Workplace

Finally: A to-do list app that wants you to do less

Francesco D’Alessio, host of “Keep Productive,” knows we have too many productivity apps. He decided to make one anyway.

Bento app.

Each Bento box contains a small, medium and large task, and Bento users have three workflows to choose from.

Image: Bento, Protocol

The reviewer has become the doer. Francesco D’Alessio, host of productivity review channel “Keep Productive,” launched new to-do list app Bento on iOS on Monday. The app is marketed as the “do less to-do list,” imposing a three-task limit for users.

The to-do list is an intuitive way to organize the workday. Brainstorm your tasks, write them down and check them off. It’s simple, and it should make us more productive, at least in theory. So why do so many people hate them?

“We have that feeling at the end of the day where, if you don’t get all 20 of your tasks done that are on your list, you feel like rubbish,” D’Alessio said. “You shouldn’t feel like that.”

It’s not necessarily about the to-do list; it’s about us. We tend to be naturally optimistic about the work we want to accomplish, leading to a messy, never-ending list of tasks. This is where productivity tools come in, to help us make sense of the madness. In theory. Sometimes the massive crowd of available tools only adds to the madness.

D’Alessio is well aware of the chaotic mass of productivity tools. He’s supposed to help clients choose among them, and now he’s adding another tool into the mix. “It was scary because I don’t want to add to the fuel,” D’Alessio said. “But at the same time, we were thinking a bit differently. There’s a lot of ‘do more’ in the productivity space and we went the opposite. We were like, how can we do less?”

Bento’s leaders are pitching it as a methodology, not just an app. With Bento, you focus only on three tasks which comprise a single Bento box. The Bento box can be any unit of time. You might build five Bento boxes for each workday, or build three at the start of a day, representing the morning, afternoon and evening. You can have only seven boxes at any given time.

Each box contains a small, medium and large task, and Bento users have three workflows to choose from. Eat That Frog, a productivity concept from Brian Tracy, encourages you to start with the largest, most important task first. Slow Burn tells you to start with your smallest task and work your way up. Climb The Summit chooses the medium task first, then the large task followed by the small one. You assign a number of minutes to each task, and when you click the task, it starts a timer.

D’Alessio conceived of the idea about a year ago while chatting with friends Karl Hadwen and Robin Bailey, who went on to help him build the app. He’s always appreciated Japanese culture and aesthetics, and felt that the experience of eating a bento box mirrored the serenity of an organized day. What if sorting and completing tasks felt like placing groups of food into well defined compartments, and then eating them?

D’Alessio wants users to feel relaxed while using Bento. An ideal user might be someone who struggles with prioritizing their tasks, and feels overwhelmed by all the different ways of organizing things. “I think it could be quite a good starter application,” D’Alessio said. “Anyone in the productivity space can use it because it’s a layer on top of everything.”

He maintains that the Bento method can be used anywhere; the iOS app is just the best place to do it. It’s meant to complement other apps in your productivity suite: Maybe you list 15 tasks in Todoist and use Bento to filter out the most important ones. Ultimately, the Bento team will release a guided course and templates for other productivity platforms like Notion or ClickUp.

The Bento app costs $4.99 to download on iOS (the Android app is imminent, D’Alessio says). D’Alessio was wary of adding “another subscription into people’s lists,” and he’s hoping the money will roll in through other productivity apps as well, bundling the Bento method guide and template into packages people pay for.

The feedback has been positive from beta users so far, D’Alessio said, but he’s bracing himself for the wide range of opinions that may come from the passionate productivity community. “I’m actually really scared, because I review the apps and now I’m an app to be reviewed,” D’Alessio said. “But I’m cautiously optimistic.”

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