12 Top Features for the Perfect Todo App

Is your time management app actually saving you time?

Paper todo lists are still great.

However, these days, many of us use apps on our phones to manage our tasks. It makes sense since our phones are with us all-of-the-time. (Many people even sleep with their phones.)

Yet, many of the popular todo apps leave much to be desired. They are often too complex, while at the same time lacking even basic time management functions.

What features do you wish your todo list app could do?

Today, I run down 12 features that I think the ideal todo app should have.

Features of the Ideal Todo App

I have used many todo apps, even testing a few that are in still in beta. In fact, I can say that I have tried the majority of todo apps on the market. (The big players anyway…)

Yet, I don’t think I have ever found one that “checked all the boxes” when it came to my time management and user interface preferences.

I have switched apps several times over the years. From Things to Nozbe to Wunderlist to Todoist. And countless ones that I can’t recall the names.

Once upon a time I even considered making my own todo app. (My backgrounds are in time management and user interface design.)

It amazes me how many of these “productivity apps” are so difficult to use. Some have so many features that their screen looks like the dashboard of the space shuttle. Others, don’t provide even the most basic of time management features, or violate basic app UI (user interface) design.

Here are 12 Features that I Want to See in a Todo App:

  1. Reorder Tasks – This one is really simple. One of the advantages of an app-based todo list is that you are not limited by ink on paper. Yet, many apps won’t let you easily re-organize the order of the todos on your list.
  2. Prioritization – This is another basic time management feature. It amazes me how many apps don’t allow prioritization of tasks. (Or have it poorly implemented.) It is important to be able to separate important tasks from the lesser ones. This should be by default.
  3. Quick Entry/Capture – Todo apps should always be ready to quickly  capture a random task. It shouldn’t require 16 steps to enter a todo. They should be quick to allow you to add a todo and get it “out of your head.”
  4. Simple UI – Following on from quick capture, overall the app should be simple. Simple to use. Simple user interface. Too many features just clutter things up. And 99% of those extra bells and whistles never get used.
  5. Pictures on Tasks – This is one of my favorites, and I feel it is underestimated by most todo apps. Sometimes a photo is a great way to add a task to your list. There  are a few task apps that have this feature, but it is often buried if it exists. (Looking at you Wunderlist.)
  6. Sync – Again, one of the benefits of an electronic list should be the ability to sync is across all platforms and locations that the user works. (See #10 below)
  7. Today List – You can’t do it all. And one of the best ways to “get work done” is to only concentrate on your top tasks for today. The ability to see a subset or “Hit List” for Today is important.
  8. Future Tasks – Todo lists should remember so you don’t have to. Tasks should be able to “send tasks to a future date” and then be out-of-mind until that date. Some of the bigger apps have this, but I would like to see it be easier to use and more intuitive. (Todoist does a good job at making this feature easy to use.)
  9. Voice Capture – One of the quickest ways to interact with our devices on the go is by voice commands. Yet, it is still not a ubiquitous feature, and many apps use workarounds or third-party systems. I would like to see more apps that allow voice capture from the lock screen.
  10. On Every Platform – Your todo list needs to be wherever you are. Regardless of device or platform. The ideal todo app must be available for the majority of platforms. For me this list must include: Mobile (iPhone and Android), and desktop apps (Mac and Windows). A web interface is good too, or could be a stepping-stone to desktop apps. It is hard for smaller developers to cover all these bases, but as they grow, apps need to be available everywhere their users work.
  11. Pretty Design – I bet you didn’t expect this one. But, yes, I am saying that the app has to be visually appealing. Sarcasm aside, this is basic UI design. The app has to look good and be readable, too.
  12. Fun to Use – Last but not least, users have to want to use your productivity app. (Or any app!) People use tools they enjoy and work for them. One of the best recent examples of this is Slack. Users love using it. Unlike their email app, Slack is fun to use and gets the work done. The same must be true of the ideal todo app.

How Does Your Todo App Measure Up?

Which of these features and design elements does your todo app have?

I have yet to find one that meets all of them.

I’d love to hear in the comments which todo apps best fit your feature requirements. And if you are a productivity app developer, please take head of this list for your next app update.

