This article was originally published on February 24, 2017.
Electronic to-do lists rock. Paper to-do lists as your main productivity platform are old-school and inefficient for recording thoughts and tasks leaving you to tackle what’s in front of you.
While some people are looking for many bells and whistles with their productivity/to-do platform (if that sounds like you, check out this post here where I reviewed several other options), many people want something simpler.
These people are simply looking for a to-do tool that captures their tasks, allows them to assign a due date, backs-up between devices, and then lets them get on their merry way to tackle what’s in front of them. While many of the applications I have previously reviewed could be useful for these kinds of people, others who like Wunderlist, Asana, or Trello might not like these applications as they are more slimmed-down (maybe excluding Remember the Milk below).
Just like my earlier posts (and all of my productivity application reviews), when I tried these platforms I tested them on PC, any web apps, desktop applications (if applicable), and on iOS. If you have Android, each of these options is also supported but I have not used them on Android.
If you sound like that kind of no-nonsense person who wants a more streamlined productivity platform, check these babies out:
1. Google Task
Look at how simple it is! Just look! It’s almost as minimalist as a sheet of lined paper.
Google makes it easy to add tasks or to-dos quickly and directly from Gmail inbox, Google Calendar, or a dedicated Google Tasks apps. People often use Google Task with Google’s other products, especially Keep and Inbox Reminders.
One thing I don’t like is that you need to have an internet connection to get access to your tasks. Moreover, you have to manually remove completed tasks by selecting “clear tasks” under “Actions,” but that’s a small issue (and likely an unpopular opinion, but oh well, there you go).
More like this: Tracking Excellence
Another cool benefit is that you can choose to have all of your Tasks show up in Google Calendar as well. Here’s a really great comprehensive guide to using Google task, provided by Zapier. (As noted below, you’ll need an app/integration to use Tasks with GCal.)
Alternatively, you can use Google Keep, which is separate and distinct from Google Tasks, but part of your Google account either way. I tried the Google Keep app on my phone and web browser and concluded that it is similar to Evernote or Pocket for its ability to clip websites for later, but you can also use it for simple to-do lists and notes if you’d prefer to go that route. The problem with Google Keep, unlike Tasks, is that you cannot view your tasks on Keep in the same browser page next to your email like you can with Google Task.
- Keep emails and tasks on the same tab and access the same lists from each of your devices
- Turn any email in Gmail inbox into a task (no new sign-ups necessary!)
- Multiple ways to get access to Tasks / Reminders that back up to all devices through browser access, extensions, and mobile applications
- This was the only completely free application out of all the other applications I reviewed
- Make notes on tasks and set reminders
- Make sub-tasks and sub-sub-tasks! Also sub-sub-sub-sub-tasks! Not even bulkier task-management platforms like Wunderlist do this
- Need to move back and forth between Google Reminders and Task. (But task does allow for reminders.)
- Not the prettiest, but also very minimalist (this is likely a Pro for many people)
- Not available offline without an add-on or other application, which means you’ll need WiFi or a data connection to use your lists
- Need an extra app to make Tasks show up in your Google calendar (If anyone finds an easier workaround without an extra application, I’d love to know!)
Price: Free. Various paid applications on Android and App Store to reach tasks offline.
Integrations: Zapier, Browser Extensions, Mobile Apps
2. Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk (RTM) is one of the oldest and most-trusted productivity platforms out there. It has a loyal following and comes packed with a lot of useful features. What I like in particular is that you can add a lot of detail to your tasks in a simplified way without too much clutter, can assign tasks, and RTM will actually estimate the amount of time your tasks will take to complete as well, which you can compare alongside you time tracker. This application is the most powerful out of Google Tasks, RTM, and Swipes for the number of details you can add to each task without an over-crowded user interface.
- You can easily add tasks to Remember The Milk with a quick email, a short tweet, or even by asking Alexa or Siri to remind you
- Easy to push/postpone tasks to various days with one or two taps/gestures
- Works offline, unlike Google Tasks (and Swipes does not work well offline)
- Location-based tasks/notifications (home, work, specific places)
- Manual sorting to rank and prioritize tasks
- Customizable smart lists and sort by tags in the premium version (many customizations for smart lists)
- Add time estimates to any task, and RTM will show you the total time estimate
- Very compact interface with a lot of detail at the same time
- Has apps for the web, Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android phones & tablets, BlackBerry 10, and Fire
- No subtasks without a paid subscription (but the other features are so cool it almost made me want to get a Pro Subscription).
