How great would it be to have a second brain, one that would keep track of your obligations, remind you about your big meetings and your tiny tasks, and basically keep tabs on things so you can get the most out of your day? While cybernetics has not yet reached the level of brain implants, we have the next best thing: to-do list software that works on computers and mobile devices. This software is designed to let you program in your day, record short- and long-term goals and projects, keep notes, share tasks with others, and remind you about upcoming events or deadlines.
To-do list software can have a wide range of tools and features. For example, with Todoist, you can set reminders not only by time, but also by location. All of the programs on our list have a task-delegation tool so that you can assign a task to someone else who is using the program. This is great for families. A few, such as Simply Confirm, have more complex collaboration features that make them suitable for program management in businesses or other organizations.
There are free versions of task management. Microsoft, for example, has tasks and calendars as part of Outlook. If you've been assimilated into the Google collective, you can use the Google Tasks app, which works with Chrome, Gmail and other programs.
Nearly all to-do list management systems come with a free version, but the paid versions have more features and allow for greater interaction among team members. Several of these will work well in business environments, but if that's specifically your focus, check out our task management software site.
To-Do List Software: What to Look For
No to-do list software can pass the Turing test for artificial intelligence, but it should be relatively intuitive to handle. After all, there's no point in having a second brain if it doesn't do the things you want it to-do. The best task management software should be easy to use, more controllable than Skynet and capable of crossing platforms.
There's enough complexity in the human mind without doubling it with a second brain. A few applications, like Remember The Milk, accept voice commands, so you can set your tasks and reminders with the same ease as Spock talking to the Enterprise. Trello offers a neatly organized project board that is visually appealing as well as easy to work. GTDNext, meanwhile, organizes tasks according to the Getting Things Done principles of time management expert David Allen.
Not everyone who enjoys new tech has Vulcan-level proficiency. Look for to-do list software that contains a strong help and support section, both on its website and in the program itself. Since we still can't download lessons directly into our human brains, the best task management sites contain videos as well as written instructions.
Task & Reminder Setting
By mastering your tasks and schedules, you can free yourself to work on that plan for preventing the rise of the machines or enjoy a quiet, tech-free afternoon daydreaming among the dandelions. All of the programs we looked at contain tools for setting tasks, deadlines and reminders, and prioritizing them. Some organize tasks into projects. All allow you to program recurring tasks so that your second brain can remind you of the gym appointment you keep "forgetting."
Many of these tools also allow you to attach notes, photos and files, making it easy to access all the information you need to complete a task or project. You can program subtasks with some programs – Wunderlist Pro, for example, lets you break down your big to-do into as many steps as necessary. Some, like DropTask, let you tie a task to multiple projects so when you cross off one task, you see several projects progress toward completion. Finally, a few have a rewards system for finishing things, because tech or no tech, humans are motivated by rewards.
Collaboration with Humans
Most productivity experts say the key to effectively managing your time is to delegate tasks. You can find plenty of articles about choosing which tasks are best to delegate and how to motivate people to-do what you want them to-do (especially in the absence of mind-control technology). However, one of the biggest stumbling points of delegation is that most people are busy and overwhelmed from demands on their attention. To-do list software can help you to prioritize and remember your requests. Most programs, like Any.do, let you email tasks and set reminders. AllThings allows you to estimate time needed for a task and track time spent, a great feature when making tasks for studying or spending time on a long-term item. Simply Confirm has a great feature that lets you embed acknowledgements of specific parts of an email. That way, you can be assured your IT folks know not only to get the bugs in that program fixed by next week's meeting, but that they also need to install a failsafe to keep the AI from inviting hackers to play Global Thermonuclear War.
And speaking of playing games, there are a few that will turn task management into a game. We looked at Habitica, which turns tasks into dailies and missions so that your avatar can earn gold, get pets and join in boss battles. It's a fun one to use with the kids or the kid-at-heart.
Integration with the Cyberverse
If your second brain, aka task management application, isn't portable, it's probably close to useless. The programs we profiled all have apps for mobile devices, so check for those that interact across multiple platforms. That way, if you are at your desk and want to remind yourself to return that copy of Terminator 3 you borrowed from your brother last year, you can load the reminder on your PC and have your Android or iPhone remind you after you leave the office.
