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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