Productivity Help Online

I have started to manage a lot of things through the web and was on the lookout for a good online “todo list” application. So when I saw the Reader Poll: Best Online To-do List Manager? on Lifehacker, I had hopes to find something good. Admittedly at first I only checked out the two services with the most votes: Remember the Milk and Todoist. But when I started writing the article I made an account on every single one of the services mentionned in the poll. So what’s below the cut? Screenshots, links and mini reviews – strongly opinionated – of all the different todolist managers. If you’re lazy jump to the conclusion now.

Online Todolist: Remember The MilkRemember the Milk got the most votes (3 times as many as runner-up todoist) and so that’s what I checked first. It has a pretty layout, not overly cluttered and it’s not too hard to find out how everything works. Here’s a list of features (most are typical for this type of website):

  • different lists
  • many options for entering dates for tasks
  • recurring tasks
  • you get an email-address that you can send tasks to that get sorted into your inbox.
  • contact list
  • list or task sharing with contacts
  • priorities
  • filtering
  • tagging
  • public todo lists
  • integration with google maps for locations for tasks
  • widget for IGoogle
  • due dates, time-tracking (how long do I estimate that a task will take)

The killer-feature for me was the sharing. But I think this is implemented in a weird way. Sending single tasks is quite easy: you sent them and can view them in your ‘Sent’ Folder while the recipient sees them in his Inbox. But sharing whole lists, is not very intuitive and they get sorted in with your other lists and are later indistinguishable.

Online Todolist: Todoist So when the sharing turned out to be less than optimum, I decided to try todoist. Todoist several things going for it: easy to learn, absolutely clean looks and hierarchies plus: the name is a winner. On the top level you do not have a list but a ‘project’ below that are tasks and these can be nested as deep as you want (haven’t checked yet how deep). There is no sharing at all. So it is more of a single-user application.

I like the todoist workflow a lot, it is indeed flowing – more so than RtM. There’s just one thing bugging me: it’s way to complicated to move several tasks to a different project. With RtM you can just select several tasks and then you can just select what to do with them (move, delete, complete whatever). In Todoist you can only handle one task at a time (plus subtasks). So if there is any re-organizing to be done, it would be easier with RtM.

Another argument pro-todoist seems: it is a lot smaller and seems to be “more in development” so hope for improvements and new features is bigger there. But I can be wrong about both tools since I have only been using them for a week.

I am still undecided which one I will stick with in the end. Maybe I will try and see if there is the ultimate todo list manager still to be found in that lifehacker poll, now that I know what I would like to have.

Update: Toodledo has a nice overview of features for some of the todo-list managers on the web. And just a note: these services all seem to have a pay-for-pro-mode.

Online Todolist: ToodledoI made an account for Toodledo now as well. The featurelist (see link above) is quite impressive, except of course that the comparison was made by them, so of course they will not put any features in the comparison they do not have. A good thing is that they support openid and that was about all the goodness I found. The interface is very cluttered: just check out the “add task” form visible in the screenshot. In the short time I tested the application, I ran into “this is an area for pro accounts” multiple times (the other apps manage to hide the pro features better) and I am really not into this wild mix of pastel colours. It strives to do too much. I might have liked it if there wasn’t better stuff around.

Online Todolist: NozbeNow I am testing yet another one. This is Nozbe. SSL connection for pro Accounts. You know this just feels wrong. Nice that I can use a different color than the original ghoulish green but pro Accounts can change the site title and free accounts cannot? What is this? Anyway it has a few built-in tasks at startup, that are a bit like a tutorial in using the service. Nice one. There is sharing stuff. It is very much gtd oriented another plus and the different contexts represented by icons are neat as well. The interface is not as cluttered as Toodledo but not as neat as Todoist. The pro version is probably nice. There’s sharing, file storage, (nearly) unlimited projects and a few gimmicks (like setting the page title). But the free version bugs me. Not online did I not find a way to get rid of the “upgrade to pro” box in the upper right corner, it’s just that the tool keeps reminding me I am not paying for it. I do pay for websites I like. No problem with the basic premise. But I hate it when it is rubbed into my face like that. For people who are into gtd this may be a good choice – if you are willing to pay.

Online Todolist: VitalistFor app #5 I picked Vitalist which made a good first impression with me. Like Nozbe and Toodledo, there is a strong suggestion to pay for a pro account, but it is less obtrusive. The interface is ok. It strikes me a bit old schoolish and after using Todoist and RtM and it’s a bit to colorful. It is also strongly gtd oriented and comes with Next Actions, Waiting-List and so on. The only thing that did strike me was the layout that resembled the google-style (gmail, calendar, reader) for a bit there. A good thing is the iCal export option (I did not test that one) which is actually not a standard feature for these tools. Sharing is yet again another pro-feature.

