I’m a productivity nerd. I love organization, efficiency and phrases like “best practices.” So, as you may imagine, I’ve tried a lot of task managers over the years (think of a task manager as a to do list on steroids).
For the last few years I’ve relied heavily on Wunderlist, a simple yet full featured cross-platform task manager. As a power user, I throw a lot at my task app, and Wunderlist has proven it can take the abuse. I currently work with about thirty different lists, some with hundreds of tasks and due dates. And Wunderlist keeps them in sync across all of my mobile and desktop devices. I haven’t had a single instance yet when the sync has proven problematic between my devices.
In the last few weeks, Wunderlist has released updates to add features compatible with Apple’s new desktop and mobile operating systems, OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. And I am happy to say that Wunderlist continues to be a superlative task manager for both power and casual users.
When you first launch the desktop app, Wunderlist asks you to create an account and select a few preprogramed lists to get you started. Suggested lists include Groceries, Movies to Watch, Travel, Work & Family. The diversity of options in the suggested lists is a subtle way of saying that Wunderlist is great for not only work-like tasks (eg. email boss about upcoming presentation) but also for collecting lists of ideas that you want to remember (eg. Movies to Watch or Places to Visit). Adding new custom lists is just as easy.
The whole setup process takes under sixty seconds. To add a task, simply highlight a list in the left column and type a new task into the text field at the top of the screen. And that’s it. For most lists, like groceries or errands this is all you’ll ever need or want to do.
The first time you launch Wunderlist on your iPhone or iPad you’ll need to login. Then sit back and watch as the tasks you entered on your desktop magically populate. And thanks to their improved instant sync, changes made on one device are immediately synced everywhere else you use Wunderlist.
You'll be pretty happy with Wunderlist if that’s the extent of your task management needs, but if your needs are more expansive, as mine are, you’ll find that Wunderlist also has plenty of features to keep you super organized. More advanced features include the ability to share lists and to add notes, reminders and even files to individual tasks. I have a few shared lists with work colleagues and we can assign tasks to particular people and have back and forth conversations about each task. My friends and I also share a few lists that we use to plan dinners and adventures around the city.
I do have a few improvements I’d like to see Wunderlist address as they update the app. My biggest is that there is no great way to quickly see the most important tasks that you want to accomplish today. There is a handy Today “smart list" that auto-populates with all tasks set as due today, and you can separately see a Starred smart list with all of your starred tasks, but if you have over thirty tasks due per day there’s no way to just see the tasks that are both starred and due today. The absence of a way to focus on your day's top priorities has always been one of the app’s biggest weaknesses.
I also find that the mobile apps require too many taps for most basic functions. From launching Wunderlist it takes three taps just to position the cursor to a new entry. That may not seem overwhelming, but a far more graceful approach would be to have the cursor ready as soon as the app is launched. Also, there is a giant plus sign at the bottom of the app’s home screen which, counterintuitively, creates a new list rather than a new task. Given that most users are more likely to be adding tasks than creating new lists on a daily basis this seems like a peculiar use for such a prominent button.
Finally, I’m thrilled that Wunderlist is one of the first apps to experiment with the new widgets that Apple has allowed developers to program into the Today screen (not the Today list mentioned above, but a drop down screen available anywhere in iOS by placing your finger at the top of your device and “pulling down”). These widgets are meant to surface quick notifications or actions that are buried in a user’s favorite apps.
Sadly, I think Wunderlist’s widget implementation doesn’t quite hit the mark. Their widget shows you all of the tasks that you have due today, something that, in theory, may be handy if you only have one or two tasks due today. But if, like me, you have upwards of thirty tasks due on any given day, seeing this massive list of tasks on a screen meant for quick glances is a little wonky.
Evernote, another one of my favorite apps in the productivity space, took a smarter approach with their Today widget by simply adding buttons to quickly create a new note. I’d love to see Wunderlist do something similar with buttons to quickly add new tasks. Or, if Wunderlist takes my suggestion from above to create a smart list that shows you today’s starred tasks, then perhaps just those tasks could be displayed in the Today widget.
But those are mostly small improvements to an otherwise exceptional app. Whether you are creating grocery lists with your spouse or planning the details of the next Olympics opening ceremony, you’re bound to appreciate the combination of simplicity and function that Wunderlist offers.
Wunderlist is available for free on the Mac App Store and as a universal app for iOS. Apps for half a dozen other platforms are also available. A pro plan for $4.99/month adds a few more bells and whistles for teams and small business.