what do you want from a to-do app?

Fools rush in, they say, where angels fear to tread. I thought I would create a diagram, using XMind, a free mind-mapping program, to ‘shortlist’ selected task management programs from a couple of user perspectives.

There are no winners: most of the listed apps have the capacity to boost your productivity enormously. Choosing a productivity app is largely a matter of personal preference – you have to feel comfortable with how data are entered, with the views on offer, with the workflow and the colour scheme. Some of that takes time; an app that dazzles you in the first week may feel suffocating and uninformative once it needs to handle a couple of hundred tasks.

You can question many aspects of my diagram. For example, most of the listed apps support various degrees of customisation; I have only listed omnifocus, gqueues and toodledo as being extraordinarily versatile in that area. For ‘bug free’ I have set the bar equally high.

There are also gaps in my diagram. I have not included apps that I have never explored (call me traditional), nor apps that are primarily geared towards note taking (such as evernote, that swiss army knife of productivity) or team collaboration (such as basecamp or flow). I have not included other parameters, such as whether file attachments are supported. There is only so much that will fit on a page.

My aim in posting this is not to provide complete or authoritative advice, but to provide a couple of pointers for people who are trying to find a task management app that may work for them. I would appreciate constructive feedback!

9 thoughts on “what do you want from a to-do app?

  1. Great post, I like the idea and the visualization very much.

    Maybe it would be interesting (it would be to me) to assign not only an overall winner in each category, but also winners for different platforms (Mac only, works on Windows, web-based)?

    I work on Linux, I want it to stay that way, but I’m always envious of Mac users because of OmniFocus… So it would be nice to see what you consider second best, but best among web-based apps (zendone is my favourite, btw).

    Nevertheless, a much appreciated post!


    • Thanks for your comments, Roman! At work, on a large and sluggish windows-based network, I use toodledo as IE8 does not cope well with some of the newer apps and I am not able to install chrome. While toodledo is pretty robust, I would prefer, like you, to use zendone (because of its fantastic integration with evernote). Nirvana runs too slow on IE8 for me and I find nozbe’s subscription fees prohibitive (I wish they would introduce differential pricing for individuals and team collaboration).


  2. This a lovely summary of all the to-do lists on the market (the ones you’ve looked at anyway). Just wondering which one integrates best with a calendar. I use iCal on a Mac but would be happy to swap to a better one as it is pretty limited. Any thoughts re this? I have an iPad too and would like an integrated approach. Ta 🙂


    • Thank you for your feedback! Zendone has the best calendar integration but they are yet to develop mobile versions for the iPhone and iPad and their browser version is not compatible with the iPad’s operating system. If calendar integration is crucial you may want to try out GQueues. In the absence of a mobile app, running GQueues on your iPad would require internet access.


      • I forgot to mention that Omnifocus has calendar integration with iCal. I personally don’t like using calendar integration – I find it a tad oppressive to see my tasks in a calendar view, as if the future is already spoken for. I like a clean, minimalist calendar view complemented by a task management app that gives me a clear overview of the things I need to do next.


  3. You might consider adding a category: Teamwork — Ease of implementation in teams or groups. This is a feature that is a must for me. I did not like the way Toodledo handled it. (I had to leave the view of my projects and tasks and go to the team members. I like to see everyone together, with an option just to filter the view so you only see one team member’s projects and tasks.) Nozbe’s implementation of teams is not perfect, but seems to work better than the alternatives. Similarly, converting this diagram to the kind of selection criteria mechanism you often see when looking online at computers might be useful. (You select that you want a computer with this price, this much RAM, this size hard drive and this screen size. Dell then shows you the 4 laptops that meet your criteria.) You want something that works on Windows? Then here’s the list. Then add the restriction that it must work well with teams? Then add the restriction that it has an iPad app? etc. You can then filter the programs to evaluate only those that meet the key criteria.


    • Thanks for your comments, Tom. Both points you raise are valid. Ease of implementation in teams is indeed a crucial feature. I did not include it because I have not been able to road-test that feature in a work situation. While I have tinkered a bit with Asana and Producteev, I felt I could not give a fair overview of this area as I am not familiar with other major players such as Flow, Basecamp, Wunderkit or Sparqlight.

      I like the idea of filtering your query, specifying your needs more precisely as you go. I do not see how I could create that, though – I would probably have to set up a database first and that would be a bit beyond the scope of this blog. But if other readers have come across such a beast in their wanderings, please let us know!


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