If you are looking to take control of your life and get things done, you must be using some kind of system to organize your thoughts, tasks, reminders, and appointments.
Pen and paper to-do lists and calendars are old-school and grossly inefficient. If you want to be the most effective, having a tool that syncs up to all of your devices is the most optimal way to ensure you have everything in your life captured and in one place.
With one of the most popular productivity tools, Wunderlist, ultimately meeting its demise, to which tool should productive people turn to manage their lives and ideas?
Microsoft’s purchase of Wunderlist in mid-2015 and subsequent announcement that Wunderlist will eventually be retired and incorporated into Microsoft’s new productivity app, To-Do has left many GTDers apprehensive.
I have been using Wunderlist for the past three years. What I have liked about it is that it has a simple interface, allows for daily reminders and subtasks, syncs between multiple devices, and has the option to create different lists. You can even set custom reminders for every other day, every third day, etc. All of these features come included without a premium subscription and ultimately make it ideal for implementing the Getting Things Done (“GTD”) system.
(NOTE: If you have never heard of “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” or David Allen and want to learn more, he has provided five steps here, which are a great starting point for getting acquainted with GTD. I use a modified GTD system. Most readers will get a good enough base of understanding by reading his website, but I also highly suggest reading Getting Things Done. Also, if you have never used Wunderlist, heard of GTD, or currently use pen and paper to-dos, you are also guaranteed to find the following information useful and will be able to make an informed decision as to what, if any, productivity platform you will use.)
I have momentarily tried other to-do apps like the native app on the iPhone and Evernote. Many have failed to work out for me because they do not sync up to my desktop to access anywhere (and Evernote, while great as a notetaking app, is not best used as a todo list). I need something that I can look at on my desktop or cell phone while I’m at the gym or shower when some of my best ideas strike me.
Productivity Platforms Help You Tackle What’s in Front of You
Reverting to pen and paper is not an option because while writing assists with recall and understanding, most people implementing GTD need something that allows them to quickly make notes for later. The purpose of a to-do list, after all, is to get the item off of your head at that moment and recorded, not memorized. You never know when a good idea will hit, and these days, most of us won’t have pen and paper but will have a smartphone at hand.
Because it’s impractical for most to revert to a pen and paper list, and Wunderlist users will ultimately need to make a big decision for a new productivity app regardless, I decided to test several alternative tools and draw comparisons for readers. I tested Microsoft’s new To-Do app, Todoist, Any.do and Tick Tick in this post.
I was most interested in comparing what I thought were the most useful features of Wunderlist versus what these tools offered, and whether those features came without a paid subscription. To my surprise, none of these platforms had the exact same features, and none were able to totally replace Wunderlist without a paid subscription. (Although a few came close, especially if you choose to open you wallet for a paid subscription.)
For each platform, I tested the web app (if any). I also tested most of the tools on iOS. If you have an Android or another phone, each of these has a working mobile application, but I cannot speak as to how effectively they’ll operate on your device.
Also, I want to note that I have never spent a dime to use Wunderlist. There are a lot of great features for teams and businesses that come with the paid subscription for which I have no need. I here am looking for a good productivity tool that includes the most useful features without a paid subscription. If that sounds like you, check these out:
With over four thousand downloads on iTunes, Todoist has been more widely downloaded and used than Wunderlist. I tried Todoist for a stint in 2014 when I was starting to get acquainted with mobile productivity applications instead of pen and paper to-do lists. I wound up using Wunderlist because of the ability to add subtasks and all of the free features. Unfortunately, upon revisiting several years later, Todoist still suffers from many of the same issues that kept me from using it in 2014. If you are looking for a simple to-do list without a lot of bells and whistles (and not having subtasks does not bother you), Todoist is a tried and true productivity tool that might be a great fit.
- When adding a new task on desktop or mobile, the UI is intuitive and makes it easy to choose a due date (today, tomorrow, or next week).
- Import lists and tasks from Wunderlist.
- Daily reminder emails of what is on the agenda. (This might be useful to implement the 10-second email review.)
- Several different priority levels to choose between (1-4).
- Filters and different project tags. (Wunderlist did not have filters/project tags, but did have the ability to create different lists.)
- Can track productivity with a points system for getting things done. Sort of like a game. Gimmicky, but might provide extra motivation if you are feeling lazy.
