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The 5 Best Free To-Do List Apps of 2019

We asked six pros to share their favorite apps that help them stay on task. Here are the top five they recommended, plus tips for finding the right app for your needs.

Jan 4, 2019

Image of coffee mug with phrase Go get 'em next to a to-do list
Image via Unsplash.com/Kyle Glenn

Whether you’re acing your last 16 credits as a student, managing a staff of 1,600 in the professional world, or managing the 16,000 things you need to get done for your household and family, you’re probably busier than should be humanly possible. The right to-do list app can help streamline your workload by keeping you organized and getting you from “chaos” to “complete.” Move over, paper lists! The power of technology will let you organize your life so you can prioritize your workload and electronically prioritize and manage tasks.

The five to-do list apps below come highly recommended by well-organized pros across a wide range of fields and professions. These experts have found the Holy Grail — a way to build some breathing room into even the busiest day. Here’s how you can do it, too.

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Best App for Those Who Use Multiple Devices

1) “Todoist”

  • Available For Download On: Apple App Store | Google Play
  • Offered By: Doist
  • What It Does: From your phone to your watch to your laptop, Todoist is a management app for anyone requiring seamless integration across multiple devices. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • It works across devices, from your watch to your laptop.
    • You can add tasks using voice commands (or typed).
    • It allows for multi-user access so you can allocate tasks to family or co-workers.
    • You can manage up to 80 active projects at a time.
    • It sends you daily reminders.
    • You can monitor your progress with its built-in graphs.
    • It has a clean, easy-to-use interface.
    • You can break down large tasks into small, manageable ones with the help of “subtasks.” Subtask management lets you stay on top of the small details, without letting go of the big picture.
    • It reminds you about deadlines and recurring tasks with due dates, such as weekly reports or ongoing tasks like clearing out your inbox.
  • Why You’ll Love It: Todd Spodek, a criminal attorney and managing partner at Spodek Law Group, says he couldn’t manage his office without it, because it lets him juggle multiple cases and keeps his staff organized. This app is also great for people who just. can’t. get. started. Another Todoist enthusiast, Itamar Shatz, is a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University who writes a procrastination-busting blog. He says he loves Todoist because it motivates him toward action. Todoist lets him create a distinct separation between projects, while allowing him to design a meaningful hierarchy and structure within each task by adding subtasks — the steps required to accomplish projects and goals in priority of importance. He also appreciates the auto-reminders, which keep him on top of daily, weekly, and monthly deadlines. “I especially like the clean, uncluttered layout, and the fact that the software works so well on both my computer and mobile device,” he says.

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Best App for Time Management

2) “Be Focused”

  • Available For Download On: Apple App Store
  • Offered By: Denys Yevenko
  • What It Does: A great gig-economy tool, Be Focused is a boon for freelancers or anyone who works more efficiently when there are clear delineations between the tasks required each day. The app is based on the Pomodoro Technique, which separates your day into 25 minutes of focused attention, followed by five-minute breaks. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • It uses a timer to help you track the hours you work.
    • It offers alarm sounds and vibrations so nappers and daydreamers will be able to stay on track.
    • You can chart your progress over customized timeframes.
    • It provides pie chart reports that let you easily visualize how much time you’re spending on specific tasks.
    • You can build in long or short break intervals so you can breathe when you need to, without sacrificing progress on your daily, weekly, or monthly goals.
  • Why You’ll Love It: It’s perfect for people who tend to scratch their head at the end of the day, wondering where the time went. Kelan Kline, who runs The Savvy Couple finance blog with wife Brittany, loves this to-do list app because it helps him keep track of his working hours. This app actually helps you figure out where you’re spending your time by doing the how-many-hours-did-I-spend-on-that-task math for you. Time has a way of getting away from you. With Be Focused, you’ll get a clear and concise picture of where you’re putting your time each day.