Personal task management programs strive to be self-sufficient, but for us humans who are comfortable with some of the programs we use every day, several can integrate with third-party programs. By far the most common are Google programs like Gmail and Google Drive, but many integrate with Outlook, Dropbox, Evernote and a colony of other productivity apps created to help you evolve your time management skills to a state of perfection.
The best task management software can help you with interactivity – both human and software. It won't assimilate everyone into a collective, but all things considered, that's probably a good thing.
It's said that Einstein once called his wife from the train station to ask her, "I know where I was and I know where I am…but where was I going?" The greatest and most active minds are often the ones that let the little details – like their destination – slip between the neurons. With to-do list software, you can have the closest thing to a second brain, always keeping track of those pesky details so you can get done the things you need to-do while freeing up your brainpower for the big thoughts or the daydreams that make us human.
Allthings is to-do list management software that integrates with your computer and mobile devices to make a second brain that travels with you. While individuals can take advantage of the free stripped-down version, the real power of the program lies in its Pro and Team versions.
With all of the versions, you can create projects and tasks, assign them to others and create deadlines. The free version only allows five lists, which are like projects under which you can place specific tasks. This could be enough if you are using it for your own purposes or are using it to track family chores and honey-dos. However, the other versions allow unlimited lists, plus subtasks, folders, attachments and more. You can integrate Allthings with a calendar program in order to have a weekly or month-at-a-glance view of your tasks. It also integrates with multiple third-party programs such as Dropbox for sharing files, GitHub for code collaboration, Evernote, Gmail and more. In fact, with Zapier, you can find integrations with hundreds of other programs.
One nice feature found in Allthings Team that not every to-do list program has is the ability to create fields in order to better organize your tasks. For example, if you are working on a major project like renovating your kitchen and want to track progress on each feature, you can create a Feature field and organize everything by that field. From there, you can see how the lists and tasks influence each other, which can help you determine priorities of tasks.
When it comes to team management, the number of tasks a person has is not always as important as the time it takes to complete them. You can have someone with multiple tasks, which only take a couple of hours each week to finish, while someone else may have a single task that takes the entire week to complete. Allthings Team stands out from other task management software in that it has a time-tracking tool as well. This feature allows you to put in estimates of time needed to finish the task as well as the actual time it took. That way, if your daughter needs to put in three hours of piano practice a week, she can track each session to make sure she meets her goal. This can help with future planning as well.
The help section is organized in a Q&A format. There were no manuals on the website.
Allthings provides an easy-to-use but extensive task management program for personal or team use. In the team version, you'll find extra features for organizing and time management. The program has a dozen built-in integrations and through Zapier, access to hundreds more. It's a useful tool for getting yourself or your team organized for productivity.
Any.do is to-do list software best used for personal, family or small team task management. It works on both PC and Macs and has apps for Android and IOS, plus an app specifically for Chrome. This computerized brain syncs across all your devices to keep your tasks at hand no matter where you are.
It has most of the task management tools you'd expect: lists, notes, reminders and the ability to share with other Any.do users. It allows for sublists, which are useful for breaking up big tasks or making a grocery list under your Shopping task. You can call, send texts or email, purchase items and even book trips without ever leaving the Any.do app.
This task management app lists tasks by Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming and Someday. Someday tasks are those you list without a specific due date. You can also see your tasks in list view for those times when you feel like getting several related tasks done at once. If you prefer a calendar version, it offers a separate app for it.
It also has a daily planning feature, called Any.do Moment. When you have a lot of tasks on a certain day, you can use this tool to organize them, including changing the due dates. This feature is only available a few times a month with the free version, but the Premium version lets you do this each day.
The premium account lets you load files of up to 100MB. The free version allows files of 1.5MB or less. In addition, with Any.do Premium, you can set reminders with unusual recurrences, like scheduling dental appointments every six months. It also allows location-based reminders. For example, if you know you want to get your wife an anniversary gift from her favorite store, you can set the reminder to go off when you are in that area.
