Four Tools For Four Types Of To-dos

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

a previous post for two reasons: 1) Because some of the tools I’m using have changed or have been update and 2) Because I’ve changed a bit of my thinking.Note: This post may seem familiar to those who have been reading the site for a while. I decided to update

Yesterday I shared the four types of to-dos. Today I want to follow up by sharing the tools I use to accomplish them. I’m going to start by letting you know my priority for each, my app of choice and the best possible alternatives.

The Reminder

I’ve tried a variety of solutions, from post-it notes to iPhone alarms and nothing worked until I was recently turned on to Due. This iPhone app is nothing short of a stalker. It takes seconds to set up a reminder and upon the due date, your phone will start sending you an iPhone Notification every minute (you can also set it to every hour). This sounds horrible, but it is a fantastic way to never forget the little things again. I’ve gotten my $5 and more from this app.


The Pros: Super fast to set up, easy to use, simple to share and almost impossible to ignore.

The Cons: Lacks the location features of Apple’s own Reminders app.

The Flat-Out Bad: iOS limitations mean you can only get a reminder every minute or every hour when 5 minutes would be ideal.

Alternatives: If location support is essential and persistent reminders are not, go with the Reminders App.

The Appointment

While I use Google Apps to store my calendar, the native iCal on my Mac sucks. I’ve tried a few things, including the popular BusyCal, but nothing was ever really sufficient. That is until Flexbits introduced Fantastical. This menu-bar based application drops down to provide you with a look at your week and makes it fast and easy to enter new appointments (which has always been painful for me.). Now, I simply use one keyboard command and start typing in natural language (e.g. Lunch with Dad at McDonalds at noon tomorrow) and Fantastical takes care of the rest. It also works with Outlook and Exchange, so those of you Mac folk who still have some remnants of your Windows life can still take advantage of this kick-ass way to quickly get a look at your week or to swiftly add something to any of your calendars.


The Pros: It could not be easier to use and is almost impossible to screw up creating an appointment. The latest version also added the ability to edit and delete items which has eliminated the need for any other calendar app on my Mac.

The Cons: The app will occasionally put information in the wrong field, but fixing this has always been preferable to using any other option.

The Flat-Out Bad: There is nothing I hate about this app.

Alternatives: If you need a full fledged calendar try iCal, BusyCal or, if you hate yourself, Outlook. If you’d like another option, give QuickCal a try.

The Task

OmniFocus is the leading choice amongst nerds everywhere. While I resisted this for a long time in favor of the more straightforward Things, I have now converted and am blissfully happy with that decision. OmniFocus gives me an environment that’s extremely powerful, yet can be customized to feel simple. It also has excellent iOS apps and a great syncing solution that ensures I’m always up to date and always able to capture new tasks.


The Pros: A robust app with an amazing team behind it. Once you understand the app it’s exceptionally fast, to add and classify tasks. The Quick Entry Box and Clipper alone make my life sane.

The Cons: It’s expensive and the learning curve can be a bit steep. Thankfully David Sparks helps by offering a comprehensive series of videos.

The Flat-Out Bad: The communication from Cultured Code leaves a lot to be desired and OTA Syncing has been “imminent” for far too long. There are also some key features like collaboration and pre-set projects that are missing or could use serious improvement.

Alternatives: Asana, Things, Hit List or Wunderkit.

The List

Lists need to offer quick entry, quick completion and most important of all, quick reorganization of tasks. While the new iPhone app Clear has brought this tier of to-do to the forefront, I’m sticking with Listary. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for in features. So much of my list making (especially for short term things like grocery lists) come from my wife via text or email. Listary seems custom made for these kinds type of situations.


The Pros: The team has put their time and energy into making it as fast and easy as possible to add tasks. It’s especially helpful for taking lists from text messages and turning them into multiple items that are just waiting to be checked off. The shared list features are also great. As is the ability to sync your lists with Simplenote.

The Cons: Once you look at Clear, you realize just how much Listary is lacking in the looks department.

The Flat-Out Bad: More than the looks, once you play with Clear it becomes, well clear, that it’s a little harder than it should be to edit things. Thankfully, the team at Listary seem excited by the prospect of improving the app in light of the competition.

Alternatives: Some of you will just double up and use the Reminders App to manage your lists. The more discerning will clearly want to go with Clear1.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Dear god, Michael is a crazy person who uses too many apps” and you’re probably right. If you’re one of those naturally organized people, you won’t likely need more than one of these tools. If, like me, you have trouble keeping everything straight, try breaking them apart one at a time and see if taking a separate approach to some or all of these types of to-dos helps. It may seem like a lot more at first, but over time this approach has come to feel like a lot less.

To learn more, subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future Techie Scheky posts from A Better Mess.

  1. At some point I will stop with the clear puns, clearly that day is not today…  

7 Responses to Four Tools For Four Types Of To-dos

    • I’ve heard a bunch of great stuff about the service. Just don’t know if I could live without a native app. Especially when you consider crappy NYC service and the subway. My brain is a sieve and I need to be able to capture quickly and ubiquitously.

  1. “The communication from Cultured Code leaves a lot to be desired and OTA Syncing has been “imminent” for far too long.”

    This seems like it didn’t get updated when you replaced Things with OmniFocus.

  2. Damn you! I think you’re right about adding this “list” aspect to the to-do concept…

    Actually, I’ve been keeping running lists for a while, but you’ve made it more obvious to me how lists are actually related-but-different to other aspects of task management. (Another possible discussion can be how one type of to-do informs the other. For instance, I have many tasks in OmniFocus that  tell me to refer to my lists or add to my lists, etc.) I’ve been using TaskPaper on the Mac to create lists. Structured enough so that I can clearly organize my lists, but simple enough that there is no learning curve (and it happily just creates plain text files). I want to use Clear so badly, it is just a joy to interact with, but I really need my lists to sync with my Mac so that I can add/review items no matter what device I’m on…I like the way you revisit your previous ideas and posts and retool them as necessary… Nice work.

    • I love being right :)

      I agree that there’s a lot of cross pollination. Not sure how structured it tends to be, but it’s always good to have the ability to link to reference materials in OmniFocus in an appointment and vice versa. Although my cheat is to set an OmniFocus task that is due slightly before appointments with all relevant links. It’s especially helpful for conference calls that can include things from emails and evernote.

      Also always a good idea to set reminders to scrub your lists from time to time. Mine get unwieldy. What I like about Listary is that it uses Simplenote. So I can always jump into a note if I need to make an edit. Since it uses tagging to work, it also lets you segment out your lists without things getting unwieldy in Listary.

      Love Clear as well, but the team at Listary tweeted me today saying that they think I’ll love what they have up their sleeve. I like that this is making them take the app to the next level rather than rolling over.

      As for revisiting… always a good idea to figure out what is and isn’t working.

Leave a reply