A few months ago, Divya and I decided that we needed a shared to-do list to keep track of all the little things that we need to remember. We wanted something that we would primarily use on our iPhones, but we also wanted the ability to update things from anywhere else. Fast and reliable synchronization across devices was the paramount requirement -- if you've ever had a shared to-do list go out of sync, you know how frustrating it can be.

So we tried a handful of different options, including Apple's own Reminders app (with remarkably unreliable iCloud sync), Wunderlist, Any.do, and a few others. And an unexpected winner emerged - Trello.

Described as an "online collaboration tool," Trello is generally viewed as a simplified project management app. But its customizability also makes it an excellent, flexible shared to-do list that you can fit almost exactly to your needs. It also happens to be the most robust at synchronizing between devices, and updates propagate almost instantly.

A default Trello "board" consists of three "lists" - To Do, Doing, and Done. We started out using this default setup for our shared to-do list, and it worked reasonably well, but there were a couple of problems. First, the "Doing" list wasn't particularly useful to us, because unlike longer-running tasks in software projects, most tasks in the context of personal to-do lists tend to be fairly quick to complete. So we nuked that list. And then our "To Do" list started getting quite lengthy, because we didn't have a nice way to separate out things that needed immediate attention from less important things that we could push off until later.

So we changed things up, and here's what we ended up with (inspired, in part, by the excellent Mailbox app's "Snooze" options):

  • The "Immediate" list: Things that need to get done today/tomorrow.
  • The "Later This Week" list: Things that need to get done within a week's time.
  • The "Some Day" list: Things that are not urgent and can be picked up at any time.
  • The "Things to Buy" list: Self-explanatory -- a running list of things we need to buy.

It works sort of like a Kanban board, where we pick up items from the "less important" buckets as we finish up the ones that have higher priority.

This set up has been working really well for us (and it's almost made mundane chores fun!), so I thought I'd share. :)