Before I say a word about Things 3, I’ll address the elephant in the room. I switch between productivity tools … a lot. Likely, too often. There is a cost to switching from one tool to another.
However, I will say that it’s become a fairly quick and easy switch these days. Like email or Twitter clients, I find that I can move from one task management tool to another in a short amount of time these days. That may be partly because I keep my life’s list of tasks and responsibilities pretty lean these days. Much of my home and non-professional areas of responsibility are comprised of a consistent set of recurring tasks.
And so this past year I gave Todoist a try because I was curious about the long term affect of their karma feature. It was an interesting addition to a task management tool, but Todoist itself never felt like a long term solution for me. It’s spartan UI was not endearing (like most cross platform apps) and the feature set was similar to all the other option.
So when I got a first look at Things 3, it sufficiently got my attention.
If you're not familiar, I did not start using a Mac until a while after Mr. Jobs made his return to Apple. It was 2004 or so when I started paying attention to the company, but it was not until 2006 that I got my first used Mac. And one of the critical aspects that drew me in was the well designed software. And the original version of Things was one of the most appealing apps.
But that feels like a long time ago. Since then, my pattern of managing my work has looked a little like this:
Things > Basecamp/Highrise > OmniFocus > 2Do > Todoist > Things 3
There were a few others in there (anyone recall Remember The Milk?), but these were the major players. One of the main reasons that I moved away from Things was the lack of a good sync solution (this was before Dropbox and working from multiple devices was so common) and how slow they were at improving the app.
But one look at the new version of Things and I immediately thought there was a chance I would give it another shot. Why?
Let me explain.
Things I like about Things 3
The most important aspect of Things 3, the part that immediately grabbed my eye, was how projects are treated. They feel somewhat like a document.
In all the services I’ve used over the years, there has been a gap between managing the actual tasks and the information that is required to work on those tasks. There always needed to be a secondary piece of software required. That might be apps like Yojimbo or Evernote or Ulysses, or it might be parts of the macOS (files/folders in Finder).
Things 3 is the first tool that made me think there was a chance I could handle it all in one place. First, any project or area can have different content types. You can add comments to a project or a task, including smart links to content in other apps. You can add tasks, sections, and checklists to a project or area. And best of all, you can easily move stuff around.
This is a big improvement for me.
Here are a few of the other things I like about this app:
• you can have checklists within a task
• it’s super keyboard friendly
• multiple windows make daily/weekly planning real nice
• and one unexpected feature that got my attention right away, how dates are handled
◦ you can have dates or deadlines or both
◦ when you want to work on something is different than when you have a hard due date
▪ the first allows you to include intention in your task list, where as the second still gives you the ability to set a hard line for yourself
▪ and so, incomplete tasks (without a deadline) just move to the next day
• plus, you can set reminders (alarms) at specific times
In Things, repeating tasks placed in the Today menu simply move to the next day when unfinished. No angry overdue colors, no need to rearrange dates. The Today list simply moves forward, ready to be viewed and accomplished.
The treatment of dates and how projects or areas feel like a document are what caught my attention. But this is also one of the most well designed, delightful macOS apps I’ve used in a while. It gives me a similar feel to Ulysses … a feeling that gets me thinking it’ll be in my dock for a long while.
Things I don’t like about Things 3
It’s not perfect though. Some of the vertical spacing is funny (see the calendar entries compared to a task). And although projects and areas feel like a document, they’d feel even more so if it supported Markdown formatting in the notes.
Last, it’s limited in terms of creating custom views. However, Things has always been an opinionated tool with less functionality. The overall experience of the third version is so solid, it overcomes any lack that I’ve felt in my usage.
This was a fun read (hat tip to my coworker, Eugene Federenko). The article covers the working habits of several well known thinkers from years past, and also digs in to the psychology and research that supports their tendencies. I came away from the post feeling like it was a page out of Deep Work.
But it is good to remind ourselves of some of these truths. And I love it when I am able to read about people like Darwin or Hemingway and get an accurate picture of their days, if only to compare it with my own. Like them, I feel I only have a good 4–5 hours of output in me on any given day. However, the contrast between the rest of their day(s) and my own, or our culture at large, is stark.
Where as they spent the rest of their time in healthy pursuits like walking, napping, or conversing with family and friends, we spend several more hours in our chairs, in front of the screen. Oh, they had their busy work, replying to correspondence and things of that nature. But reading articles like this leaves me with a sense that this time was … less frenetic than what we experience today. I would wager that they certainly experienced far less stimulation than we do now.
Even working for a company where focus is valued and time away from work is highly encouraged, I still struggle with the idea that 4–5 hours of my best work is better than x amount of time in chair. Silly, but true.
