What To-Do?

Apple User? You Already Have (Almost) Everything You Need.

To-do apps are plentiful. Given that there are so many around, why has it been so difficult to find one that meets my needs?

After years spent trying most of them, I’m finally beginning to figure it out. For the first time, I now have software and a system in place that allows me to stay organised and on top of my priorities. Better still, it costs me almost nothing.

I now spend hardly any time creating lists, shuffling tasks around, or any of that stuff. My system is lightweight, reliable and never gets in the way of me actually doing things.

I’ll tell you exactly how everything works, but as is usually the case, the story of why this was ever so difficult is where the real gold is.

Before we go any further, I’m immersed in the Apple ecosystem (phone, watch, desktop, laptop). If you’re not, then some of this is not going to apply to you.

In a recent post, I wrote about how I use Drafts. Not because it is impressive software (which it is), but because it supports a different way of working, as far as capturing ideas and thoughts goes.

The main conclusions I came to in that piece are that software should be simple, flexible, fast, and reliable. Why? Well, because foremost, these are tools. I use them to help me ‘keep going’. One sure fire way of knowing that I’m using the wrong software is when I find myself playing around in the menus too much, tweaking how the interface looks or searching for squirrelled-away hacks to customise the experience in some weird and probably pointless way.

When the tools are right, they just work and that means I can get on with my work.

So, why has it been so hard to get here? The main issue is that I’m never clear enough about what I actually need. Most task management software will do a lot of stuff I don’t need it to do. These ‘to-do’ apps try to be project management platforms, and they always fall short in some way.

Unnecessary complexity is never a good thing. It’s true in life, and it’s especially true with software.

Another thing. On some level, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that paid options are always going to be better than free ones. Does this happen to you? If it costs £5/7/9 each month to use it, it must be remarkable, right?

At the risk of stating the obvious, Apple’s native apps are always going to be better integrated into the OS than anything else could ever hope to be. Syncing between devices is flawless. There’s no crashing, no freezing, no delays. Share extensions, the ability to control these apps using Siri on any of your devices, and complimentary aesthetics make for a more coherent experience.

The main criticism you’re going to hear when it comes to native Apple apps is that they ‘don’t have enough features’. For me though, this is a strength and if they actually cost any money, it would be a huge selling point too.

Yep, I’ve tried several calendar apps, but I’ve been using nothing but the Apple Calendar for a good few years now. It’s the same story for tasks. I’ve flirted with no end of competitors in that space, but I’m back with Apple Reminders. I have no intention of going anywhere else.

Still, there is a final piece in this puzzle that Apple have not been able to provide for me.

I want my tasks (from Reminders) and my appointments (from all my various calendars) in one place. I want an at-a-glance view of what I have going on each day and I want to organise those things quickly and intelligently, so that I actually get everything done. This is where Sorted3 comes in.

Sorted3 takes everything from Reminders and Calendar and puts it into one list. Each event (from Calendar) or ‘to-do’ (from Reminders) has a checkbox that you can tick off as you complete a task or finish a meeting, etc. This is a big time-saver. No more switching between two apps, with that uneasy feeling that you may have forgotten something. This consolidated list is accessible through the Sorted3 app or through the app’s widgets that you can display on your iPhone, Watch and in macOS.

That’s not all. There’s also a fantastic ‘auto-arrange’ feature. This allows you to tell Sorted3 how long you expect a task to take, and the software then works out when you should do each task. It works well, and you can get into a lot of detail, telling the software how much of a break you need in-between tasks, or whether something needs to happen at a specific time, for example.

The way you get your events into Sorted3 is particularly impressive. Calendar events appear after you sync your calendars (I have 11 calendars linked and nothing ever gets missed). It’s how the software deals with Reminders that is most impressive, though.

Let’s say I want to set a to-do. I do this in the usual way in Reminders (either by using Drafts, or via Siri, the Share extension in iOs/macOS etc). This information gets plucked from Reminders by Sorted3 within seconds and placed into the app’s inbox for further processing if necessary. Information already entered in the original Reminder or Calendar event (locations, due dates, recurrences etc.) is preserved.

The Reminder then vanishes from Reminders, keeping everything clean and tidy.

Of course, you can also create your own events directly in Sorted3 too. It’s quick and easy. The interface is clean, minimal, and intuitive, and you can even create different lists or use tags if you want to categorise your tasks like that. This can be handy. If I’m sat in front of my computer and in the mood to power through some admin, I’ll pull everything with an ‘admin’ tag and get some of those things ticked off whilst I’m in that particular frame of mind.

Sorted3 does something very clever. It builds on the strengths of Apple’s native apps, brings them together and adds useful, well-designed features, that help you stay organised and in control of your day.

This whole approach is apparently referred to as ‘hyper-scheduling’, a new concept for me. I’m surprised that I took to it too, as I’m usually not someone who likes things too rigidly planned.

I love it how my day always feels in control now. I know exactly what I’m doing and how much time I have to do other things. Anything I don’t complete carries over to the next day, but there’s something about how it all works that means this rarely happens. I suspect this is something to do with how the software helps me to get a more realistic sense of what it’s possible to achieve in a given period. I also go through my Sorted3 inbox at the end of every working day to set things up for the following day, which means I always know what the next day looks like. This helps me relax in the evenings and even helps me to wind down and sleep better.

What else do I like? – the cost. Sorted3 is a one off payment of around $40 at the time of writing. This includes Mac and iOS apps for iPhone and Watch. No subscriptions. If you do everything in iOS, then you only need to pay $15. There is a free version, but the ‘Pro’ versions represent excellent value for money. Of course, Reminders, and Calendars come ‘free’ with Apple hardware. When I started using Sorted3, there was a free trial. Set up took less than five minutes and I signed up for the Pro version within 48 hours. I haven’t regretted it for a moment since.

In summary, using Apple native apps makes a lot of sense for many reasons. By adding one more low-cost app, you can build on their strengths and elevate their usefulness. You’ll have a bulletproof, low cost, slick, and easy to use system for staying organised. I’d recommend giving it a try.