Question: What is your current todo list app? What features or design do you wish to see in the ideal task manager? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Vulpes

    I like to have a calendar + ToDo list in one app, something like EssentialPIM

    • Bev Mynott

      I would too but failed to get EssentialPIM to sync with anything and it wiped by google calendar, so I am still looking…

  • Wilson Ng

    I don’t think very highly of priority labels such as the ABC method. Many todo apps already hav a priority featur built in. I can put a due date on a task or project. As the due date approaches, the task/project elevates itself to a higher priority. I look at my due list which shows overdue, due today, and due soon. I try to work on all overdue items first and then go to due today. If. Can get ahead of myself, I’ll try to start work on any house Ng that will be due in the net 7 days. The due items are my high priority items.

    When I flag or star a project, that becomes my big rock for the week or day. These items don’t have a due date but I would like to focus a significant amount of energy and time to making significant progress here. These are my medium priority items.

    Everything else is low priority and is either a Someday/Maybe item or deferred into the future.

    • Totally disagree if you are someone who invests your times in actions that drive max ROI. If you are someone who simply puts out fires all day or blocks and tackles “stuff due soon” regardless of how much closer to ultimate goal any task puts you, then yes, but if you are someone who is ruthless at executing against tasks strategically aligned with deep purpose, then an agile sprint cycle that leverages priority labels is table stakes. Yes, in a digital world.

      • Wilson Ng

        Ah.. I stand corrected. I’m not familiar with the agile sprint method. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’ll have to take a rabbit trail down this way to explore and see how I can start using it. I think my work demands are simpler than yours and never encountered a situation that needs agile sprints.

        I was just never a fan of the ABC method when I started down this road many moons ago.

  • Srikanth Bhat

    I have found something which works well for me and does most of the things mentioned above and more.
    Even I tried many apps including paid ones for quite some time before settling with “Tick tick”. This works well with both iOS and Android, there’s a dedicated”Today” view, tasks can be color coded for high priority, can be rescheduled to another day with just a swipe, syncs very fast across all devices, pics can be attached to tasks.. adding tasks takes very few clicks in android as there’s an excellent widget which can be added to home screen and using voice to add a task takes two clicks in total and when you say time of the event, an alarm is automatically added. In iOS there’s option for Siri integration. What’s more… If you use Evernote then in android there’s an option to attach a note (think of flight tickets, hotel bookings… Receipts) to a task which makes it incredibly useful for me. All in all ..for me this is near perfect.

  • Wilson Ng

    For picture in tasks, I prefer to use emojis in the task title. If the picture is too big, I’d say forget it. Nice feature but not essential.

  • Christina W

    It’s always so interesting to me what needs people have and how they differ from person to person. For me personally, I agree with all points except “voice capture and “pictures”. “Every platform” is also not that important to me as I work on my desktop computer 99.99% of the time and hate using the phone. The screen is just so small and typing such a nuisance. I avoid my phone as much as I can.

    But a good way to organize all my tasks/projects and then a good way to plan my day is most important to me. And on that front I could not find an app I was happy with. So I built my own. I then also added a bunch of features that will help me not procrastinate (which is a major problem for me). And because different things work for different people I made it so that most features can be turned on/off to not unnecessarily clutter things. It also makes it fun to try out new strategies and see if they work. And then only keep the ones that you really use. The app is called Amazing Marvin (http://www.amazingmarvin.com) and launching in June. It’s for the web only at the moment, mobile apps coming later.

  • Zsuzsa Kiss

    I agree, and would like to add some more:
    – recurring tasks, routines
    – to be able to combine with my daily schedule – lets see before the 10-12 program let schedule 3 tasks, and if I didn’t finished them, move automatically thereafter – or asking when I want to do.

    • Christina W

      Yes! Recurring tasks… very important.

  • Bev Mynott

    Subtasks, along with the ability to see both calendar appointments and tasks together in the same view, are very important to me. But I can’t seem to find anything that does that, which is why I still use a Filofax as I can display what I want in my organiser.

  • Marton Balazs

    Nothing can beat Emacs’ org mode. http://orgmode.org/ I even have a little parser that tells me how pressing the deadlines are in my org file.

  • I keep my to do list in Google Sheets rather than an app. It doesn’t have the photo ability or the fun UI, but it works for me! I’ve thought about paying a developer to create an app rather than using Sheets, but it works for now so I’ve never gotten around to it. Here’s a link to more details on how I have it set up: http://www.50by25.com/2013/07/how-i-developed-my-to-do-list-to-gsd.html