There was one other aspect to this article that had me thinking. These people experienced lives of privilege: not everyone has the opportunity to structure their days like this. Not then and not now. While Darwin enjoyed his afternoon nap after a morning of mental exertion, were the servants in his household doing the same? Likely not.
5 hours a day or 8, we’re very blessed to be thinking about these things. That’s something to keep in mind at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon when I don’t feel energized to do any hard work.
The Discipline of Christian Meditation
All the exhortations listed in Scriptures are focused on one thing: helping us persevere by keeping our focus in the right place. Namely, on Christ and his work. And the disciplines we see listed (explicitly or implicitly) in the New Testament are all beneficial.
However, I cannot help but put three above the rest.
The Inward Disciplines
I like the way Richard Foster breaks down the different disciplines in Celebration of Discipline. He lists them as the inward, outward, and corporate disciplines.
Inward: meditation, fasting, study, and prayer
Outward: simplicity, solitude, submission, and service
Corporate: confession, worship, guidance, and celebration
Again, these are all highly valuable to our walk (no matter how you categorize them). But I put special emphasis on the inward disciplines, and specifically on study, meditation, and prayer. I find the three are in many ways intertwined and, without them, I do not imagine we will do well at any of the remaining disciplines.
We must start with our minds, how we see and think about the world. As Paul points out in one of the pillar verses for my own walk (Romans 12:2 NET):
Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God - what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
Where the mind spends its time, the heart follows.
How do you describe meditation? I find it to be one of the most interesting, fascinating, and enjoyable of the disciplines, partly because it's difficult to practice, partly because it’s so interrelated with several other disciplines.
How do we define it? Most dictionaries will say something like this:
to think deeply or focus one's mind for a period of time
That may be the opposite of how many think of meditation. In eastern religions, meditation is often used as a means of clearing the mind, of removing all thoughts. Using the great app Headscape, you’ll get a sense of this as you listen to Andy’s soothing tones and he will at times guide you to an empty state.
However, this is the opposite of what the Bible gets at when it speaks of meditation. Christian meditation is the filling of the mind, an effort to completely focus on God. On his character and his works and his word. I cannot think of a better picture of this than the 1st Psalm (verses 1–2 ESV):
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
The Hebrew word used in Psalm 1:2 is to mutter. The same word describes the murmuring of kings in Psalm 2 and the chattering of doves in Isaiah 59. In Psalm 1, it's indicative of a muttering. It indicates a vocal aspect.
Let’s consider a few questions that may come to mind.
Is meditation easy? No, not for most people. Especially in our day and age. Kenneth Boa alludes to the work required in Conformed to His Image:
The discipline comes in the effort to deliberately choose that upon which we will set our minds and in the skill of gently returning to it when we find that we have wandered.
How is meditation related to the other disciplines? For one, it requires silence and solitude (at least at first … in time a person can get good enough that they can focus on a subject for a period of time even in chaotic, noisy environments).
Back to Psalm 1: how can the Psalmist meditate day and night without internalizing the Word? Memorization of Scripture is another related form of discipline, one I would put in an overlapping circle between study and meditation.
Most important, how can a person start meditating? First, it can take different forms. One may be the purposeful time of focusing on something intensely, like one line of Scripture, or a characteristic of God.
Other times, it might be a longer session of pondering a problem or application of Godly wisdom. Our pastor is fond of stating, “Here’s what I’ve been wrestling with this week” during a sermon. This “wrestling” is a form of meditation. I do this often as I take a walk. Those familiar with Deep Work may think of the section titled Meditate Productively: this is the idea I’m getting at here.
And so I would postulate that meditation is two sided. One is a time of focus, in solitude and silence, where you bring your mind to bear on the Word. The second comes later; you can meditate on that Word through your day as you go about your activities.
And so there are a few things required to get into this habit.
Desire: you can start with just a touch of this, but unless it grows over time, you’ll only be following a system. Ask for this desire by praying for it.
Whitespace (aka margin): this is needed in order to give yourself the opportunity just be still for a period of time
Silence: this also make the habit easier to adopt, and must be present both internally and externally. Internal silence is a result of the whitespace mentioned above: without any margin, your mind will struggle to be still. The same will be true if you do not create some external silence: this is not just audible noise, but input of all types (including all internet enabled input).
Solitude: there is so much value in creating a space in the home for quiet, inner activities. Another good option is quiet path to walk
Once you have all these in place, find a verse, a short passage of Scripture, a thought about God or one of his characteristics, and focus on that for a time. Over time, memorize a longer passage of Scripture so that you can meditate on it during different breaks in your day. Maybe that 15 minute walk to the café for your afternoon coffee is better spent going through the sermon on the mount or Romans 8 than reading Twitter.
