Download: toDoList (Windows)

September 2nd, 2006 by jose

This is a review of toDoList, a free, open source program to organize your tasks. It is very flexible and configurable and has replaced my main organized, a program that I believed suited me perfectly.

I was a heavy user of MyLife Organized (MLO), and have over a hundred posts in the MLO forum, but after finding this program I have switched over immediately.
Dan, the developer of toDoList, even made me (on request) an alpha build with filters to convert MLO files (will be available in 4.11).

ToDoList can be a bit daunting at first since it has many options and the default screen shows a lot of information.

Fortunately, it can be simplified at will. You can make it look like a clean, empty piece of paper if that suits you.

It has been mentioned before at donation coder: (1, 2, 3). By the way, this is a extremely good resource for finding good software and donation coder users are between the most knowledgeable and open I have found on the web. Highly recommended.

But back to toDoList, What do I like?

  • Open source
  • Updated often
  • An active Forum
  • Keeps configuration in an ini file if wanted. That means it can be run from an USB thumb drive
  • Exports XML. Not only that, but also ical format, compatible with many calendar programs
  • Highly  configurable, as many options as Microsoft Word
  • All kind of settings, filtering, viewing options can be exported in an .ini file
  • Keyboard shortcuts all user-definable
  • It accepts plugins (extensible) and tools (command line calls to utilities)
  • Nonobstrusive: it goes to tray when closed or minimized and it has a global key to get it back. This is fundamental for an application of this type that gets looked at briefly many times a day

Features MLO doesn’t have

  • Can select multiple tasks, can do copy, paste with them as if they were plain text
  • Very flexible search, you can limit the search to any field or even search the search results (!). You can sort the view by anything! Due date, percentage complete, time estimated… And you can filter the view.

  • Time tracking per task. This is fundamental for improving your time estimation. Have you thought that you could complete a task in 2 hours and ended up needing 2 days? track your time usage and you will improve your estimations
  • tabbed interface for more than one project open at the same time
  • Multiple users
  • Integration with repository (!)
  • Links between tasks (dependencies)
  • Can refer to external files (nice: often a task is about a file)
  • Has a time estimation field (finally!) and you can compare it with how much time you spent actually on that task
  • Visual feedback! It can import to ganttchart project
  • Encryption
  • Integrates with repository (!) nice for sharing, and for keeping track of changes to the file MLO has an internal database, a lot more obscure
  • Spell checking
  • RTF for comments
  • filtering by category in view. The categories can be used as for GTD. Filtering is very flexible, show/hide tasks at will
  • Can color tasks by category (Really nice. Example: mail is blue, is green etc). It also by default colors tasks due today as red, very good to identify what’s on

One long thread in the MLO forum had to do with its lack of visual cues to see how busy your schedule is. The end results is that there seem to be no plans for having any visual timeline nor calendar in MLO. With TDL, this problem is surprisingly well solved: one can export data to the ganttchart project and have all kind of timeline niceties there. Calendar integration takes place by import/export of ical files.

In General, and compared to MLO, toDoList is very much more sophisticated in its list handling. Here are some quote from the developer, and users in the forum:

“there have been a number of people I’ve come across recently who are switching to ToDoList from MLO but I can’t work about why, except that usability seems to be part of it.” That is quite an understatement, the feature set is just not comparable.

“The ability to quickly select a bunch of non-contiguous tasks and modify a column or two is a huge help. Say I want to change any task assigned to Jessica–all I have to do is ctrl-F, pick allocated by, then select all to make the change in all the tasks.” Absolutely true, a pleasure after being limited to selecting only one task at a time in MLO.

“It seems to take very few steps to do everything, and you can assign hotkeys to most of the actions. Moving tasks around, promoting and demoting them, is very easy.”

It doesn’t have the (artificial) separation between outline and todo list, nor the heuristics for TODO creation (that most users disable anyway, at least I did).

Of course, switching away from MLO has its downsides. Here are a few things that toDoList doesn’t have:

  • No rapid task entry parsing (but I rarely used it)
  • Dates are absolute, not relative (e.g., in 5 days, today. Etc)
  • No PPC version
  • No reminders! That’s a big one for me, but they will be implemented
  • No recurrent events (but recurring tasks are in the pipeline as well)

Conclusion: Considering that I was a MLO evangelist, and now I wholeheartedly recommend TDL, it is clear how much of an impression it has caused me. The interesting thing is that the two programs have very different philosophies and origins. MLO was designed to implement the gets things done (GTD) methodology. ToDoList was created to develop code :) , not to do GTD… but after using it for a while I think it is the best tool for GTD. That means something to me (about what GTD is!).

To conclude, a quote from user ‘wakeywakey’ in the TDL forums:

“There’s something a bit Zen like going on here, because although you’ve developed this to support your software development activities, you seem to have come the closest to creating a tool that I have found the most useful for implementing Getting Things Done: ‘ To hit your target, do not aim for it.’”

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7 Responses to “Download: toDoList (Windows)”

  1. academic productivity » Interruptions: one of the costs of maintaining a time-management system Says:

    [...] These are tiny tasks. The problem is not so much the time it takes to do them, but the fact that they interrupt your flow. (see graph: the times *I* use the program are the green bars; they are spread all over my working day!). I have measured the time I spend on my current time-management tool, Agenda at once. Although it decreased with time of usage, the average is still quite high, at 11 about minutes and a half per day. I have also logged times when I was using MyLife Organized and ToDoList for about the same number of days (let me know if you want to see similar graphs) and the average times where 17:30 and 14:35 respectively. People using paper and pencil may think that they spend less time doing this, but as far as I know nobody has measured the length of the interruption of finding pen, agenda or paper, looking for the right place to annotate the task, etc. [...]

  2. Project Management Software - Personal Development for Smart People Forums Says:

    [...] For todo-list stuff I have gone through different phases. I started with MLO (my life organized). Then I found toDoList which is way better in every aspect (see my review here: academic productivity » Download: toDoList (Windows)) Then I realized that I have plenty of hard deadline tasks, and that I really needed a calendar integrated. For that, the best tool I found is agenda at once: academic productivity » Programs: Agenda at once Hope this helps… [...]

  3. Chaim KrauseNo Gravatar Says:


    I am an on-again-off-again user of MLO. It never quite seems to stick with me. Now that you have used ToDoList for a year, how do you like it?

  4. adminNo Gravatar Says:


    ToDoList is head and shoulders above anything I have seen for managing todo lists.
    Having said that, I barely use it anymore, as I have moved to paper :)

  5. John WatsonNo Gravatar Says:

    Thanks very much for your post on todolist. I had been trying to figure out what was the best nested to-do list software for my work, and was struggling to choose among several different ones (including todlist and MLO). I was almost settled on MLO, despite being uncomfortable with a fair number of things about it. I had dismissed TDL because it seemed, as you said, too daunting at first. However, after reading your post I decided to give TDL another try. After about 15 minutes, I love it. It’s lightweight, and really fantastic at what it does. Your post saved me from going down the wrong road. THANKS!!

  6. Gregory RobinsonNo Gravatar Says:

    Thanks for the post… Helps Hugely!

  7. adwords managementNo Gravatar Says:

    Wow, thanks for the great review. Definitely help make my decision on toDolist easier. It’s too bad it doesnt have a PPC version, but oh well…


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