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For something that’s so simple in theory, staying on top of your schedule can be unreasonably difficult in practice. Most of us juggle a huge amount of different responsibilities—and once you factor in interruptions, daily communications and surprise requests, achieving everything you want to in a week can feel impossible.
When you work like this, something has to give—which is why it’s so easy for some tasks to slip through the net. Even if you do have a clear view of everything you need to work on, the stress of trying to find enough space for each task can be overwhelming.
That’s why so many people are turning to to-do list planning tools. Whether you’re looking to better organize your personal or professional life (or both!), to-do list planning is a winning place to start.
How to approach to-do list planning
To-do list planning is the practice of putting an abstract shopping list of deliverables (AKA to-dos) into action. It’s not just about writing up all your tasks—it’s about being realistic with the time you have available to work on them and creating a structure to complete them.
Don’t be thrown by “list”—to-do list planning can be extremely dynamic and visual! The most common approaches include:
Many of the best to-do list planners blend several of these approaches into one, giving you the most flexible and customizable way to plan and manage your time.
Best-in-class to-do list planning tools
The best to-do list planner will depend on how you personally like to visualize your work, as well as the complexity of your plans. If you’re just looking for a to-do list planner for managing personal errands, for example, you probably won’t want all the bells and whistles of Kanban boards and team coordination. To simplify your research, we’ve pulled together some of the best-in-class to-do list planning tools out there—for individuals and teams, as well as work and personal use.
If you’re looking for a simple app to manage your personal to-do list, Any.do might be for you. Using lists and calendars, you can create tasks and sub-task folders, color code your list via priorities and categories, and add attachments and notes to your list. If you want to allocate certain tasks to friends or family, you can take advantage of the shared list and assigned task features, too.
Any.do’s calendar makes it easy to stay on top of your schedule: you can see your tasks alongside your calendar in a single view, which allows you to combine your social events, work responsibilities, and day-to-day tasks in one simple app. The simple UI makes it easy manage your schedule, and you can also use the voice-entry feature if you prefer speaking to typing, which can help you save time.
One of the most popular and best-known to-do list planning tools is Todoist—and for good reason. While it started as a simple to-do list app, Todoist has evolved significantly over the years, and now comes with many powerful features. Using boards, lists and calendars, you can easily create tasks, customize them with color codes, add due dates to keep on track, and create sub-tasks, projects and sub-projects.
By highlighting the right tasks at the right times, Todoist makes it easy to focus your energy on your top priorities and not worry if you’ve missed anything. A standout feature is the AI powered Smart Schedule, where the app suggests the best dates for scheduling or rescheduling existing tasks, working rather like a digital assistant. If you want a dose of motivation, Todoist Karma awards you points for completing tasks, making crossing off your to-do list even more satisfying.
If you’re a Microsoft user and are looking for a free and simple to-do list, then Microsoft To-Do is a wise choice. Though this app doesn’t have some features that other, more sophisticated task management apps have—like tags or natural language processing—it has all the basic functionality you need to plan your to-do list, and it works really well on Android.
The calendar UI is very basic, so essentially Microsoft To-Do works as just a list, but you can easily break tasks and sub-tasks into “steps”; this acts as a checklist, where each step can have its own due dates and notes. The My Day feature makes it easy for you to know what you need to focus on each day and streamline your activities. Plus, it’s cloud-based and integrates seamlessly with Office 365.
Approach: Lists, Calendar, Timelines, Timers (automatic)
For something more sophisticated—and a joy to use—there’s Timely. Offering lists, calendars, timelines and automatic timers, Timely pretty much covers every style of task planning going, so there’s something for everyone. Using the Tasks feature, teams can quickly map out big deliverables in tactile timelines, dragging and resizing tasks to quickly shuffle plans around. Timely will then populate your personal to-do list, prioritizing tasks by deadline and flagging any potential delays. You just need to drag and drop tasks into your calendar to create a schedule that works for you.
Unlike some task planning tools, Timely’s task planning syncs up with your weekly capacity, helping you maintain a heathy workload. It also keeps the status of all your tasks visible, with a neat progress bar that updates whenever you log or plan time against a task. With automatic tracking baked in, you can then accurately follow how long you actually spend on different pieces of work—essential for improving future task estimates.
Another popular tool that prioritizes the list approach is TickTick. Similar to Todoist, TickTick has a neat interface that makes creating tasks and checklists a breeze. Like most of these tools, you can add tasks, sub-tasks, set smart reminders and due dates, and then share them with others. There are also lots of task sorting filters and tags that help you stay organized and aware of your top priorities.
The calendar UI is pretty lacking, however, and there’s no native calendar sync. But TickTick has plenty of other perks; if you struggle to maintain focus while working, TickTick might work for you, as it comes with an in-built Pomodoro timer, which can help you stay present. Plus, the mobile app comes with a habit tracker and a white noise generator, allowing you to stay focused on getting things done.
Another big name in to-do list planning is Asana. While Asana is usually used to help teams manage projects, you can also use it to plan and manage your own personal tasks using lists, calendars, and timelines. You can also choose between a Kanban board view or a list view, allowing visual thinkers to manage tasks in the way that works best for them.
Asana is especially good for dealing with masses of tasks. It’s a great tool for breaking down big, overwhelming projects into core tasks (which you can then break into subtasks). As an app that’s known for its collaboration capabilities, using it for your personal to-dos can feel a bit like overkill; however, you can easily adapt many of the team features for personal use—the comments feature, for example, is a great way to leave notes for yourself!