Finding the right tool to track your to-dos is highly personal, and one person’s best is another’s junk—but there are some that are better than others. The best offer great syncing and scheduling options, great apps, notifications and reminders, or just the right mix of features and flexibility that make it easy to stay organized. Here are five of the best, based on your nominations.
Earlier in the week we asked you for your favorite to-do list apps, and why you thought they were awesome. You responded with an avalanche of apps, webapps, downloadable applications, and even pen-and-paper nominations—way more than I think we’ve seen in a call for contenders thread before, and way more than we have room for here.
Still, there were five that rose above the rest, and here they are, in no particular order:
Google Keep is a surprising contender, but a huge number of you rallied behind it. Not only is it simple, available on the web and for Android (sorry, iOS users), but it’s fast, flexible, and easy to use. At its heart, Keep is a simple syncing notepad that can keep checklists, photos and images, voice notes, and other text notes synchronized across devices and stored in the cloud. It supports time and location-based reminders, in-note photos, and color-coded notes. Everything is stored on the web, it’s easy to use, and if you’re an Android user, it’s practically there for you already—no hassle, and it’s already on your device. There’s no real barrier to entry—no accounts to set up, no lists to import or categories to set up, and so on.
At the same time, all of that ease-of-use makes it a very lightweight app that doesn’t carry the features that other tools bring to the table. There are no recurring tasks, no calendar view, no sub-tasks or advanced features that make it useful for planning bigger projects or handling regular tasks. Even so, a number of you had good (and critical) things to say about Google Keep—praising it for its ease of use and reminding us that the best to-do app is the one you actually use, but also noting that it has its quirks and the fact that it’s not available for iOS was a turn-off for some of you. Read more in the nomination thread here.
Any.do is a sharp, good-looking mobile to-do list manager (and Chrome add-on) that earned high praise even though it entered the contenders round later than many of the other entries. It’s our current favorite to-do app for iPhone, and it’s itching for first place when it comes to Android, too. Any.do supports iOS and Android, syncs smoothly between devices and platforms, can handle recurring tasks (although its recurring options are a little lacking), timed and location-based reminders, and gets your day started with the Any.do “Moment,” a short review of everything you have on your table for the day. It also tries to keep your to-do list from getting overwhelming, and really shows you “today,” “tomorrow,” and “later,” so you don’t get overwhelmed by dates and times. It handles multiple priorities, and it integrates nicely with Cal, the calendar app from the same team.
Any.do is packed with features you may not realize are there, even though its interface is designed to be simple and easy to get familiar with. It’s not perfect either though—syncing can be tricky sometimes, and if you prefer to manage your to-dos from a desktop, you have to use their Chrome add-on, which can be a bit clunky. There’s no webapp or desktop app. Still, many of you rallied to it, noting that its good looks and simplicity keep you coming back, even when you’ve tried other apps, and there was a lot of love for Any.do Moment as a daily planning tool. Read more in the nomination thread here.
Wunderlist is a cross-platform, desktop and mobile to-do list manager with apps for iOS and Android, Windows, OS X, and Linux (although their Linux app is woefully out of date.) It’s also a webapp, so you seriously have no reason to be without your to-dos on any platform you choose to use. It’s our current pick for the best to-do app in Windows and OS X, and its most recent iteration and feature improvements have added a lot to the app. It’s simple and easy to use, supports timed reminders, recurring to-dos (although its recurring feature is definitely lacking), separate reminders from the due date of the task, notes and additional info associated with your to-dos, shared to-dos with others, multiple categories, and more. You can star important tasks (but that’s as close to priority as you’ll get), and customize the look of the app. It’s broad platform support—and its webapp—mean you’ll always have access to your to-dos.
Wunderlist is great, and there’s a reason we like it, but not everyone does, and it’s not without its quirks. For example, it’s had a few syncing problems in the past, and I’ve found recurring tasks to be quirky from time to time. However, those of you who nominated it praised the service’s ease of use, availability on multiple devices, stellar customer support, and its good-looking interface. Many of you said it’s just a joy to use—which makes sure you actually use it every day. There are pro accounts that add features like collaboration tools, file uploads, and comments on your to-dos, but the free version will be more than enough for most people. Read more in the nomination thread here.