One thing this app lacks is the ability to integrate with other third-party programs. If you want to tie your task management software to other planning tools like Google calendars or Evernote, check out some of the other to-do list programs we profiled.
There's a how-to video to get you started and a help center for the most common tasks. You can also put in suggestions for new features.
Any.do's simple design and basic features make it best suited for personal use, but it works with family and small teams. The Premium plan in particular has some excellent features, such as location-based reminders and the ability to plan your day. It's a good task management tool for keeping you on track with your errands and obligations.
Not every brain works best in a linear fashion. DropTask's to-do list software takes a different organizational approach by using a mind-mapping style with brightly colored circles to house projects and tasks, and lines to show you how tasks interact with each other.
The mind-map style allows you to put small tasks inside bigger projects and create relationships between tasks so you see how accomplishing one item influences the progress of other projects. In that way, it works a lot like the human mind where one thought leads to another in sequence, but suddenly jumps to a completely different yet oddly related topic that leads to events and… what were we talking about originally? Except with DropTask, all those projects and to-do's can be recorded in circles within circles, with lines linking them so you don't lose your information even if you lost track of your thought process.
Here's how it works: Say you need to make cookies for a band camp bake sale and bread for a potluck at work. You may list the cookies under a task called Fundraiser and the bread under Work, but you need flour for both. Put the flour you need under Friday's Errands and link it to the bake sale and work, then assign it to your teenage son to do, and he can see exactly why it benefits him to get it done. This feature, called Task Dependencies, is only available with the pro version.
As with most task management software, DropTask lets you assign due dates and priorities. In addition, you can set its importance to the project and the projected effort required to complete the task. You or the person it's assigned to can adjust these and also set its status. For example, suppose you're on a business trip but you want to get taxes done when you get home, so you ask your husband to get the filing done. You thought it was a simple task of maybe an hour, but as he digs in, he finds things missing and misfiled. He can change the effort setting and mark it as In Progress. It's also a useful tool for planning your day, because you can take the more effort-heavy and important tasks and schedule them for the times when you feel most productive.
Of course, not everyone wants their busy lives portrayed as colorful circles, and the circles are harder to see on a small screen like a smartphone. Therefore, DropTask can convert to a traditional view for linear viewing by date or priority.
Both the free and pro versions of this to-do list manager integrate with Outlook, but the pro version has other features, such as unlimited file attachments and project templates, so you can save a project format to use again – a useful feature if you have repetitive projects for an organization or if you want to keep recurring chores lists for the kids.
DropTask's mind map mimics the fluid way we think while keeping all the thoughts and tasks organized and interrelated. It also converts to a straightforward to-do list and calendar view for those who prefer a linear train of thought. While designed for businesses, its collaboration features work well with less-formal groups like families.
GTDNext is to-do list software that follows personal productivity coach and author David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology, which boils down to capturing your thoughts, clarifying what they mean, organizing them, reflecting on the choices, and then taking confident action. Therefore, the software helps you organize all the to-dos crowding your brain so that you can apply these steps to smooth your workflow.
This software uses a three-panel design. The leftmost panel has common storage areas: the inbox, next tasks, scheduled, tags and archive (with the premium plan). The center console is the project outline. You can see all the projects and tasks and subtasks in outline format with filters and tags. The rightmost panel lets you edit tasks with due dates, scheduling and multiple category and filter functions.
GTDNext has many ways to filter your tasks. First are the areas, such as Work, Personal, and others like Volunteer, Family or other big areas of your life. You can filter the app so that you can have only work items show at work and personal at home. There are filters for due dates, focus, completed items and opening and closing projects to see all the tasks.
You can also file things under action sections: Next and Focus. The green N shows next action of a project. You'll find these also in the Next Action list. When the item is done, then the next item on that project inherits the green N. This helps you keep track of the things to complete first for each project. The software also has a red exclamation point that moves things to the focus list – important projects that aren't necessarily time-sensitive, for example.
