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To-do lists: the best apps for getting things done

From getting things done to infusing new habits, these are the apps to use

If you need to perform a bunch of tasks, chances are you’ll make a list. Perhaps you’ll jot it down on paper. It feels pleasing to write down some items, and scrawl a line through one when it’s done. But a sheet of paper is easy to lose and impossible to widely share with other people in a coherent manner.

Your iPhone, then, is a better bet for keeping track of tasks, and that’s what this round-up is all about. However, since the App Store’s littered with to-do list apps, there’s no way of covering them all – nor even just the good ones. What we’ve therefore done is select four choice apps that should please specific kinds of users: those who live their life in a to-do manager; those who want something simple and free; those who demand cross-platform support; and those who want to infuse good habits in their daily lives.

If nothing else, check out this lot and you’ll at least be able to cross “find the perfect to-do list app” off of your to-do list…

Things 3 – best for GTD

$10/£10 • v3.4.2 • 74 MB • By Cultured Code GmbH & Co. KG

Things 3 wants you to be serious about to-dos. In fact, it wants you to live inside the app, using it for all your organizational needs. Go all-in, taking the time to fully invest in its system, and chances are you’ll end up more organized than ever.

The app broadly utilizes GTD (Get Things Done) methodology. You’re first invited to collect your thoughts in an inbox, optionally importing items from Reminders or via Siri. You then organize your to-dos, assigning them to today, a specific date, or some point in the future.

The Things 3 Today view

Things 3 then breaks things down into views designed to enhance productivity. “Today” is where you check on daily activities – there’s an outline of your schedule, and “This Evening” separates to-dos you’ll get to later in the day, when you’re at home. “Upcoming” acts like a super-efficient scrolling calendar, detailing to-dos for the coming days. Naturally, you can also create projects and checklists that aren’t date-oriented.

The power of Things 3 is matched by its elegance – it’s easily the most beautiful app of its kind, with a sleek design and subtle animations that help rather than distract. It’s usable, too. List editing is fast and efficient. The + button for adding new entries doesn’t merely create a new item – you can also drag it into position within an existing list, or over an “inbox” target. Elsewhere, headings can break up longer lists and add context, and Quick Find makes getting to any single to-do a cinch.

Defining a deadline date in Things 3

Admittedly, Things 3 can get expensive if you buy it on multiple platforms, and it’s perhaps overkill for many people. But if you’re intrigued by what it has to offer, give Things 3 a whirl – you won’t find a better, more powerful to-do list app anywhere on the App Store.

Download Things 3

Reminders – best for ease of use

Free • 1.2.2 • 1 MB • By Apple

Yes, this is the to-do list app that comes free on your iPhone, and that you can download for nothing from the App Store should you accidentally delete it in a fit of extreme iPhone cleaning. It’s got some annoying limitations, but Apple’s app deserves a place on this list for a couple of reasons: it’s really easy to use, and – as already noted – it’s entirely free.

A typical pop-up card in Reminders

The interface is arguably the friendliest of the apps on test, based around lists that are displayed as pop-up cards. Within, you can add individual to-dos, each of which can have a reminder and priority assigned. The options for reminders are well conceived, and can be set to run during specific periods of time – for example, to bug you to mow the lawn over the summer but not during the winter. They can be location-based, too.

Reminders has the means to share a list with anyone signed into iCloud. You can also show and hide completed items. This makes it useful for shopping and holiday packing lists – you needn’t keep adding and deleting the same items over and over. Instead, you just turn individual entries off and on as relevant.

Defining a repeating to-do in Reminders

The main problem with Reminders is it’s in some ways too basic. You can’t export an entire list (for example, to email), and there’s no way to reorganize a list’s items, bar manually dragging them. If you’ve a list with dozens of to-dos, and you want to list them alphabetically or by due date, you’d best look elsewhere. Likewise, the manner in which lists are presented suggests it won’t cope if you often juggle many dozens of to-dos. But as a digital replacement for that scrap of paper we talked about in the intro, Reminders fits the bill.

Download Reminders

Wunderlist – best for sharing

Free + IAP • v3.4.11 • 97.6 MB • By 6 Wunderkinder

Wunderlist ticks a lot of boxes regarding what you want from a to-do manager. It’s easy to use, the free version is feature-rich, and it’s particularly great if you need to share lists with people who use a wider range of devices than those made by Apple.

It gets the basics right. The methodology is loosely related to GTD – although to a lesser extent than Things 3 – and has you dump all new to-dos in an inbox. You can then – if you choose – organize them into user-defined lists.

Wunderlist manages to be both minimal and flexible

There’s flexibility in the to-dos, too. You can add scheduling and reminders, set tasks to repeat, define sub-tasks for more complex jobs, and also add files. The last of those features, sadly, doesn’t support the iOS Files app – a rare black mark against the app. You can, however, attach files from your photo library or a connected Dropbox account.

The app’s flexibility extends to task management. You can email or print lists, and re-order a list alphabetically or by other criteria, such as due date. (Apple, take note!) But the real prize is Wunderlist’s ability to let you collaborate.

When sharing a list with others, anyone can leave a comment; this means such messages remain in context, rather than getting lost in email. And because the app is available on a wide range of platforms, changes you make to a shared list are visible to accounts signed in on an iPhone, iPad, Android device, Mac, PC, or web browser.

Comments from invited parties can be added to to-dos

There is, note, an optional paid tier, which is subscription-based, but that’s only necessary if you regularly butt up against the app’s limitations (5 MB per file; 25 sub-tasks per to-do), which is unlikely for most people. The app’s general quality combined with its generous free tier therefore makes it an ideal choice should you want to share lists with people using a range of hardware – even if you use another app as your primary to-do list manager.

Download Wunderlist

Streaks – best for habit-forming

$5/£5 • v3.1.7 • 80.7 MB • By Crunchy Bagel

Many to-do list apps (including Things and Wunderlist) support recurring tasks. And that’s handy when you have jobs that need doing on a very regular basis. However, if your main interest in a to-do manager is to infuse habits in your daily routine, you’re better off trying Streaks.

Streaks – not a checkbox to be seen

Rather than habit-forming being an afterthought, allowing self-improvement goals to fall between the cracks of everyday work/life tasks, this is the entire focus of Steaks. To kick things off, you define up to a dozen habits, which appear across two pages as massive buttons, each with a large icon and a brief description.

Tasks can be set to repeat multiple times per day, on specific days of the week, or a set number of days per week, affording you plenty of flexibility. When a goal’s done, press the relevant button until a little jingle plays, and then feel a bit smug for a few minutes.

Once you’ve used the app for a while, you can delve into recorded statistics. The app graphs progress, outlining completions, best streaks, and your overall success rate. Stats wonks might prefer more detail, but these straightforward pages are more about sanity checking and a gentle nudge should you see a dip. That said, it’s a pity you can’t add past entries, except for the previous day, should you forget.

Checking progress in Streaks

Some might also see the app’s limitation of 12 items (and, really, it works best with just six) as irksome too, but you’re better off focusing on a few habits at a time. Once they’re ingrained, you arguably don’t need to track them with Streaks anyway – and you might be a different, improved person. It’s usually hyperbole to describe an app as “life-changing”, but Streaks might just be.

Download Streaks