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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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

Review:

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 Stars (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+4.5
Price: $2.99 Download from the App Store

Review:

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 Stars (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

Review:

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 Stars (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

Review:

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 Stars (4 / 5)

Math Drills App Review

Math Drills (AppStore Link) Math Drills
Developer: Instant Interactive
Rated: 4+4
Price: $1.99 Download from the App Store

Review:

My 7 year old is at the stage where she’s doing addition and subtraction drills regularly at school, so I got this app to help her improve her speed and we have a rule that she has to do at least one drill before she can play any games on the phone. We have not done multiplication or division at this point.

Practicing with this app has noticeably improved her speed on her drills at school and as a parent, I also like all the statistics the app provides about which problems are giving her the most difficulties. It’s also highly customizeable, so you can change the number of problems per test, set a time limit, emphasize problems containing certain numbers, and more. My only complaint is that the addition and subtraction only goes to sums of 18.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Endless Alphabet App Review

Endless Alphabet (AppStore Link) Endless Alphabet
Developer: Originator Inc.
Rated: 4+5
Price: $8.99 Download from the App Store

Review:

This app gets great reviews, so I decided to give it a shot after noticing it on sale one day.

It is now my two year old son’s favorite app. I was amazed by how quickly he got the hang of matching the letters, and he laughs and laughs over the funny scenes designed to illustrate each word’s definition. After a couple months of playing this game several times a week, he has started to point out a few of the letters to me (O is his most consistent so far) in other contexts, such as when we’re reading bedtime stories together and I’m inclined to credit this app, as we haven’t yet begun to put a lot of emphasis on teaching him his letters while reading.

My 7 year old also enjoys the scenes, although the letter matching and most (possibly all) of the words are too easy for her.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)