Here at ActionableTools, I’m creating a space where you find the best online tools for your work. The aim is to have tools of all kinds. Design, communication, productivity and so on.
So the first thing I did was make a to-do list. And wouldn’t you know it, that thought gave me the first type of tool I wanted to cover. Why not cover the best todo list apps?
I had started off with putting everything on Evernote. I had just discovered the tool and I loved the ability to organize everything neatly into notebooks.
So why not have a new notebook that says ‘Schedule’ and then go from there. It seemed like a great idea back then, but now I see it for the silly idea that it was.
There are apps dedicated to making listing and scheduling your tasks, personal or professional, as easy and efficient as possible.
I’ve used quite a few since the Evernote days. So this is gonna be one of the easier posts to make.
Here's what we'll cover
I landed on this tool quite soon after Evernote. Old, faithful Todoist from the productivity-obsessed people at Doist.
Todoist is the most popular personal task management app.
Their messaging app, Twist, is also a favorite of mine. But now I’ll stick to the virtues of their chart-topping productivity app Todoist.
About the tool
Started in 2007, it has become one of the must-have tools in any organized system.
I will be talking more about the professional utility of tools throughout the blog, but I have to mention how good it is at organizing your personal life too.
You’ll also see Todoist mentioned a lot in posts that cover the right setup for any job. It should be a part of every toolkit be it for remote working or design or programming.
Why is it good?
I have to start with the interface. It’s a clean, uncluttered look that’s perfect for a personal to-do list.
No, I didn’t scratch out my productivity score because it was cringe-worthy. More on that later.
You have the option of setting up different projects to separate tasks into and to stack projects under existing projects. Personal stuff and bill payments can be their own projects.
It’s easy to start stacking your tasks once you get going. You can just drag a task to the right to make it a sub-task.
So you can end up with a full working schedule for a project in under a minute once you get the hang of its easy controls.
It’s so well optimized that there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to helping people use all of its features, including Todoist’s own official channel.
Almost everyone’s favorite when it comes to Todoist tutorials is Carl Pullein. He has made a channel that explains how best to use two productivity darlings – Evernote and Todoist.
The pricing of Todoist is also super-cheap at $3 a month. That’s a steal for what it offers, which is the calmness that comes with knowing all your tasks are accounted for.
All you have to do is to punch in every task, however small, into the desktop or mobile app. The app will then ensure you’re notified of approaching deadlines based on the rules you set.
And talking about the mobile app, that’s another reason why the tool got over so big with its users.
It’s an extension of the desktop app and makes sure you’re always notified of an upcoming deadline.
Custom labels is the tagging system. Apply labels like email to any tasks and you can find all tasks with that label.
And just to make sure there’s no escaping it, it has integrations set up with 60+ apps like Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox and for some reason Twist.
You can also make a task-list in Excel real quick and paste the rows in Todoist to make new tasks. A nifty feature that can come in handy sometimes.
When do you use Todoist?
Todoist is the app of choice if you’re a one-man team. It can even be used in conjunction with a team-based list app.
But the keyword here is personal. It covers any and all lists you will ever need in your personal and professional life.
Set separate projects for personal and professional tasks, assign a deadline, assign a priority, a custom label for further segmentation and you’re set!
You will always look fondly back to the day you started using Todoist.
For a team-based to-do list, you should go with Trello.
About the tool
Trello is one of the earlier adopters of the Kanban board system for collaborative projects.
This makes the task of seeing the status of any task very convenient for all people working on that project.
Sometimes for screenshot purposes, I pretend not to have teammates to collaborate with.
Why is it good?
Trello throws quite a lot of extra features at you. It is a project management tool after all.
So it aims to include anything and everything that a team might need. This includes video calls right from the tool interface.
You can add location cards to add an extra dimension to your tasks. Even something as outlandish as booking trips with Skyscanner through the app.
But this post is about to-do lists and that’s what I’ll focus on. How good is the tool at maintaining to-do lists?
I’m happy to report that its core function is still very much its best feature.
The app makes it very easy to manage your projects, tasks, statuses, and files all in one place.
Its boards are intuitive and it’s almost a joy dragging a task card from the ‘in progress’ column to the ‘Completed’ one.
