Back in February I quit my job in Madison, Wisconsin to prepare for our upcoming move to DC. For the next month it was my job to:
- Figure out what to do with my life career-wise.
- Pack up the house and get organized for the big move in March.
What I quickly realized while tackling #2 was that I had too much in my head to keep everything straight and if I ever wanted to get to sleep at night I better get all of those thoughts out of my head. So I gave myself another project – figure out the best way to keep track of our moving tasks and, in a more general sense, all of those life tasks anyone needs to keep track of on a day to day basis. That’s right – I set out to find the best To Do list system.
I’ve always been a big fan of To Do lists. Making a list always makes me feel better. Traditionally I’m a pen and paper girl. For this life organization project though, I wanted to try out some apps for my phone and see how those measured up to paper lists.
I wanted an app that:
- would help plan my day
- would keep track of various lists and/or projects over several days/weeks
- is super easy to use.
- I’m a big advocate of friendly UI (User Interface). This I learned from my life in testing software. If you can’t figure out how to use a product or if you keep making mistakes while you’re using it, it’s not a problem with YOU, it’s a problem with the design of the product.
- Is this an interesting topic for you? Read “The Design of Everyday Things” and start testing software
- is fun or looks good
- I know me. If I think something’s ugly, I’m not going to enjoy using it. If I enjoy using it, I’ll use it more. Simple as that.
Here’s the full list of products I installed on my iphone. (note: I know some of these are available for android phones, but I did not research if all of them are)
- RTM (Remember the Milk)
- aCal Lite
- aNote Lite
Yes – this list is long. I was serious when I said I sometimes spend WAY too much time figuring out the best way/best product for something. This is one of those examples.
After trying out all of the above listed apps, there were a few that definitely stood out above the rest, each which had their own best features and best use cases. Here’s a summary of those apps and what I did/did not like about each.
This app is really simple. Really simple. There’s a single home page, which lists out all of your tasks grouped into either Dates (Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming, Someday) or customize groups (e.g. Home, Work). I found this app really useful for those days where there were a few tasks I needed to get done at some point during the day. Everything you need is on the home screen, which was nice compared to other apps where you needed to go through three or four screens to get a view of everything. It’s easy to add tasks (by typing or by voice), move a task from day to day (hold and drag), and add a reminder or level of importance.
- Clean UI, incredibly simple and intuitive to use
- Easy to add tasks by typing or by voice
- Easy to move a task from today to tomorrow, etc. I found this was essential to help with long term planning (or when I got too ambitious in my planning for a given day).
- The Any.Do Moment of the Day feature is cute. You set a time to be reminded to plan your day. In the “moment” you review what’s on your list for the current day, snooze the task until later or set a reminder time for today. Plus the sounds are pleasant and encouraging!
- Minimal/no calendar syncing. There’s a feature where if you rotate your phone sideways, a widescreen version of the app displays. On the left hand side of the screen is a month’s calendar and on the right, is you lists of tasks, along with any calendar appointments on that day. HOWEVER you only know that you have an appointment on a given day, there’s no way to view the time or make any edits to the calendar appointments.
- Best for a single person’s task list. No family incorporation besides email. Which may work for your family just fine.
This is a nice app with a little more flexibility and more features than Any.Do. Instead of Folders, there are different Category Lists which you can create to sort your tasks. You can also leave everything in the “Inbox”, which is to be thought of like an email inbox — it’s stuff that you haven’t processed to somewhere else yet. I personally like leaving everything in the Inbox, then having a separate category list for more specific categories like groceries or trip planning. There are also “smartlists” which are automatically created based on what tasks you have entered – Starred, Today, This Week. The main menu contains all of these lists and is easily accessible by swiping to the right. The app also has a social media/contacts feature, to enable you to easily share lists and sync lists with others. I didn’t use this feature though.
- There is a clean UI and overall the app is simple to use. Very fast response time
- Easy to add any future due date to a task
- The combination of smartlists and regular lists makes it easy to sort and view different tasks quickly
- There is an AWESOME Subtask feature. You can add a task – like go to XYZ and then add subtasks to complete at XYZ This is great for party menu planning, making a quick grocery store list or a list of tasks to complete related to a particular client.
- You can share a list easily with a contact or fb friend and can both edit it.
