Thoughts on Todo List Apps

December 15 2015

Most digital todo lists suck. I’m sure you’re aware of this. I’m certain you’ve probably spent hours combing through tips on LifeHacker about how to organize the chaos of your life with “this one simple app that will blow your mind.” Or maybe you’re like me and you’ve bent over backwards to fit your workflow into somebody else’s expensive dystopian view of getting things done.

I don’t need to tell you that task management apps suck.

But I need to share this because nobody is saying it, and we’re all pretending like we’re organized, but the truth of the matter is that the people who make these apps must have nothing to do — because their apps don’t work for busy people. So this post is for them.

I only need one thing from a todo list: to tell me what I should be working on right now. And when I’m done that, what’s the next thing I can do?

That’s it. No gimmicks. It’s that simple.

Yes, all your extra features, like sub-tasks of a sub-project inside a project within an area of responsibility in the context of ‘Phone Calls’ are all well and good, but if you cannot give me a high-level look at what needs working on today, don’t bother.1

This isn’t just about what’s due: it’s about what’s important, what’s in progress and what big-picture project I should be working on. If I need to finish a project by Friday and it will take three days, then it should show up in a special Today view as early as Wednesday and not leave the Today view until it’s done, even if it’s overdue by three months and a day.

My task management app should be about managing what’s important, making changes to the unimportant on the fly, and getting crap done.

For reference, this is where I’m storing all the crap I need to do now.

Note: This post was originally called ‘I Tried Every Todo List App So You Don’t Have To’. I changed it for the sake of brevity, not because it’s untrue. I think I did try almost every todo app on the market for iOS and the web.


  1. If you plan on making a todo app, the second-most important feature is not fiddle-daddles like sub-projects and nesting. It’s making your information hierarchy really bloody obvious. Even some of the most famously simple task management apps fail at this. ↩︎
Technology Tools