This is the first in a new series exploring some of the various third-party alternatives to Apple’s core apps.
While the software that comes with your shiny new device is great and often all you need, the app stores and third-party developers ensure there are plenty of alternatives if you need more.
This time, I’m looking at one of the most powerful and popular alternatives to Apple’s Reminders app: ToDoist. It’s been my go-to app for task management for years now and it’s the first one I recommend to friends and clients who want to get a bit more organised and on top of things.
Why the need for an alternative?
This is a question that I answer differently every time Apple updates their Reminders app. With every iteration, it gets closer to being just enough for task management, but it still falls short in lots of areas. Don’t get me wrong, I still use it from time to time, as the lack of any friction when it comes to getting reminders into the app is second-to-none.
When walking down the street, I can just send a simple reminder via Siri, through my AirPods. Works like a dream, every time. Even if I do look a little strange dictating it.
But I really only use this for things like ‘Pick up the package at reception’ and ‘Water the plants when I get to the office’. One-off reminders that are good to get out of my head and into a system.
For every other task that’s meaningful, I use ToDoist. Reminders is hampered by a few limitations, including how it displays tasks, a lack of organisation options, and the atrocious way it displays attachments and links.
Let me put it this way: Reminders is perfect if you have a very simple, quiet life with few responsibilities. Great for a grocery list. Perfect for Christmas shopping. But once you have a few projects on the go, its limitations become super clear.
And believe me I’ve tried! At least once a year, normally when iOS get an update, I experiment with using Reminders, but limiting it to my personal life. And like clockwork, after a week, I drop it in frustration. So I feel like I’m writing about this from real experience.
What’s so good about ToDoist?
When there are so many competing apps in this space, I think ToDoist stands out for a few important reasons.
Cross-platform alternative: It’s a genuine cross-platform option, with apps on all Apple’s platforms, as well as the competition. Perfect for people who us Mac at home, but are shackled to a PC at work. Or even have an iPad, but still use an Android phone.
Powerful organising features: One of the things that stands out about Apple’s Reminders app is the limited ways you can see your tasks. They get organised in lists for sure. And you can see what’s due today, for example. But you can’t organise tasks by project and anything else. Like the need to show me a list of tasks that I can do in the office, at home, on the move and so on. You have to go digging and the more projects you have, the harder it is. ToDoist allows you to organise your tasks in many more flexible ways, reducing friction and stress. Labels and filters are the way!
A simple clean interface: This is perhaps more subjective, but I find the ToDoist interface very calm and easy to use. I guess this is partly familiarity, but users can also adjust the colour scheme and there’s a great dark mode for those of you that like that. You can also organise longer lists into sections, bringing added clarity to an overwhelming workload. Attachments and comments are neatly contained within the task and adding sub-tasks is both simple and very obvious.
Emailing in tasks: When using ToDoist, you can use a unique email address to simply email in tasks. This is perfect for getting tasks out of your email inbox and into your task management system. I use this to forward emails to specific projects – yes, you can set up unique email addresses per project! One great example is for my expenses. Every time I get the receipt for a business purchase I’ve paid for myself, I forward it to my ‘Personal Expenses’ project and tick them all off at the end of the month. Much easier than scrolling through a credit card statement or searching my emails, looking for inspiration.
Sharing capabilities: You can share lists in Apple Reminders, but the sharing in ToDoist is arguably more powerful. For a start, you can comment on each others tasks and see that you’ve assigned and what you’ve been assigned very easily. I don’t use this too often, but when I do, it makes life a lot easier.
Lists or boards: You have the option to present your tasks as a standard list, or a kanban-style board. This long-awaited addition to ToDoist bag of tricks was launched only a while back and I think it’s one of the most compelling reasons for using the app.
Could it be any better?
ToDoist is regularly updated and a really well-maintained app. That said, there are a couple things I’d really like to see in coming updates. For example:
I’d love to be able to select it as the default reminders app on my devices. As of iOS 14, you can select alternatives as your default browser, for example – I can only hope these kind of developments continue. That way, any reminder type of instruction to Siri would activate ToDoist, not Reminders.
ToDoist’s handling of repeating tasks takes some getting used to and can be sub-optimal. If you neglect to tick it off same-day, but tick it off the following day, it removes that task for the day you’ve updated the app – not necessarily the day you completed the task. In other words, ticking off Monday’s task on Tues removes it for both Monday and Tuesday. This leaves you with the annoying task of rescheduling repeating tasks, or just hoping you’ll remember. Neither is great, to be honest.
While boards are a great addition to the app, if you follow a traditional ‘To Do’, ‘Doing’ ‘Done’ setup of your board, dragging tasks to ‘Done’ doesn’t change their status. It means they’re in a different section, but the app doesn’t treat them as completed. I understand why this is, but surely there’s a way to set it up differently?
Are there any other alternatives?
As I said above, there’s a veritable industry based on task management apps. The best one is the one you use consistently and mindfully, so Reminders might be all you need. If it’s not, have a look at ToDoist and see if it meeds your needs.