Part of the Calendaring for Stay-at-Home Parents Series. Find Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 (the actual calendaring part)
Calendaring part 4: app review
Over the past few years, I’ve tried a whole host of productivity apps: Wunderlist, Todoist, Trello, any.do, Evernote, OneNote, Google Keep, Google Tasks (via aCalendar+), Remember the Milk… The list is extensive. (There’s at least half a dozen more on my phone right now that I haven’t mentioned because I couldn’t get into them.)
Throughout the process of starting this new calendaring technique and writing it up, I went through a bunch of apps all over again to find which ones can really work for me, so it only seemed appropriate to wrap this series up with an app review.
What I’m looking for
First I had to identify what I wanted from my apps. At first it may seem like having one app to do everything would be ideal, but I would actually find that overwhelming unless the app had clear, separate areas for performing different functions. And at that point what difference does it make if it’s a separate app or a separate tab?
What kinds of apps I need
- Master List app
- Workbox app
- Archive and search
Most important features
- Integration – especially with Google Calendar, but also with each other.
- Subtasks – intuitive function
- Ease of getting tasks into the app
- Ease of scheduling and rescheduling
- Nice looking UI – because if it’s ugly I’m less likely to use it.
I actually wanted two to-do apps. I know that’s kind of extra, but there’s a difference between the kanban style popularized by Trello and Asana and your standard checkbox. I need one of each, and I need them to work together.
Because of my desire for integration, my first thought was to look at which apps work with IFTTT. It’s one of my favorite apps/services and I use it whenever I can. However, IFTTT compatibility wasn’t a must-have as long as the apps could all play nice with each other.
This is (for me) the Kanban board style app. I love to use that format for project management, but not so much for individual tasks. Asana is an option for this category, and one I’d probably explore more thoroughly if I were collaborating a lot. Since it’s just me though, there’s another clear winner in this field.
This app is the reason I gave up my IFTTT integration. I put a ton of effort into figuring out how I could get Zenkit to work with an adequate to-do app, without using Zapier which just wasn’t cutting it for my needs.
What puts Zenkit over the top for me is that I am not limited to just the Kanban, but can try different views, and unlike Asana – I can change between views with just a couple clicks.
I generally stick to Kanban, but there’s several other options, and I actually use them when I need to see things a different way.
I can switch to hierarchy, assign dates to the subtasks, then those get moved to the calendar and my workbox app.
Compared to Trello, what I like about Zenkit is that there’s a ton of customization options on the cards that are available in the free version without “power ups.”
I can also link from a card in one collection to things in other collections. (So if I have a collection full of different blog post ideas, I can pull one into my weekly task management without having to make a whole new task for it)
I love Trello. I just don’t love it like I love Zenkit. It looks a lot cleaner and is probably simpler to use for the average user. There’s also plenty of customization if you sign up for the paid plan and dive into add-ons, although the power-ups themselves often come with a charge as well. But there’s no alternative to the kanban view.
In the near future I may give Trello one more try. It’s almost impossible for me to choose importance when it comes to enhanced integration or enhanced viewing angles.
- Google Docs
This is probably what a normal person would choose. Just make a list, or two if you want to separate work and personal to-dos. But I have a really hard time keeping documents organized, whether they’re paper or digital. So Drive works for a long term filing system, but not a daily task management system.
Like time blocking, this is another idea I got from Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast – which I’ve been binge-listening to for the past two weeks or so (ironically distracting myself from the things that probably should have my attention.) I love the kanban board for project management, but I want something quite a bit more straightforward for everyday task management.
The workbox is basically a subset of my to-do list. Instead of seeing everything in the whole world that I need to do eventually, I want to only see the things I should be thinking about at that moment.
Here’s a selection of apps I’ve tried extensively. There’s a whole bunch more that I’ve tried sporadically. And even more that I’ve downloaded but never really tried.
This is where I’ve landed for now (despite not loving the UI at all) and it’s because of the wonderful 2-way sync between Todoist and Google Calendar. I think this is especially funny because I listened to an episode of TC:TADHDP where one of the hosts talked about this feature and I scoffed, thinking that all to-do lists have that. But I just didn’t appreciate how flawlessly it works with Todoist and that unlike the next two, it functions in a way that is much more useful to me.
A note – I know that Todoist does offer a way for me to add in all the content of my Master List and keep it cordoned off in different projects. I also know and very much appreciate how Todoist allows infinite subtasks with their own due dates. If you don’t care about kanban, mindmapping, or other visual organization of your master list, then I would absolutely recommend you look at Todoist to keep all your tasks in one place. Break them down into small bits, then only look at what you need to do “Today” when you’re working.
