Why To Do Apps Don't Work

March 4, 2014

I’ve spent the better part of the past year working my way through todo apps trying to find one that works for me. 99% of them get it all wrong. (Spoiler, even the 1% don’t really get it right.)

It is amazing how many apps help you organize your todo list, alert you in all kinds of cool ways that you have something to do, sort, color code, analyze, slice, dice, etc.

And yet, for me, my problem is getting the items in the list. In Getting Things Done terms, it’s the collect phase. If I could collect better, I’d be much more successful.

In evaluating apps, while many try to make it easy to add tasks (Android Widgets), very few look at the process of creating and collecting what you need to do.

My Personal To Do List History

I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done book five years ago and decided that I’d try out the process. My biggest issue was collection. How do I get things into the list. I tried various paper techniques (I never had the right sheet of paper with me). Remember The Milk was the first app I used. I used that for about 3 years. Ultimately, not enough of my todos made it into the list.

My Search for a Better App

So I went searching for a better app. Remember The Milk did a fine job, but I had to believe there was an app that would help me get items into the list easier. Todoist, Wunderlist, Astrid, and on and on. I’ll give credit where credit is due. Any.do was the first app that actually thought about collection. On the Android platform, if you missed a phone call, a box popped up asking whether to add the call to your todo list. When I talk about the process of collection, automatically prompting me to add something to my list is groundbreaking.

I was also surprised how hard it was to find a Chrome Extension or Outlook Plugin to add e-mails to todo lists. Todoist was one of the few that has an Outlook plugin but I didn’t find it as friendly when I wasn’t using it in Outlook. (Todoist links to the actual message in Outlook. If you’re on your mobile device, it does you little good.)

Where To Go From Here

It’s no surprise that a majority of the Lifehacker “This is how I work” answers to “To Do List” are pen and paper. It’s not how I work, but grabbing a pen is still easier than pulling out your phone, unlocking it, finding the app, and entering in the todo. Wait, what was I supposed to do?

Oddly, I’ve settled on Nozbe. Nozbe as a tool has done very little in terms of helping me collect todo items. But the process and workflow built in to the platform has allowed me to focus more on the collection piece. I’m waiting for the app developer that truly gets this problem.

Want to tackle the challenge? I’m more than happy to help.