Do you make “to-do lists” that never quite get done? Do you have post-it notes stuck all over your desk? Do you resolve to get organized every year, but it never seems to last? Technology is here to help! There are dozens of great programs that all vow to get you (and keep you) organized. Here are some top picks.
Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk is a nice basic task manager that has been around since 2004. It supports Apple and Droid platforms, and it also has a web version so you can get to it anywhere and stay in sync. It’s got great support for repeating tasks, and the interface is clean and intuitive. It integrates with Evernote, Outlook, Gmail, and more.
Wunderlist can sync to almost any platform, which means you can access it anywhere you go – phone, tablet, computer, or web. It’s got a solid set of features along with one of the most attractive and intuitive interfaces around. You can categorize your activities and create subtasks for more involved projects, and you can share lists with others so that they stay organized too!
Omnifocus is an Apple-centric product, available only for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. However it is a sophisticated and well-designed task manager that can effectively organize complex task lists. It’s geared towards “Getting Things Done” (“GTD”) power users. This style of task management involves defining “contexts” for where tasks can be done. For example, if you are at work, you only want to see tasks you can do at work. If you are at home, there’s no point in seeing work that requires a meeting with your staff. You can group activities into projects, and you can also set up multiple levels of folders. This app has a higher learning curve than most, but it also has one of the most extensive feature-sets.
If you like Omnifocus but you find it a little too complicated, Things might be the perfect fit. It’s also completely Apple-centric and designed for “GTD” task management. Although still fully-featured, it’s a little simpler and easier to use.
Asana is another fully-featured task manager, but it differentiates itself with collaboration features that help entire teams stay organized. The core features are available via a web application; mobile versions are available with limited features. You can assign tasks via email, but to be most effective, your entire team will need to use Asana.
Picking the Right Tool for You
We each work a little differently, and so do all of these applications. Take time to find one that fits your work habits.
Start by thinking about where you will update and review your lists. If you only need them at the office, then an app that runs on your computer is fine. However, if you want to jot down your thoughts and ideas no matter where you are, you’ll need an app that runs on your phone, your tablet, or the web, and it will need to synchronize across devices. If you expect to rely heavily on your phone for updates, take a close look at the phone version of your favorite tool. It may look completely different on the small screen, and a poor design there could make or break your success.
Next, think about what kind of activities you want to manage. Are you keeping a simple to-do list with just a few categories (work, home, kids, etc.)? Do you manage complex projects? Do you need to track assignments you delegate to others? Do you need to share your lists? Considering all these tools are focused on one thing—tracking your activities—it’s amazing how much variety you’ll find. Your best bet: get the simplest tool that meets your needs. If you aren’t sure, pick one and try it. You can always switch later.
Costs vary; most have a free version, and you can upgrade to a paid version or pay an ongoing subscription. None of these tools are very expensive, so if possible, do NOT factor cost into your decision. Picking the wrong tool to save a few dollars could doom your organizational efforts. Why waste time on that? Being organized and feeling on top of your day is priceless.
Putting It to Work
Now that you’ve picked your app, it’s time to get serious. You need a couple of hours to train yourself. Start by installing it everywhere you plan to use it. Sign up for an account if needed. Watch the training videos or browse through the quick-start guide. Enter a few simple tasks as a test. Organize them into categories. Check them off to see what happens when they are complete. Try it on different devices. Make sure it syncs. Finally, start entering your current list to see how it looks. You don’t need everything in there right away, but put enough of your important items in there that the list is useful.
The next step, and this is critical, is to think about how you will incorporate this into your daily routine. Even the best app will only work if you make a commitment to use it regularly. Most people need at least a daily review to keep on track, often more. Will you check first thing in the morning? When you arrive at the office? At lunch? Before you leave for the day? There’s no right answer; you just have to pick what works best for you. However, you do need to make time for it—to check off what’s done, update what’s in progress, and add the new activities that arise each day. They haven’t yet invented an app that can read your mind. Until then, it’s your responsibility to keep it up-to-date.
If you are thinking you simply don’t have enough time to try this, make no mistake: you are too busy NOT to try. Invest your time in the right app, and you will reap huge benefits in time savings and reduced stress.