‘To-Do’ Lists and Beyond – The Best To-Do Lists and Organizational Methods

to-do lists

Can you recall the time you made your first to-do list? It was probably some time in elementary school when you received your first homework assignments and needed to keep track of what was due the next day.

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Off you marched home with your handwritten list to proudly show your parents that, for the first time in your life, someone else was relying on you to do something for them. Once the assignment was complete, you crossed it off the list or checked a box and waited for the next thing to add.

The reality is that, for many of us, not much about the way we keep to-do lists has changed since those days. We make notes with pen and paper and still feel that same sense of accomplishment when it’s time to remove an item from the list.

Those lists might work fine for some people, but as a freelancer or someone who manages a remote team, you need more from your to-do list. Not only should it record your tasks, but it also needs to prioritize them and provide ways for team members to collaborate on accomplishing them.

There are a lot of collaborative task lists and other to-do list apps out there, and it seems like the number is growing every day. We’re not going to review them individually in or rank them here. Instead, this post will provide some key features to look for when choosing one for you or your team.

For Managers

You probably already have some type of project management system in place to help your team stay focused and organized. Those systems are great for high-level tracking and reporting but can leave a little to be desired when it comes to tracking day-to-day tasks.

The process to create a new task and fold it into an existing project is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. By the time you finish entering everything into the system, you could have completed the task already — which isn’t productive for anyone. A to-do list app removes that clutter and allows you and your team to focus on easily recording and accomplishing their tasks.

Everyone on the team feels a sense of ownership and accountability for their work, and everyone gets to share in the pride that comes with crossing something off of the list. You can even incentivize completing items on the list or create a little friendly competition among your team members.

Adding a collaborative task list app to your team gives you the best of both worlds as a manager. You can track high-level progress in a project management system and day-to-day tasks in a to-do list. You can track multiple threads and multiple people at the same time, and your team benefits from the transparency of knowing what their colleagues are working on.

Knowledge is power in nearly every part of life, and managing a team is no exception. The more you know, the more information you’ll have to use as the basis for future decisions and reporting up to higher levels of your organization.

For Freelancers

Freelancers often do not have the luxury of working with one team in one system. You might use Slack with one client, Trello with another, JIRA with a third — all on the same day. If that sounds like you, then you can benefit from using a separate app to keep track of your tasks across those systems.

to-do lists

Yes, that’s right. An app to manage your work in other apps. It sounds crazy at first, but there is a lot of value in cutting through the clutter and focusing only on what you need to accomplish for all of your clients.

Task list apps also integrate with time tracking and ADP timestamp software so you can track time spent on your to-do list and invoice your clients quickly and easily. The less time you spend on adding up your time spent working, the more time you can spend on projects and boosting your bottom line.

Finally, an online to-do list helps keep you accountable in ways that pen and paper never can. In many cases, you are forced to set deadlines and receive reminders when they are not met. It’s easy to turn to the next page of a journal or cross something out when it’s not really done, but much more difficult to hide from a notification that is constantly popping up on every device you own.

Tracking your individual tasks gives you aggregate data that you can use to determine whether you have enough work on your plate and where your time is really being spent. You might find that you need to scale back or set different deadlines if you’re constantly seeing incomplete tasks.

Grocery List or Getting Things Done? Choosing a Team To-Do List

There are hundreds of apps out that claim to help you manage a to-do list. We’re not going to list them here but instead can offer some suggestions for narrowing down that field into the one that will work best for you and your team.

What type of app are you looking for? Do you want a simple way to list tasks and mark them complete, or are you looking for something a little more involved? The answers to those questions will determine what type of app will suit you best. Not all apps are created equal; here’s a guide to help you break them down:

Keep It Simple

Sometimes, all you need are the basics — a simple list of items that you can cross off once the task is complete. Think of it as the digital equivalent of the paper list you might be using now.

There’s a whole collection of apps out there that allow you to record and complete these tasks no matter where you are and what device you happen to be using. Even if you don’t end up utilizing accountability software or a collaborative task list professionally, a simple “grocery list” style app is great to have for personal use.

The next time something important pops into your head, you don’t need to wait until you’re near a planner or your paper list to record it. Simply pull out your phone, laptop, or even a smartwatch in some cases, and you’re done.

Some of these simple apps do get a little fancier by integrating with a calendar to track due dates and remind you when tasks are not completed. Again, you can decide how many bells and whistles you want for yourself or your team.

Project Management That Works

Kanban Project Management with Time Tracking, Estimates, and Reporting

Team Collaboration

To-do lists don’t always need to be confined to one person. The same principles that make them great for independent contractors and freelancers make them great for teams of remote workers.

Every person on the team has a job to do and tasks associated with getting it done. One task depends on another, and people on the team need an easy way to track each other’s progress. Managers also need to track the tasks that their teams are working on, especially in remote situations like virtual assistants and agencies who use subcontractors.

to-do lists

Hubstaff Tasks is one way to meet these needs for your team. Managers can create custom workflows and combine tasks across projects. Team members can quickly see what’s being worked on and what’s already complete. There are also options to move beyond collaborative task lists and use Hubstaff Tasks for hiring and even blog management.

Beyond Hubstaff Tasks, there are dozens of other apps that allow these functions to happen. Managers can track their team’s tasks and set priorities and deadline accordingly. Using these apps not only keeps everyone on the same page, but also eliminates the need to communicate about tasks that are accomplished or being worked on.

How many times have you sent emails or messages to let someone know that a task was done or in progress? Collaborative task lists roll up that communication into marking the task complete so you don’t need to valuable time on unnecessary steps.

Freestyle

One of the benefits of pen and paper to-do lists is that they are completely customizable. You can literally write whatever you want in whatever format you’d like. This is great for those of us who are abstract thinkers, but not convenient for the digital world.

Most collaborative task lists impose the app’s structure on the people using it. There’s a specific way that you need to add tasks and manage them in every different app.

If you crave that freedom and flexibility but want to have it in a digital form, there are several free accountability software options that allow you take notes and track tasks in a completely customizable format

The one downside to freestyle notes apps is that you might not be able to share them easily with others on a team. Even if you are able to share the notes, you can’t ensure that your manager or colleagues will be able to see and understand them. To get around this, you might choose to have one app where you keep freestyle personal notes and one that’s a little more formal to share with colleagues as needed.

Dive Into To-Do Lists

The best thing about team to-do lists is that there are tons of options out there and many of them are free to try. Whether you are working for yourself or managing a team, consider how a to-do list app can transform the way you manage your work life.

If you’ve never used an app like this before, try a few free options to get a feel for what type of software will suit your working style or your team’s dynamic. Once you’ve found one that fits, consider whether it’s worth upgrading to a paid version (if applicable). Hubstaff Tasks offers a free beta account for teams and is only $5 per user month after that.

Solicit feedback from your team throughout the process of trying apps. This might slow down the process of choosing one but will lead to a more satisfied group in the end. If someone on your team does not like the solution you chose, he or she will be less likely to use it. You are never going to please everyone 100 percent of the time, but you can likely find at least one platform that everyone agrees on.

Once you make the change to a digital task list, you’ll wonder why you held onto your pen and paper method for so long. Or, if you do still choose to use a written list for some things, it will be a deliberate choice instead of defaulting to what you’ve always done.

So, what are you waiting for? You have nothing to lose and only productivity to gain!