Note on the side: by now it seems obvious why so many people picked RtM or Todoist. Both have a clean look and less clutter than the average todolist manager , todoist extremely so. Both do have pro-accounts but those features aren’t being rubbed in your face at every corner.

Online Todolist: Hiveminder Nearly done looking at all the apps from the list. This one is Hiveminder. My first thought on logging into my new account was “oooh pretty!” more in the sense of “omg cool”. The interface is way too colorful but the clutter-rating is average. I was greeted with a little “brain dump” window in which you can enter a list of tasks quickly.

There does not seem to be a pro-mode in this tool which makes it very likeable. It’s a todolist manager like all the others but somehow very different. For example I stumbled upon the review feature which presents you with all your tasks – one after another – and asks you what to do with them (yes that’s the gtd review for those who are into gtd). This looks nice. There are also options for collaborating with others on tasks, groups. Emailing tasks and of course tags. I think this is my third contender for “tool to use”. If only it was less of a “bonbon” layout.

Online Todolist: Treedolist Treedolist is a very simple nested todolist with a few features. It’s completely free like Hiveminder. So what does it do? Well you have one masterlist and can add sub tasks and nest them. There’s tagging, due dates, notes and a bit of gtd. Some priority options as well.

You can have links or even rss feeds as tasks. There is the option to share stuff with your friends.

If that’s all you need there are no unnecessary features to clutter up the application. It could be enough. It does not look as polished as most of the other apps. But polish is not necessarily the most important feature of a web app.

One big no-go nearly made me drop this app for testing. The sign-up process. I do have several possible options for openids. But treedolist only accepted a fresh signup with a single openid provider. Neither my technorati profile nor my openid.org profile worked. This is not funny. If you use openid … you know be open … I thought this was about supporting multiple logins from one id and not multiple ids?

Online Todolist: doOh Do.Oh is very simple and very basic. And different. You have a list for today, one for tomorrow and one for next week. You can also have “chores” recurring stuff that will only be shown on that specific day. For me it’s too basic (Do.Oh about itself “No tags, categories or confusing options of any kind…”). If you want to twitter your todolist and like to have a journal of the tasks you have done, this is for you. I could imagine this could be good for kids to try out. Except that I hope that kids do not yet have need of an online todolist manager. It’s that easy. I didn’t like the big huge poll on the right-hand side which I omitted in my screen to make it look cleaner, because actually the app is absolutely uncluttered, a bit too minimalist for me. Maybe it’s good for you though.

Online Todolist: Ta-da List Ta-Da List is actually the todolist part of basecamp a commercial online project management page. The todolist is basic. You can have different lists, to which you can subscribe by rss. You can also share lists. As there are no features, there is no clutter either. It wouldn’t be so bad, if there were not all these other todolist managers I have tested for this article. Every single other application I listed here has more to offer even those who have pro-accounts that they would like you to sign up for. Even the free ones that have a small developer team that’s probably financed by using up their spare time.

Conclusion: So now I can say “I’ve seen it all.” It was helpful to look at all the apps. Now I know much better which are the features that are important to me.

First those that have no chance of a second look with me: Do.Oh and Ta-Da List are too simple. Ta-Da List does not even have due dates. Do.Oh may be for you if you are looking for something ‘different’.

Then there are those, that aren’t all bad but the their free accounts are too limited: Vitalist, Nozbe and Toodledo. They are quite nice (even though I find their interfaces a bit cluttered), strongly gtd oriented and want you to pay. Right now I am only starting to try using an online todolist manager to get more organized, so therefore I am not (yet) willing to pay for such a service.

Treedolist is a lot like Todoist, only less cleaner visuals. Since I am all about visuals that’s doing it for Treedolist. Get a different layout and I look at it again.

Hiveminder takes 3rd place in this comparison. The “review all your tasks” makes for an interesting workflow and as the name says: sharing tasks is an important and central feature of hiveminder, one I am looking for. But I only want to share with one person not with a hive … and again: if only the app was a bit less colorful.

Remember the Milk comes in first loser or second place. It’s got a pretty and clean interface even if the list layout is a bit cluttered, but all the important features are there: due dates, iCal export, sharing, recurring tasks, tags/contexts …. it’s only second to:

Todoist. Still my winner. It was love at first sight. It’s missing the sharing feature. It cannot re-organize multiple tasks at once and probably more stuff that has not yet bugged me. But since I only want to share with my bf, I believe I can manage that without support from an online tool. It’s got both: the clean, smooth, uncluttered look and the features.

If you need task sharing in a small scale use RtM. If you need it at a large scale maybe an online todo list manager is not what you are looking for. If you still want to try one: Hiveminder may be for you. If you feel like you need something with built-in gtd try Vitalist or Nozbe.

Disclaimer: I have only taken a short look at most of the services. I may have missed stuff. This is just a short overview. Take a look at the screenshots to get a first impression (the flickr album).

PS: another todolist comparison.

Update May 2008: Here’s my article describing my personal todo list status.

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