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Why Use a To-Do List App and Not Pen and Paper?
There’s nothing wrong with a paper to-do list, but going digital has benefits. Paper is fine if you enjoy writing by hand, crossing off tasks in ink or pencil, and drawing arrows to show when priorities and deadlines change. A to-do list app lets you write, organize, and reprioritize your tasks more efficiently. They also let you attach notes, links, and files to a task, and many let you see when someone else has completed a task. In many ways, a good to-do app is the ultimate productivity app.
How We Choose the Best To-Do List Apps
To-do list apps are a dime a dozen, and few of them stand out as being much better than others. For example, there are plenty of apps that are excellent for Android or iPhone, but they do you no good when you’re working on a laptop and need to jot down a thought quickly without picking up your phone and losing your place.
Todoist’s mobile app
That’s why for this list, we only include apps that you can access on both desktop and mobile devices. After evaluating around 25 possible contenders, we tested and evaluated them and selected the highest-scoring apps to list here.
One of the major points of consideration when testing and scoring is how well these apps help you organize and stay on top of your tasks. We also consider collaboration, meaning the ability to share a to-do list with other people, though we see it as a bonus feature and not a requirement to be included.
We also looked for apps that fit different user profiles, such as people who follow the Getting Things Done (GTD) method of organization (OmniFocus 3 and Toodledo are good choices), or those who prefer writing down tasks using a stream of consciousness (Workflowy is the app that fits the bill there).
One of the most popular to-do list apps, Wunderlist, was acquired by Microsoft in 2015 and taken out of commission five years later. Microsoft’s stated ambition was to build a replacement app for Wunderlist from the ground up, cloning all its best features in the process. The new app, Microsoft To Do, frankly took too long to come to market and arrived half baked, but it has improved noticeably since its debut and may be a good option for people who use other Microsoft apps.
Microsoft To Do
What to Look for in a To-Do List App
There are a few qualities to look for in a to-do app. The top three are:
- tools for managing and organizing your tasks, and
- collaboration option.s
Design is extra important in this category of apps because you end up looking at your to-do list app often. How are you going to get anything done if you can’t stand looking at your ugly app? A good design also allows the app to feel intuitive so you can write down things that come to mind quickly.
Every to-do list app comes with tools and features for organizing your tasks and lists, and in an ideal world, these features match up with the way you think. For example, if you are a highly visual person, you might find that color-coding your lists or tasks to show priority is important. If you are a deadline-oriented person, you’ll want an app that sorts your tasks by due date and or shows them in a calendar view. If you’re forgetful, you might want an app that sends you reminders on different devices.
As for collaboration, it’s always handy to have the option to share a to-do list. For home use, a collaborative to-do list means you can assign chores to other people or track when someone has purchased items off a shared shopping list. In business settings, collaborative task-management makes working together easier and more transparent.
The Best Free To-Do List App
Several of the best to-do list apps have a robust free tier of service. Of them, our favorites are Asana and Todoist. Asana may be too free-form for some people’s tastes. Todoist has more inherent structure.
Another very good free app is Remember the Milk. It’s a little more old-school in some respects compared with the other apps on this list, but it’s very capable and reliable. It’s also highly intuitive. You can figure out all the ins and outs of this app in minutes.
Many of the other to-do apps on this list are excellent, but their free versions are quite limited compared with the power of their paid versions.
Asana’s collaboration features
The Best To-Do List App For Teams
It should come as no surprise that our top picks for teams are also the Editors’ Choices: Todoist Premium (meaning the paid version) and Asana Premium, Business, or Enterprise.
Todoist works best among small groups of people organizing relatively uncomplicated tasks, whereas Asana is better for managing more in-depth teamwork, the kind of work that changes between many hands and passes through a lot of phases before it’s complete.
To-Do Lists vs. Project Management
An ongoing challenge in the world of software is deciding what gets classified as a project management app and what fits into other categories, such as to-do list apps and work-management apps.
We take the view that project management apps must be designed to specifically manage project-based work and offer Gantt charts. Project-based work means a series of tasks that has a start date, end date, and deliverable. Building a house is a project. Sending a rocket to the moon is a project. Answering support emails, however, is a series of ongoing tasks and not a project.
Occasionally, we encounter an app that straddles more than one category. Here, Asana is that app. It now includes tools for traditional project management, but it also works perfectly well as a to-do list app.
Overall, project management apps and collaborative to-do apps serve the same general purpose but at a much different scale. They both keep track of what needs to get done, when, and by whom. They help people manage time more efficiently and regulate how many tasks are assigned to each person on a team. Project management apps help large groups of people juggle schedules, resources, and budgets in a way that to-do list apps can’t. To-do apps are simpler and cost less than project management software. For many types of work to-do apps are a better fit.
Use Your To-Do List to Get Organized
Having a great to-do list app can help you get organized and get more done, whether you want to manage personal tasks or those of a family or small team.
A to-do app is only as useful as the information you put into it, so in addition to picking the right app, you might also want to peruse these tips for creating better to-do lists. If you’re looking to share to-dos, you might also want to look at our story on how to make a family to-do list and calendar.