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The Best To-Do List App

May 12, 2015

 

 

If you're looking for a great to-do list app, please stop for a moment.

 

This category of software has been one of my favorites for years. I've explored dozens of different options, ranging from classics like Microsoft Outlook to services like Basecamp and Asana to esoteric programs like Remember The Milk. If I had to list all of the to-do list apps I've tried, I'd go nuts, although it would be a fun exercise (and a great waste of time!).

 

My interest in these apps stems from my innate need to feel organized and in control of all of my responsibilities, especially in an age where we're bombarded with input and needs of all kinds literally every second. The day has a tendency to start off with a relatively neat list of things that absolutely must be done, and end with a feeling that everything has changed completely and six years have gone by over the course of just a few hours.

When that happens, my instinct goes, it's time to find a better to-do list app!

 

No, Jeff. Wrong. Stop!

 

Keeping organized is not a matter of finding the right tools. Rather, it's a function of keeping the right frame of mind. Regardless of which tools you use, the bottom line is, you need to have a system of some sort that allows you to capture all of the input into your work and life, determine what the next actions are, record those actions in easily-accessible places where you know you'll not miss them, and then review everything and stay on top of new input.

 

This is the heart of the Getting Things Done (GTD) method, which is wisdom (and a book) that I highly recommend learning.

 

If you're feeling out of control, you don't need a better tool. You need to GTD. In my experience, while you might get a sugar rush from playing with a new app, the results are misleading. Regardless of how slick a given app may be, when things get hot and heavy, I revert to my normal tools and resist spending the time and attention on something new. The purpose gets defeated.

 

And then it's time to get an even better app, right?

 

Nyet.

 

When you're feeling out of control, write everything down. Review it. Make task lists. Do those tasks. Use your current tools for all of these things. And then rinse and repeat.

 

Stick with it. Be diligent. You'll find that if you're not used to writing things down, this may be a revelation.

 

Now... once you've done those things... and once you've read GTD... and once several weeks have gone by... if you feel like the tools you have are slowing you down as you go about your strict routine, then I'll open Pandora's box and recommend my favorite personal productivity app: OmniFocus, from OmniGroup.

 

OmniGroup is a great software company that's been around for decades and makes focused, simple, and flexible software. They have an excellent track record.

 

OmniFocus is one of their most-loved apps, and it comes in flavors that work on the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

 

In some ways, OmniFocus is like Photoshop: it's got a ton of features, can be used in a number of ways, and is intimidating for new users to jump into. Because of this, it's important to come to OmniFocus from a place of need, where you know what you want to get out of it, instead of going into it blindly asking "How can this app improve my life?".

 

If you know that you need more flexibility with tracking your lists, OmniFocus can help. If you know that you need an ability to look at lists from different perspectives, OmniFocus is right there with a feature called Perspectives. If you like to think about your tasks from a contextual point of view, OmniFocus has Contexts.

 

Those features are meaningless until you determine that you need them, but once you do, OmniFocus is the best app I've ever seen.

 

So, in conclusion, the best to-do app is not an app. It's a frame of mind. And a great tool for assisting a GTD-oriented frame of mind is OmniFocus.

 

Go forth and get things done!

 

–Jeff Solomon
Co-Founder, Techromatic & WorkPlace U

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