Wunderlist Sucks. Here’s why:

Almost a year ago I downloaded Wunderlist for use on all of my computers, my iPad and my iPhone as a replacement for Apple’s Reminders tool. I even got my girlfriend to start using it too as we made lists of dreamy vacation destinations, obscure movies we wanted to watch (along with notes about where we heard about them, links to blog posts about it, and comments where we could link to theatres where it was currently playing), or even our shared grocery list which we tried to keep in sync so we always knew what we needed to get if one of us went to the the store. I loved having all of the multi-device syncing functionality of Apple Reminders but actually have some data structure to the tasks, like comments, notes, file attachments, and subtasks. In a way it was like a “mini JIRA” tool (a project and deliverables management tool that’s ubiquitous in the tech world) but designed for keeping track of life. For small-scale project management or just personal assistance, this seemed like it was the perfect amount of features to satisfy my nerdiness and filled in the obvious gaps where the childishly basic Apple Reminders app fell short with all of the ways you could include different kinds of data. It integrated with a bazillion other third party tools. But most of all, you could share task lists with other people! This was huge, and I immediately loved the theory behind the design.

However, the honeymoon was short lived. After putting it through its paces I could see right away that there were bugs and implementation problems galore, and soon after that I could see that some of these problems were not just goofs, but simply terrible design. I was considering paying to be a premium user to make use of the group tasking tools, among other things, but frankly $5 a month seemed like an awful lot of money for just a fancy-pants reminders app, and the fact that there were so many problems with the free version there was no way I was going to pay $60 per year for software that was not only buggy but badly designed as well. On top of that, while their support site has a very progressive up-voting system for making “feature suggestions”, it became clear that the people at Wunderlist were very slow to make fixes, let alone implement any feature requests, especially for the free version. I don’t recall them specifically fixing a major bug. It must have happened at least once, but it was obscured by al of the other problems that were never addressed. Their “feature request” system lacked any sort of tagging features, so practically every request was either a duplicate of another or overlapped with one. I should point out that some of these “feature requests” were really for things that definitely should have been there in the first place. Sure, I supposed it was possible that these features were going into the paid version and the free version was left to languish, but bug fixes should be resolved, paid or not, right? The free version is supposed to be the free crack that gets you hooked on it so you have to start paying, right? Also, it might be tempting to think that getting the paid version would mean getting access to snazzy new features, but bad design is bad design. If the free version was poorly thought out, why expect the paid version to be any more clever? If the designers “don’t get it” no amount of money is going to fix that.

Since I started using the free version around June of 2016, I have reported so many bugs, made so many feature requests, and up-voted so many of other people’s feature requests (as my votes allowed, which was 10, no matter what, and you never got them back unless you manually rescinded them- even for features that were implemented.) Since so many of those requests were duplicates I could see that there was a running theme around a few core issues that most of these requests revolved around. Also, I found that having 10 votes was a pittance considering the number of problems with Wunderlist that I came across, so I actually created multiple accounts with different emails just to try to give more up-votes to the more glaring problems with the software, but no matter- the number of improvements made to Wunderlist since I have been using it for the past 9 months I can count on one finger. A feature request needed literally thousands of votes to even be considered, it seemed.

So, after much frustration, I have decided to throw in the towel. I hear that Todoist project manager is worth a look, but being billed as a “project management” tool I am already wary that it is way more than I need. Still, even if it turns out that I don’t like it, the sheer volume of task managers available is downright overwhelming. Okay, most of them are not established enough to have any integrations yet, but maybe some will rise to the status of Wunderlist, right? I figure you had better be something special to stand out in this crowd enough to be widely integrated. Wunderlist certainly had this distinction in 2016 because behind all of its problems are a lot of great ideas that other basic task managers simply didn’t have. However, considering all of the problems that it has and the fact that it has not notably improved in nearly year, I don’t see Wunderlist holding court in the same way in 2017 and beyond. To be blunt, it is riddled with so many implementation problems, poor design, and flat-out bad decisions that it is just not worth the pain and suffering to try to get it work for you. Sure, the allure of the design description is very tempting. It was enough to make me stick with it for as long as I have, I’ll give them that much. However, having said that, I can see now that I have given them far too much rope and should have abandoned it a long time ago, and now I am totally entrenched in it. Still, it’s never too late to change. There is simply too much competition in this market and too many tools that offer these functions to put up with so much bad design, and that is not even saying anything about the outright bugs. So, Wunderlist, after a fairly lengthy and meaningful relationship with you, I want to break up. I will be transferring my tasks out of your app as soon as I can so this can be the least painful for the both of us.

