Geek Proud, GeekOut.

What a ToDo

As a geek what tools do you use to make your life work smoothly? I am personally a big fan of ToDo lists, there is something inherently satisfying for me about ticking something off my list and I always try to reward myself for doing so. It has taken me some time to find ones that work in various situations and have a very basic set of requirements for these apps.

  • Are free or do not cost much
  • Available on all platforms (Linux, Mobile, Mac, PC)
  • Easy to sign in (I really don’t need another login)
  • Able to search
  • Able to categorise
  • Bonus points awarded for
    • Integration with calendar or other apps
    • Offline access

I would like to introduce you to a few that I have tried and then decided it’s not for me or decided it won’t work for the given situation or am currently using.

Wunderlist

wunderlist-logo

(Free or Pro $49.99/year)

I signed up to Wunderlist when I first started looking to see if it could help organise a business I was working for. The app, developed in Berlin, Germany was really beautifully designed and implemented from the start. They have native apps for Android, iPhone, Mac, PC and a really nice web based interface. It integrates nicely with phone notifications so that I can get it to remind me when I should of performed a task which is really appreciated. It’s by no means perfect though. I mostly use Wunderlist to remind me to do things or things I want to remember. It ticks the all of my base criteria and gets extra points for being available offline. Wunderlist integration with my devices is great where it will ping up notifications for tasks that I have set times for and making times on task is simple. If I add a task “Book Doctors appointment tomorrow” it will actually set a reminder for tomorrow to do this and I can do this cross platform. It’s really useful. I also really like the fact a task can also have subtasks (up to 25 on free version per task). It does fail in the categorisation of tasks though. To put a task in a certain category I first of all have to change to that category or later on move it, there may be a way to do this but I have yet to find it.

The question is would I pay for it? Honestly.. no. I don’t use half the features that are available on the non-pro (free) version. The full version is pricey too, billed at $4.99 (USD) a month or $49.99 (USD) a year which  works out to about £35 a year. In my opinion this is way too much and considering the extra features for me is just not worth it. For a business their pricing is per user per year and that’s a lot of money, I am sure there are cheaper options out there.

Remember The Milk

rtm-logo

(Free or Pro $25/year)

It’s been a long time since I tried Remember The Milk (RTM) so I revived my account and had another look. It looks like that not much has changed UI wise with RTM, I was thinking by now it would of had a nice fancy Web 2.0 overhaul but it looks like this has not happened. But there is an old saying “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and the Web UI still works very well. It has a full suite of short cuts and the ability to define everything in the task using real language  similar to how Wunderlist does and/or a selection of ‘Smart list’ options which for some reason don’t seem to work on the Android app (this may be a pay for feature).

For each task you can also add some notes which you can (if you like) also hook up the notes to Evernote, since I am a pretty heavy Evernote user this fits right in with my lifestyle. There are native apps  for phones as well being able to add tasks via e-mail so you can always ensure you have tasks noted down. There is also integration with a whole bunch of other apps which include Google Calendar, Outlook (spit) and more. The yearly fee for Pro is cheap too at a low price of $25 (USD) per year. The fee is for to enable notifications for your smart device app and MilkSync which enables you to add/edit/delete your tasks from the web or a phone app and have it synchronise everywhere which are both fairly critical bits of functionality for me.

Despite not having subtasks or a snazzy Web 2.0 interface I am really impressed by RTM. Where it has not bothered to work on the Web UI it has integrated with as many things as it can and make this easy for people to set up. I think I am going to try to make RTM my main task manager for a while and see how it fairs, I think the initial integration will be more but the overall result will be better.