- No different spots for comments, files, etc. Uploads are a premium feature, but free in Wunderlist and other applications like Any.do.
- Has a lot of great premium features, while other applications have these same features for free. (Location alerts, automatic sync, add emails as todos, etc.)
- No option for subtasks. This is a pretty critical flaw for me, but for many people might not be that important.
- No automatically recurring tasks. I implement an “Every Day” list. You would need a paid subscription to set recurring tasks with Todoist.
Microsoft’s new To-Do application will soon replace Wunderlist. Those who enjoyed Wunderlist might find Microsoft’s new tool a good replacement. There is no option for subtasks, however, which might make it difficult to adopt for many GTDers. Personally, I did not like Microsoft To-Do aside from its smooth interface.
- Has a “My Day” feature in addition to a “Due Today” feature. Useful for when you want to have tasks that may possibly get done today, for instance, but are not necessarily due today. (I, like most people, tend to think I can get more in a day than possible, so I wind up “pushing” tasks to the next day or week. This feature makes pushing tasks easier.)
- Custom reminders that can be tailored. This appears to be a slight improvement over Wunderlist with additional options for what days of the week you will receive a reminder, etc.
- No subtasks. This is a critical flaw from my perspective, like for Todoist.
- Looks a lot like Wunderlist, without a lot of the useful features of Wunderlist.
- No web application–you must install it to your machine.
- Reddit user SurrenderMonkey2017 pointed out to me that “if you sync to Outlook on desktop, the due dates get out of whack. It’s been going on for at least a year with little action on part of MS.” I don’t use Outlook, so I can’t confirm. If you choose to use MS ToDo, make sure to check your dates if your sync with Outlook.
Any.do claims to have over 15 million users who stick with them for twice as long as other productivity tools. One thing users will notice is the open and minimalist interface that is markedly different from what Wunderlist provided. I really enjoyed using this one, and I think this might be the tool for many new and experienced GTDers alike with Wunderlist going away. If you choose to upgrade to a paid subscription for more features, you will spend either $2.24/mo., billed annually, or $2.99 month-to-month.
- For each list, has “Today,” “Tomorrow,” “Upcoming” and “Someday.” This is useful to see your spread of activities in a particular list at a glance. GTDers will also recognize “Someday” can be used as their “Tickler” file.
- “Any.do Moment” sends a daily reminder of what you have for the day. This is similar to Todoist’s daily reminder.
- Any.do Assistant: “Unlike fully-automated solutions like Siri or Google Assistant, the Any.do Assistant automatically scans your list and selectively marks the tasks it can get done in the real world. Then it offers ways to do them. The Any.do Assistant comes to you, rather than you having to come and ask for help.”
- Slick, minimalist interface. (This is subjective, but Any.do had the smoothest, most minimal interface.) It was also fun to cross out tasks on the mobile application.
- Siri and Alexa capable without a paid subscription.
- Will sync with your phone’s calendar and integrate to-dos from Any.do. You essentially can have your phone calendar and to-do list in the same app. With Wunderlist you would have to copy your Wunderlist calendar code and plug it into the email application (and then the information still would not be all in the same app that you set your to-dos in).
- Smart Tasks. For instance, when you type “Email…” it will make contact suggestions and an email button icon appear.
- Import lists and to-dos from Wunderlist.
- Ability to search tasks like in Wunderlist.
- Cannot rearrange subtasks.
- No custom intervals.
- Upload limit if you do not have a subscription. (Although I did not hit it after uploading several videos, voice memos, and pictures to several to-dos.)
- Cannot create groups of lists. (You can in Wunderlist.)
- No recurring tasks without a paid subscription. (Free with Wunderlist.)
- Location-based reminders is a premium feature. (Not a feature of Wunderlist, so not something that I would be missing personally.)
Wunderlist users will love Tick Tick because it is capable of importing all of your Wunderlist tasks and lists and the user experience is very similar to Wunderlist. While Tick Tick makes some improvements over Wunderlist in certain respects (especially with how easy it makes pushing tasks into the future), many of the features Wunderlist users took for granted are only available with a paid subscription to Tick Tick. A subscription will run you $2.99/mo., or $27.99/yr., billed annually.
