Four Free Apps that Help Me Stay Organized and Get Things Done

Note-taking, project managing, and sharable to-do lists – purrrfect!!

Title photo



Charles Ai

Updated 2018-10-09

It is always a trying experience to move to a new place, especially when we have to see through all the steps and do everything by ourselves. The bright side, however, is that it is also an excellent opportunity to test our organization skills, the ability to set priorities and deadlines, and to develop team spirit with the one(s) you live or work with (Yep, I argued a lot with my dear wife..., and she is right EVERY time). Even before moving into the new house, we already started to plan things in advance, and during the later processes, we become multi-task super-heroes/heroines.

While moving to a new place is not a daily ordeal for most of us, coping with a variety of calls from diverse origins can be very common in our work and life. For some, technology, portable devices, in particular, can be a huge source of distraction that can redirect our focus and deplete our energy very easily. Yet, in some people's hands, they have also proved to be fully capable of enhancing our life efficiency and helping us stay more committed to the objectives at hand.

Here I'd like to share four FREE apps that I have been using for years and have enormously benefited my workflow. With them, I find myself kind-of hard to forget things, because they function as my loyal assistants and have taken over the monotonic recording and searching process in a rather smarter way so that I can focus more on making decisions any time I need to pinpoint anything I came across among a myriad of inputs in life.



This lovely elephant has been with me for 7 years and is storing 6000+ notes for me in the cloud

Evernote is arguably the best cloud-based note-taking app of all time (Sorry, OneNote, I know you might have as many fans as Evernote on the western hemisphere, but your service in China is extremely unstable and slow). It makes its name throughout the years largely due to its reliability and good UX design, given that the functions are shared with a lot of other apps of the same category. It set up exclusive sync servers for Mainland China in the early 2010s, making early adopters like me very content with its sync speed. Although Chinese Evernote accounts are separate from the International ones, all notes in any account can be exported as a single file and be imported to a new account once you have created it. That's precisely what I did before I came to Canada. Other remarkable functions I find very helpful:

My favourite premium functions:




Trello is basically an interactive digitized board to which we attach ideas, images, documents and stickers
and then share among the members on the same board

Trello is a widely used project management app featuring abundant team sharing and collaboration functions. In 2016, I employed it in two Grade 10 IB classes when I was teaching in Beijing. Students found it quite interesting and useful. For most of them, it was their first online teamwork tool other than WeChat and QQ. Even so, they adopted the app almost in no time. According to my students' and my own years of using, Trello deserves its popularity for these reasons:

Here's an official Webinar given by Trello team for new users.


Microsoft To-Do

Everyone keeps to-do lists, and every smartphone user has at least one to-do list app on their phone – the one that comes with its operating system, such as Reminder on iPhone. There are, indeed, already a bunch of very well designed to-do apps in the market, most of which adopt a freemium payment model. Some others, like Microsoft To-Do, Reminders, and Google Tasks, are woven into the ecosystem of product bundle of a large enterprise, and thus all free to use. Interestingly, Microsoft To-Do is the only to-do list app that is not only entirely free, and cross-platform, but fully functional on both sides of the Great Firewall. (Good luck, Google, for your negotiation with the Party!)

Microsoft To-do

MS To-do is indeed a successful attempt for Microsoft to combine simplicity and functionality, thanks to the integration of Wunderlist Team :)

Microsoft To-Do attaches particular emphasis on the tasks of the current day, which are highlighted on the welcome page – My Day to give a "fresh start" to plan a new day, adding a unique flavour for the user experience. Like other apps of the same category, we can also set tasks for future days, by setting notes, reminders, repetitions, etc. Plus, It can also suggest tasks (To-do suggestions) for the users based on finished ones – a cute and handy feature, having saved me plenty of typing time. I am quite fond of it.

A minor weakness of this app, though, is that it has not had a Mac app version yet, but that won't hurt much if your Mac is always online.


Do with Me

Do With Me

For many, iMessage App Store is still an uncharted island teeming with treasure and surprises

The last one is a very lite-weight app and only available on iOS, but straightforward and useful. It is a to-do list we can share and edit with the one(s) in the same iMessage chat. My wife and I rely heavily upon it now, and both of us have been amazed by its simplicity and reliability.

Some hidden tricks (easter eggs?) of this small cute app:


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