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4 Tips to Help You Organize Your To-Do Lists Better

Share tasks, set reminders, see your info on multiple devices with a variety of apps

spinner image Seniorman checking shopping list on his smartphone

You pride yourself in being organized. And with that comes lists — lots of lists.

You’ve got your grocery list, perhaps a to-do list for around the home and maybe work-related priorities. Lists are good. But with technology, lists can be great.

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Now is the time to organize and digitize all your lists and have them synchronized among all your devices so they’re always up to date on whatever screen you’re in front of. If you update a list on your laptop at home, when you open it at the store on your smartphone, you’ll see the latest entries.

And unlike paper, your notes can remind you to do things at a specific time or place. Your smart speaker can help, too.

You can get going quite easily.

1. Collect your notes

If you’re already using a program or your phone’s Notes app to create your lists, you’re off to a good start. But if you still use sticky notes, take the plunge to organize your thoughts and start using one of the many amazing apps — short for application and sometimes referred to as a program or software — that are mentioned below.

At first, the transition is tough. With handwritten notes, you can make satisfying check marks with a flourish. But digital lists have benefits that surpass scraps of paper, which can get lost in piles.

So gather all your paper lists in one place.

spinner image Evernote app on smartphone
Piotr Swat / Alamy Stock Photo

2. Choose a list app

Now decide on an app. Chances are good that the app will work on whatever devices you like to use.

Many of the list apps available will work with Android smartphones and tablets; iOS, which powers iPads and iPhones; MacOS, which runs Apple’s desktops and laptops; and Windows PCs. Along with lists, these apps are ideal to jot down ideas, notes and reminders.

A few to consider:

Microsoft To Do is an easy-to-use list maker, task manager and daily planner. It lets you create, review and share notes, add due dates and set reminders, even far into the future.

Whether you’re keeping a grocery list, housecleaning routines or potential million-dollar ideas, one of its more popular features is called My Day, which offers personalized suggestions to update your daily or weekly to-dos.

Formerly known as Wunderlist, Microsoft To Do can be accessed on all mobile devices, computers and virtually any browser. Though free, Microsoft To Do requires a Microsoft account, an email address and password that you use with, OneDrive, Skype and other Microsoft apps.

Microsoft OneNote. If you need more features to annotate your lists, Microsoft’s free OneNote, also requiring a Microsoft account, is a more powerful digital notepad that lets you add media. You can save photos, such as something you saw on Pinterest; scan business cards and documents; and sketch ideas.

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Like Microsoft To Do, all your notes are synchronized in the cloud. So you’ll always be working with the latest version of your list. You can share lists with others and collaborate.

Evernote is a handy app for organizing your lists, copying websites, pasting photos, recording audio, sketching diagrams and typing notes. Like OneNote, all notes automatically sync wirelessly, so you can access your info anywhere and share or collaborate on the same note.

You even can take a picture of book or magazine text and convert it into editable text. This is a great way to save content and make it searchable by keyword.

The basic version of Evernote, which allows you to use it on two devices, is free. Premium plans with advanced features and additional cloud storage start at $8.99 a month.

Many other to-do list apps, including, Google Keep, Todoist and Remember the Milk — cute name, no? — will do the job. Though they may vary in features and interface, most are free for basic functionality and synchronize across all your devices.

3. Manage your lists

No matter which app you choose, these tips will help you get the most out of your lists.

Organize by topic. The words “orange juice” on a shopping list shouldn’t sit alongside paint colors for a potential bathroom renovation.

You can create separate lists or a color-coded master list. You can move items around using your mouse or fingertip if you want to prioritize an item by placing it on top of a list. In some cases, you can increase an item’s font size or make it boldface.

Update your list. In an app, you can often X an item out, which might put a line through it, or you can have it deleted once you’ve performed the task.

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Since the app syncs across devices, the item also will be crossed off when you open the app elsewhere. Or if you share a list with someone, such as a spouse, you both always will see the same list.

spinner image Person using Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet computer closeup of a hand with a stylus pen isolated on white background
Oleksiy Maksymenko Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Pick up a stylus, a rubber-tipped pen-shaped device, from your local dollar store if you like the feel of handwritten notes. You can use it instead of your finger to write on a smartphone or tablet. Many list apps will let you keep your handwritten notes as is and digitize them for you.

Some phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, include an electronic stylus that’s compatible only with Samsung devices. It’s tucked under the phone. If you like using iPads and want a stylus that allows you to draw, Apple and other companies make these more expensive active styluses.

Take advantage of tech-only features. List apps often can nudge you to do something, unlike a sticky note stuck to your whiteboard.

The process will vary depending on the app. Add a reminder or alarm and choose a time to be notified. That way, you can get a reminder to cancel an annual subscription before you’re billed for another year, call the bank for a better rate on your renewing certificate of deposit before the grace period ends or order your blood pressure medicine from the online pharmacy every 90 days.

Let your list comparison shop. Some shopping list apps, such as the free Flipp, will look for the best prices on items you want to buy. For example, type in large eggs. It will look for the least expensive prices around you and show you where they are.

You also can browse through circulars for stores in your neighborhood and tap what you’re interested in for it to be digitally clipped and saved elsewhere in the app. 

Use your smart speaker to its fullest. Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Nest products can create and organize lists.

Tell Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri to add an item to a shopping list, then ask to hear what is on the shopping list. All three of those voice assistants are also available on your smartphone — Samsung smartphones have Bixby built in — and can call up notes or lists when you speak into your phone.

Personal assistants even can give you reminders by location: “Siri, when I get home, remind me to check to see if we need more milk.” It knows where “home” is if you’ve confirmed this in your Contacts app and will prompt you to set it if you haven’t.

4. Allow time to get comfortable

If you’re not sure which app to go with, spend a couple of days playing around with its features. If you feel as if something is missing, poke around the Options or Settings menu before uninstalling the app to see if what you want is there but not initially activated.

Through trial and error, you’ll find something that works for you.

This story, originally published March 16, 2020, updates information on existing apps and includes new ones.

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