Ah, Wunderlist. I hardly knew ye.
Microsoft has bought Wunderlist and will finally shut it down on May 6, 2020. That’s when users won’t be able to update or edit lists or tasks.
This piece is, shall we say, personal for me. I’ve managed my to-do list with Wunderlist since 2014.
So, where are we going next, comrades? Microsoft wants us to migrate to their task manager, Microsoft To Do. Personally, I’ve disliked Microsoft since having to use Outlook in 2008 at my first desk job.
There are four other excellent contenders vying to manage our precious to-do lists. I narrowed a list of ten or so free task management apps down to the top five. To be included, each app must be able to import your lists from Wunderlist. In addition, it must offer a free version, have up-to-date native apps for iOS and Android that have reviews of 4.0 or better in the stores. Each option also supports Apple Watch, iPad, and Android tablets.
Every app in this list also has the following task manager functionality:
One of the biggest problems with software comparison pieces is that it’s tough to know which features are available at the free level. That’s why I’ve noted which features are behind an upgrade. Every other feature I mention in this piece is available to users of the free version of the app.
I’ve listed the five incredible free Wunderlist alternatives in descending order based on average app store review score, or alphabetically when the score is the same. (I’ll also let you know which I chose at the end.)
Here's a handy chart for comparing the options at a glance:
But before we get further into the alternatives, let’s talk about Wunderlist -- for comparison, and old time’s, sake.
What a gem. Wunderlist is stupid simple to use. The layout is attractive and you can customize the backgrounds. You can view your tasks by week, or see all your tasks on one screen. To assign a task, just @mention them.
You can also assign tasks a priority in a number of ways. There’s starring, of course. But then there’s also tags, which can be literally anything. You could use #High, #Medium, #Low or #A, #B, #C. Or get creative and prioritize by #Urgent or #Red, #Blue, #Green. Lastly, it’s nice that you can restore lists up to 30 days after deleting them.
The Slack integration posts notifications to a Slack channel when you add, update and complete to-dos. The Twitter integration saves all your most-loved tweets to Wunderlist.
The biggest con (and I mean that in both senses of the word) is that Wunderlist is shutting down. In addition, Wunderlist doesn’t support file uploads.
Cost to upgrade
There’s no amount of money you can pay to continue to use Wunderlist :’(
Tick Tick is the fullest-featured task manager on this list. It’s got a built-in Pomodoro timer and white noise to maximize focus. It offers natural language processing (NLP), which allows you to type words and have the software convert them into commands. For example, if you type “Call John every Thursday at noon” into the task name Tick Tick can interpret the context and create a recurring task. With Tick Tick, you can even write “remind me at 11:46.”
a recurring task. With Tick Tick, you can even write “remind me at 11:46.”
While we’re on reminders, you can also set multiple reminders and choose an “annoying alert” that you can be sure you won’t miss. It’ll also track your location and remind you based on it. So you could set it to remind you to pick up lettuce when you’re near a grocery store.
Tick Tick offers Firefox and Chrome browser extensions to make it easy to add tasks from your browser without having to pull up the page or app. Notifications and reminders ensure you never miss a task. Offline access means you can add or edit tasks anywhere. Tick Tick also supports subtasks. It also offers up to 10MB of file storage per attachment.
In addition to all that basic functionality, you can add tasks by voice. You can also set task durations, which Trello can’t do. Like Wunderlist, you can tag your to-dos or give your tasks priorities:
You can also sort tasks by time, title, tag, priority, assignee, or a custom sorting.
To help keep you motivated, Tick Tick gives you an Achievement Score based on how many tasks you complete before their deadline. Moving back the deadline decreases your score.
You can also see when you created and completed each task.
Tick Tick offers a variety of keyboard shortcuts and after Remember the Milk, it works across the widest variety of platforms.
Connect Tick Tick to Outlook, Google Calendar, Gmail, and a variety of other applications through Zapier.
You’d think for a task manager with this many features, the recurring tasks functionality would be more robust. The pre-set options for recurring tasks are limited.
Tick Tick allows you to manage your tasks in calendar view, but it’s behind the paywall.
Via email and through the forum
Cost to upgrade
For Pomodoro fans, or anyone who needs help with focus, Tick Tick is the best option on the list. It’s got tons of great features, even at the free level. And the only cons are pretty minor.
Todoist is extremely simple to use and offers most of the features you’d want from your task manager, including NLP, a Firefox and Chrome extension, offline access, subtasks, and 100MB of storage for comment attachments and 25MB for email attachments.
The recurring task functionality is more flexible than Wunderlist’s, which allows you to set a task to recur daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. With Todoist you can have two tasks that recur multiple times per week, but not every day. Todoist lets you set one task to recur every Monday and Wednesday and another to repeat every Tuesday and Thursday.
Free users can use Todoist to manage as many as 80 projects, and add up to five people per project. You can assign a task a priority between one and four in Todoist.
Todoist offers keyboard shortcuts as well.
One feature people enjoy is Todoist Karma.
PomoDone, Flat Tomato, Toggl
Features that Tick Tick makes available for free users, such as reminders, comments, file uploads, labels, filters, and completed tasks, Todoist keeps behind their paywall.