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Best App for Visual Learners

3) “Trello”

  • Available For Download On: Apple App Store | Google Play
  • Offered By: Trello, Inc.
  • What It Does: Making projects and tasks easy to identify and visually stimulating, Trello is great for individuals or teams. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • It offers an unlimited amount of visualization tools like cards, lists, and Kanban boards.
    • It helps you track who on your team is doing what.
    • It allows for teammates to make notations on projects.
    • It integrates with apps you probably use and love, such as Slack and Evernote.
    • It tracks your time and supports your calendar.
  • Why You’ll Love It: Trello uses graphs, boards, and checklists to provide easy snapshots of projects and tasks. If you prefer visual aids over scrolling written lists, you’ll want to use Trello for planning vacations and home projects, as well as work-specific tasks. Take it from Angelo Frisina, founder and CEO at Sunlight Media. Not only does he swear by Trello’s simple interface, but his very efficient senior high school intern also loves it for organizing and managing her homework and study needs. Alistair Clay, co-founder of Class PR, calls this app a lifesaver and a stress-beater. “I love the fact that in one snapshot I can get an overview of where I'm at with all the different moving parts of a project and see which are the priority jobs,” he says.

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Best App for Integrating the Work-Life Balance

4) “Wunderlist”

  • Available For Download On: Apple App Store | Google Play
  • Offered By: 6 Wunderkinder GmbH
  • What It Does: Love hashtags? Wunderlist lets you create groups, or information silos, based on hashtags and then alpha-sorts them so you can easily find them across all your task lists. If you send your emails to Wunderlist, it turns them into action items — a huge plus. It also lets you share lists with your friends or teammates, and across multiple devices.
  • Why You’ll Love It: You know that your 10 a.m. dentist appointment is just as important as your 3 p.m. client meeting. By generating side-by-side, task-specific silos, Wunderlist gives you the ability to even the playing field between work-specific tasks and personal ones so you can integrate every aspect of your day-to-day seamlessly. This way, you only need one app to keep track of everything happening in your life, every day.

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Best App for List Lovers

5) “Anylist”

  • Available For Download On: Apple App Store
  • Offered By: Purple Cover, Inc.
  • What It Does: If what you need is a to-do list app that is just about lists, period, Anylist will be a great choice for you. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • It’s easy to use and streamlined, making it perfect for grocery store shopping, vacation planning, organizing home projects, and for school or work tasks.
    • You can share your lists with family and friends.
    • You can add items on the fly with Siri voice command.
    • You can add photos of products, making it simple to identify exactly what you want to others. This is a terrific feature for parents (and spouses) who allocate shopping to family members who don’t always get it right the first time.
  • Why You’ll Love It: If all you really want from your to-do list app is the simple ability to make comprehensive lists, you will love Anylist. Just ask Jennifer Boaro, founder of The Cat Ball, a cat bed manufacturer. Boaro used Anylist for shopping and loved the ability it gave her to share out her list with others. Then, when her husband was hospitalized suddenly, Boaro used the app to help her keep track of hospital requests and follow-ups. The app helped her by allowing her to focus on her husband, rather than on her to-do lists. You can also use Anylist to keep track of to-do lists at work. (Think: invoicing, phone calls you don’t want to make but have to return, and supplies to buy.)

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5 Questions To Help You Choose the Right To-Do List App for You

There are plenty of highly effective to-do list apps out there, but the goal is to only rely on one. You’ll want to find something that has enough functionality without being overwhelming or feeling like a chore to use. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you narrow down which app to test out first:

1) Does it meet your needs?

Figure out what you want your app to help you accomplish. What problems are you hoping to solve by using an app? What app features can’t you live without? Which app features are unnecessary?

2) Do you like its interface?

Is it easy to use, or is it confusing?

3) What’s the developer's history?

Is the app’s developer well-established with a good track record?

4) Are there positive user reviews?

Read app user reviews to get the inside scoop on how good the freeware really is and any bugs that just won’t quit.

5) Is the customer support sufficient?

If you need help, can you access advice? Is there an easy-to-use help function?

Using a to-do list app can help streamline your workload, but choosing the right one is a big to-do in itself. Do your homework to figure out what you really need. Then, analyze the “What It Does” lists and decide which one is best for you.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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