Finally, a todo list I can live with...

Posted by james on Aug. 20, 2011

Todo lists are incredibly important for me. At any time I have a huge amount of stuff waiting to get done, and not having it on the list means I'll never remember to do it. I've tried tons of programs, websites, services, etc, and have been on the verge of purchasing programs or subscriptions to help. At this point, it's easy to justify the cost of a program or service (even a yearly-subscription one) assuming it does what I need. Which until this point, I've never found.

My requirements:
-Must be really easy & fast to use (ie. keyboard friendly)
-Accessible on my desktop, laptop, and phone (and not just a mobile-friendly website here)
-And I absolutely *must* be able to manually order the items on the list

There are a lot of other nice-to-haves (like setting due dates, automatic email reminders, etc). But if they don't hit those top 3, it's really not worth it. Here are some things I've tried:

Todoist.com
Great website-based list. Very keyboard friendly, and allows manual ordering (!!!). Has an android app available. This is probably the closest I've come to a pre-made list that I'd like.

RememberTheMilk.com
Website, has a ton of options (setting priority, dates, email reminders, integrated with calendars). Has mobile apps available. No manual ordering. I realized I kept throwing everything in priority 1, since I wanted them on top of the others, and then had to struggle with fake-date sorting or living with out of order items. So annoying.

Google Tasks
Website, built into gmail. Awful UI, incredibly limited. A "toy" app, not worth using unless your needs are very limited. No manual ordering (last I tried), no mobile-specific app (that I know of).

Of all these, RememberTheMilk had the nicest UI & mobile apps, and if it allowed manual ordering I may have stayed with it. I did have to struggle quite a lot with it always taking my dates and # numbers and turning them into dates & tags unexpectedly. No thanks, I'll do that myself.

Todoist seemed on paper to fit the bill, but I really wasn't a fan of the UI for reordering. It worked, but was completely mouse based & annoying.

So what did I end up with? A text-based list on my SimpleNote account. I initially shunned this, thinking it was too low-level. But it has the benefits of:
-being inherently keyboard friendly, since it's just a text-based list
-having incredibly easy sync, since that's the whole nature of a SimpleNote account (online & offline access)
-support manual ordering - just copy & paste lines at will
-has an awesomely simple & usable PC app (ResophNotes)

And the best part - the Flick Note app for Android syncs with simplenotes, and has a "todo list" style view. I just select my todo list note, tell Flick Note to treat it as a list, and I can now check off items, add more line by line, and drag them to reorder. The UI needs some work, but it's still very helpful. And best of all - it has a widget available (in the paid version) to show my todo list on my Android home screen. Now I can always see the top few items on my todo list, and that's amazingly helpful.

So after all this time, I'm using a simple text file that's synced across my devices, and it's working great so far. There's even some neat things you can do like indent items to show dependence (which Todoist also does). But overall, at least I now have something I can live with.