The left column also includes a list of scheduled items. If you have a task you want to schedule, you can give it a date to show up on your list. This is different from the due date, which is a deadline for finishing a task. You can flag tasks that require someone else's response as waiting. Say, for example, you had a contractor visit to write up an estimate on finishing your basement; flag the task as waiting until you get the bid. You can check the waiting list periodically to see if you need to follow-up. The Someday list contains things you might do eventually: the trip to Fiji or the family memoir you want to write.
You can also create repeating tasks or projects. Repeating tasks can be set by days, weeks or periodically, such as five days after completion. Completed tasks are archived and can be deleted or reactivated. It's a good task management software when you need a second brain for getting things done.
Most people want to-do list software to make their lives more efficient so they have time for recreation. Unfortunately, a lot of us waste our free time playing games on our phone or computer. What if your task management software was a game? Habitica's 250,000 users have turned their tasks and projects into a personalized video game, where they can level up, earn rewards and work with others to take on big challenges.
Habitica has a much simpler interface. You can set tasks as projects, habits or dailies. Just like on computer games, dailies are the small tasks you need to do each day, such as flossing your teeth. It lacks large-scale project organization, file storage or conversation features that make other task management software more useful for collaboration. If you need serious task management for motivated people, check out some of our other more robust task management programs.
Its strength lies in its fun and in the reward and punishment system. Completing tasks earns you game gold to buy pets and equipment, and after enough points, you level up. As you skip tasks, you lose health. You can also form teams to work together on goals and progress together. If you fall behind, however, monsters come out and attack your team. Fall down on the job and everyone suffers! In addition to the standard positive and negative reinforcement, there are random rewards. Based on the principles of stochastic rewarding, it encourages users to keep up on all tasks, because that one last task might be the one to unlock the treasure.
You can join guilds, which are communities on Habitica that get together on forums to encourage each other and share tips. Guilds for professions like programming or art have places where you can ask questions or share works in progress. There are guilds for students at the high school and college level that share study tips and encourage each other to succeed. Procrastinators have their own guild – and they get around to posting! You can also find guilds for sharing task lists and holding each other accountable.
Habitica's freeware program launched in 2013, and the company is working on upgraded versions with dedicated hosting, custom domains and additional gems. Habitica works on mobile devices as well as computers, so you can take the game wherever you go, and maybe get a task done to level up before returning to Angry Birds.
Habitica's unique approach makes it a fun way to get things done, perfect for your kids – or for you and your spouse. Why can't adulting be fun, too?
Remember The Milk is popular free app for managing your to-do lists and assigning tasks to others. With the pro version of this to-do list software, you get extra features, including syncing across multiple platforms and integrating with Outlook. It's easy to use in every format and interacts with Siri and Evernote.
The app is geared primarily for personal task management rather than managing groups like a family or project team, but you can use it for these on a limited scale. You can add your tasks using the app or email them to your Remember The Milk account. You can use hashtags for easier searching later, set reminder times and prioritize tasks. You can view your lists or look at a tag cloud to see which tasks are weighing heaviest on your busy day. You can store notes with each task.
Like some of the task management "second brains" we looked at, this one is easy to communicate with. You can designate due dates in common English: "Friday" or "in three weeks" rather than a specific date/time sequence. If you have an iPhone, you can ask Siri to add tasks for you.
It's easy to see what you need to do and when you need to do it. This computerized mind can send reminders to you "live" online: email, SMS, Skype and other instant messengers, Twitter, or via notifications on your desktop or smart device.
The map feature lets you see where a task needs to be accomplished, making it easier to plan your errands. Not only can you plan a route, but if you are heading to a particular part of town for some other reason, you can quickly check to see if there's another task in the immediate area you can take care of on the way – picking up the dry cleaning on the way home from your off-site meeting, for example.
While the app is geared for personal use, you can share tasks with others. In this way, it helps you manage your team, whether that team is a group of coworkers on a specific project or your family. You can share tasks so that anyone can accomplish it – such as if your spouse happens by the dry cleaners first – or send reminders for specific tasks to the person responsible.
