The Endless Quest For the Perfect To Do List App

I’ve been hunting for the perfect to do list app to organize my life for years and have tried what seems like dozens. I have yet to find my ideal app, although I’ve come close a couple times. I figured as long as I’m trying so many apps, I may as well write an article about it in the hopes that all my experimenting might help others find their own ideal app.

I make pretty varied use of my to do apps, including general tasks like “backup my photos”, tasks and events with specific due dates and times like school field trips and doctor’s appointments, ongoing and high turnover lists like grocery shopping lists, and sometimes even long term lists like “movies I want to watch”, “places I want to visit”, or other things I want to remember. Because of this, I need a fair bit of flexibility in my perfect app, but at the same time, a lot of the features in task management apps intended for business use are overkill for me.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve had such a problem finding my perfect to do list app – I’m not really the target audience for them, so the free apps tend to be not quite adequate for my needs, but the premium apps have so many extra features I don’t need that I’m reluctant to pay for them, leaving me in a sort of awkward limbo where I’m never quite satisfied but nobody is stepping up to fill the gap either. Alas, I don’t have the coding skills to create my own perfect app, so the hunt continues.

Features I need:

  • Free or low cost
  • Web and iPhone apps, preferably with automatic sync between them
  • Unlimited or generous number of lists and tasks per list
  • Ability to set due time as well as due date (WHY is this so rare?)
  • Relatedly, the ability to sort tasks that are due on the same day by due time
  • Ability to set at least one and preferably two reminders per task, at times such as “1 hour before” or “15 minutes before”, preferably via iOS and/or web notifications rather than email
  • Recurring tasks, preferably daily, weekly, monthly, bimonthly, and annually at minimum
  • All Tasks and Today’s Tasks views, preferably also This Week’s Tasks view
  • Notes or comments on tasks

Features that I’d like to have, but which aren’t necessary include:

  • Easy to use and attractive design
  • Ability to hide tasks in certain lists (such as grocery list) from All Tasks view
  • Ability to share lists with one or more people
  • Ability to color-code lists
  • Folders/projects to group related lists, preferably an unlimited or generous number of them
  • Subtasks
  • Tags
  • Goal or habit tracking features
  • Gamification features
  • Significant user base and/or under active development

With that in mind, here’s my run-down of different to do list and task management apps.

The five apps that I’ve used most extensively are TickTick, Wunderlist, Toodledo, Todoist, and Remember the Milk. I’ve tried many more on a more limited basis, ranging from a few minutes to a few weeks.

TickTick - my favorite to do list app

TickTick

TickTick: Things & Tasks To Do (AppStore Link) TickTick: Things & Tasks To Do
Developer: Appest Limited
Rated: 4+5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $27.99 per year for premium

TickTick is the closest I’ve found to my ideal task management app in features, ease of use, and design. It has all but one of the features I need and most of the ones I want, including functional and easy to use yet attractive design in both web and iPhone apps.

The one thing that keeps it from being my ideal productivity app is the restrictions on free accounts. Free accounts can only have 9 lists, 99 tasks per list, 19 subtasks per task, and 1 user per list. I need more than 9 lists, but the rest of the paid features are things I don’t need or don’t want, and so far I haven’t wanted more lists enough to shell out $27.99 per year for just that one feature. But the restriction is a major annoyance to me, so I’m perpetually hunting for an alternative. So far, however, TickTick is my favorite and the one I’ve stuck with the longest.

Toodledo

Toodledo (AppStore Link) Toodledo
Developer: Jake Olefsky, LLC
Rated: 4+4
Price: $2.99 Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions (web),$2.99 iOS app, starting $19.99 per year for premium

Toodledo was the first to do list app that I used extensively, although I’ve only used the web version since I didn’t have a smartphone at the time I was using it, nor did it have native mobile apps. Since I used it back in the early 2010s, Toodledo has added native mobile apps and some new features such as habit tracking (5 habits in the free version), lists (30 items per list in the free version), outlines (30 items per outline in the free version), and a Notes feature that allows you to jot down your thoughts. (This is separate from the ability to add notes to tasks, which it also has.) I’ve recently been thinking about shelling out the $2.99 for the iPhone app and going back to Toodledo, thanks to my frustration with TickTick’s restrictions on the number of lists. It has many of the other features I need or want, and it’s especially well designed from a GTD perspective. It has native support for information like priority and context that adds an extra layer of detail to your task list.

The main reason I haven’t gone back yet is that it has so much information that it can look kind of cluttered and the design is not the most attractive or user friendly, even if you hide a bunch of unused fields. Still, the web app is excellent overall and if I like the iPhone app, I may yet go back to Toodledo.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist: To-Do List & Tasks (AppStore Link) Wunderlist: To-Do List & Tasks
Developer: 6 Wunderkinder GmbH
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $4.99 per month for premium

Wunderlist was a very popular to do list app and I used it for over a year before switching to TickTick, but I ultimately moved on because it was too frustrating not being able to assign a due time to tasks in addition to a due date.

Unfortunately for its many fans, Wunderlist was purchased by Microsoft in 2015 and in 2017 Microsoft announced that it would eventually be discontinued in favor of a new free app called Microsoft To-Do.

