Todo List Requirements And Niceties

Todo List Requirements And Niceties

I’ve been thinking about to-do lists for the past week or so, primarily because I’m considering moving from Remember The Milk (RTM) to OmniFocus. I’m looking at a possible job function change in the near-to-mid future (whatever that means) which will require far more focused and detailed planning and tracking than RTM currently provides.

I love RTM. I’ve been using it happily … no. I’ve been an ecstatic cheerleader since 2008. It’s as simple as you need it to be and its smart lists make expanding it something far more complex a breeze. RTM’s support is fantastic and their forums are full of very smart people. In short, RTM continues to be the perfect to-do list for me.

But I’m moving into something that’s going to require tracking projects and multiple to-do items for multiple people and RTM is, sadly, not a good fit.

I tried OmniFocus a few years ago and it was too much. Way too much for what I needed. I needed a water hose and OmniFocus was a water cannon capable of obliterating entire armies, flooding the land, shredding foliage, and sending righteous men scrambling to build large floating vessels. But, maddeningly, it didn’t support repeating tasks. There was no clear and easy way to say “repeat this every Saturday” or “this happens yearly”. This was showstopper for me because my life is a series of repeating tasks interspersed with bouts of randomness. And I like shiny, new things, so when something random appears, I am likely to forget that it’s the 3rd Saturday of the month and I need to check the air conditioner filter. RTM made it easy. OmniFocus did not.

But time changes all and life moves on. I think I’m approaching a point where I might need tighter control than RTM provides, and this got me to thinking about what I need/require in a to-do list application. Here, in brief, is what I deem most important.


1. Priority

1, 2, 3, major, minor, whenever. I don’t care what the designation is as long as it’s consistent. However, the application should absolutely sort by priority. Important stuff should float to the top. When I look at the list, I need to see what’s important now. I don’t want to see a #2 at the top of the list until all of the #1’s are completed.

2. Repeating Tasks

This is über. It’s a no-compromise #2. If an application doesn’t easily allow for repeating tasks, it’s straight to the trash bin. I don’t care how awesome it is. I don’t care if fair maidens arrive every evening and clean my kitchen, wash my dog, and rub my feet. If I can’t say “repeat this task on every 3rd Wednesday” or “this happens every Saturday,” then the application is not a good fit and I won’t use it.

3. Context

Is this an errand I need to run or do I need my phone? When I’m making a whiskey run, it’s nice to click on the Errands context and see if there’s something else I can accomplish while I’m out. “Oh look, I need beer too.” Nice to know. If I’m talking to my boss, I want to click Boss and see if we can kill multiple things in one conversation. In my world, contextual lists greatly increase efficiency and I expect my to-do list to do that.

4. Availability

I need my to-do list to be available everywhere and constantly synced. If I mark something complete on my iPhone, I don’t want to see it when I return to my desk. Done is done and it disappears.

5. Due Date

When does this absolutely, positively have to be finished? That’s important to know. An application gets major points if it floats the task until the due date. In other words, I’ll see this task every day until the day it’s due, at which time the task changes color and/or priority (1: important) on the day it’s due. RTM doesn’t do this, but I’ve found ways to work around it.



To-do lists do not motivate me. What motivates me is seeing accomplishment. When I see progress, I’m motivated to make progress. Being able to quickly see how much I’ve accomplished today or on a project makes me want to get off my ass and sort those frigging CDs. Or push through and read that book. “Done” lists provide the motivation to complete to-do lists. Let me see what I’ve done so that how far I need to go seems closer.

Location Aware

If I’m at the office, show the things I must do while there. If I’m at the grocery store, it’d be nice to see my grocery list by default. I don’t really need to see “mow the yard” while I’m shopping for milk.

Sharing Lists

Make it easy for me to export the list and share it with others. Even if it’s just exporting to a CSV file.

And that’s pretty much it. I’m not convinced that OmniFocus is where I’ll end up, but it’s definitely floating at #1 with a bullet. Once I know more about the future, I plan to run OmniFocus hard during their 14-day trial period. The last time, 14 days was more than enough to convince me that it wasn’t a good fit. I’m hoping this time will be different, but time will tell.

And I’ll be super sad to see RTM go. We’ve had a good run together. I’ve spent more time with RTM than I have my wife. But don’t tell her that.

God, don’t tell her that.