- Google Tasks
I used to use Google Tasks exclusively and I loved it, but since Google recently released it as an app and took out half the functionality in the process, I can’t use it anymore. They removed (and have since re-added) subtasks and repeating tasks. It broke my old systems and I (for better or worse) haven’t really looked back.
- Google Keep
Some people like to use keep for to-do lists. I don’t, and I’ve tried it a lot. I keep some short little checklists in Keep sometimes but in general that’s not what I use this app for. In fact, I prefer not to use Keep at all because the API is unpublished which means no integrations except for the really mediocre ability to publish to Drive (which is especially pathetic given they’re both Google products!) but I still find myself going back to it for taking down quick notes.
I love any.do’s UI and I wanted it to be my app so badly, but I had to go with something else for such a silly reason. Although any.do does offer two-way sync with GCal, it differentiates between tasks and events such that events are synced and tasks are not. Which means that anything synced to any.do from the calendar is considered an event, not a task. So I can’t check off tasks that come from Zenkit via the calendar. Since this entire series is about putting your to-dos on the calendar, I can’t justify using an app that won’t let me do that, no matter how nice their UI is or how much I love their “moment” feature.
Because any.do does offer Zapier integration, there may be a work-around if you are already a paying Zapier member, but since the free plan is only good for 100 tasks a month, it wasn’t working for me.
- Old-fashioned bullet journal (not an app)
If you work better with pen and paper this might be a good way to combine the digital with the analog. Keep a digital log of the big list and just copy down a couple items onto your daily log. I also kept a digital bullet journal for several months. Stay tuned for more on that eventually.
In addition to the above apps, I’ve also downloaded Remember the Milk about half a dozen times but never been able to get past the name. I can’t think of it as anything but a grocery list. That’s just my hangup.
- As noted above, I unfortunately tend toward using Keep for notes.
- I’m trying out OneNote, Journey, and even regular Google Docs, but so far there’s too much friction for me to get quick notes into the system with any of these options. I like that OneNote has docs and sticky notes in the same app, but I haven’t figured out how to use the sticky notes in a way that works for me.
- Suggestions?? Please?
Archive & Search
I use Google Drive for this. Evernote is also good for search, but I just really appreciate how Google Drive/Docs can fill quite a few needs. I pay the ~$2 a month for 100 GB shared for our family (for my personal storage needs) with Google One.
I really like the standard Google Calendar app and it comes back to something I said in a previous post: the ability to drag and drop calendar events, which makes rearranging my schedule when something comes up with the kids super easy.
And that means that I’m more likely to actually properly reschedule tasks instead of just ignoring those reminders, which would be the kiss of death for my calendaring journey.
The UI is also quite nice compared to other calendar apps I’ve tried.
Here’s how my workflow looks with these apps:
- Perform a brain dump daily, or any time a thought comes up that I don’t want to forget or try to hold in working memory. The full brain dump goes in Google Drive for easy searching. The quick notes go into my notes app – Google Keep until I find something better.
- Any ideas that need to be saved and searchable go to Google Drive. Specific dates and deadlines go on the calendar.
- For actionable tasks, it depends whether it’s a single step or a larger project that needs breaking down. Projects go into Zenkit. Single action items go directly to Todoist. If it’s a single task but I’m not taking action on it in the next week or two it goes into a “miscellaneous” project in Zenkit.
- From Zenkit, I can break down each project into simple steps. I can even set subtasks and sub-subtasks and with a little bit of work that only a total nerd like me would think is fun, even deeper levels of subtasks (potential is amazing with Zenkit if you read their blogs and are interested to play around and learn it all)
- In Zenkit I can manage which projects I want to work on at a given time (like if for example I’m moving in the next few weeks and need to get those things taken care of). When I’m ready to actually do something, I can give it a date and time. That gets added to my Google Calendar, and then to my Todoist inbox.
- I can plan out one or two days, or a whole week in Zenkit. Because I tend to not know how much of my list I’ll actually get done, I prefer to not go out past a couple days.
- During the day, I use my calendar and reminders to keep me on track (rescheduling as needed), and Todoist as my checklist.
- At the end of the day, I do a review – tweaking the calendar as needed and checking off things I missed in Todoist. Then I set/review the next day’s calendar and checklist.
Let me know if you like any of these apps and especially if you have notes suggestions to replace Google Keep. Hit me up in the comments or on Discord!