Microsoft To-Do

Microsoft To-Do (AppStore Link) Microsoft To-Do
Developer: Microsoft Corporation
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free

Microsoft To-Do is the successor to Wunderlist. It also, as of this writing, does not allow due times to be set, sigh.

Todoist

Todoist: Organize your life (AppStore Link) Todoist: Organize your life
Developer: Ist Productivity Ltd.
Rated: 4+4
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $28.99 per year for premium

Todoist is another very popular app with a set of features that’s also pretty close to my ideal. I especially love the Todoist Karma gamification feature – it’s exactly the sort of thing that motivates me to achieve more.

Unfortunately, the free version of Todoist has several restrictions that make it unusable for me, especially the lack of notes on tasks. And just like with TickTick, I don’t need or want the other premium features enough to feel that it’s worth it to pay for them.

Remember the Milk

Remember The Milk (AppStore Link) Remember The Milk
Developer: Remember The Milk Pty Ltd
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $39.99 per year for premium

Remember the Milk is an older app that still has a loyal and dedicated user base. I’ve been experimenting with it to see if I prefer it to Toodledo as an alternative to TickTick. It’s a very flexible app with a useful Smart Lists feature that can be used to slice and dice your task list in many different ways. The UI in the web app is not as good as some other apps and is sometimes a little buggy, plus it has a few mildly annoying restrictions in the free version, most notably requiring notifications to be sent by text rather than push notifications, but overall a solid choice.

Producteev

Producteev by Jive - Task Management for Teams (AppStore Link) Producteev by Jive - Task Management for Teams
Developer: Jive Software
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $99 per month for premium

Producteev is a task management app designed for team collaboration. Although I have never used collaboration features in my to do list apps, I’ve been experimenting with Producteev along with Remember the Milk as another possible alternative to TickTick and Toodledo. The free version has most of the basic features I need, such as the ability to organize tasks into an unlimited number of lists (“projects”) yet see upcoming tasks all in one place and the ability to set due times as well as due dates, as well as some GTD-inspired bonus features like labels and priorities. While I prefer the UI of TickTick and the bonus features of Toodledo, this app has the potential to be a good compromise, as it has fewer restrictions on the free version than TickTick and a less cluttered appearance than Toodledo.

Any.do

Any.do: To-do list & Calendar (AppStore Link) Any.do: To-do list & Calendar
Developer: Any.DO inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $2.09 per month for premium

Any.do is a popular to do list app. It is a solid choice with the basic features you’d expect from such a popular app, and a few useful additional ones as well. However, the design was a little too minimalist for my taste and it only seems to offer one reminder per task, so it didn’t suit my needs.

Nozbe

Nozbe: Productive team (AppStore Link) Nozbe: Productive team
Developer: apivision.com
Rated: 4+5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $8 per month premium

Nozbe is an attractive and well-designed app with a GTD focus. It is an older app with a loyal and engaged user base that has created an extensive collection of free nozbe.HOW templates for different tasks. The free version is limited to five projects.

Things 3

Things 3 (AppStore Link) Things 3
Developer: Cultured Code GmbH & Co. KG
Rated: 4+5
Price: $9.99 Download from the App Store

Price: $9.99 for iPhone app, $39.99 for Mac app (free trial available)

Things 3 is a highly regarded task management app, but the iOS app is on the expensive side at $9.99. Mac users can access a free trial of Things 3 for Mac to try it out, but I’m on PC, and I’m not willing to spend $9.99 on an iPhone app without some way to try it first.

Omnifocus 2

OmniFocus 2 (AppStore Link) OmniFocus 2
Developer: The Omni Group
Rated: 4+4
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: $39.99 for iPhone app, $39.99 for Mac app (free trial available)

Omnifocus 2 is another highly regarded task management app for Mac and iOS users. However, the iPhone app is $39.99 with no way to try the app in advance unless you have a Mac to get the free trial of Omnifocus 2 for Mac.

Doo

Doo - Get Things Done (AppStore Link) Doo - Get Things Done
Developer: Ciarlo Software, LLC
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: $4.99 Download from the App Store

Price: $3.99 for iPhone app, $9.99 for Mac app

Doo is a newer to do list app with a clever UI that displays tasks as “cards” that you can swipe up to complete, swipe down to “snooze”. It appears to have a well-designed and comprehensive reminders system, including features such as location-based reminders, customizeablw recurring tasks, and “nag notifications” that you can set to annoy yourself if you miss a deadline. Unfortunately, it is currently available only for iOS and Mac, with web and Android apps “under consideration”.

Other to do list apps I have tried or researched:

  • WeDo – promising newer app that has built-in habit tracking in addition to tasks, but UI is still a little buggy
  • HiTask – can only check off recurring tasks in calendar view
  • Nirvana – recurring tasks only in premium version
  • Doit.im – free version syncs once every 24 hours, or manually
  • FacileThings – no free version, premium starts at $7 per month, free trial available

Other Apps of Interest

During the course of my quest, I’ve focused mainly on dedicated to do list apps, but I’ve also checked out some apps that offer task management features, but don’t focus on them in the same way that to do list apps like TickTick, Todoist, or Wunderlist do. Here’s information about my experiments with some alternatives to to do list apps.

