Managing the holidays -- the cooking, the shopping, the family, the events, the stress -- is all about organization.
And what better way is there to organize than by using technology?
Numerous smartphone and desktop applications can make planning for the holidays much, much easier -- and perhaps even enjoyable.
"Our company's mission is to help people have a good day every day," said Omer Perchik, founder and CEO of Any.do, a hugely popular task management app. Perchik's company, which he originally worked on out of Palo Alto, got its start with Android app Taskos, which eventually evolved into Any.do in November 2011.
Any.do is minimal but efficient. Users can add endless to-do items to four folders: today, tomorrow, upcoming or someday. Within those four seemingly simple categories unfold many, many options. Set alarms to remind yourself when and where to pick up that turkey you ordered for Thanksgiving; add a location for that Christmas party you don't want to go to, plus share a grocery list with your significant other for the dish you have to bring; keep your work and personal life separate with two designated folders.
Perchik said his company decided on the four overarching folders after getting feedback on an earlier iteration of the app, finding that the best and most frequent Any.do users usually open the app between 8 and 10 a.m. and have tasks across all these categories, rather than just "today."
"This basically means our best users ... use it more as a daily planner almost," he said. "They go every morning, prioritize whatever they need to do when they start their day. We took those two insights and productized them."
Perchik said Any.do tries to strike a delicate balance between overdone and oversimplified in the world of task-management apps.
"On the one hand, you have those over-simplified things, simple note-taking (programs) and on the other hand, things that have too many functionalities. They're cumbersome and provide too many features that people don't really use. We try to find the right balance between the two. So we took the approach of layers and it looks really simple, almost like a blank paper, but as you go there are more and more functionalities for the app."
Perchik is right -- a white slate with simple blue text doesn't look like much, but as you add items, you get more and more prompts for further details to add. (Any.do also has an almost comedic inspirational tilt, with messages like "Good job" and "Take a moment to plan your day" popping up in response to certain actions.)
Any.do works on iPhones and Androids as well as PC and Mac desktop computers. For those who use Google Chrome as an Internet browser, download the Any.do add-on to seamlessly sync tasks from mobile phone to computer.
For Apple users, Any.do also launched a separate calendar app, which syncs with your Any.do to do lists, photos and more. Think Apple's iCal but sleeker and more intuitive.
But for the holidays, Android users might have it best, with a feature so tuned into your tasks it can help point you in the right direction to get them done.
"In some cases, when someone writes down a task, we want to help people get something done," Perchik explained. "So you write down that you want to buy a flight ticket to Barcelona, you want to buy a present ... we will actually match you with some solution that will allow you to do that."
So Any.do will link you to Expedia.com to book a flight or to Amazon to purchase a gift.
"We're trying to streamline the whole process of getting things done that's a quicker way," Perchik said. "And in many ways that's the vision of Any.do simplifying the complex and getting things in a more simple manner so you can invest time in the things you care about versus the things you need to do."
Another task management app, similar in name and features but with a different tilt, is AnyList, which was originally focused on providing a platform where users could not only organize grocery and shopping lists, but easily share them with other people.
AnyList co-founders Jeff Hunter and Jason Marr, who met in college, eventually both got jobs at Apple and lived together in California.
"We were looking for an app that would let us coordinate a shopping list because we shared purchasing paper towels and toilet paper and stuff like that for the house," Hunter said.
Nothing in the app store satisfied them either apps didn't have sharing capabilities or were too cumbersome so the two left Apple and created their own task-sharing app.
AnyList, which was initially funded by Y Combinator, a start-up funding and development company based in Mountain View, is free and only available for Apple devices at this time.
And as its name indicates, the app is list-based. Create a grocery list and add items; they will automatically be placed into categories (Need a quart of milk? Any.List will file it under dairy. Crackers? Look under snacks.) Create your own custom categories if you don't like what AnyList has to offer.
Also originally driven by grocery shopping, there's a recipe section, and the app actually comes pre-loaded with a few recipes (cast-iron skillet salmon fillets and roasted sweet potatoes, anyone?). Each recipe comes with an ingredient list, and you can select items you need to buy to add them to your grocery list.
But Hunter said AnyList's crowning feature is its sharing function. To share a list or recipe, all you need is an email address, which will either prompt the recipient to download the app if they don't have it already, or notify him or her on the app. Shared lists can be viewed and modified by everyone involved. (Hunter said this is especially useful for restaurant owners who use the app to coordinate with staff or manage grocery shopping with a team of people.)
Lists can also be customized, so the app is useful not just for groceries, but also to-do lists or gift lists needed to coordinate holiday shopping, Hunter said.
A recent feature added also allows users to password protect lists "a way to protect Christmas lists from getting snooped on," Hunter explained (useful for parents whose children use their iPads).
The holidays might get more and more stressful, but technology only gets better and better. Use it to your advantage this year.
Other useful holiday apps
For organizing: - Wunderlist (Free for iOS,Windows, Android, Kindle, Web) - Evernote (Free for iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, BlackBerry, Mac, Windows, Web) - Packing Pro ($2.99 for for all iOS devices and Android)
For cooking: - Thanksgiving: A Bon Appetit Manual (Free for iPhone and iPad) - How to Cook Everything ($9.99 for iPhone and iPad) - Food52 ($3.99 for iPhone and iPad) - Allthecooks Recipes (Free for Android, iPhone, Windows, Leap and Glass) - Kitchen Pad Timer ($1.99 for iPhone and iPad; Free for Android)
For carding: - Ink Cards: Personalized Greeting Cards (Free for iPhone and iPad) - justWink Greeting Cards (Free for Android) - Red Stamp Cards (Free for iPhone and iPad) - Holiday Cards Tracker ($2.99 for iPhone and iPad)