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Finding the best app for lists

David Sparks | March 14, 2013
Many great apps for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone will keep track of your to-do list. But what about other lists--ones that aren't composed of things you have to do but instead are just lists of things?

Many great apps for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone will keep track of your to-do list. But what about other lists--ones that aren't composed of things you have to do but instead are just lists of things?

For example, I have lists of library books I want to check out, groceries I want to buy, and gear I want to take with me on my next business trip. I'm constantly referring to and adding to those lists, so I call them running lists. To-do apps per se aren't always right for them, but plenty of other apps could be.

Adapting Omnifocus

For a number of good reasons, I initially tried to use my go-to task planner, OmniFocus, to maintain other lists. First, in most cases, using a single app is better than using two. Second, OmniFocus works on both iOS and OS X, and syncs quickly and reliably. Third, OmniFocus has some clever location-aware tricks up its sleeve. For instance, I could create a context called 'Grocery Store', and OmniFocus would search for grocery stores near me and display them on a map right in the app. Using that feature, I could step off a plane anywhere and know where to go if I needed, say, some rutabagas.

But after using OmniFocus to manage my running lists for a month, I decided against it. For one thing, I don't travel much and found that I rarely used the location-aware features. But an even bigger strike against OmniFocus for me was the fact that it was already so essential to the way I manage my tasks that I didn't want to clutter up that workflow by mixing in a bunch of other lists.

First I went to the opposite extreme and tried using plain-text files for running lists. Armed with nvALT, Dropbox, and a good iOS text editor (I'm currently using WriteRoom for this purpose), I could easily sync text files across my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. (If you use Evernote, you can make text lists there, too.) I created individual text notes for each of my running lists. They were easy to sync and didn't require additional apps beyond the ones I was already running. I found, however, that adding items to my lists in text files and in Evernote was a hassle, requiring extensive tapping and scrolling. I wanted something easier for running lists, so I kept looking.

Next I looked at Clear, an iPhone and Mac app that makes creating, managing, and deleting lists fun. Clear has a unique touch-friendly user interface that enables you to manage running lists with pulls, swipes, and pinches. It also emits very satisfying sound effects as you move, create, and strike off items from your running list. I very nearly stuck with Clear, but I wanted still more features and kept looking.

 

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