from the things app and give it a location.
- Serious but easy to use Interface
- variety of ways to organise tasks
- can customise more on the MacCons:
- High price of apps
- traditional interface
- iOS and Mac only
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 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
The Best Free Task Management Tools
Personally, I feel a little awkward when it comes to free tools. On the one hand it’s great not to waste money when you can save it. This is especially true of the Church as we want to make sure we are good stewards of what God has blessed us with and make sure that we bless others as much as possible too, rather than waste money where we don’t have to. On the other hand, I know developers who put in hours of long hard work to create a great product for the love of it and the hope that maybe this will let them support their family. Imagine how annoying it must be to then have someone come along and say that this app (which only costs a few bucks) should be free. Or other cases where an app has had to stop being developed because the free level was too good and not enough people gave money for the pro version for it to be profitable.
As such, I’m cautious when it comes to recommending free tools, a worker is worth their wage. However, for some of you a free tool makes perfect sense. Especially if you have been using a paper todo list and are wondering about the merits of an electronic version, or if you really want something basic then a free tool will be perfect for you.
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 subtasks 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
- Sharable lists
- Lacks some advance features for GTD fans
- no inbuilt context (though that can be hacked)
Apple Alternative: Reminders
If you are “all in” with the Apple ecosystem then you have a great task management tool already, Reminders. This is by far the best free tool for an Apple device as you can add tasks via Siri (great if you are on the go), access them on a Mac/iPad/iPhone, sync via iCloud and more.
- Siri intergration
- Syncs across devices
- Share tasks
- Simple interfaceCon
- Too simple for some
- Only for Mac and iOS
I used to love Anydo. It looks great, has very simple lists and the daily any do review is a really nice touch to encourage you to plan your day. But I fell out of love for any do in a big way. The main issue is any do suggests some times during the day to be reminded about your tasks, at which point you can snooze the reminder, delete it or mark it as done. The reminders usually occurred when I was doing something else so I had to snooze them. Then they’d come up again and pester me, and I’d snooze them. After a while, I started doing tasks in spite of Anydo . In the end, all the app did was make me feel guilty about what I was/wasn’t doing. I changed to a more traditional system and the problem vanished.
However, some people love the reminder system and the simple interface, so don’t let my opinion put you off too much.
- Anydo moments for planning your day
- Super simple and gorgeous interface
- Links with associated apps from developer
- Chome app
- Too simple for some
- Anydo moments can be annoying
An Interesting Task Management with Calendar Tool
I recently started using my calendar more to schedule time for certain types of tasks, such as writing, checking social media and so on. This was inspired by Patrick Rohne’s challenge that “a todo list is a wish list, an item on a calendar is a commitment.” If you really want to get something done, you allocate time to do it. As such I was intrigued by the idea of Timeful, an app which aims to merge your todo list and calendar into one system. You simply sync it with your calendar, then add in your todo tasks and set the habits that you want to take up. Then the app will make suggestions on when you should do different habits, tasks, and so on, during your day.
It’s an interesting twist and make a lot of sense…but it’s not there yet. Tasks are all in one giant list and the habits frequently end up as an interruption. Also from a personal perspective, I don’t trust it to work, so that has hindered me from really getting to grips with it. I kept another todo app on the go and didn’t fully enter my tasks into the app, as such I haven’t really seen it at it’s full potential. However, I fear it wouldn’t suit my sort of system.
This looks like it would be a great tool for someone who has a simple list of tasks and wants to take up some habits too. If you have a lot of different tasks in different areas then I don’t think this will suit you…yet. You’d do better to keep a task manager, calendar and habit app for the same effect.
My Personal Choice
As I entered into this challenge I suspected that I might end it wanting to change my todo app to another option, but in fact, it has reinforced my decision to use Todoist. The interface is really great (personally the iPad looks the best and strangely most Material design like), it can be used as an incredibly simple todo app with just simple categories and at the same time it can be used for a full on GTD system AND collaborate with other users AND set up some automation for adding tasks or after you complete tasks.
In every criteria (capture, processing, organising, reviewing and action) it excels, and it will work on any device. I can access it on my office Windows computer via Chrome, or on my phone and home computer. If my phone broke tomorrow and I could only afford a low spec Android phone, I could use it. If I bought a top of the line new iPhone then it would work, too. And it would look great on both with all the same functionality.
I suspect this will be a great choice for you as well as it can be adapted to a very simple system or a highly complex system depending on your needs. If you like GTD, go for it. If you use a “Zen to done” system, that’s cool too. Plus, with a great free level and a premium option that won’t break the bank, there really isn’t much of a reason to not check it out.