- Import folders and tasks from Wunderlist. (Although I had trouble getting this feature to work on mobile.)
- Day plan feature takes all of your tasks of the day and goes through them in order, letting you mark them complete, push them forward, or begin working on them. A very interesting improvement over Wunderlist that many GTDers will enjoy.
- Option for multiple priority levels.
- The mobile application made it easy to push tasks to later today, tomorrow afternoon, or next Monday, for example, with just a swipe and a selection. (Wunderlist required you to open the task and manually change the date and time of reminder.)
- Option for a daily alert of all tasks at a specific time.
- Integrates an alarm for tasks with the iPhone’s native alarm and to-do applications.
- Like Wunderlist, has smart dates. (I.e., when you type “go to store tomorrow,” Tick Tick will automatically set the due date for tomorrow.)
- The weekly calendar view is included and is a nice improvement over Wunderlist.
- Limited to just one attachment per day. I do not add attachments to my tasks often as I used to, but with this tool, there would essentially not be the option. If you like adding a lot of attachments, this application may not be for you.
- I hit a “list limit” and they wanted me to get a paid subscription to add more lists. This is a major knock against this application from my point of view.
- Cannot have notes as well as subtasks for a single task. Choose from either notes or a list of subtasks.
- Siri integration is a paid feature. Ditto the calendar feature.
In the end, GTDers and productive people will need to decide what features they are willing to live without to decide to which application they should move (or whether they will open their pocket book for a paid subscription). None of the apps I tested had the same list of features (paid subscription or not). Although, each app had a lot in common with Wunderlist, Wunderlist was superior in terms of the vast number of features offered without a paid subscription.
Any.do and Tick Tick have made some improvements on some features of Wunderlist, but each lack features in certain areas. For instance, Tick Tick only allows one attachment to a task per day, while I struggled to hit the attachment limit with Any.do. Meanwhile, Any.do allows for many attachments, is Siri/Alexa capable, and has a great UI, but setting recurring tasks will require a paid subscription. (Setting recurring tasks is a key ingredient to implementing an “Every Day” list. More on this later.)
For me, the ability to add subtasks and notes are crucial. For this reason, Microsoft’s To-Do and Todoist were right out. If you need a more simple to-do list that will work anywhere, I would suggest Todoist over Microsoft’s To-Do because it has more features and the web app is convenient. (Meanwhile, Microsoft will make you download their To-Do tool.) I think for many people, Todoist has enough free features to be a contender, as long as going without subtasks will not slow down your work.
What I appreciated most about testing all of these tools is that it showed me what is most important to me in a productivity platform. On the one hand, Any.do has a leg up on the others because it allows for attachments, will integrate GTD smoothly, and has a calendar etc., but you will not be able to implement an “Every Day” list without a paid subscription. Similarly, Tick Tick is great because it has a daily plan feature, looks like Wunderlist, and most people would probably find it to be the easiest transition from Wunderlist, but those who need to add many attachments will need a paid subscription.
Ultimately, I can see myself using Tick Tick in the future due to its recurring tasks, daily plan feature, and smooth UI on the mobile app. There is a free weekly calendar view which is a nice addition. The major knocks against Tick Tick are that it has both a list limit and meager attachment limit.
I could also see myself using Any.do as a permanent solution for its integrated calendar and higher attachment limit. The UI takes a little time getting used to but is pleasing from both productivity and aesthetic standpoints. In addition, lack of recurring tasks as an included feature without a subscription is a knock, but probably a surmountable knock for most people.
For now, I’m going to stick with Wunderlist until I get more concrete news about when Microsoft will cease Wunderlist support. When that time comes, I will have an updated post, hopefully after these tools have integrated additional features.
Until then, if I had to pick between any of these tools for myself excluding Wunderlist, I would probably go with Any.do because it has more features than Tick Tick (calendar view, attachments, unlimited lists) with many of the same useful features (such as allowing you to import Wunderlist to-dos, etc.) included without a subscription.
If you know of a productivity tool that I did not try but would love, I would love your input. As always, let me know if you found this information useful.
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Author: Ryan Ullman
Ryan Ullman is an associate attorney at Spence | Brierley in Baltimore, Maryland, a boutique firm that assists its clients in all manner of civil litigation. He is particularly interested in technology, productivity, peak flow states, music, and the outdoors.