This is part of a series, The Search for the Task-/Project-/Life-management app
Things has as long a history as OmniFocus, but in its history it changed from being almost as complex as that one competitor to a deceptively simple application. If you open it for the first time you get almost nothing. It’s power, however, is carefully hidden behind its gorgeous interface. Without spoiling anything, it is the most beautiful app of all contenders.
I actually had some earlier version — like, a decade earlier — bought at the time, but back then I wasn’t too enthused with it. Luckily for me, the developers at Cultured Code did decide to lower the price tag late last autumn, so I decided to give it a go, again. Things is the only app in this series, apart from Apple’s somewhat botched entry, that is a one-time purchase. Meaning, you can purchase one for your Mac, your iPhone, and one for the iPad because, yes, those are three different purchases. Each a beauty.
My holy structure
Now, that wasn’t easy. For one, Things features a rather flat structure. There is a task, which can live within a project which in turn can be assigned to an area. And that’s basically it. So, let’s adapt my structure a bit and see if we’re getting close.
Surprisingly, yes. It took me some time, but flattening the hierarchy into what Things can handle wasn’t too difficult. So, instead of having endless nesting, I have now a somewhat large but more or less flat list.
Things does support hierarchical tags, which is fine.
Things also has excellent scripting documentation, so, a in moment of sadism by torturing software, I went and created 1000 tags, just to see what happens. Well, nothing. Except having 1000 additional tags. I didn’t notice any lag, even on a rather underpowered, by todays standards, 2015 MacBook Air; the results while typing came without any delay.
You can easily integrate your calendar into your Today view, and assigning a task — or project — to a specific date and/or time. Then there is QuickEntry, and QuickEntry with autofill. Note: there is a helper application necessary, aptly named Things helper, and you’re asked to download that when first accessing the QuickEntry settings.
QuickEntry with autofill allows for creating new tasks from anywhere, and grabs information and links from the active application you were just using, be it an email in Mail or a website from Safari. It has its limits as not every application divulges its information; like Fantastical. Finder and Devonthink Pro, which is where most of my data lifes, work fine. I hope Apple will open whatever they are using for linking to QuickNotes for all developers, so we might see a better integration between different applications.
The basic building block of Things is a task, which can life anywhere — creating a new task with QuickEntry puts it into your inbox by default. Directly below the Inbox you find the Today view, followed by Upcoming, Anytime, and Someday. There are shortcuts for each of them, making it easy to switch between the different views. A bit apart are Logbook and Trash; both are exactly what the name implies: Logbook logs what you checked off while trash is where deleted stuff withers along.
Next in the hierarchy is a Project. A Project starts with it’s title, then you have room for notes — and you can use Markdown for them — then you can either add headings to structure your project further or add an arbitrary number of tasks directly. Tasks can have tags, deadlines, and a date assigned to them (and a project can have them as well, independent of the tasks within it). Tasks can also have a checklist included, and of course you can use Markdown for formatting.
Cultured Code, the developers of Things, provide a cloud sync service at no additional costs. As they are located within the EU, Things Cloud is governed by GDPR. Syncing appears to be pretty fast with minimal delay. Of course, using Things for about a week straight doesn’t really mean anything regarding reliability, but so far I haven’t found any complaints about syncing problems anywhere. Your mileage may vary, of course.
If you so choose, you can use AppleScript to script the hell out of Things. There is a very comprehensive overview with lots of examples on their website, which gets you up to speed in a hurry. Scripting is a very useful tool to have, getting tasks into my calendar for time blocking is quite simple using scripting, and I can include a backlink from the calendar event to the task in Things. For those unfamiliar with AppleScript — Stackexchange programming is all the rage these times.
Things has the most appealing user interface, and, at least on the surface, is the easiest to just prod along while ignoring the manual. Beneath the surface, it is quite powerful and combined with the ease of use and its wonderful interface Things is just adorable. While not perfect — I’d love to nest project within projects, to the absolute horror of anybody adhering to some of those “How to be more productive”-bibles, to give me a tad more flexibility if needed. Nevertheless, I could work with Things, adapting my cherished but overly complicated workflow to it’s capabilities. In that case I’d have to use one of the best looking applications every single day, poor me.