Google Keep

keep-512

(Free)

Google is obviously well known for trying to keep everything in one place and does so rather well. It was only a matter of time until they bought you a Google version of ToDo lists in the form of Google Keep. As you would expect this product hooks directly into other Google services and they do have native Android and iPhone too,. If you’re a Chrome user then there is a Chrome App that hooks directly into your account and also has offline support. It’s a very simplistic but effective note taking, ToDo lists and reminder system all rolled into one. You organise things using Labels (similar to Gmail)  and can share things with anyone you have the email address of. I already have a Gmail account and use Google Calendar and contacts which is possibly odd because I own and love my Mac laptop but Apple came along with iCloud way too late and besides the fees and limits behind it are just stupid. Of course the power in Google Keep comes in the search, you can search anything that you have typed into it in a very similar way as Gmail.

I must admit I’ve not given Google Keep a massive amount of time  but there is something that I have found that is weird. It treats ‘Notes’ and ‘Reminders’ in two different ways. In a reminder I can type “Do this Sunday” and yes it will set a reminder for Sunday but if I do that within a Note it does not do it. You can set reminders on Notes or ToDo lists but this is done as an after thought and something you then have to click around for. I’d prefer the ability to hook all this into the typing so that my fingers don’t leave the keyboard, but then I am a nerd and a computer programmer and every time I touch the mouse I feel a bit odd.

Maybe there are quick key look ups somewhere to optimise what your doing but  have not been able to find them. I can see the app being really useful for taking lots of notes and then sorting through them at a later date. Noting down what happens in meetings or in lectures, I’m sure the search and labelling makes it really powerful but I don’t think I can see myself using it as my main ToDo app despite the low cost (free).

Honourable mentions

Workflowy

workflowy-overview-18042012-en_img350

(Free)

Simple and effective are two words that fit Workflowy. Although it fails to have native apps, it’s site is simple and works in all browsers including phones. The thing I love the most about Workflowy (apart from it’s price) is that it is as expansive as you want it to be. When you enter a task you can also enter tags to be used for searching and notes related to what the task is. I also really like the fact that I can share a piece of a ToDo list and allow people you to either just view or edit. The people you share that task with can see and/or edit any task that sits underneath the task you have chosen to share. I found Workflowy really useful for collaborating with people, when you don’t want to be the only one that adds ideas to the list. This way everybody can add and tag as they see fit. Workflowy has no sense of dates or reminders but this is again where the tags come in useful because there is nothing to stop you using a date as a tag.

Best of all Workflowy is free, yes free. You can use this fully functioning piece of organisational software across a whole team and it would cost you absolutely nothing. If I was doing so I would definitely want to throw the developers some money. I have used it for a business purpose when the tool that they were already using was not giving me what I wanted. It’s fantastically simple and really well made, not to mention robust.

Epic Win

Epic Win screenshot

(£1.49 for the app, no ongoing fee)

Epic Win does not meet my base requirements by a long way (it’s iPhone/iPad only) but it get’s so much credit for style and awesome implementation. Epic Win has an RPG at it’s heart. You set XP points for each task depending on how difficult you might find to complete it and as you tick off tasks your character levels up and collects loot. This all takes place in a cartoon style adventure as you see you character traverse the map and get stronger and all this lovely user interface for a tiny £1.49 one off purchase with no ongoing fee. I used to put everything in here when I had an iPhone, things like going swimming, getting up on time, going to a social thing that would normally cause anxiety, trying new things, buying tickets for a gig, everything, it actually felt like I was levelling up.

I think if I could somehow apply this method of reward to most of my life then I would. Its like I would like to have some sort of achievement scheme for my life. Imagine all the things you have ever done being attribute to an RPG character and what sort of level they would be now. This being iPad/iPhone only I could never endorse it but if I found a ToDo app with similar gameification available everywhere I would sign up immediately.

 

I’m sure there is a ton more out there but this is just what I have tried. I wanted to also give a nod to Pomodone, which is not quite a ToDo tool but it ties in nicely with ToDo tasks by using the Pomodoro technique. If your someone who suffers from being easily distracted or not being able to focus on any given task because you have so much on its a great accompanying tool to help you focus. Have you used something that has really helped you organise your life or are you a plain pen and paper type of person, we want to know.

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