December 30, 2017

Eight Months With Things 3

Long-term use notes and the workflow I’ve settled into

I first wrote about Things 3 in May, shortly after I got access to it.

At the time, I was still swept up in its good looks, smooth operation, and refreshingly non-punitive take on carrying over incomplete tasks to the next day.

Nearly a year later, I’m still using Things. This makes it the only task management app to have successfully dethroned Todoist for more than a couple of months.

It’s given me time to settle into a workflow and analyze the long-term nuances of the app, especially in terms of how it compares to Todoist.

How I Use Things

In a word: very simply. Over time, I’ve whittled away a lot of unnecessary busywork in my usage pattern:

  • I use Areas to segregate tasks into broad containers” like Personal, Blog, Work, Photography, etc. I have only six Areas, and part of my New Years re-organization will likely reduce that further.
  • I don’t use Projects. I thought I would, but I’ve found that I don’t need them for organization, and setting them up is more of a hassle than it’s worth—more on that later.
  • Similarly, I don’t use Headings within lists, I rarely use cancelled tasks, and I dislike using Tags and will probably stop.
  • I only ever use the Today and Upcoming views. Anytime and Someday are functionally equivalent—and meaningless to me.
  • I don’t use multiple windows.
  • I don’t set reminders for my tasks. I found that since I’m only ever looking at my Today view, I always know what’s due and don’t benefit from having all my devices ping me about something.
  • Unlike my Todoist experience, I have strong platform preferences for using Things: I prefer to use my Mac for adding and organizing new tasks. I find the iOS apps slow, so I turn to them less often for adding new tasks. Instead, they’re mostly for checking things off, rescheduling, etc.

Things I Love

  • Seeing calendar items above my tasks is a wonderful affordance, and has meant that I almost never look at a dedicated calendar app anymore unless I’m actively changing my schedule
  • Tasks seamlessly carrying over to the next day if they haven’t been completed is a very peaceful and human approach. I don’t want to have to babysit my task manager…if I’m managing my task manager, then what is it for? I may as well just have a dumb list at that point.
  • It’s beautiful. This isn’t a meaningful point, but I do appreciate the level of aesthetic polish that’s gone into this app and it makes me happy to use something so well crafted.
  • The presence of This Evening” as a scheduling option is another very human feature. Two tasks that are due today” don’t necessarily have the same urgency or importance, and while you can use priority flags in other task managers to segregate these, day vs. evening tasks seems like a less technical approach to me.

Things I Don’t Love

  • Things is designed around the idea of capturing tasks into the Inbox (via Quick Entry, the share sheet, Mail to Things, or Siri) with very little detail around their organization, due dates, etc. and then adding that detail and sorting them in a subsequent step…I can’t get used to this workflow at all.
  • I want to fill in all the detail I can right when I’m entering a task, not delegate it to Future Me unnecessarily.
  • While the various Quick Entry/share sheet modals do allow you to enter more information at point of capture, it’s significantly slower than Todoist’s natural language input in use. In Todoist, I can add and organize tasks at the speed of thought, whereas Things is always several steps behind.
  • This is a large part of why I don’t feel inclined to use Projects, list headers, tags, etc…it’s more cumbersome to create and assign them, so I just don’t bother.
  • While the peaceful approach to overdue tasks makes Things feel less stressful, in practise I’ve found that it also makes it less effective; I am much more liable to ignore my tasks because there’s no change to indicate their overdue status. They become invisible to me and don’t get done in a useful amount of time.
  • I miss Todoist’s Karma rewards system because it helped incentivize a level of involvement with my task manager. Without it, I find myself all too often just tossing tasks into Things and then not really engaging with them.
  • Todoist keeps you accountable, which is less friendly but is also what you want from an app designed to help you get things done.
  • I find myself wondering if what I want in a task management app is a grandmother (“it’s okay dear, you can try again tomorrow”) or a coach (“It didn’t get done—what are you going to do about it?”).
  • The inability to collaborate with others means that I’m stuck using another app just for shared lists (Reminders, in my case). This is silly not only because using two apps for the same process (task management) strikes me as dumb, but also because the person I’m sharing lists with most often uses Todoist…which handles sharing brilliantly.

Managing Tasks in 2018

Heading into the new year, I’m a bit conflicted about this—as you can tell from the imbalance of things I like vs. things I don’t in the lists above.

My concern is that Things is so pretty that I’ve found a way to work around its practical and functional limitations rather than keeping an objective view and using the best tool for the job. Still, it does work for me, as evidenced by nearly a year of successful usage.

Things’ day/evening separation, the calendar overview, and its Logbook are all concrete advantages that I appreciate every day. But its design is something of a double-edged sword, and its approach to managing tasks can’t help but feel slow in comparison to Todoist.

Things makes me feel like a samurai warrior: methodical, precise, and noble. But with Todoist, I’m a ninja: agile, pragmatic, and effective.

I’m not sure yet which approach is a better fit for my needs, but I’m glad I’ve spent enough time with both of these powerful tools to better understand the distinction and the long-term implications of using each.

All that’s left now is to choose.

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