September 23, 2018

Things 3.7

Task automation for the rest of us with Siri

As I’ve come to expect from the team at CulturedCode, Things 3 was ready for iOS 12 at launch—version 3.7 brings with it a host of new functionality, centred around Siri.

One of my only issues with Things (coming from Todoist) is that quick entry…isn’t quick. At least not as quick as Todoist’s. While the automation features introduced in 3.4 started to offer some solutions, it’s only now that the true potential is revealed.

But there are still some frustrating limitations.

Hey, Siri…

Since I have my tasks organized into a few Areas”, and I almost always know which area a task is meant to end up in when I create it, I’ve added a number of shortcuts for quicker entry that look something like this:

Hey Siri, Add a new Writing task

This example creates a new task in Things within my Writing’ area, assigned to Today, and presents me with a pre-filled quick-entry window where I can add the title and hit save.

What I like about this is that the command syntax no longer has to specify that I want the action performed using Things” or in Things”, because the nature of Siri Shortcuts ensures that’s already implicitly known.

I have a few similar ones:

Hey Siri, add a new chore

This adds a task to my Home’ area with the chore’ tag applied, but otherwise functions the same as before where I have to type out its name and hit save.

Same idea as in this example from the Things blog:

One or the Other

This is all well and good, but in my mind, the purpose of voice-assisted quick entry is to handle situations where I can’t or don’t want to type. So the fact that I can set up all the info about a task except its title is a letdown.

What’s more, it’s not necessarily an improvement over what came before. Using the native Reminders integration, or just the simple Siri support from before, I could say something like:

Hey Siri, In Things, add a task called do the dishes

And I would end up with a named task in my Things Inbox. The trade-off is clear: either you get complete hands-off entry but need to organize later, or you get complete organizational freedom but still need to manually input the task name.

Where Automation Excels

Perhaps I’m coming at this wrong. Automation isn’t ultimately designed to replace quick entry, it’s designed to turn a complex set of tasks into a simple one.

My favourite Things Shortcut I’ve made so far is an obvious one:

Hey Siri, it’s travel time

This creates a task in Things with the tag travel’ and the generic title Pack for trip’ containing a checklist with my usual packing list.

In effect, I’ve created my own template that I can summon with a simple, intuitive phrase. On my new Apple Watch, I don’t even have to say Hey Siri”, I can just raise my wrist and speak the command.

This is definitely the kind of automation that I want to explore further, as it saves a ton of time and couldn’t be accomplished before as easily.

A lot of this was possible using the URL scheme, but what I like is that Siri Shortcuts has made some of that functionality more accessible to normal users who aren’t going to fight with finicky syntax.

Just Getting Started

We’re only a few days into the iOS 12 automation revolution, and I’ve just scratched the surface of what might be possible with Things and Siri.

In the end, version 3.7 represents an important step forward for Things, one that also features a host of other details like dynamic notifications, landscape mode for iPhone, and support for the new WATCH series 4 faces.

It’s a good time to be an iOS user.


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