The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

A Better Approach to Managing Tasks

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. Its spartan UI was not endearing (like most cross platform apps) and the feature set was similar to all the other options.

So when I got a first look at Things 3, it sufficiently got my attention.

Some history

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

This last note is such a breath of fresh air to this genre of tools. Previously, I would grow frustrated with my tools because my intentions would result in a growing list of overdue tasks. Now, the list just rolls over to the following day.

As Drew Coffman says:

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.

I’m solely onboard with it as my primary tool.

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