As a way of displacing my own faults in my disastrous efforts to find and stick with a to-do list system, I’ve come to favor thinking of all the apps and websites as equally incompetent armies vying for the prize at the center of the battlefield. In this flight of fancy (and possibly only in this flight of fancy), the prize is me.

So who do we have fighting for the privilege of letting me click boxes, type in due dates, and sync with my Google calendar?

Let’s meet the contestants:

  1. Google Tasks – the peasant horde, this easy to-do-lister offers painless execution that is utterly confounded by larger, more complex project management.

    Strengths: Quick and agile, good at the basics. Has a great relationship with Google Calendar and is easy to access from within Gmail.

    Weaknesses: Too simple to handle project templates, easy nesting of projects within one another, and has a Sword of Damocles hanging over its head due to Google’s willingness to kill products like a hangman during the French Revolution.
  2. Asana – a lumbering war machine built for vast enterprises and team-wide efforts. Loaded with features that are useless for the solo tasker, but stuffed with fun animations that make it attractive nonetheless.

    Strengths: All the nested tasks, due date stringiness, and project templates you could ask for. Asana comes ready to bring industrial-strength features without the sheer scale of something like MS Project.

    Weaknesses: We’re not trying to project plan the Olympics here. Asana’s simply too much for a day-to-day manager. Like buying a Hummer when you live in the city – it might be fascinating for a few days, but then you’ll just be asking why?
  3. Todoist – the savvy crew that brings the right level of sophistication, but lacks the overwhelming firepower to claim the prize straight out, this task manager has the current lead.

    Strengths: Dynamic date-placing while typing the task name saves clicks (e.g. typing buy groceries tomorrow and hitting enter will create the buy groceries task and set it due for tomorrow). Simple click-and-drag for arranging projects and tasks is, well, simple.

    Weaknesses: Pro subscription isn’t expensive, but it’s damn near necessary to make this mercenary group useful. Project templates don’t have an easy relative date function that I’ve found – e.g. set the final due date to X and have all the other tasks swap to X-1, X-5, etc.
  4. A pen and a piece of paper – the old standby that’s been coasting on experience and dependability for a long time now. Always in the running yet never quite good enough.

    Strengths: Best-in-class performance for a day’s tasks. Incredibly satisfying to physically check those boxes. Customizable, and easy to flip back and see how many boxes you’ve checked as a morale booster.

    Weaknesses: Difficult to plot out big projects on paper unless you’re willing to make a big ol’ mess of a journal. Requires a journal, a pen, and having both on you to make adjustments or look up tasks in question.

Is this a comprehensive list of all the task management apps and methods out there? Nah. Is this a comprehensive list of all the ones I’ve tried to use with any degree of effort? Yep. I’ve looked at others and written them off for one reason or another, so these are the four I’m gonna look at more closely and we’ll see which one comes out on top in the end.

It’ll be a no-holds-barred battle to see which of these worthy contenders winds up as the champion of the checkboxes, the king of the kalendar, the duke of the dailies… you get the idea.

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