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The Complete Guide to List and To-Do Apps

The Complete Guide to List and To-Do Apps

Are you a list-maker? Probably. Do you make to-do lists? If so, do you also make other types of lists such as reading lists, checklists, shopping lists, and reference lists? Undoubtedly. Do you find it difficult to find the list app that best suits your method of list creation? There are many different tools out there that help you to create lists: most of them are focused on “to-do” checklists, and each have their own specialties to match the different ways in which we create lists.

I’ve spoken with approximately 200 people so far, and  have discovered both a wide range of different techniques that people us to create and manage their lists, and a variety of tools that are used. This is a breakdown of some of the most popular tools, and how they are used, so you can determine which list-creation app is best suited to your needs.

Wunderlist

    Wunderlist is a straightforward, uncomplicated task management to-do list app that works on multiple platforms, and syncs seamlessly across them all. It’s ideal for people who make task lists and check lists, as you can create notes for each task if you need to add a more detailed description, prioritize, share the main task list, and even set deadlines. It’s one of the few tools out there that has a downloadable Mac and PC app as well as web, android, iphone, ipad and blackberry versions. This is a great tool for task management.

    Asana

      Asana is ideal for more complicated projects and collaborative task management. You can create different projects and assign many tasks to them, and each task can be assigned to an owner who will then see it under their list of responsibilities. Deadlines can be set, tags can be created for easier searching, files can be attached, and you can create sub-tasks for each responsibility. Tasks can even be set to be repeated as needed. Essentially, it’s a highly effective collaborative task management tool.

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      Remember the Milk

        Remember the Milk provides pre-built list categories such as inbox, personal, study, work, with options to sort your outstanding tasks by due date. You can add notes to each task, and can easily postpone an assignment with a tap of a button. Tasks can be prioritized, set to repeat, or moved to different lists. The main feature from the mobile app is its ability to see what tasks are due by day, whereas the website version is a lot more difficult to navigate, with many features that are hidden and difficult to find. This is another app that is highly focused on task management and to-do lists, and is available on Android, iPhone, and iPad, as well as the website.

        Any.do

          Any.do is set up to help you organize when your tasks need to be completed. You list tasks under headings such as today, tomorrow, this week or later, with different lists categorized in various folders, and then create sub-tasks using the notes feature that lives under each task. By default, any task created in a folder is set to today and you have to switch to the timeline view to change the date. It’s an aesthetically pleasing to-do task management app that’s available on Android, iPhone and a Chrome Extension.

          Todoist

            Todoist focuses on projects instead of lists: tasks are created under different projects and you can create reminders, tags, repeated tasks and all the usual to-do features. Tasks are prioritized using color coding, can be moved across projects with due dates, and adding notes to a task is a premium feature in this app. There are some preset views where you can see which tasks are due today, or see tasks arranged by their priority level. Todoist is also available across most platforms.

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            Evernote

              Evernote is not limited to to-do; it’s a note taking app that lets you create many types of lists. You can consider each list as a personal notebook: inside each notebook, you can create multiple notes/list items with the  WYSIWIG editor that helps you create different types of formatted notes for a wider variety of lists. On the free plan, you can attach up to 10 files to each note—up to 25MB in total. Available across most platforms, this is more flexible than a to-do list app and definitely a great one to help you remember and store details, but it’s not the simplest app available if you’re just looking for something to help you create lists.

              Listible

                Listible is still in beta: it’s a list-making app, and in its current form, is not only about creating to-do list apps, but also for a wide variety of different lists. This tool comes with a bookmarklet that lets you clip text, URLs and images into your lists. There are some to-do features available such as archiving (i.e. completing) a list item, but currently it does not have due dates, reminders or repeating tasks. Currently there is a web version available, with mobile apps in the pipeline.

                Workflowy

                  Workflowy takes list creation in a different direction: it’s aimed at people who like plain documents, nesting and bullet points. When opening the app, you are presented with a blank sheet, similar to a piece of paper. From here, you can start creating lists and indenting list items to create sub-lists, and when you complete tasks, they’re marked as finished by being struck through. It’s great for jotting things down quickly as well. This app is still under development, so some to-do related features are still being polished up. Currently it’s web only, with mobile apps in the works.

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                  Google Tasks

                  Google Tasks is a web app that’s built into Gmail. To see it, click on Mail in the top left corner of the Gmail screen, and a drop-down menu will appear from which you can select Tasks. It’s a simple task management tool in which you can create different tasks, check them off, and organize due dates for each assignment. It’s a basic task management tool—the main bonus being that it integrates with Google calendars quite easily to synchronize your tasks that have due dates assigned to them.

                  Reminders

                    Reminders is a default to-do app that comes with your Mac, iPhone, iPod or iPad. It’s a task management tool that integrates with the alarm system of your device. It’s easy to use and simple to create a list of tasks that need handling, with a default view for today, and the ability to create repeating tasks. This app is only available on Apple devices.

                    Toodledo

                      Toodledo is another one of the task management app specialists. Focused on productivity, it has 5 levels of priority for your tasks and has most of the same features as the other task management tools listed earlier. Like some of this others, this app uses folders for different lists, so you can move tasks into different folders to organize the assignments you have to complete. It provides multiple views that you can select to organize your tasks by due date, calendar, folders, or priority. This app also has a notebook feature in which you can create different types of notes, but unlike Evernote, it uses HTML markup for formatting the notes. It’s available on iOS and web, and there are a bunch of third party apps on Blackberry and Android that integrate with Toodledo.

                      Which App is Right for You?

                      If you only ever create task lists, there is a plethora of apps beyond those listed here that you can use. Most of them accomplish the job quite well, so your preference will depend a lot on your existing task-making habits and the aesthetic of the app itself. The features that most have in common are generally due dates, and task prioritization. There are some slight differences in them, however, as some apps will use numbering for prioritization (like Toodledo) whilst others will use color (Remember the Milk, Todoist, any.do). Due dates are also used as method of prioritization ( by Wunderlist, Reminders, Google Tasks, and Asana).

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                      Task sub-lists are another feature differentiation:  Workflowy is particularly optimized for nesting and creating sublists, as are Asana and any.do. In terms of collaboration and assigning tasks to team members, Asana is specficially designed with this in mind and is much more convenient for group projects.

                      If you want to create a wider variety of lists, then Listible and Evernote are your best bets. Evernote isn’t strictly a list-making, app so it’s not as easy to create lists, but its great for adding a lot more detail into your lists. Toodledo also has note-taking features, so if task management and note taking are your main needs, Toodledo would be your best choice. Listible is particularly useful and easy for creating a wide variety of lists clipped from around the web due to its bookmarklet, and also because it can display the images and links in your list.

                      Each of these list apps has its own group of fans, because we all create different types of lists in different ways. There are a bunch of different techniques you can try to optimize how you organize your lists… but that’s an article for another day. Feel free to share any list-organizing tricks that you use, and what you favorite list-making app is.

                      Featured photo credit:  Office desk via Shutterstock

                      More by this author

                      Hoi Wan

                      Hoi is a mobilist who blogs about technology trends and productivity.

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                      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

                      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

                      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

                      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

                      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

                      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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                      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

                      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

                      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

                      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

                      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

                      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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                      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

                      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

                      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

                      The Neurology of Ownership

                      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

                      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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                      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

                      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

                      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

                      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

                      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

                      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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                      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

                      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

                      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

                      More About Goals Setting

                      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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