How many of us faithfully read through our Bible each year, but it’s a speed reading 10–15 minute session each morning? We should not mistake familiarity with the Biblical narrative and themes as intimacy with our Father. His word is not spiritual fast food, to be gulped down between entries on our calendar. It’s meant to be chewed slowly, to be savoured.
Developing a habit of meditation helps us with just that.
Rands shares a good piece of advice for how to get value out of all interactions. At the base of his advice is that, although not all interactions with all people will benefit you directly, it’s still worth your time to make investments in others.
He summarizes his advice this way:
Life isn’t short. It’s finite. As a leader with a finite set of minutes, it is your job to find the stories. They will teach you.
He’s describing that idea that although he is not hiring for a position, it can still be a good investment to talk to someone outside of your area of expertise. You cannot always see them at the time, but our small world brings a myriad of related connections. The different teams, departments, companies, and the humans that comprise them: it so often comes down to who you know.
But if you read the post, you may see another other benefit here. There’s value here for Cathy (the person he’s meeting with). In asking her some pointed questions, she gets the benefit of telling her story, of being validated herself.
Sometimes we all just need someone to listen to us.
I’m guessing “Cathy” remembers Michael Lopp because he gave of his time, showed genuine interest, and was a good listener. We all benefit from people like that. So when you cannot see the direct benefit and you're tight for time (because we’re all tight for time), Rands reminds us of the indirect benefits and how to best achieve them.
Can Coffee Help You Sleep?
There are a couple of different coffee focused newsletters I’ve subscribed to over the years. The current one is from Roasty, a site dedicated to the enjoyment of coffee and those who are passionate about it. The man behind it, Matt, describes it this way:
This website, however, I built because I love coffee, and I wanted to share that love of coffee with you and everyone else who shares my passion. Through this, we can all enjoy the glory of thoughtfully made, mindfully prepared “slow” coffee together – even if we’re not in the same room. Hell, even if we’re not in the same country.
In a recent email, Matt asked the question about whether coffee can help you sleep. Sounds like a silly question, right? Well, he makes the case that this is true.
However, did you know that coffee can also be used to help you sleep? While that may sound crazy, when you take a look at how our body reacts when we drink one cup of coffee or three, you can begin to understand exactly why it can actually ultimately have the opposite effect from what you might expect. In fact, the more coffee you drink, the more tired you could ultimately feel as your body continues to react the endless supply of coffee you keep pouring into your system.
He gets into the physiology of caffeine and its effect on your adenosine function, the cycle that your body takes with caffeine, and even includes some practical tips on how to use caffeine to aid your sleep.
Personally, this entire idea sounds like a recipe for disaster. Any coffee after 4pm is likely to cause issues with my sleep. But we are all different and I personally am more sensitive to caffeine that many folks. I also know that my sleep is affected by the regularity of my coffee intake. If I have a long string of days with 2–3 cups of strong coffee, I will eventually increase in fatigue, irritability, and experience lower quality sleep (that is why I reset my system every 4 weeks or so).
However, I do agree with his case that coffee intake will result in drowsiness. Just as I would not use coffee as a sleep aid, I try not to rely on it for energy either. It truly is self-defeating in this regard. Nothing is worse than the energy crash after the post-lunch coffee. So many people struggle with energy and focus at the tail end of the work day and coffee/caffeine have a role in that issue.
At any rate, it’s an interesting topic. My advice is that good sleep is better aided by an overall healthy lifestyle. Eat well, all things in moderation, and physical activity will do a lot more good for getting proper sleep than a coffee at 7pm.
This article is interesting to me for two reasons. One, it well illustrates the different type of communication preferences people have. And how that can be hard when your boss communicates differently than you.
I once had a boss who would send me a series of two-word emails throughout the day, each one bearing the same message: “Call me.” Each time I received one of these emails, the hairs on the back of my neck would stiffen and my stomach would churn violently.
The author’s reaction was never justified:
When I did call my boss, our conversation was always friendly. It might be that he wanted to get an update on a project, or ask me a quick question, or even compliment me on a presentation. It was almost never bad news.
However, I call this lazy leadership. How much more effective could this person have been if she did not worry about these email “bombs”?
The second interesting aspect of this article was her solution to what she perceived as a problem.
Inspired by Grove and Drucker’s approaches, I created my own standardized, habitual communication with my boss. My goal was to make sure that we would always be in sync, and that he had an up-to-date understanding of all my projects—which meant that we could cut down on phone calls.
She would send him an email every Friday highlighting three things: what she had done that week, what she was currently working on, and what she was waiting on. This simple once a week activity that took 15 minutes solved her problem.
Now, the part that interests me is not so much her solution, but her initiative. I’m a good example of a reactive person, who often fails to come up with proactive solutions like this. I'm learning, but it can be a painful process.