Cost to upgrade
$3/month or $5/month
I said Tick Tick is the option for Pomo fans. But while Tick Tick’s Pomodoro functionality is built-in, Todoist does integrate with pomo apps. Todoist is a great option for anyone who wants an easy-to-use interface, tons of storage, highly rated apps, and can live without notifications and reminders. On the other hand, if you’re willing to upgrade, you can have it all.
Remember the Milk lets you add tasks via email, Alexa, Siri, and Twitter. It works across the greatest variety of platforms, with all the usual suspects and some weird ones too, like Linux, Fire, Blackberry, Apple Watch, and Microsoft Edge. It offers NLP and very flexible recurring tasks functionality.
Free users can see seven days worth of their completed tasks. RTM offers keyboard shortcuts as well. It’s got tagging functionality (though you can’t sort by tags) and allows you to create “smart lists” based on nearly any criteria.
Gmail, Google Calendar, and Evernote
RTM hides some pretty basic features, like subtasks, mobile reminders, sharing, offline access, and file uploads behind a paywall. Upgrading also gets you priority support. And when you do upgrade, you get attachments only limited by your Dropbox or Google Drive account storage limits.
Keep in mind that their Chrome extension hasn’t been updated since 2016.
But the biggest drawback to RTM, in my opinion, is the UX. For example, unlike Wunderlist or Todoist, the UX doesn’t make it clear which parts of your task they’re interpreting through NLP until you hit “enter.” And I expected clicking the check box next to a task to mark it complete. Instead, it opens up the details view of the task.
Twitter, email, forum, business hours
Cost to upgrade
If you need a good task manager that runs on the widest variety of platforms and allows you to add tasks via the greatest variety of other apps, Remember the Milk is your choice. But keep in mind that you’re giving up some pretty basic functionality, like subtasks and attachments, for that flexibility.
If we’re being honest, Trello is more of a project management app than a task manager. It’s technically kanban software. But it meets all the requirements for inclusion on this list, and people certainly do use it for task management.
It’s got a lot going for it, including tons of great browser extensions that make it pretty robust in terms of functionality. The recurring task functionality is pretty flexible, (though not as flexible as Todoist’s).
Trello doesn’t have subtasks in the traditional sense, but you can store a task's dependencies as items in a checklist on the card.
Trello will notify you when a due date arrives. You’ll also get a notification when a user mentions you, comments on a card, adds or changes an upcoming due date, moves or archives a card, closes a board, or uploads an attachment to a card. Desktop notifications are available in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.
Email notification options are limited to "Never," "Periodically," and "Instantly."
Gmail, Confluence, Newton Mail, Telegram
Basic functionality like calendar view and making a task recurring are paywalled behind “power ups.” And the best integrations, including Jira, AdobeXD, and Slack, are available only with power ups. And when it comes to repeating tasks, Trello is the most limited of the options. You can only set tasks/cards to repeat once per month or year. Plus, there’s no NLP. While the integrations are many, they all cost money. And the official Chrome extension hasn’t been updated since 2018.
email, business hours
Cost to upgrade
$9.99/user/mo or $20.83/user/mo
If you can benefit from kanban functionality, and don’t need some of the bells and whistles other task managers offer, Trello is a great fit. And if you do need them, and are willing to upgrade, Trello can do both.
Microsoft To Do’s big differentiators are the tight integration with other Microsoft products and the My Day feature. Microsoft brings emails you’ve flagged in Outlook into My Day as tasks automatically. To assign a task from Outlook a higher priority, mark the email as high-priority and To Do will star it.
My Day also reads your lists and suggests tasks to add to your day based on which tasks are recently added and are due today. The Cortana integration allows her to read out your tasks in My Day and other lists.
Like Wunderlist, To Do lets you choose a custom background for each of your lists. It also offers dark mode across Android, Windows, Mac, and iOS13. It’s got keyboard shortcuts, subtasks (called “Steps”), and recurring tasks. It also offers offline access, NLP on iOS, and social support.
Outlook, Office365, Cortana
Using My Day isn’t super intuitive, nor is it obvious how it differs from a list of tasks due today. Also, MTD is the only option on the list without a Google Chrome Extension. And subtasks don’t have their own notes, reminders, attachments, or due dates.
email, forum, business hours
Cost to upgrade
If you’re a committed Outlook or Office365 user, Microsoft To Do might be the highest-feature, lowest-friction free task manager for you. Hopefully Microsoft will keep adding features.
Okay, now for the big reveal. I use Todoist. I chose it before writing this article, and while my second choice after writing this article is Tick Tick, I find Todoist’s interface just a little more attractive and intuitive. Really, these are all great choices, depending on your needs. If you need robust features at the free level and super robust features if you upgrade, Tick Tick is the choice. If you need an easy-to-use free solution but don’t need notifications or reminders, Todoist is excellent. If you’re committed to managing your tasks on platforms outside of Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android and don’t need subtasks and attachments, Remember the Milk is great. For a kanban board with some task management functionality, Trello has a ton of Chrome extensions that make it extremely flexible. And I really can’t in good conscience recommend Microsoft To Do to anyone other than people trapped in the Microsoft universe.
I hope this has been helpful. Did I leave any contenders that meet my criteria off the list? Any criteria I should add or remove? Email me at cathy at getclockwise.com.
And while we’re talking about getting stuff done, check out Clockwise.