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10 apps to bring order to your chaotic life

20 May 2011, Nick Peers

Some people seem capable of organising everything in their head: the day’s tasks, a running to-do list and even when and where all their meetings for the next month will be. For the rest of us, though, we need a bit of help. And your computer or smartphone can help here, by doing all the hard work for you.

Planning apps are ten-a-penny, and the great news is that while there are plenty of powerful commercial tools available, you can put your life in order without spending a single penny. We’ve dug through our extensive archives and picked out 10 useful to-do apps – in no particular order – for those with chaotic lifestyles to consider.

EssentialPIM Free
If you’re in the market for an all-in-one tool that’ll organise pretty much every aspect of your life for you, take a look at this. EssentialPIM Free has everything you need: appointments, to-do list, contacts, calendar and even an email client. The free version should be perfect for most people’s needs, but if you need more features, such as multi-user access or desktop sticky notes, you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro edition. There’s even a portable build you can take with you should you be bereft without it.

ToDoList Portable
As the name suggests, ToDoList Portable is designed for the user on the run, never sure which PC he or she will be sat at on any particular day. The good news is that you can install it on your main computer as well for a more permanent installation.

The program is geared towards those with busy lives who find their day constantly interrupted, with side projects demanding precedence over the day’s chores. The user interface may look a little complicated to some, but others will find solace in the fact its uses a familiar hierarchical format for organising tasks and sub-tasks.

If you don’t need help planning your day, but want a simple to-do list manager, then TaskCoach is an excellent tool to consider for Mac, Windows and Linux.

It’s a perfectly capable to-do manager with one major selling point: the ability to handle composite tasks (in order words, tasks that involve more than one activity or element). Creating tasks is simple – you can even drag and drop that email demanding your precious time and effort from either Outlook or Thunderbird. Set deadlines, reminders – everything you need, wrapped up in a simple, lightweight user interface. There’s even a portable version for Windows users.

If there’s one thing missing from TaskCoach, it’s the ability to synchronise your to-do list with other computers and devices you own. Wunderlist fills that gap, not only allowing you to work across multiple computers, but also giving you access to your lists via compatible mobile devices, including iPhone, iPad and Android.

The Hit List
Mac users wanting a to-do application that’s developed exclusively for you should take a look at The Hit List. This freebie has all the organisational tools you need, with multiple ways of viewing them (including a handy Today List). It supports repeating entries – perfect for bill reminders and the like – and supports syncing with iCal, giving you access to your lists in other programs as well as on your iPhone or iPad.

Storing your daily grind on the internet has one major advantage in that it gives you access from just about anywhere (even the summit of Mount Everest, it transpires) without having to worry about staying in sync. Evernote is one such web-based service, but also comes with a useful desktop application to give you access outside of your browser, as well as apps for accessing your notes from the iPhone and iPad as well as other devices, including Android and Blackberry.

The program just doesn’t record your notes, plans and dreams; it can also be used to capture all kinds of information and material: web snippets, media files, the lot. Evernote will even do the hard work of processing, indexing and archiving all this information for you.

Your notes can be shared with others, and there’s a Premium option that boosts your monthly bandwidth, lets you add any kind of file and allow others to edit your notes, transforming it into a truly collaborative tool.

If you like the idea of Evernote, but don’t get on with it, try Memonic instead. As with Evernote, there are apps for iPhone and iPad as well as Android, but it works in a slightly different way: adding notes from the clipboard, selected text or even by taking a snapshot of the screen can be done from the Notification area icon, while you can access your content through your browser, or by installing one of the many available Memonic browser extensions. Again there’s a Premium subscription with more features, although the free sub does allow you to collaborate with up to three other Memonic users.

TeamDrive Free
Not all projects are solo affairs; if you’re working with others, you’ll want a tool that allows you all to collaborate with the minimum of fuss. Memonic is one such tool, but if you want something specifically geared to this kind of co-operation, such as the existence of a shared workspace for people to collaborate on files, then TeamDrive Free is worth considering instead. It supports offline access, so you can make changes when not connected (everything syncs automatically once the connection is re-established), and the free version comes with 2GB cloud storage, which should be enough for most people’s needs.

If you want a fully featured personal information manager, and you’re happy to pay for a rich feature set, then WinPIM could be the tool for you. It boasts all the usual features you’d expect – contacts management, note-taking, to-do lists, appointments and built-in email client – plus some unique extras worth checking out: a contacts relationship map, tasks that can span several days (and contain sub-tasks as part of a wider project) and support for voice recording alongside more traditional note-taking tools.

Things for Mac
Trouble staying top of personal and professional tasks? Let your trusty Mac – aided by Things – put your house back in order. It’s beautifully designed with an intuitive interface that won’t take long to master – items can be organised a number of ways into areas, with tags thrown in for good measure. The only quibble is that much of its vaunted functionality – such as an over-arching Day view and the ability to set up repetitive lists – is already available for free in  The Hit List. What Things does have going for it, however, are dedicated apps for the iPad, and iPhone, letting you take your new best friend on the road with you.

So there you have it: 10 apps that can bring order to the measured chaos of your busy life. Have we missed out your favorite organisational tool? If so, let us know in the comments.

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