You can’t swing a digital cat through the Play Store without hitting a to-do app. But too many of them are just that: simple list makers that are little more than a digital replacement to checking off a list with pen and paper.
Keeping track of what you need to get done isn’t enough to solve the challenge of staying focused on your productivity in a world where digital noise has taken over. What I’ve always wanted is an app or system that does more with to-dos, provides motivation, and offers a method to gamify your way to task completion.
Ideally it should also work with Android Wear. The whole premise of a smartwatch is that you can get notifications, reminders, and check information quickly at a glance.
So what’s best? I leave you here with what I think are three solid systems for boosting your productivity, with two other outside-the-box apps that really take this gamification idea seriously. Two are dedicated apps with good cross-platform support, and the final option is a look at how all of Google’s tools work so well together. If you want to stop forgetting things and feel a little more control over life (well the productivity side of it, anyway), then check out these options.
Todoist is all about the Zen
If you want to go all-in with one app for boosting productivity, my top solution is Todoist. The app does what I was looking for in terms of thinking beyond just making lists. Todoist is actually designed to assist with time management, prioritization, and motivation through its Zen feature and newly revamped Android app.
The time management part comes from how the app makes it easy to sort your to-dos by assigning them to a date, which lets you glance at the week or month ahead. This also means you’ll get pinged on your watch about impending events. The categorization capabilities also mean you can craft more of a system based on different projects or areas of your life, but at some point you’ll run up against restrictions on what you can do with a free account.
The Wear app is more powerful if you enable voice access. Make Todoist the default voice action for “OK Google, take a note” in the Android Wear app.
Todoist is free, but several advanced features require a $29 annual subscription. From my perspective, the filters and other add-ons are more suited for a team, and are less useful if you just want to ramp up your own productivity. Now that pretty much every service on the planet requires a subscription, you have to think twice about the value: ten years from now will you be glad you spent $290 on a productivity app?
One reason you might say yes is in how well Todoist has built apps for every major platform. Native apps are available for OS X, Windows 10, Chrome OS, and extensions for most major browsers. This enhances the Android Wear experience, because you can add in and tweak your items from anywhere and be confident they’ll show up on your watch.
Wunderlist is another smart tool
It’s easy to see why Microsoft decided to plunk down some cash to buy Wunderlist. While the design isn’t quite as sharp as Todoist, the app also embarks on an “it’s all going to be ok” philosophy on getting things done.
Generally it’s a more lightweight tool, which is sometimes the best system when it comes to helping you achieve task completion: just show the content and then get out of the way. The Android Wear app is actually the strongest of the batch, as you can swipe through your list and then mark items off as finished or launch them on your phone for more details.
Wunderlist also uses “smart due date” detection, looking for key words like “next week or “tomorrow.” I like being able to snooze items, throw a star on an important to-do, and choose which list shows up on the Android Wear version (like travel, groceries, or work).
While Wunderlist doesn’t have the data analysis and zen-like tools of Todoist, I find that its simplicity and cross-platform strength makes it a viable companion.
Like Todoist, Wunderlist has a paid model for those who want the app for business use or to get all the available features, like setting due dates, organizing content by hashtags, and making comments on one another’s to dos. Pro and business upgrades are $5 per month or $50 per year.
Google crafted its own GTD system
You kind of have to cobble a few pieces together, but Google has built a pretty good get-things-done-system on its own. And since it’s Google, there’s excellent Android Wear support.
To start, you want to put to work all those Google voice commands. You can say, “OK Google, remind me to email Thomas at 10:00 AM” and that will instantly appear in Google Now, Inbox, and Calendar.
On the watch I still experience times when I get the dreaded “try that again” message because something got in the way of transmitting the data to Google’s cloud. It’s rare, but annoying when things don’t work.
Before I discovered Todoist, this is what I really used. And in some ways I still do—I use Inbox, Google Keep, and Google Now so much that it just makes sense to use this service for reminders and to take advantage of Google’s machine learning.
The only downside to a dedicated system is there’s no rewards method of one, focused space where your tasks are located. They follow you through all your Google services, but that also means they’re in the clutter of, well, all your Google services. I think it’s a great system though, particularly if you want to keep everything you do searchable in Google’s cloud.
A new hope with gamification
EpicWin is like an RPG meets a to-do list: you craft a character with a number of different traits that gets stronger as you do your chores. It’s fun, but I found that getting the Undead Warrior to conquer the laundry wasn’t any more motivating. I still had to do the laundry.
I preferred Habitica a little more as it had a better design that helped me focus on the actual tasks at hand. The rewards were also a little more fun, and I liked the ability to set up some habits so there was a recurring list of daily activities.
Neither app has an Android Wear component, but if you want to tap into your inner geek for slaying tasks, these could be way to go.
An Android Wear watch is a pretty personal device, which lends itself toward a customized task management system. There was a lot of good in each of these three setups, and you may want to try them all for a while to see which is the best fit. In the end I’ve learned that such technology is at its best when it’s doing more than just keeping track of stuff, but helping you to actually get through those items with reminders and helpful motivational nudges along the way.