How to Choose the Best To-Do App for You

It’s Productivity Week here at iPhone.AppStorm, and all week we’re going to have app reviews and how-tos, all based on getting things done. Plus, we’ll even pull some classic reviews out of the archives. Stay tuned all week!

Getting organized isn’t always an easy thing to do, but once you’ve decided to take that plunge, you’ll probably want to find an app that makes your life easier. But do a quick search for “To do” in iTunes, and you’re likely to lose yourself for a few hours in the results. How do you know what to choose for what you need?

Well, there are a few ways to do it, and it might even involve a little bit of experimentation. But if you follow a few basic steps you’ll be able to find one that works for you, and gets you productive in no time.

Read a Book or Two

If you’re not really sure exactly what to do or where to start, your best bet is likely the book store, be it a traditional brick and mortar or the iBook store on your iPhone. The first place to start is with David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, which details the system that many GTD apps follow implicitly. In fact, many of Allen’s publications fit the bill, and — at least in the case of Getting Things Done — don’t really read like a self-help book.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Another one of my favorites is Rework, a book written by the crew at 37Signals. It’s aimed towards the small business person, but there are many tips in there that anyone can use to be more productive. Or, if you don’t like either of my suggestions, find your own book on productivity and task lists, and find something that will accomodate the way you accomplish things.

For the Basic User

You’re the type of person who likes their lists. Maybe before you got your iPhone you kept notebooks or a DayTimer handy, or possibly you’re just new to the GTD system in general. For you, there are a ton of basic checklist apps that will probably work just fine for your needs.

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk

One of the more popular apps in this category is Remember the Milk, which is pretty simplistic in nature, and therefore easy to pick up and work with. Because it’s basically a to-do list, you just enter in what you want to accomplish, then save it. Just like that, you’ve got your list of things to do in one app.

This is just one example, but many of the free to-do apps out there are similar in nature. Read some reviews and see how in-depth they go, and if the word on the streets is positive and the price low enough, give it a shot and see what you like. After all, there’s no harm in trying if it’s free.

For the Mid-Range User

So you’ve read Getting Things Done and you’re hip to the system, but not so advanced that you want to follow the premise to the letter. For that, you need an app that fits squarely in the middle, yet still has enough customizable features that will allow you to expand over time.



One popular app for this task is Things, which we reviewed just the other day. This app follows the GTD system nicely, but doesn’t get quite as in-depth as a more advanced app. This makes it easy for the basic user to pick up and use right away, and yet it’s deep enough that you may just keep it as your go-to app for years to come.

If you fit into this category, you may also want to find an app that syncs with a version stored on your computer. This way you can accomplish things while working on your Mac, then sync the tasks for on-the-go applications on your iPhone. Things does this nicely, as does OmniFocus and a few other apps in the store.

These apps are usually more expensive, so do some research before you plunk down that cash. Again, the more it suits your specific needs, the better you’ll be in the long run.

The Advanced User

You’re the type of person who needs a hardcore app to help them focus and be more productive. You want something that has versions for all of your various Apple platforms — iPad, iPhone and Mac — so that you’re always kept in the loop on what to do and when to do it. For you, many different apps fit the bill, but the biggie here is OmniFocus.

OmniFocus for iPhone

OmniFocus for iPhone

We could get into OmniFocus and how awesome it is, but we have a full review of the app ready for tomorrow. For now, we can say that it’s arguably the most powerful GTD app in the App Store, and the most versatile as well. The learning curve can be a bit steep however, so if you’re a rookie in the GTD game, you should probably swerve clear.

Advanced apps like OmniFocus, Daylite Touch and others usually require you to stop and really think about what you’re doing. The additional complexity can overwhelm the casual user, which is why these really are pro tools. If you don’t need task management with multiple levels and details, you should look elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

There are lots of different apps out there to choose from, and although we’ve picked a few that fit into certain slots, don’t feel obligated to purchase any one of them if they just don’t feel right to you. Instead, figure out what category you fit into, and then find an app that does all that you want it to do. Maybe your best app is Todo because of a personal workflow problem, or maybe you just like using a spreadsheet program such as Numbers and make your own lists. Whatever it is, find what works for you and stick with it. Because once you start getting things done, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.