The free version of this task management software integrates with Gmail and Google calendars. You can automatically sync with Evernote so that when you create reminders in Evernote, they are added to your Remember The Milk account. You can edit and complete them in either Evernote or Remember The Milk. If you want to sync your task lists across multiple platforms, you'll need to get the pro version. The pro version also has integration with Microsoft Outlook.
Remember The Milk is for more than keeping your grocery list. This task management software lets you plan recurring tasks, set reminders and send tasks to yourself or others via email, and it even has a handy map feature for planning your errands. It's a good task management tool for individuals, families or small groups.
Simply Confirm to-do list software has a group focus with tools designed to help keep your team organized in its projects, whether you're part of a business or organization working on a project, or a busy family trying to keep up with the housework. While it offers the usual features found in team task management programs, it adds some unique extras.
Simply Confirm offers a unique function to help your team focus only on the tasks at hand. It allows you to set dates, just as other software does, but you can also set the task to not show until it's important for the team or individual to start on it. In this way, you can keep your team's task lists clean and prevent people from skipping ahead.
One of the best features of this task management software is the confirmation feature. Have you ever asked your child to clean his room only to discover that he didn't think that by "clear the floor," you meant dirty clothes should go in the hamper and not under the bed? Or you ask your spouse to do some home improvements, and he never gets around to it, because he isn't sure how you want it done? With Simply Confirm, you can add a survey to your emails that has the reader confirm the important elements of the task, such as the due date, the point of contact or a significant detail. This way, your team member has the important elements reinforced, and you have reassurance he or she has read and understands the task fully.
Simply Confirm offers 1TB to 30TB of secure storage depending on your plan, and you can search the archives and view your entire history as needed. You can upload files and forms. One unique feature is that you can save PDF forms to your tasks. You can create reports on tasks, conversations, completed forms and survey questions that were understood (or not understood). These reports could be a good resource when your child wants to make a case for increasing her allowance.
The website offers multiple user guides and how-to videos to help you get the most out of the program. There is a limited time trial, but no free version of this software. The plans accommodate two to 30 people, plenty for a family.
Simply Confirm is contains task planning and communication tools specifically designed to create a team project process that's methodical and well understood. As such, it's a better program if you're looking for a to-do list program to help you organize your family or group rather than just yourself. It has video and written user guides to make sure you can get the most from the software.
Our brains are cluttered enough. What's the point of having a second brain that's cluttered, too? Todoist is a simple but powerful to-do list software. Despite its bare-bones list style, it nonetheless has useful tools to make working projects and daily tasks easier.
Todoist comes in three levels: free, premium and business. The premium and business versions let you set labels and filters for active searches, allow for file uploads and have template-creation ability for projects. Premium users can share projects with up to 25 people, while the business plan allows for 50 users. This business version can track billing, which might be more than you need, unless you are working with a freelancer or want to teach your children about hourly wage-earning.
From the dashboard, you can create individual tasks or projects with tasks and subtasks. The premium and business versions of this task management software allow subtasks up to four indent levels. With the email app on Outlook, Gmail or Thunderbird, you can add tasks directly from an email.
From the task itself, you can make assignments, set a priority and add a due date. Due dates are especially easy because you can set a single or recurring date using plain language such as "Monday at 8 a.m." or "every first Monday at 8 a.m." You can add priorities, both via the dashboard or with the !! code. For example, !!1 makes a task priority 1. The software has tools to color-code tasks or projects and set labels and tags to make it easy to find.
Even if you have your second brain up and running all the time, you can't guarantee your family or fellow collaborators will. Besides, it's always nice to get that extra ping in case you're deep in something else when it's time to leave for that appointment. Therefore, you can set reminders to be sent by email or SMS. Todoist can also send location-dependent reminders. This is a great feature for when you have errands that aren't time dependent, like getting a present for your sister from her favorite downtown shop. Location-aware reminders can be managed from any platform, including Outlook, but trigger to your mobile device.
You can add files or photos to the tasks. Photos can be added straight from your phone using the Todoist task management app. You can also use the app to send photos to others on a project. Todoist also has the ability to have conversations within a task.