- You can still add notes, so you can’t “check off” subtasks, but you could always add notes to lists.
- Great paid features like unlimited list sharing, sorting, reminders, badges & widgets, apple watch connectivity, Outlook sync, and unlimited storage. (This is also a Con because some of the best features only come witha subscription).
- Pro version is a little on the high side compared to Any.do and other options.
Price: Freemium or $39.99/year
Integrations: Works with Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter, Evernote, IFTTT (If This Then That)
- Tasks are shown in timeline view and not in various lists (this might be a Con, as discussed below, depending on your preferences)
- Great for people who are looking to plan their day by batching certain activities in blocks of time
- Only shows relevant tasks that you have scheduled around a certain time in the “current” list view, and put other tasks on the “scheduled” tab. This allows you to keep your list relevant to what you are actually working on at that time.
- Easy to push tasks forward, etc. even on the mobile application to almost any time by adjusting with a single circular swiping motion and then easy to adjust for a particular time
- Can set recurring tasks to repeat every day, Monday-Friday only, or every week, month, or year on a particular day. Useful for integrating an everyday list.
- Can save items to Swipes from pretty much any iOS app, but especially works well with Evernote. I used it and successfully saved tasks to Asana, Wunderlist, and Evernote as tests as well
- iOS widget in notification center
- Data is backed up to the cloud (like many of these platforms)
- Filter by multiple different tags/types at a time, which makes this platform enormously flexible
- Reminders for tasks as well as daily and weekly reminders to plan your day or week, respectively
- The syncing was spotty when I used it
- Currently not available on Mac
- Does not work well offline
- No Outlook integration
- Not as good for teams as Remember the Milk, Google Tasks, Wunderlist, Todoist, Any.do or Tick Tick, which all have the option to share tasks except for Swipes
- You can email tasks to others using Swipes
- Sightly confusing interface if you’re used to Wunderlist, Todoist or something similar (this application uses tags to organize things and not lists in Wunderlist and Todoist). This means all of your tasks are together on the same pages and sorted by tag rather than the list itself.
Price: Freemium; $9/mo. billed monthly or $6/mo. billed annually (that’s $108 and $72, respectively, if you don’t have a calculator on hand)
Integrations: Apple Watch, Evernote, Gmail, IFTTT
More like this: How to form new lasting habits with an everyday list
4. Any.do / Todoist / Microsoft To Do
I have previously reviewed these three apps here. Each of them are top platforms options, and these may also work even if you prefer a platform that is a little more toned-down.
My favorite out of the bunch for its sheer number of free features and slick interface. Swiping tasks with Any.do is as close to crossing out an item on a paper list with your phone as I’ve experienced, and it’s pretty intuitive to use. It also has the Any.do assistant, and integrates your phones native calendar giving you a calendar view of all your Any.do tasks + calendar events in one place.
A productivity favorite and has many long-time, devoted users. The killer for me is that it doesn’t allow for subtasks, but it otherwise has a simple, clean interface and backs up between all devices (like each of these applications). Reminders, notes, recurring tasks, and uploads are sadly premium features. What Todoist and Any.do have in common that they’ll both send you a daily reminder to plan your day and show you what’s on the agenda. Also, Todoist has a point system which is pretty useful if you need some extra steam to cross off tasks and feel like you’re winning.
Very similar to Wunderlist and Todoist, but very slimmed-down. There’s no option for subtasks, and unfortunately, no web application (i.e., you have to download the application). One feature that is an improvement over Wunderlist in my opinion is that Microsoft To Do has a “My Day” list, as distinguished from a “Today” list, giving you the option to add many tasks if you’re optimistic about getting a lot done, without putting a definite due date of today on them.
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Author: Ryan Ullman
Ryan Ullman is an attorney at the boutique law firm Spence | Brierley in Baltimore, Maryland. He is particularly interested in technology, productivity, peak flow states, music, and the outdoors.
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