It’s almost as good as working with a physical board but without all the paper and pins.
At first glance you are able to get a good idea of the work already done and what’s left to do.
You can set up dependencies whenever a task is dependent on the completion of another.
There’s in-line editing which makes editing simple and quick. Uploading files is also done in a simple fashion so everything relevant to the task is in one place.
That includes comments and sub-tasks you can see as soon as you open the task card.
There’s even a completion bar to gamify the work a little bit.
It really is the real deal when it comes to list-making apps for a team.
It has an excellent mobile companion to make sure deadlines are never missed (or dodged).
When do you use Trello?
It is the best to-do list app for a team that has to collaborate. Doesn’t every team?
It is the dream for a project manager of any kind. Once you divide the work up into individual tasks, you set up each one.
Set sub-tasks if needed, assign a deadline, add comments for clarity and pass the card to a registered team member.
Once the card is assigned to you, you would then pass it from one stage to another, adding files and comments along the way.
It ends for the employee at the review stage when they pass it back to the manager.
It really is a matter of identifying any and all stages a task can be in. Stages like pending, in progress, held up, review and completed.
Once this initial set up is done, working on a shared task becomes a joy and something to look forward to.
About the tool
Your Workflowy is a single page. This page can hold an infinite number of pages inside it.
If you’ve seen the video, you’ll see how I had an original category, under which I nested individual tools.
Now clicking on the black knob takes me into that item which is now the page.
And you can do this infinitely. It really is the closest thing I’ve seen to a second brain, though a lot of tools advertise something similar.
Why is it good?
The word that comes to mind is flexibility. There’s something about the blank page you’re met with at first, which is both daunting and inviting.
You can design it to be anything you want including a personal organizer. But it doesn’t have any of the extra features like setting deadlines or priorities or adding files.
It is the best tool I’ve seen for brainstorming sessions. Simply plonk down on your seat, think of your current project and go into insane detail about all the things you have to do to complete it.
When do you use Workflowy?
Workflowy is at its best when you’re just putting down your thoughts on a page. So at the absolute start of a project or day.
And when you’re done putting all that on the page, you simply mark each one off the list as you complete them.
This is me at the time of writing.
It’s a neat tool whose functionality depends on your imagination and the kind of day you’ve got planned.
I found this one somewhat recently and boy did I feel like I missed out.
It has the basic features of most project management tools and that, of course, includes to-do lists.
About the tool
So the Zenkit site says its a tool that grows with you and I didn’t find out why straight away.
It has the almost obligatory Kanban board where you can add tasks and assign deadlines, post comments, etc..
It has a good overall feel to it like you’re using a polished item. The Zenkit as we now know it, first came into existence in late 2015 after all.
That’s a lot of time that’s gone into the tool and it should be polished. But it seems quite tame so far.
Why is it good?
It also has the table view for setting the due date and assignments for all active tasks. I find the table view is more for the manager.
But the switch flipped in my head when I opted for the ‘Mindmap’ view.
Where Zenkit truly separates itself from all other list apps I know is with this view.
It is the best big-picture representation of a project I’ve come across.
Sure my project is not the best example to show this view’s capabilities.
When do you use Zenkit?
Imagine a project with 6 different stages, each with 4 or 5 projects under them and someone needs to keep track of it all.
That sort of project with a more complicated life-cycle can definitely use this view. It can be used when you’re setting goals and tracking them.
The tasks under ‘No stage’ weren’t there when I took the first screenshot. These were the tasks I added in the mindmap view.
You can start creating tasks in the mindmap and they will appear in the table or board where you can do the assignment and set the deadlines.
This way of setting a list is perfect for ideation. The same view can then be used to track progress.
The only thing that is missing from this view is seeing who it is assigned to and the status. That would have made tracking progress a lot easier.
No matter what business you’re engaged in, a to-do list app is essential.
And there are many options. I’ve covered the best ones here and the situations they’re best suited to. But here’s a recap.
- Todoist – For personal purposes. And professional when you’re working alone.
- Trello – For a team setting.
- Workflowy – For a quick brainstorming session or ideation.
- Zenkit – For a complicated interdependent project.
So based on your situation, make your choice and let me know what your initial thoughts are on the chosen app.