Todoist has a tool that rewards you with karma points as you complete tasks and build good habits. You can use this to track your own progress or to keep tabs on your kids. It could also be a motivator if you attach rewards to certain levels…as long as the kids are doing the tasks on their to-do lists and not just clicking them off. That's bad karma.
Todoist has a very simple list-style design, but it holds a lot of information efficiently, making it a good companion to the busy, overcluttered brain of the modern human.
Trello's to-do list software is geared more for business than personal use, but many people enjoy it as their second brain, because it has an unlimited interface for friends, family and coworkers, and it easily integrates with some of the most common sharing and productivity programs.
Its interface differs from most project management programs, however. Rather than a simple to-do list in outline format with tasks and subtasks, it uses a card system where tasks are displayed as columns with images, conversations and notes. It makes an attractive interface, especially if you only have a few main projects.
In addition, you can make boards to organize projects. For example, you might have boards for work and home, or you could have boards for major projects that require subprojects. You can set public or private boards and restrict member invitations to projects. This is a great way to keep the Christmas gift list away from the kids while letting you and your husband access a joint list so you can share ideas and keep track of what gifts have already been bought.
To make a task, you create a card in the project's column and put in the details on the card's "back." The front with the title shows up in the list, and you can click on it to see all the details. If the task has multiple steps, you add those to the back of the card as checklist items. You can add labels, invite members to the task and add attachments.
The deadline and scheduling tool uses a calendar format rather than the plain language style employed by several of the task management programs we looked at. You can tag people in conversations with the @mention feature and subscribe to the task to receive alerts on any activity concerning that task.
You can click and drag tasks to move them from one column, or project list, to another. You can also create independent cards just for jotting down ideas or quick to-do items.
Some people only want a second brain for simple tracking of to-do items, while others want one to maintain a calendar and hold important information. The more you add, however, the more complex the workings of that second brain. Trello keeps its software simple but offers power-ups as integrations with other software or modules. The free version allows voting on a particular card – handy if you are involving extended family on deciding on the vacation plans, card aging where inactive cards fade out, and a calendar app. The higher plans have additional modules and integrations with programs like Evernote, GitHub, MailChimp and multiple Google programs. The website has demo videos and an illustrated help guide.
Wunderlist to-do list software has the basic to-do management features to make collaboration easy, whether with your kids on their chores or a project for work. It comes in two levels: free and pro. The free level limits the number of to-dos, subtasks and assignments, plus it only has 5MB of file storage for documents or photos. The pro version has no limits. Both of them come with attractive backgrounds to personalize the interface.
Like all the to-do list software we looked at, this one lets you create tasks and subtasks, set deadlines and reminders, and assign tasks to other Wunderlist users. It also has a comments section where you can discuss items with other members of the team or family. Because the Wunderlist app works on mobile devices and smartwear as well as computers, this makes it easy for families to stay in contact about specific projects while keeping all the communication in one spot. No more telling your child, "If I told you once, I told you a thousand times," only to find out you told them what, but not when, or to have your spouse protest that they didn't know about a particular honey-do.
Got an email from a teacher about your daughter's missing assignment? Forwarding it to her might be the jog she needs, but you could forward it to Wunderlist instead, adding a deadline. Then, you and she can treat it as a task, adding reminders – and listing consequences in the comments section if need be. Similarly, you can add anything you find on the internet to Wunderlist, so if you are discussing things to do for summer vacation, you can share websites of locations or events. This not only allows others to look at them at their leisure, but keeps the information in the one place for when it's time to get together and make plans.
Wunderlist users can set up folders for organizing tasks and create hashtags to make tasks more searchable, a great asset when trying to balance school, work, clubs, church or other activities. If you need to go old school, you can print out specific to-do lists (like a project task list or the family shopping list). This is handy if you need to mind-map or brainstorm a project that's partly on Wunderlist – or if your son has lost phone privileges but still needs to get the grocery shopping done.
Task management software should not take the place of regular interpersonal communication, but used well, it can provide just-in-time reminders and save some nagging, plus it keeps information in a single spot where the whole family can access it.