The Trouble With To-Dos

A while back I shared my three types of tasks: Appointments, Reminders and To-Dos. I think I may have gotten this wrong and something tells me that the new iPhone application Clear may have as well (although that doesn’t seem to be hurting sales one bit).

I Was Wrong1

“To Do” is too broad of a term. Essentially anything you undertake is a to-do. I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I was mistaken when I called my previous post “Three Types of Tasks.” The terms task and to-do should likely have been reversed (more on this in a second).

Not only do I think I got the name wrong, I missed a big one: lists. This is really where apps like Clear and Listary shine. So while it’s accurate to call Clear a to-do app, I can’t help but think it would have been better branded as a list manager.

It’s obviously doing well in the app store, but I can’t help but think that for the moment this is more a matter of the look, the feel and the price than it is a clarity of use. We’re already seeing some confusion as to where it fits from those reviewing it and I have to imagine that this spreads to the end user. So many reviews (even the raves) are having to compare and give context to apps like OmniFocus, but these apps are complementary, not competitive.

With this in mind, let me do a little reframing…

The Four Types of To-dos

The Reminder

Reminders are the easiest to handle and often the easiest to forget. Almost daily, there will be something small and inconsequential that I need to remember to bring in the morning or take home at night. These to-dos are rarely essential and my brain has an uncanny knack for forgetting them altogether.

The Appointment

Appointments are anything that needs to happen at a specific time. These live on your calendar and are the least flexible type of to-do.

The Task

The most common type of to-do, this is anything that you hope to accomplish that isn’t minor, like a reminder, or time specific, like an appointment. This includes anything from needing to write an email to all of the elements required to accomplish a major project.

The List

Lists are a subsect of tasks. Where they differ is that they are usually untethered to projects and have no start or due date. This could include lists of books, movies and shows you’d like to get around to at some point. Conversely, lists can also be for short-term things like groceries. More often than not, they represent things you need or want to get more than they will be things you need to do.

Check back tomorrow or subscribe for free by RSS or email. I’m going to be following up with a list of the tools I use for all four types of to-dos.


  1. And those of you who know me, know just how bad I am at saying that…  

7 Responses to The Trouble With To-Dos

  1.  This is how majority of people would see their commitments. Those who practice GTD would have following types: Appoitments, Reminders, Projects and Actions.

    • I certainly have projects and actions within OmniFocus, guess I was being reductive by calling them tasks. Where I tend to stray from GTD is with the long term stuff. I don’t see OmniFocus as a great place to store, order and prioritize books I’d like to read one day. It’s also not light weight enough for things like grocery lists. Breaking that out into its own thing has made it far more effective for me.

      •  Yes, different tasks will require different tools. I do the same. Remember the Milk is good task, action manager and decent small project tool. If I need to focus on something bigger I would use a mindmapping tool.

        • As much as I use mind maps for planning longer writing projects, I haven’t really found a meaningful way to bring them into planning. Looks like I’ve got some experimenting to do!

  2. […] Note: This post may seem familiar to those who have been reading the site for a while. I decided to update 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. […]

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