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.

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The Best Sleep Tracking Apps for iPhone

Ever seen the sky turn green? I have. Good ol' Nebraska... Photo by Zooey | CC

Ever seen the sky turn green? I have. Good ol’ Nebraska… Photo by Zooey | CC

I got interested in sleep tracking when I wanted to figure how badly I was really sleeping. Before I had children, I slept like the dead. I’d routinely sleep through classic Nebraska storms with thunder, lightning, hail… the works.

Unfortunately, since having my oldest child, I’ve turned into a light sleeper, and struggled with insomnia and disturbed sleep as a result. And she was a good sleeper almost from the start. Since the arrival of my younger child, who is a terrible sleeper, my sleep problems have only gotten worse.

I’ve tried several different sleep tracking apps for iPhone, and here are my conclusions.

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Testing iPhone Pedometer Apps

The other day, my husband asked if there was a pedometer app that he could add to his phone to see how much he walked at work (a lot). There’s actually been an explosion of this type of app since the release of the iPhone 5s, which has the M7 motion co-processor. However, neither of us has a 5s. Complicating the question further (as I was about to discover), my husband has never bothered to update to iOS 7, and most of the prominent pedometer apps require it.

Here is what I found:

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Tropico 4 Review

Tropico 4 [Download]

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This game edges out Civilization for my favorite PC game ever, primarily because it’s easier to avoid combat. I prefer the economic, social, and city building elements of games like this to the combat, so Tropico works better for me since I can set political difficulty to low and economic difficulty to hard and end up with a fun challenge, yet few or no annoying problems with being attacked. That said, if you do enjoy combat, it’s totally possible to end up with it:

I don’t currently have any of the expansion packs and got bored with the missions partway through and switched back to just playing on custom islands, which was my favorite way to play the original Tropico as well. Can I eke an economy out of a barren wasteland? How about steep slopes? All tourist? No tourist? Strong environmentalist faction?

My rating: (5 / 5)

Note: Tropico 5 will be coming out in June 2014, so if the game looks interesting to you, you may want to wait for a couple months to get the latest version.

Tropico 5 - (PC)

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Giant Boulder of Death App Review

Giant Boulder of Death (AppStore Link) Giant Boulder of Death
Developer: Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
Rated: 9+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store


A fun game that takes the same gleeful pleasure in mass destruction as Hungry Shark Evolution. Instead of a hungry shark, you’re an enormous boulder rolling down a mountain in the Alps and smashing everything (and everyone) in your path. In addition to the basic theme, Giant Boulder of Death comes with several extra themes, of which my favorite so far is Happy Holiboulder. I was kind of annoyed that the pink and girly Ms. Boulder theme boasts of easier challenges. Really, guys?

It’s much faster to load than Hungry Shark Evolution, so we end up playing it more, but it has a tendency to be laggy at times, which can be frustrating, too.

My rating: (3 / 5)

Hungry Shark Evolution App Review

Hungry Shark Evolution (AppStore Link) Hungry Shark Evolution
Developer: Ubisoft
Rated: 12+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store


This is a fun but somewhat frustrating game where you get to play, essentially, Jaws and chow down on everything you can catch, from schools of fish to monster crabs to parasailers and beyond. Hurtling your sleek fangy body through water and air alike to catch your next meal is the fun part, especially once you get to the larger shark species like the Tiger and the Great White (we have not yet reached the Megalodon) and can start chowing down on old nemeses from earlier levels. Take THAT, Lionfish!

Unfortunately, the game is super slow to load, to the point that if you have an unusually bad run or two you can spend more time waiting for the darn thing to start up again than you do actually playing the game. The directional controls (both tilt and manual) can also be a bit frustrating and prone to getting confused, but I’m not sure if that’s the controls themselves or just me not being very good at using them. (I would assume the latter except my nephew, who’s much better at this sort of game than I am, mentioned something similar to me when we were talking about the game.) As a result of these frustrations, we don’t play it that often, even though we have fun when we do.

My rating: (3 / 5)

Real Whales App Review

REAL WHALES  Find the cetacean. (AppStore Link) REAL WHALES Find the cetacean.
Developer: PROPE Ltd
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store


My one and only whale watching cruise was memorable in both good and bad ways. I got seasick and threw up over the side of the boat, but we also got to see several whales, including a pair mating, and a couple pods of dolphins. Overall, it was a fun experience and I’d like to give it another shot some day. Meanwhile, there’s Real Whales.

Real Whales is an immersive game with realistic graphics and ambient sounds, so it feels like you’re really on a boat. You earn points by photographing whales and dolphins of more than 20 different species in various locations around the world as they breach, spy hop, slap their tails, and more. You get more points for rare species, multiple whales in one shot, and better timing (for example, snapping a whale mid-air while breaching gets more points than catching the splash as it hits the water), and you can save your favorite photos to a gallery. The points are used to purchase new locations with different whale species. (You can also get new locations faster with in-app purchases.)

An enjoyable game that requires a certain amount of patience to get a great shot, just like real life. If you enjoy whale watching, nature photography, or realistic simulations, you’ll love it!

My rating: (4 / 5)

Note: a paid version without ads is also available:

REAL WHALES  Find the cetacean! (AppStore Link) REAL WHALES Find the cetacean!
Developer: PROPE Ltd
Rated: 4+5
Price: $4.99 Download from the App Store

King of Math Junior App Review

King of Math Junior (AppStore Link) King of Math Junior
Developer: Oddrobo Software AB
Rated: 4+4
Price: $2.99 Download from the App Store


King of Math is a great math game, but some of the topics are a little too advanced for elementary school students (especially in the younger grades), so the developers came out with this junior version for younger kids. It has simpler problems and cuter cartoons, but the same variation in question format that I like about the original version.

We have completed the free version, but the full game is still on our wishlist.

My rating: (4 / 5)

King of Math App Review

King of Math (AppStore Link) King of Math
Developer: Oddrobo Software AB
Rated: 9+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store


This is a fun and challenging math app where you start out a peasant and become a king by completing each chapter in different “books” of problems. You only get full stars for completing each chapter if you are both quick and accurate.

My favorite aspect of this math game is that they vary the format of the questions with each chapter. For example, one chapter might give simple 4+5=? style questions, while another will show pictures of dice and have you add the dots, and a third will show you four addition problems and ask you to select the one that has the largest sum. This helps keep you on your toes as you progress through the books and stops your brain from falling into a rut.

This version of the game is best for teens and adults. For elementary school kids, I recommend King of Math Junior instead.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Quick Math App Review

Quick Math - Multiplication Table & Arithmetic Game (AppStore Link) Quick Math - Multiplication Table & Arithmetic Game
Developer: Shiny Things Software Pty Ltd
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: $1.99 Download from the App Store


I downloaded this app during a free promotion and it was a hit with both me and my daughter. Race the clock to answer 20 math questions as fast as you can in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or mixed categories, with levels ranging from beginner to extreme.

Something I like about this math game is that instead of touching a button to select the correct answer, you draw the number on the screen with your finger or stylus pen. The app is usually pretty accurate at figuring out which number you’re drawing and I think this aspect would be especially beneficial for kinetic learners.

Quick Math is also Game Center enabled, so you can compare your scores with other players. I was pretty pleased with my score of 14 seconds on Beginner Addition… until I saw the guys who did it in 9!

My rating: (4 / 5)