Since I am not a frigid beast who would leave you wondering what you did wrong, nor do I want to leave you thinking “Why did he leave? We had it so good!” so I put together this list of my grievances- most of them have been in the forefront from the very beginning.

The Big Issues

  • Uncheck task, uncheck all subtasks? Unchecking a task and therefore making it active again will subsequently uncheck all of the that tasks’ subtasks as well. This is in my opinion the stupidest design decision in the entire product. What possible reason would you want to have all of the subtasks that you have already checked off as “done” be all unchecked when you uncheck the parent task, say to add some additional subtasks that you forgot were needed to complete the parent task? This means if you uncheck a task and make it active again, you need to check off all of the subtasks you’ve already completed for that task. I had tasks which had literally dozens of subtasks and this was maddening to have to do over and over and over again . Right then and there I should have known this was not going to work, but I figured that it was so egregious they would have to change it, right? Wrong. 9 months later and the problem persists with no word of addressing it. This is just… stupid. Go onto their support site and you can see that this has been complained about repeatedly for about a year now yet no one at Wunderlist has even addressed it.
  • Subtasks should just be tasks! — Subtasks should have the same properties as a task, except that it is linked to another task that is designated as the task’s parent. Period. The present implementation gives subtasks very little function whatsoever and as I point out above, doesn’t even work right. If they just used the same data model for all tasks, whether they were “tasks” or “subtasks” you would have all of the functionality you’d ever want in a subtask right there for the taking. In fact, along with the parent/child relationship with tasks, you could also set up dependencies (a task cannot be marked completed until another task is marked completed) or just have tasks linked to each other so you know they are related in some way. The use of subtasks is not only clumsy and limited, it is a lot of extra weight on the data structure of a task that could simply just be pointers to other tasks. If a subtask were just a link to another task, it would posses all of the properties a normal task would without having to recode how it works! Plus, you could do things like assign it to a different task, and even give it different relationships at the same time! Go crazy! Sure, you might want to add some views that just show tasks and not subtasks, just dependent tasks, or if you want to get fancy have a tree view of your tasks, but again, the data structures would be the same this way. There would be no more of those janky subtasks that literally have no function except to be checked. They could provide the features for dozens upon dozens of requests people have asked for subtasks in one fell swoop. To not just do it this way in the first place was just bad design and an obvious indication that it was never well thought out.
  • Sync updates aren’t reflected on shared lists unless other user has Wunderlist running. One of the biggest features of Wunderlist is the fact that you can share lists with people. Lots of other features are built upon this precept, such as comments and task assignments. I was just sharing some lists with my girlfriend (a team of a mere 2 people) and we have found that if one of us had the app off that consistently when one of us made a change to the list like add a new task, or check a task off as being done, the changes were not reflected properly. The results were that the lists got out of sync resulting in duplicate tasks, tasks with mismatched states, or a host of duplicate tasks with change conflicts. Here’s the thing: either the task data is hosted up in the cloud or it isn’t and it is carefully synchronized between each client as it shares its resources to other peers in the team. This problem is widespread and reproducible, enough that Wunderlist has multiple knowledge base posts with work-arounds in their FAQ. Why not just fix the problem so this core function works properly? A Task management tool that is not remotely close to reliable in keeping tasks in sync is more of a liability than anything.

