In my last post, I did a review of some popular task management apps. In an attempt to find one I can use consistently, I resolved to look more closely at GTasks, Any.DO, Astrid, and Wunderlist.
I identified my must-have features:
- Android compatible (but ideally, cross-platform)
- Ability to add and maintain task list from mobile and web
- Fast, reliable syncing to and from mobile device
- Reminder notifications on phone, ability to snooze reminders, and different reminder times for different tasks.
I named some other features that are important to me:
- Clean, uncluttered interface
- Ability to add tasks easily from Gmail
- Deadlines that show up in my Google Calendar
- Widgets so I can keep a copy of my to-do list on my phone’s screen
- Sub-tasks for multi-step items.
The apps I looked at did not really have sub-task functionality, but they allow you to enter notes related to the task, and it turned out that sub-tasks are less important to me than I thought. For a task requiring sub-tasks, you could easily create a separate list.
Although collaboration is a feature that many people value, I mainly want a solution for my personal tasks, so I didn’t look closely at sharing functionality. I took a quick look at Asana, which was highly recommended by a commenter, but it’s geared toward team collaboration and seemed overly complex for my needs.
Addicted to Google
As I began testing the apps, I realized that I’m even more tied to Google Tasks than I had thought. I generate many of my personal to-do’s while reading Gmail from desktop or laptop, and it’s helpful to have a window within Gmail where I can easily add tasks without logging into another site or application.
I had mentioned that adding and editing deadlines in Google Tasks is less elegant than I’d like, but the basic functionality is really convenient.
You can also quickly create a task from an email using the “More” menu near the top:
Recently I discovered that it’s easy to adjust task deadlines using Google Calendar:
- In Google Calendar, look under My Calendars and click Tasks. You’ll see your tasks list on the right.
- Tasks show up on the calendar days when they are due.
- Drag a task to a different day to change the deadline. Easy!
GTasks (not an official Google app, Android only; free)
Since I’m using Google Tasks consistently, I found myself repeatedly gravitating to the GTasks app for my phone. This third-party app works extremely well for me:
- Syncing is fast and reliable
- The design is uncluttered — and more aesthetically pleasing than Google Tasks
- Reminders can be set for any time on the due date
- Reminders can be snoozed for 15 minutes, 1 hour, or you can reset the task deadline
- Tasks can be marked high priority. Realistically, two levels of prioritization is enough complexity for me.
- When tasks are created in Google Tasks, no reminder is created. If you want reminder notifications for a bunch of tasks you’ve just added in Gmail, you have to open the mobile app to fine-tune them. Definitely a con.
- GTasks is Android only. However, there is a highly rated gTasks HD app for iPhone/iPad, from a different developer.
Wunderlist (all major platforms and web; free)
- Wunderlist does not sync with Google Tasks.
- It also has the same issue as Google Tasks: reminders cannot be set from the desktop or web app.
- I’ve never been a huge fan of the interface.
For these reasons, although Wunderlist has many fans, I decided early on to eliminate it from my list of contenders.
Any.DO (Android, iOS, Chrome; free)
After reading several great reviews, I had high expectations for Any.DO. It gets kudos for a great interface that takes advantage of touchscreen technology and the mobile platform. It does look great, and it has some exciting features:
- Gesture-based interface: drag tasks to sort them, swipe to complete, and shake your device to clear completed tasks.
- Create new tasks by voice memo, or type them using predictive text.
But there are some pretty big cons for me:
- When sorting by date, Any.DO organizes tasks by Today, Tomorrow, This Week, and Later. When I sync my tasks from Google, sorting does not work well. All tasks that are overdue, due today, or don’t have a due date show up under “Today.” This leaves me feeling disorganized and unfocused.
There is currently no web interface. There’s a Chrome extension, and it works well. But I’d like something I can use in other browsers.[Update: There’s now a web app , and I took a closer look at Any.do. – 7/2/14]
I felt like the distinguishing features were mostly bells and whistles, because I couldn’t get my tasks to show up in a simple, useful list.
There’s one clever feature that I will lose if I go with GTasks. When you miss a phone call, Any.DO lets you easily create a task to call the person back. This is one of those features I didn’t realize I need until I saw it.
If I didn’t want to sync with Google Tasks, I’d definitely give Any.DO a closer look. If I took the time to sort my tasks into Any.DO’s categories of Today, This Week, and Later, it would be much more functional.
I might try it again in the future, especially when a web version becomes available, or if I start using Chrome more consistently.
Astrid (no longer available as of 8/5/13)
I was also excited to try Astrid. Like Any.DO and GTasks, the interface is clean and appealing, and I appreciate Astrid’s quirky sense of fun — its cute squid mascot aims to foil your inner procrastinator with inspirational messages.
I like how in the Astrid web app, when you enter a new task, a panel appears to the right where you can tailor the task’s priority, due date and time, and other details including delegation. It’s also easy to edit these properties later when you’re in the mobile app.
I also like how Astrid automatically gives you a one-week deadline when you create a new task. This seems more useful than a default of no deadline, and encourages you to get things done. On the flip side, though, from the web it is not possible to create a task without a deadline. This could bother some users.
Like Any.DO, the Astrid app can create a task when you miss a phone call.
Syncing from the web app to the Android app worked fine, although it was a bit slower than Any.DO and GTasks. When syncing with Google Tasks, Astrid had some trouble. Astrid does have a disclaimer that syncing with Google Tasks “can lead to unexpected results,” and I found this to be true. I had some issues editing a task in the web app and getting those changes to sync back to Google Tasks. When I created a new list in the Astrid app, the list did not sync to Google (although the task did). I feel less confident in the syncing between Google Tasks and Astrid, but it was hard to track the problems, and they were not consistent.
Again, I think Astrid would be a good solution if you’re not looking to sync with Google Tasks and Calendar.
For Android phones, all of the apps I looked at offer the option to place your to-do list on your phone screen so that it is always visible. I did not get a chance to test this widget functionality much, but it’s worth checking out. The free version of Astrid offers one widget, while GTasks offers three formats and Any.DO has four.
I’ll return to a simple truth about task management apps. In order for an app to help you, you need to use it consistently. So at this point, I’m looking forward to picking one app and sticking with it. And for now, that app will be GTasks. I think I’ll give Astrid another try in the near future for my work to-do list, and set it so that it does not sync to my phone. I like Astrid’s web interface, and luckily, I don’t need access to my work tasks from my mobile device.
I did find that working on this post got me to be more consistent about entering my tasks, checking my list frequently, and getting things done.