There are now so many to do list tools to choose from. There are free ones and premium ones. Apps, cloud based and ‘old fashioned’ options. Some focus on collaboration, others just for you. Which is the right to do list tool for you?

What’s most important when making your choice is conviction. Make a choice and stick with it. Continually flip flopping randomly and sporadically between various tools is a big waste of time and actually a big signpost that you’re procrastinating!

It’s important to find a tool that fits with the way that you work and think. This will allow you to make the most of it and will help you improve productivity.

Not Sure Which One – Trial Different To Do List Tools

If you’re not sure which one will be best, commit to doing a trial. It’s one of our to do list tips. Choose a maximum of 3 or 4 different tools that you think could be a good fit. Do a 1 week trial of each. 1 week is a good period as it allows you to get the hang of how to use the the tool itself as well as how it would fit with your daily routine.

At the end of each week, record your thoughts on how it went. In particular, record what worked well and what didn’t. This way, you’ll be able to more accurately make a decision at the end of the trial.

What are the Options?

Old-fashioned to do list tools

That’s right. Top of the list, the classic good ol’ pen and paper.

Despite the tech heavy world that we live in, it’s still the to do list tool of choice for many Project Managers.

Whether formally written up in a neat list in a notebook or journal, scralled in the corner of a print out or even – the classic retailer’s folded paper in the pocket, it seems that paperless has not finished yet.

Continuous Improvement specialist Kiran Kachela from CI Projects prefers pen and paper. “Good old fashion paper & pen does the trick when managing to do lists. Make it visual, it’s therapeutic being able to physically tick something off. Categorise & prioritise your tasks to find the most efficient way of getting through your list.” You can find more from Kiran at @CIProjectsUK on Twitter.

What’s really beneficial is that you can quickly jot things down at any moment and it will always look professional to others. I’m not sure what you think, but for many, it has more authority than if someone is in a meeting tapping away on their phone. Are they taking notes and actions or are they just distracted by emails and social media?

Electronic notebooks as to do list tools

Next we’ll look at electronic notebooks like OneNote and Evernote. These allow you to blend notes and to dos in the same place.

These offer some of the flexibility of the classic pen and paper but a few extra benefits. You can search for specific words, you can add attachments and you can have an app meaning it’s always on you.

The downside vs. paper (from a not taking side in particular) is that you don’t have the freedom to draw images and that you can be distracted by spending time formatting. There are ways to do this but they never feel like the same simple and immediate solution as pen and paper.

They do work well for regular to do lists though. They can be simple to jot down the various points and have the electronic advantage of copying and pasting to easily reorder for prioritisation.

Organisational to do list tools

There are a number of great free electronic tools out there. Tools like Trello are popular in helping people with regular and repeatable workflows. They can be fiddly for to do lists as the checklists or tasks are assigned to a larger piece of work – so it’s difficult to ‘see’ the various tasks on your plate at any given moment in time.

What they are good at is categorising work. You can could set up buckets to correspond to different priorities and projects. You also have colour tags to help visually identify things.

The key to making these tools a success is to define a workflow so that your to do lists can be easily managed.

Office apps as to do list tools

Microsoft is still a major player and has several options to help you manage your to do lists.

Outlook tasks are good for syncing in with email. You can use them to send tasks to others (although to me, it often feels impersonal and a lazy way of delegating! Unless you have an agreed way of working with the recipients).

Excel is a great too. It’s flexibility means that you can easily customise it to fit with how you manage and prioritise your work. The infinite opportunities and flexibility mean that the opportunity to over-complicate can occur.

Cloud to do list tools for collaboration

There have been a huge number of collaborative tools that have come around recently. Tools like Asana, Wrike, Basecamp, Monday and many others. These are all cloud based and are SaaS products.

They pitch themselves as being a collaborative project management tool that can be used for project task tracking, to do lists and team collaboration.

Whilst giving wide visibility to the entire team can be great for collaboration and communication, it also means everything you do is on show. Therefore, it’s not necessarily the place that you’ll want to air your “dirty laundry”. Make sure you understand the privacy settings for any private to do lists.

The high visibility can mean that you keep a private list that is essentially a duplication of your workload for your own prioritisation and updates. You may decide to use the same to do list tool or move to a different method (such as pen and paper) all together.

Being SaaS, they can be pricey beyond a trial. It’s likely that you may want your organisation to pitch in with costs. Therefore, it’s essential that the tools work for you, simplifying processes and improving net productivity to prove their worth.

Which of these To Do List Tools is Right For You?

Given the vast variety of To Do list tools available, you’ll want to make sure that you pick the right option. Once you’ve done this, be sure to check out my other to do list tips to power up your productivity.

If you’re going to do a trial, comment below about which ones you’ll try. Or share on social media message and follow up with you to see how you’re getting on.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert at delivering retail change projects and programmes. He’s tried a number of different techniques over his 13 years of working on different types and sizes of projects. He blends classic project management techniques from PRINCE2, PMBOK and Lean Six Sigma with a dose of pragmatism and business reality to ensure retail projects are led, managed and delivered successfully.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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