Habitica

Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager (AppStore Link) Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager
Developer: HabitRPG, Inc.
Rated: 4+4
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free

Habitica is a cleverly implemented productivity app that focuses on habit tracking to help you build good habits and get rid of bad ones. However, it can also be used as a very basic task manager. It motivates you to achieve your goals by turning your life into a role-playing game. Level up and win gold and other prizes by completing Habits, Dailies, and To Dos, lose health if you fail to complete them. Set your own rewards to purchase with the gold, or use it to purchase weapons, pets, and more. The app also offers some social features that allow you to compete with other users and join teams to help keep each other motivated to succeed. As a result, Habitica has a highly engaged user base with numerous inspiring and detailed explanations available online of different use cases that you can use to tweak the app to maximize its effectiveness for you.

Unfortunately, despite its unique and engaging qualities, Habitica didn’t meet my personal needs for a task management app because it only allows due dates to be set, not due times, and I didn’t like being limited to three lists (Habits, Dailies, and To Dos). The app is also a little awkward for handling something like a grocery list. After playing around with Habitica on and off for several months, I also realized that I’m not very motivated by rewards in general, and by RPG-style prizes such as weapons and armor even less, so it didn’t work very well for me as a motivational tool to get me to build better habits. Gamers, on the other hand, are likely to love this app.

Trello

Trello (AppStore Link) Trello
Developer: Trello, Inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $9.99/month for premium

Trello is a popular and well-designed Kanban-style productivity app that seems like it would be especially good for visual thinkers. I’m not a very visual thinker, so it ultimately didn’t work for me, but it’s a great app with a well deserved following. From a task management perspective, it was also frustrating that the native reminders feature was extremely limited – one reminder 24 hours before a task is due. However, Trello has numerous integrations with other apps and these can be used to create more customized reminders.

Zenkit

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $9 per month for premum

In the Kanban category, I’ll also be keeping an eye on Zenkit, a fairly new app that currently lacks a native iOS app, but which has a modular approach to its feature set that appeals to me, including options for Kanban boards, lists, tables, mind maps, and more. The mind mapping feature in particular piqued my interest, as I use mind mapping for brainstorming and organizing some of my writing projects. Hopefully the iOS app will be out soon!

Asana

Asana: organize tasks & work (AppStore Link) Asana: organize tasks & work
Developer: Asana, Inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $9.99 per member per month for premium

Asana is a product management app intended to be used for collaborating with a team of people. I decided to experiment with some options in the project management field, because even though I haven’t used collaboration features with any of the to do list apps I’ve used so far, I thought it might be helpful to have team collaboration features in the future as my children get older and get phones of their own.

Asana is a highly regarded and popular app in the project management category, so I decided to check it out. I really liked its attractive design, but it had the same problem I’ve experienced with a bunch of to do list apps: no ability to set a due time as well as a due date. I also found it frustrating that the teams were kept completely separate. While I was experimenting with the app, I created two “teams” – one for personal projects and to dos and one for household tasks, chores, and events. I could not find any way to see all my upcoming tasks from both “teams” in one list.

Other project management apps I’ve tried or researched include: Wrike, Bitrix24, Basecamp, and Freedcamp. Overall, I found this category of apps to be too over-powered for my purposes, with many features that I’d never use even if I got my whole family set up on the app, yet still lacking some of my basic needs.

Cozi

Cozi - Shared calendar & lists (AppStore Link) Cozi - Shared calendar & lists
Developer: Cozi
Rated: 4+5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $29.99 per year for premium

Cozi is a popular family organization app that offers task management features along with other useful features such as shared shopping lists and a recipe box that can be used to add ingredients automatically to your grocery list. It’s way more relevant to my needs when managing a household than more business-oriented team management apps, but ultimately I think it is likely to be more useful for my family in a few years when my children are older and have phones of their own. Meanwhile, Cozi is built more around a calendar format than a to do list, and I prefer the to do list format.

Priority Matrix

Priority Matrix (AppStore Link) Priority Matrix
Developer: Appfluence LLC
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: starting at $12 per month, free trial available

Priority Matrix appears to be a very full-featured app based on the Eisenhower productivity matrix, in which you organize tasks based on both urgency and importance: urgent and important, urgent but not important, important but not urgent, or neither important nor urgent. This is a more visual alternative to GTD-style priorities and could be helpful as a method of prioritizing tasks. Unfortunately, Priority Matrix is relatively expensive at $12 per month. There is a 14 day free trial period.

Amazing Marvin

Price: starting at $3.99 per month, free trial available

Amazing Marvin is a new productivity app that currently offers a web app only, so it doesn’t meet my needs at present, but looks well worth keeping an eye on as it develops in the future. Designed for procrastinators, freelancers, students, and other people with lots of unstructured time, it offers tools to help you structure your day and be more productive. It does not currently offer a free plan, but does offer a generous 30 day free trial period.

 

Speak Your Mind

*