Momentum's Guide to the Best Productivity and To-Do List Apps

Often folks who love planning get into it originally in order to counter their procrastinating tendencies. *Raises hand*. It’s a lot of us. 

Thank goodness that, as former procrastinators, we at Momentum and Productive Flourishing know a thing or two about planning. And we’ve learned from our own experiences that not all planning tools are built the same, nor are equally effective to get you moving on your projects. 

Some planning and to-do list tools help us see progress; others send us into spirals: 

  • There’s the insidious checking-everything-off-a-list spiral. The problem is that ultimately checking things off a list doesn't get us any further on goals and most-important projects. Instead we end up making a lot of motion, but not a lot of progress. 
  • Another common spiral people face in connection with to-do lists is the urgency spiral, where everything on the list starts to appear equally important. Let us assure you, they are not. 

Most people only escape these spirals and truly start making progress once they admit that certain projects and tasks are intrinsically more important than others. 

It’s for that exact reason Momentum, the personal planning app, is not focused on creating more and ever longer to-do lists. Momentum is at root not just about getting MORE work done, but getting more of the RIGHT work — that is, our best work — done. 

We’re a little bit anti to-do list, unlike most planning apps out there. If to-do lists mean creating a never-ending stream of minutiae that distracts us from the most important work of our lives, then why do it in the first place? To-do list apps generally promise to help us conquer chaos — but frequently run the risk of creating exactly that chaos we would prefer to avoid.

Our take is that the to-do list app is only as good as the planning strategy that’s built into it. What we ultimately need is support in making decisions on what’s really doable for ourselves — and what ought to be delegated or deferred. Otherwise, we quickly run into burnout territory.

Since here at Momentum we’re against burnout, we want people matched with the right tools, i.e. productivity or to-do list apps built for well-rounded human beings. That’s to say, with a life outside of work or school or business, full of friends and family, hobbies and interests, aspirations and dreams. Most importantly, our tools should take seriously our human need for pauses and rest. 

We have skin in this game, too, right alongside you. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of productivity and to-list apps, tried them all ourselves, and rated them on how they tackle planning and strategy, so you don’t have to. 

These apps vary in their usefulness for helping you keep track of your real priorities — and in how much they move your towards your dreams and goals through the activities you engage in every day. 

Tired of staring at that never-ending to-do list on your phone or desktop? Fear not! Without further ado, let's take a look at some of the top productivity, planning, and to-do list apps on the market: 

Any.do: Any.do is a simple and straightforward app that focuses on helping you complete tasks in a timely and efficient manner. The app includes a daily planner, reminders, and time management tools to keep you on track. One of the biggest highlights of Any.do is that it's entirely free, which is hard to come by in the world of to-do list apps. However, the app has a slightly cluttered interface compared to some of its competitors. You’ll also notice that its integrations for use with other tools are limited. That means you’ll have to stick mainly with Any.do for all types of planning, which might not be ideal. B-

Asana: Extremely versatile in what it can do, offering a comprehensive set of features suitable for project management, including task assignments, subtasks, timelines, and dependencies. Asana provides multiple views and customizable dashboards, making it suitable for teams and project managers who need a visual overview of tasks and projects. Excels in team collaboration with features like assigning tasks, commenting, file attachments, and project discussions. Still, the interface can take some time to master, which may require users to invest a significant amount of time upfront. It suffers from the problem of many to-do list apps, in that it can give you an overview of too much at once. This is especially true if you’re trying to use it for your personal tasks and projects. A- 

Google Keep: Google's note-taking and outlining app is perfect for those looking for simplicity and speed. Google Keep's interface is intuitive, and there are no complicated features, which makes it incredibly easy to use. It has simple color-coding features to organize your tasks, shareable lists, and voice-to-text transcription to help you jot those thoughts down. One limitation of Google Keep is that it might not be suitable for complex project tracking or team collaborations. A

Microsoft To Do: Really focused on simplicity and providing a streamlined experience with basic task management features. Clean and minimalistic interface, emphasizing individual task organization and personal productivity. While it allows you to share individual tasks, it’s primarily designed for personal task management and somewhat lacks advanced collaborative functionalities. Free to use with a Microsoft account, which makes it more accessible for individuals and small teams. B

Notion: Overall, it’s an undeniably versatile app that’s great for organizing tasks, notes, and more.  of the biggest advantages is its customizability. Users can design their workspace in the browser app to suit their unique needs, making it a powerful tool for project management. It works for team collaboration, so it’s possible to share information, tasks, and progress — however, again, you might run into this issue of prioritization, and how to organize information so it’s clear what’s most important. Which brings us to another issue which is that while versatile and capable of many things, Notion can also feel visually cluttered, overwhelming, and difficult to get a grasp on. Because it’s so customizable, Notion has a steep learning curve for new users. B+

Todoist: This app is one of the most popular and powerful to-do list apps out there, and it's no surprise why. With Todoist, you can create lists and subtasks, set deadlines, and even collaborate with others. The app is easy to use and has a straightforward interface, making it perfect for those who want to streamline their tasks. A potential drawback is that the premium version can be pretty expensive if you want the full functionality. Rating: B+ 

Trello: Trello serves as a visual organizing tool and is ideal for those a board-like interface. You can create cards for your various tasks and move them between columns as you complete them. It works particularly well for team projects and collaborations as it allows you to assign tasks, add deadlines, and even discuss ideas. One potential downside is that the interface can get too complex or busy. The board's format can get cluttered as your task list grows, which can make it challenging to find the specific task you're looking for. For large teams working on complex projects, a more robust project management tool may be necessary. The mobile version of the app isn’t as fast as its browser version. B

Momentum: What separates Momentum from the productivity and planning app pack? At its heart are the Momentum Planning principles that are baked into its design, which help you plan projects across days, weeks, months and quarters to see how the actions you’re taking today connect with your goals for the future. This helps you not just complete a laundry list of individual tasks, but complete tasks that add up to completing projects, so you can get more of those important, best-work projects completed. Other apps make your completed tasks disappear, but Momentum keeps them so you can see what you’ve done. And at the end of every week, you get a report of what you’ve accomplished to help you stay motivated and in motion. Bottom line… with Momentum, you’ll be able to break down complex, long-term projects and goals into manageable chunks that will be straightforward to complete — and help you move those important-not-urgent, best-work projects forward. 

There are a lot of excellent productivity and to-do list apps on this list. There may not be one perfect solution for everyone. We hope our analysis will make it simpler for you to suss out which might send you into spiral-mode, and which will help you make progress on the projects that matter most to you.

Mary Clare O'Donnell

Writer & Content Creator at Productive Flourishing and Momentum. She's passionate about our climate, nature, foreign languages, and discovering uncharted places.