How to pick the right To Do app for you

Let me do the joke first: if you have a Mac, iPhone or iPad, buy OmniFocus. That’s it, we’re done, thank you for coming, I’m here through Friday, two-drink minimum, see your waitress for details, try the veal.

OmniFocus is so good that I’ve been asked whether the makers pay me to say that. And I really would offer it up as the one-stop, suits-all solution except that you can’t just stop once and it doesn’t suit all. It’s pretty close. Two things held me back from recommending it universally and one is that the Mac version has been hard to use. I’m sure I can’t say anything in detail about the beta release of OmniFocus 2 for Mac but I will certainly tell you that it is really good and much easier to use than it was. I’m saying easier, I’m not saying easy. But OmniFocus 1 was always worth the effort it took to learn it, OmniFocus 2 gets you its powerful features much more readily and clearly.

The other thing that has held me back from universal recommendation, though, hasn’t changed. And it won’t change. OmniFocus only runs on Macs, iPhones and iPads. There’s no Android, Linux or Windows versions and seemingly there never will be. I’m fine with that. Better the company stays great on one platform than it becomes okay on a few.

But it does mean I have difficulty recommending To Do apps. Actually, I won’t blindly recommend specific ones – not even OmniFocus when it comes down to it – because everyone is different and the best I can do is point you to some great and good To Do apps. In my latest The Blank Screen workshop, I discussed specific To Do software and hit a snag. To Do apps for iPhone: legion. To Do apps for Android: myriad. To Do apps for Windows Phones: hello?

Try this yourself. Do a google search on “best to do apps for Windows Phone”. You will get many results and several will be articles that state they include such things as To Do apps – but they don’t. I’ve read many top tens, top twenties, top something else and found not one single To Do app in there.

At the other end of the scale, if you have an iPhone, you’ve already got a good To Do app. It’s called Reminders and it’s very basic but what it does, it does very well. Reminders invented the Location Reminder idea – the way that when I leave a certain client’s office, my iPhone will tell me to send them an invoice – which I think should be mandatory now for all To Do apps.

Mandatory is a hard word. To Do apps are also a great example of when the word specifications is bollocks. I do recommend that you try many different apps but if, in so doing, you decided to write up a spec sheet of what they all did, it wouldn’t help you. Remember the Milk would score high for being on the web as well as Macs and iOS; OmniFocus would score low for being limited to Apple’s gear. Yet Remember the Milk isn’t right for me and OmniFocus is. Though I love the name Remember the Milk.

You can’t quantify experiences like using the right To Do app. But you can try.

Picking the right To Do app for you means testing out a lot. But you can limit how many you have to try or buy with this one simple thing: don’t look at a To Do app for mobile phones and tablets or for desktop Macs and PCs or for using online, if it doesn’t have Start Dates. These may be called something else like Defer Until (that’s what OmniFocus calls them and I don’t like that). But when you enter or edit a task, you must have the ability to prevent yourself seeing it until you need it.

Follow. I’m doing The Blank Screen at the Stratford Literary Festival in May. I do not need and I do not want to see that on my To Do list until it’s time to prepare for it in about mid-April. So I don’t. “Prepare presentation for Stratford” is in my To Do list but it has a Start Date of 15 April and until that day, I won’t see it. I can look for it, I can see it when I review all my tasks, but each day as I look to see what I’ve got to do, Stratford will not be one of them – until it’s supposed to be.

Start Dates are as vital as Due Dates and if you use them, they are gold. But even if you don’t and never will, the fact that an app has them is a good indication that the app is powerful. Maybe you don’t need powerful features, probably you do, but it’s better to have them available, isn’t it?


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