Finding that perfect… todo app

I love productivity and productivity tools. GTD is the best thing since sliced bread. After years of chaos at work I need something to lean on. I’m not necessarily looking for an entire process to guide my life — but something built from experience to set me in the right direction.

My first encounter with GTD was about 10 years ago. At the time, my work life was complete chaos and I quickly adopted the entire process and made it my guiding light. A few years later, things calmed down and I didn’t have the need for the entire GTD routine, but some of it had made such an impact I couldn’t leave it behind. I kept reasoning about my working life in GTD terms for quite a while — even though things slowly calmed down.

The year was 2014 and things began to heat up again. More and more chaos was introduced as I once again was appointed team leader and found myself with more yellow sticky notes than I could handle. With a faint memory of GTD I began to introduce it again, step by step. The first thing I did was to select a tool (so, I’m a developer — selecting a tool might have been a premature decision, but I’m honest here). I went with Todoist.

I created all the projects I needed and began to dump all information into Todoist. I used Priority and filters to arrange my tasks according to the thoughts from GTD. Prio 1 was Next and Prio 4 was Maybe/Someday. Setting a due date on a task meant it was selected to be completed on the given date (usually today).

This setup worked fine for over a year, although I constantly got reminders of overdue tasks. But one day, after discussing GTD and Todoapps with a friend, I decided that there must be a better way.


I read reviews of todo apps. Tons of them. I read so many reviews I couldn’t even keep the apps separated. The first app I felt was a serious about was Doit received great reviews from a couple of users and seemed to have a large userbase. That’s got to be a quality app. I liked how the native apps were designed, but the webapp — well — not so much.

After a week or so I was filled with frustration. I discovered a few serious bugs (recurring tasks was set to occur on the 32nd of every month and Windows client constantly crashing) I quickly decided to leave Doit behind. The iPhone app hadn’t received an update for 6 months so I had little hope of anything coming out soon.

The next app I fell for was Nirvana. Nirvana has an approach to GTD that resembles the book in many ways, and they made a few improvements that can be enabled using settings. There is a web app and an iPhone app. Great. Everything I need. Except for a Windows app and a Mac app — but OK. Let’s do this anyway.

I migrated my complete repository of tasks into Nirvana after a couple of quick tests. I quickly felt right at home. Recurring tasks seemed ok, tags worked pretty much the way I wanted. The logbook was great. Frequently used to keep track of what I had done earlier.

Months went by, I got into the daily routine with Nirvana. The inbox was frequently used and emptied, the logbook filled up with completed tasks and my remaining tasks were better structured than ever. However — there was something missing. At work, I hardly noticed it, but at home, I began to miss reminders more and more. Also, I found myself looking in the drawer on the iPhone for an overview of the tasks. But not only for overview — it’s the place I expect a button to quick add tasks to my inbox.

The hunt

After a couple of days of pondering — I actually made the decision to find another app to replace Nirvana. I didn’t want to — but the missing features became something I frequently felt frustration over, and since the team behind Nirvana doesn’t seem to have any ambition to implement these features anytime soon I felt that the time had come.

I went through the entire Internet looking for the ultimate todo app.

2do — Only Apple OS (the Android app isn’t good enough, according to reviews). I honestly didn’t test this one. But I came pretty darn close.

Teuxdeux — Visually appealing, but too simplistic for multiple projects. Information overload.

Everlist — Too simplistic. Still in beta (I think)

Proud — Only iPhone client (no web or desktop). And not good enough. Visually appealing though.

Swipes — Best candidate yet. Very simple, yet not far too simple. iPhone client close to being good enough, but web client isn’t there yet. I used this app for almost a week. No bulk operations in web client, and after adding a few hundred tasks I completely drowned. Needs more ways of handling large todolists — without loosing the simplicity.

Nozbe — Didn’t like the UI. Seems like a stable application with decent support for a GTD workflow, but not good enough. The UI feels old and rugged. I like new and swift.

Evernote — I use Evernote a lot. Using it for Todos as well is appealing, and I spent some time reading about how to set it up for GTD, but Evernote is just too slow — and using an app that isn’t even a native todo app just seems plain wrong.

I think those are the ones I tested during my 2 week run around the net. I read about twice as many, but discarded them without even trying. A combination of apps would solve my problems with Nirvana (combined with for example Due, Swipes or Teuxdeux). This is not something I am willing to try, since having multiple todo lists kills the possibility to get an overview.

Back to Todoist

After testing out what felt like all todo apps in the world, I came back to Todoist after discussing it with a friend (I’m lucky enough / cursed to have a friend with the same twisted mind when it comes to todo apps). His point of view, after trying at least half of the apps I tried, was that the important thing was your mental process, and that the app allowed you to follow your process. Not that the app taught you GTD and enforces GTD guidelines. In some ways, I disagree. Having an app that helps you and at the same time enforces GTD would be ideal — but after these last two weeks I gave up on the idea. But — I felt displeased enough to try an app that doesn’t enforce GTD, but at least has proved to be rock stable, has reminders, works from the drawer, is extremely cross platform compatible and let’s you be in charge of how you want to structure your day and your lists.

Yes, that’s you, Todoist.

Testing all the todo apps in the world has given me a clear view of what I like and what works for me. I now know what I want in a todo app, and Todoist doesn’t provide that out of the box — but it lets me create it.

GTD in Todoist

I’m still trying to find my way here, but this is what it currently looks like when I open Todoist:

Obviously I have a few more projects in there, but that’s not important. The important part is the structure. It’s so simple and clean. Setting this up in Todoist takes about 2 minutes. The web version let’s you view the Personal project with all subprojects in the same view — and it’s easy to move things between the subprojects. Everything I decide to put on todays agenda I move to the Personal project itself, and give it today as due date. (I wish I could get rid of the due date, but it’s important to get that cross project overview)

I call this Version 1. And this is currently the best way I’ve found to structure my day. I try to improve my setup all the time, and as soon as I feel ready I’ll write a detailed post describing how I do GTD in Todoist.

If you have any tips, I’m always grateful to get a comment below.

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