- You can upload a tiny picture of you for the corner!
- No calendar syncing or way to view calendar events from inside the app.
- Slightly more complicated design than Any.Do. This is a trade-in for more flexibility of your lists. However, the smartlists feature is done so well, that it really only takes an extra swipe and select to see these additional views.
This app has a very specific kind of user in mind. And for this user, the app is great. This app is a little different than the others. There’s basically one list you work off of (although you can create and save other lists to use at a different time), that is comprised of all of the tasks you want to queue up for yourself. Each task gets assigned a length of time to complete. Once you’ve made your lists of tasks, you hit start and the timer on the first task starts. Once that time is up, an alarm sounds and the next task starts. The design of this app helps you stay on a particular task for a set amount of time before moving on to the next task. As I mentioned, if you need help getting through a lists of tasks, this might just be your app. If that style of To Do lists doesn’t work for you, I’m not sure you’ll find much use in this app.
- Great design – looks good and is well suited for its designed task
- Very specific purpose, which is a pro if it works for you!
- Very specific purpose, which may not work for you…
- There are several hand gestures to edit the tasks that need to be learned in order to use the app fully. If I used this app every day, this wouldn’t be a problem after awhile. However, for an occasional use and if your memory is like mine, this would be a bit of a setback.
awesome Note Lite
This app is most similar to Wunderlist – there are folders which are akin to Wunderlist’s category lists. These folder can be named whatever you like and ordered however. There’s an easy way to view all of your “notes” and a “Quick Memo” feature which allows you to jot something down without needing to figure out the correct folder to put it. My favorite feature of this app is the Calendar integration. Not only can you easily view your upcoming appointments on your calendar, but you can create new appointments which are actually saved to your calendar account (!) as well as edit or delete existing appointments. The app also supports multiple calendar accounts. There’s a lot of other bells and whistles related to note taking on this app, which I didn’t explore, but they are there if you’re interested in using this as a one-stop note taking shop.
- Calendar syncing that’s easy to use!
- Straightforward to use and customize to your needs.
- Colorful (in a good way) UI. This also is customizable to suit your tastes.
- Wider scope for product use means more complication. I didn’t need these extra features, so they felt like just more stuff in the way at times.
- Lacking the subtask feature that I really loved in Wunderlist.
Evernote can be so much more than just your To Do list app, but I wanted to include it here because it is an app I use regularly, but not typically for my daily/weekly To Do list. I think of Evernote as a place to store more permanent lists. For example, I have a list of potential blog posts as well as a wish list for myself. Another good list-specific use is for reoccurring lists you may want regular access to. For example, I always buy some of the same products at Trader Joes. So I made a list of these and stored them in Evernote. When I’m going to TJ’s, I look at this list and make edits based on what I do/do not need that given week as well as what I need additionally that week. I do prefer using Evernote on my computer – either via their web access or my desktop program on my mac – but that’s primarily because the notes and lists I store in Evernote take a lot of typing, which isn’t so easy on my phone.
- Can easily be your one-stop-shop for all notes and lists
- Additional editing features are available, so your notes and lists can be customized however you like them to look
- Customization takes more clicks/selects. For me, I like using Evernote on my computer rather than phone.
The other apps that I tried out definitely all had their own pros and cons, but for space sake, I won’t review them here. If you’ve had positive experience with any of them (or another app I didn’t even mention), please share your own bopinions in the comments below!
I am confident that if you want a To Do List app for you phone, the right one is out there for you. Heck, I found more than one that are great for my needs.
After all of this research, I still feel that pen and paper have their place and I still use this system regularly – in particular for lists that don’t need to “travel”. For example, in my current job, I keep a scrap notebook in front of me. At the end of the day I jot down the 3-5 tasks I want to get accomplished the next day. I only worry about work when I’m in the office, so that’s where my list stays. Another example is my meal plan for dinner. After we do the shopping and planning for the week, I quickly jot down our dinner ideas on a scrap of paper and keep it on the fridge. This way, when me or my husband inevitably say, “What were we going to make for dinner this week?” we can take a quick look at the list on the fridge and figure out what we have enough time/energy to make that evening.
But for the 95% of the time where I need to make a list on the go or I remember some random thing to pick up next time I’m at target, these productivity apps are just what I need!