Productivity Tools: To-Do List Managers

**Note: this is a kind of update/extension of the post “Worth Its Weight: Things” from 2008.

There are literally thousands of different to-do list applications out there, but most of them don’t save me any time over using a pen and paper.  There are, however, a few programs that really are time and sanity-savers, because they employ the use of tags.

Whats so great about tags?  It means you can sort your to-dos by any category that is meaningful to you.  In most regular programs, you can sort items by priority, due date, person responsible, etc.  All the usual office categories.  But by creating your own tags, you can sort items by where they occur, how long they take, even how fun they are!  For example, maybe you run most of your errands in three places: your local main street, the street near your work, and the big strip mall two towns over.  You can tag the errands you need to run with “local errand,” “work errand” or “mall errand.”  Then, the next time you are headed to any of those three places, you can click on the corresponding tag and all of the errands you run there pop up.  Print out your list and you’ll never again kick yourself for forgetting something while you were out.

But maybe you don’t have time to “Buy a new dishwasher,” even though it’s on your “mall errand” list. If you’ve also tagged your items with the time they take, you’re good to go!  Just select both the “mall errand” tag and the “5 min” tag, and you’ll get only those items you can do at the mall in five minutes or less.  Sweet!  By using tags, you can create and sort a list based on how you already live and work, rather than trying to force everything into a set of arbitrary categories.

If this sounds good to you, I recommend taking five minutes today and test-driving one of the following programs:

For Mac OSX and iPhone: Things by Cultured Code.

Pros: What I like most about Things is “quick entry”: you can enter a to-do item without actually having to be in the Things application.  If I’m working in Photoshop, for example, and I suddenly think of some product pictures I forgot to take, I can hit ctrl-alt-space and a little black box pops up.  I can type, “Take product photos” in the box, hit the Return key and my item will end up in my Things inbox, where I can sort it into projects and/or areas later on.  At no point do I have to switch out of Photoshop to do this, so there’s no delay in being able to get right back to work.  I also like the automatically generated “Today” list, that updates based on your due dates, reminders and recurring tasks.

Cons: Things costs $49.95, which seems expensive for such a simple little app.  If you’re a student or a teacher, you can get it for $34.95, and you can get volume discounts for businesses or a family pack of 5 licenses for $74.95.  There is no ability to nest projects.

For Windows: Tudumo by Richard Watson

Pros: Tudumo has a clean, non-fussy interface, and the ability to integrate hotkeys.  In my opinion, it’s the only native Windows to-do app that’s worth using.

Cons: No quick entry from within other apps, no syncing between computers (yet).  No organization into “projects” or “areas” but you can use “headings” and tags to get around this most of the time.  $29.95 for a single license.

For Web: Remember the Milk

Pros: since Remember the Milk is a web-based app, you can access it from any computer or mobile device.  No syncing necessary (unless you work offline).  It also interfaces nicely with a ton of other popular sites like Twitter and Google (including Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Maps).  A basic account is free, and a Pro account is $25 a year.

Cons: RTM is dependent on your web browsing speeds, and the web site (or the offline app “Gears”) must be open in your browser to function.  There is no quick entry, and a separate set-up is required for each new device or companion site you want to interface with.  There are also no “projects” or “areas” here, but you can customize your own lists and even create “smart lists.”

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive way to organize your life, borrow David Allen’s book Getting Things Done from your local library.

Do you have a productivity tool you’d like to share?  Tell us about it in the comments below!

One Comment

  1. If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Comes with a mobile version too, and with an Android app.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *