The Endless Ocean of Productivity Tools

The Endless Ocean of Productivity Tools
This article is a 6 min read.

Everyone wants to become more productive. And if you are looking for tools to boost your productivity I have some good news for you: the market is oversaturated.

There are thousands of todo list apps, project management tools, and note taking apps. Some of them are super simple; others get quite complicated by following specific guidelines like the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. I tried many apps and many techniques to organize my life as an entrepreneur and as a student who wrote his BA thesis. What I learned is that it is really easy to over-organize your day while losing focus on your most important tasks. In the following abstract, I will tell you which tools I tried and used. And – more importantly – which tools I abandoned and which tools I still use today.

Todo Lists

There are two different kinds of todo list tools. Those following a GTD approach and those who don’t. GTD – or Getting Things Done – is an organizing approach introduced by David Allen. Allen states that you should have a brain dump where you simply write down all the to-dos you have in your head. You collect them and then prioritize them and put them in different categories, lists, and so on. It is – as I learned – a very time-consuming process.

I tried to organize myself by following the GTD rules, but I failed. I use the following tools to help me with GTD:
1. Toodledo
2. Todoist
3. Trello

Toodledo

Screenshot of Toodledo Dashboard

Let’s talk about Toodledo first. It is probably the most customizable tool out there. However, if you ask me, this is not necessarily a pro but rather a contra. By being able to customize every single detail of every single task, list, mind map, and more you spend more time adjusting small details rather than doing real planning. In fact, it took me too much time to get started with a simple todo list that I stopped only after a few minutes. Toodledo is a great tool if you want to spend one hour each day managing to plan your daily tasks. Toodledo is a no-go for busy people. I did not extend my free trial version.

However, if you are really into the GTD methodology, you should give Toodledo a try!

Todoist

Todoist Dashboard

Todoist is the perfect to-do list application on the market, period. All of the Todoist apps (except Windows 10) have an ideal user interface, advanced planning features, and a wide range of integrations. If you follow GTD rigorously, Todoist is the best option out there.
However, I just uninstalled Todoist and here is why. Todoist is a tool with many features. You can plan and organize every single todo with every small detail you can think of. For example, you can assign each task to one or multiple different projects, labels, filters, and much more.
The problem I have with Todoist is that you tasks get lost in your different categories. I only need a tool which shows me my top four priorities for the day. Todoist does much more than that. Todoist became so crowded with dozens of tasks that I ended up avoiding Todoist.
Furthermore, even if you want to use essential features like push notifications, you will need to buy the premium tier of the app. However, if – like me – you don’t use all these advanced features, you end up paying around $30 per year for nothing.
My resume: Todoist is fantastic for people who work with GTD, for everyone else there are other more simplistic apps you should have a look at.

Trello

Trello is not primarily a todo list neither a GTD tool. I love Trello because you can use it for nearly everything. It is especially great when working in teams. Trello is also perfect to apply Scrum methodologies. In my case, I create a Trello board to manage my daily tasks and to order them according to their priorities. It looks somehow like this:

Trello Daily Plan

It works great for me, however, if you don’t have an eye on Trello every day – your boards will soon look outdated. Trello works tremendously great on PCs and tablets because you have an overview of your entire board. However, this is a problem on phones; here you can only see one list at a time. Therefore, Trello great advantage of having a direct overview gets lost somehow.

I like working with Trello, and I now use it to visualize all the tasks to be done and to sort all of them into different lists. What I don’t use it for is to checkmark my daily tasks. For my daily tasks, I use Microsoft Todo.

Microsoft Todo

Microsoft Todo My Day

Microsoft Todo is a product of the previous Wunderlist team. What started as a beta is today the most beautiful to-do app on the market. It is beautifully designed and super simple to use. The super significant advantage of Todo is its smart scheduling feature which allows you to organize your daily tasks within a few seconds and most importantly have an immediate overview of all your tasks that day.

There are still a few features missing. However, I am confident that Todo will become the number one Todo list on the market rather soon. Mac user (I am among them)? Sorry, there is still no Todo Mac app.

Pomotodo

Pomotodo Mac App

Okay, now I featured the most critical Todo list tools. So what is Pomotodo? Pomotodo is – as the name might tell – a mix between a Pomodoro timer and a todo list. Let me tell you upfront; the to-do list feature is not sufficient to use it to plan your day or smaller tasks. But this is not what Pomotodo tries to be; it is instead meant to prepare your deep work tasks, stay you focused on the task at hand, and keep track of your progress. I used it for long work sessions while writing my bachelor thesis. I also use it to keep focus on the task at hand in my business. The best thing is the weekly summary which you get via email which shows you exactly how productive your last week has been.

Pomodoro means splitting your work phase into 25-minute blocks. After you worked for 25 minutes, you rest for 5 minutes. Having a break every 25 minutes might sound a little bit unproductive. However, it amazes me every time how much more I get done by using the Pomodoro technique.

Pomotodo is therefore the perfect tool for you if you work long hours at the desk each day. The premium version will give you advanced features and great statistics. I am a premium subscriber to Pomotodo as it boosts my productivity.

Résumé

There are thousands of to-do apps and productivity tools out there. The most important decision you must make is whether you like to follow a rough GTD methodology or rather a simple and light planning approach. I avoid the GTD planning method and rather rely on planning every morning my top four priorities for the day. I use Trello for long-term planning and project management. The best todo apps are Microsoft Todo and Pomotodo.

I hope some of these tools will help make your day more productive as well!

Cover photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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