The Lesser Nuisances

  • Search is nearly useless on IOS. I don’t know about Android, but on the IOS version search only is for the task names only. You cannot search on any other content within a task. That means you can’t search subtasks, notes, comments… nothing. This is just lazy.
  • You can’t search by date at all! One thing that is useful in any task list is to search for tasks that are due soon, or maybe tasks that are… I don’t know…. OVERDUE? Nope. Not here.
  • Sorting is limited. For the longest time, there was no way to sort tasks by their due date. This seems mind-bogglingly silly since that would seem to be the way you’d probably want to view any task list by default. Well, they finally implemented it, and it sort of works I guess, however there is no multi-tiered sorting. It’s not even implied. What I mean is, say you want to sort by priority (which is literally either “starred” or “not starred”) and then in those two groups you want to sort by due date. Nope, In other tools you can usually accomplish this sort of thing by first sorting by due date and then sorting by priority so you are basically “implying” multiple tiers of sorting. This doesn’t seem to be how Wunderlist works at all. Once you sort a list of records by a field, the order the records are listed within the sort aggregates seems to just be based on the order creation of those tasks. Or it might be random. I don’t know, or care, frankly. Either way it’s useless to me.
  • There are no import or export tasks. You’d think that Wunderlist would make it possible to at least import tasks from Apple’s Reminder tool- an extremely basic tool with features that Wunderlist pretty much matches and then offers tons more functionality. However, there is no way to bring any data in- not even from a text file or .csv. It should of course go without saying that you’re not going to be getting your task list out of Wunderlist either. YOU STUCK HERE. The best you can get is to email the list as slovenly formatted text list that is emailed so you can painfully copy and past stuff by hand. Agony! I am not looking forward to this eventuality and I am basically going to be kissing a boatload of data goodbye, like notes and attachments, when I dump Wunderlist. Now I know: when evaluating any tool, check to see that there is a way to export the data is some way so that you might be able to import it into some other tool like Evernote or even back into Apple’s Reminders app after you realize that its basic functions are really all that you needed anyway and you come back with your tail between your legs.
  • Then there’s all of the things you can’t do with subtasks. As I said above, subtasks are elements of tasks and so moving subtasks to other tasks, assigning due dates to subtasks, or pretty much anything at all regarding subtasks is not happening. You are better off coming up with a system of titling your tasks and sorting them alphabetically to designate tasks as “subtasks” then use the abominable subtasks feature of Wunderlist. It’s a joke.
  • No snooze for you! Most task managers have some means to “punt” tasks that you are falling behind on a unit of time. Whether it be asking for 15 minutes or another day, you should be able to click on alert quickly snooze the task some set period (or selectable period) of time before the reminder bugs you again. Instead you have to muck around with the reminder interface and pick a new due date. That’s way too much work when you are flustered and just want your task management system to get off of your back.
  • There’s no ID for a task. Having some serialization for tasks would at least be useful so you can say to someone “hey, did you finish task #7453 yet?” Instead you have to use a task name that could be ever-changing and probably sounds like lots of other things. Also, serialization will tell you the order in which tasks are created. Useful!
  • Okay, I know I’m not doing that anytime soon. There is no way to put a task on the back burner and reduce the clutter of your task list. You have to move the task around to another list, or come up with some other hokey solution instead.
  • Two states! Yeah two states. A task is either “Done” or “Not Done”. There is no “in Progress”, or a percentage done, or “Cancelled” or anything actually. You basically get the option of checking it or deleting it. Effectively that’s three states, I guess.
  • Location. Location. Location. In this day and age with geo-locating on freaking everything, you’d think there would be some means of either linking your current location or put an address link into a task. Well, if you did, you thought wrong.
  • Like sand through your fingers… Because there is only one alert for your task, if you miss it, you will never be reminded about it again because there is no way to snooze it or remind you again later without resetting the reminder date. Also, you won’t see that it appears in an overdue task list because there isn’t one. You will miss tasks that you should have done weeks ago before realizing it, especially if you use lots of lists. You can count on this.
  • No, this is not a project management tool. The folks at Wunderlist clearly have some visions of grandeur that their tool is in some way, shape, or form a project management tool. I can’t even count the number of ways that this tool is not even close to being up to that task. Aside from the fact that multi-user syncing is buggy, there are simply no time or user management features to speak of. Wunderlist is firmly placed as a tool that is probably too complicated to be a simple task management tool for most people to keep reminded about to-dos, but far too under-featured and poorly designed to be a even a rudimentary project management tool.

I could go on but I won’t because how long should one person bash a product that at one point they actually liked? I really wanted Wunderlist to work, not just because I invested so much data into it, but because in theory it should be a good tool. The problem is, it isn’t. It’s badly designed and features are not exactly shooting down the pipeline. The only thing that it has going for it is that so many other tools that integrate with Wunderlist so you can set up reminders from emails, text messages, calendar events, or even Facebook posts. Wunderlist has been around a while so it is supported far and wide with lots of useful integrations. That is probably the biggest reason a person wouldn’t want to let go. The thing is, the more you stay with it, the more entrenched you are going to be with a lousy tool that clearly is not getting any better. If it has barely changed in nearly a year, why should they suddenly “get the picture” and start making intelligent design decisions now? The sooner you move on to a better tool, the less it’s going to hurt. Just rip the Band-Aid off already.