Todoist has been around for a long, long time, but it’s really evolved in recent years into a powerful, cross-platform productivity tool. It’s available on the web, for iOS and Android with desktop apps for Windows and OSX, add-ons for Firefox and Chrome, plug-ins for email apps like Postbox, Gmail, Thunderbird, and Outlook, and more. It’s free (ish, we’ll get to that) and feature-packed. Todoist offers recurring tasks with fine, plain-language recurrence options. It also packs sub-tasks and dependencies, real-time syncing, projects and sub-projects so you can manage daily checklists or big plans that involve lots of people, understandable due dates (like “Friday at 5pm,” for example), multiple priorities, categories and projects you can set, and more. $ 30/yr will get you a premium account, which is required if you want notifications or reminders via email or push notifications on your mobile device—which is kind of a bummer, so keep that in mind. You also get labels and filters to further organize your to-dos.
There was a lot of love for Todoist in the call for contenders thread, although many of you noted that even though the app is free, $ 30 for an essential feature like notifications is a bit of a bummer that makes you steer clear (although they’re known to have sales). Still, Todoist’s feature set is impressive, and seriously on-par (or beyond) many of the others in the roundup. The fact that it’s available for almost any platform and looks good on all of them helps a lot, and many of you specifically praised Todoist’s “karma” points system for helping you stay motivated to get your to-dos finished. The service even very recently updated to add new visual scheduling options and email add-ins. Read more in the nominations thread here.
HabitRPG was a surprise contender this week, but it earned more than enough votes to earn a spot in the top five. It’s one of our favorite tools to productively gamify your life, and we’ve highlighted it on its own before. HabitRPG turns your to-dos and pet projects into a game, where you level up your character, defeat enemies, and collect loot and rewards for your characters just by doing the things you need to do every day. It’s largely geared towards helping you build better habits. It’s available on the web and for iOS and Android, and while it doesn’t pack in the advanced features that many other to-do apps have, it’s certainly a blast to use, and really addictive. As you cross off to-dos, you earn points, gold to spend on upgrades, experience, and your character improves. Fail and miss deadlines, and you take hits to your health and your character loses progress to the next level, or worse.
HabitRPG does support categories, but mostly in terms of “dailies,” or things you want to do regularly and “todos,” or items that just need to get done once or rarely (and you can set due dates and reminders). Don’t expect things like recurring reminders, custom categories, or anything that makes for a more robust productivity tool—but if what you need is an engaging way to get things done and less a tool with tons of options and features you’ll never use, it’s worth a look. Plus, it’s completely free. Those of you who nominated it shared your success stories with the service, and highlighted the fact that it has competitive options so you can compete with others as well. Read more in the nominations thread here.
Those are your tip five! Now it’s time to put them to an all-out vote to decide the Lifehacker community favorite:
We could easily spend another five or ten in honorable mentions here, but here are a few that barely missed the cut: Evernote missed the top five by just a handful of votes, even though we know that it’s pretty awesome and a lot of you love it. TickTick, a great to-do app that we’ve featured before and that seems to be the spiritual successor to our long lost Astrid, was also a popular nominee in the call for contenders. Finally, the venerable old ToodleDo, which made our top five last time but fell shy in the nominations this time—partially because it’s feature packed and well-loved, but hasn’t been updated or improved in ages—gave a strong showing in the call for contenders thread. They all great alternative options, and if you want dozens more, check out the nominations.
Remember, whatever to-do app you choose, it needs to work well for you, not just be a laundry list of features that sound useful but aren’t applicable to the way you work or the items you need to track. Sometimes it;’s better to just go back to basics and start over with your to-do list, to make sure you’re really doing something that helps you be more productive and get things done, instead of just add “making a list of stuff to do” to your list of stuff to do.
Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at [email protected]!
Photo by Kamilla Oliviera.