6 best to-do apps and extensions to manage your time

18th Apr 2013 | 10:00

6 best to-do apps and extensions to manage your time

Task management apps, plugins and add-ons

Make list. Tick things off list. Lose list. List-making apps for smartphones are myriad, but so far have taken longer to use than a pen and paper.

Available on different platforms and devices - such as iOS, Mac OS X, Android, Chrome, Gmail and Windows-flavoured operating systems - and often synced via the cloud, we've enlisted some of the best free apps for this super-test.

There are a plethora of paid apps, too, with the likes of Firetask, ToDo and TaskPaper costing a staggering £27.99/US$39.99, £10.49/US$4.99 and £17.49/US$24.99 respectively, but to us that seems like the digital equivalent of spending a week drawing a revision timetable. Here's some of our favourite free or cheap task apps from the hundreds now available.

1. Wunderlist 2

Free (Android, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows)

Best list-making apps

The best-looking app around is also the king of the cloud. Tasks can be entered and later filed into folders (work, DIY or anything - it's free text entry), or smart lists created for today, the current week, or for anything starred. It's familiar, it's simple and it's enormously useful.

We especially like the way each entry can be expanded upon; a simple 'buy bread' instruction can be created that just sits there until being digitally crossed-off (by ticking a box), or it can be given a due date whereby pop-ups appear on a smartphone and desktop - and even via email. It goes deeper, with a notepad available for each entry that can store reams of simple text.

Our only complaint is that anything pasted into the notepad loses all formatting, and there's not even bold/italic/underline functionality within the apps.

Other than that, it's not far off being a task-based Evernote. Everything is stored on the cloud, and lists can be shared between people, too, so it's just as good for a weekly shared shopping list as it is for a work project.

2. Remember the Milk

Free (Android, Gmail, Google Calendar, iPad, iPhone, Outlook, Twitter)

Best list-making apps

It looks basic and, design-wise, a little dated, but in practice Remember The Milk is one of the better task apps, largely because it's available across so many platforms.

King of the cloud sync, Remember The Milk is as comprehensive - or not - as you want it to be. If you just want to make a simple list of things not to forget, the default sections for Today, Tomorrow and Overdue are probably enough.

Exact due dates and times can be set and reminders (via email or text message) come through promptly, though it's also possible to set daily, weekly or even yearly tasks that could cover birthday present-buying or annual job tasks (such as filing tax forms).

Its availability across almost every device and platform is another bonus, but think twice about installing it everywhere - it works for you, remember, not the other way around.

3. Clear

£1.49/US$1.99 or £4.99/US$6.99 (iPhone or Mac)

Best list-making apps

Last year's hit task app and surely a design inspiration for the popular Mailbox app doing the rounds this year, Clear is all about swiping instead of tapping.

Folders and individual tasks are created by side-swipes, with left and right gestures completing or deleting them, while a long swipe downwards returns to the main screen. The interface relies on blocks of colour, though several simple themes are available.

Clear is a product of the 'less is more' mantra, and while that will be a plus for some, others will sorely miss the chance to set reminders, create timed events or program recurring tasks.

Although it's thoroughly modern and thoughtfully designed, it's not much more than an electronic version of a paper notebook - although the cloud-syncing introduced with the birth of a Mac app version does change that.

There is some unnecessary clutter, with empty folders graced by pithy rent-a-quotes from the likes of Thomas Edison, Carl Sagan and, err, Bruce Lee, which can be posted by Twitter. That gives it a slightly amateur dimension that doesn't sit well with its price, though overall the core simplicity of Clear will be just what some users are after.

4. ITA

69p/US$0.99 (iPad, iPhone)

Best list-making apps

Most to-do list apps hinge on a smartphone app, but ITA - though for iOS only - is also optimised for the iPad. Like Clear, ITA is another very simple app that does away with scheduling or recurring tasks and instead presents text-only entry boxes for tasks.

Once grouped together under a heading - say, Work, Home or DIY - tasks can all be reordered, edited, completed (and thus put to the bottom) and entire lists shared by either email or - unusually - by text message, most often by a tap or a drag.

The master list of, err, lists can also be reordered, but across the app there's a mishmash of different fonts, sizes and backgrounds that give it a slightly disjointed look.

Although all lists can be stored locally, there's a cloud-based option if you want to access and alter tasks from both an iPhone and iPad.

5. Any.DO

Free (Android, Chrome, iPhone)

Best list-making apps

Probably the most beautiful-looking task app, Any.DO works across iOS and Android devices as well as via an almost identical Chrome extension, though there's an email action plugin for Gmail, too.

The elegant interface is divided into Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming and Someday. When entering a new task on Any.DO there's a speech-to-text option that works reasonably well, though it only makes one attempt; if it misunderstands you it's back to the keyboard. Notes can be made for each task - again, there's a speech-to-text option upfront - and tasks can be shared with others via email.

Reminders can be set for specific times, while tasks can recur daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly. However, the app's daily reminder at 10am to 'take a moment to plan your day' does grate; who wants to be hassled by an app?

Although it syncs with Google Tasks, a unique angle of Any.DO is a Gmail plugin that monitors the language in all incoming emails in an attempt to extract a task to add to Any.DO. In practice, the suggested action is often way off the mark, but it's a cinch to add free text in the 'What's Next?' box and set a time to follow up.

As well as a rather simple Chrome extension, there's a new location-based feature that uses your phone's GPS to set geographical alerts. However, it's only available if you go through the process of inviting friends to use Any.DO, which for us is a task too far.

6. Taskulous

Free (iPhone)

Best list-making apps

Designed solely for the iPhone, Taskulous is similar in structure - if not in scale - as Any.DO.The basic front screen groups things into Today, Scheduled and Someday, which might be a bit prescriptive for some, but in practice covers anything. That last folder - Someday - can become a dumping ground for tasks that don't fit anywhere else, but can be just as exhaustively scheduled as anything else.

For each task there's a free-text Notes tab and a Due Date and - best of all - the option to add it to a linked Calendar, such as iCal or Google Calendar. It's a clever way to both extend the reach of this one-device app and meld with your existing ways of organising your life. As well as appearing in the Scheduled tab, any event or task can be shared via email.

However, even if you give exhaustive due dates for tasks they don't appear in the Scheduled section, just the folder you originally created them in, so you have to make that decision beforehand.

The empty Logbook section, which is presumably for completed tasks but remained empty during our test, reinforces our feeing that Taskulous isn't quite as polished or as flexible as it first appears.

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