I am not a GTD fan — I don’t want to concentrate on managing my tasks, but on the tasks themselves. I do love task managers, but only if they are simple to use and if they can read my mind. I’ve yet to come across one that can do the latter, but there are a few candidates for the former. I tried OmniFocus but while it looks great when you’re using it a week or two, it becomes bothersome after a month or so. The app forces you to think about the management itself instead of allowing you to just dump tasks and forget about them until I need to be bothered. My last attempt at task management is Things. Things 2.8.3 isn’t perfect, but in the current market it comes closest to “just-in-time” task management the way I like it.
I got the chance to review Things for Mac and iPad. Things received an Apple Design Award in 2009 and it still is the most cleanly designed task manager today. There are no complicated things in Things — pun intended. The interface couldn’t be more user-friendly and the feature set is just enough, although to some it might be just too little. To Gestimer users, I’m sure it’s way too much. Which takes me to the most important rumination when it comes to reviewing Things: one should never forget it’s personal taste and habits that determine whether you’ll like this app or not.
But I can tell you what I like about it. First of all, you’ll get a Quick Entry dialogue that can be accessed quickly with a shortcut key. The Quick Entry can be turned into a Quick Grabber (it’s called Autofill, actually) with an extra modifier key. For example, if you set up your system to activate Quick Entry with control-spacebar, you could activate Autofill using option-control-spacebar — or anything else, for that matter. Autofill lets you put whatever you selected before hitting the shortcut into a task note.
That saves time. You can just use Quick Entry or Autofill and not bother about where your entry is saved to. By default it will go in the Inbox, but if you already have projects and/or Areas or Contacts set up, you can also select the right project, area or contact to add the task to and go back to it later if need be. You can even set a due and alert date immediately.
In short, Quick Entry is a sort of Gestimer with a memory that lasts longer than a day, while Autofill is Quick Entry on steroids. The best part is that the helper app for Autofill doesn’t crash your other apps — and believe me, I have a lot sitting on my system ready to crash whenever it has a chance. It has a small memory footprint as well.
The other parts about Things for Mac you might like are Projects, Areas, Contacts and “Scheduled”, and the Things Cloud. The Things Cloud is a synchronisation server. Big deal, was my first thought with the Omnigroup’s Omni Sync Server in mind, but it really is a big deal because this thing is fast! There’s no lag, no need to manually force a sync. As soon as you’ve entered a task in Things, it syncs and it doesn’t take minutes to finish the synchronisation process either.
Projects are likeable, but not unique. Every task manager lets you organise tasks in projects. Perhaps not all let you drag tasks to Projects. Things does. Areas are obscure to some people. You don’t have to use them to save time or be more efficient, but if you take them to mean ‘areas of your life’ or ‘areas where you perform specific types of tasks’, they may simplify your task management.
Contacts are truly useful, especially if you’re using Things in a business environment or if you’re managing people and delegating tasks. You add Contacts from your OS X Contacts database and then link tasks to them in Things. That’s extremely useful, not only for delegating but also if you have tasks that are related to your contacts.
I think a task manager should integrate with OS X’s Calendar or Reminders app. Things integrates with Reminders by importing reminders from one defined category as tasks in your Inbox. Sadly, it doesn’t export anything to Reminders nor to the Calendar app. You can drag tasks from Projects and Areas to a time slot in Calendars, but there’s no one-on-one relationship with the Calendar event you create.
The Scheduled group is Things’ calendar approach. It lets you schedule tasks for a future start. If you have a task that should not begin today, you’ll enter it here. Also, if a task should be recurring at regular intervals, this is the place to put it. You can’t link recurring tasks with Projects but you can with Areas by dragging.
All in all, I like Things better than any other task manager I’ve tried so far. At the very least, it lets me concentrate on work and doesn’t force me to spend too much time managing my tasks.
Things for iPad
The biggest appeal of using Things with an iPad is the integration with Reminders. On an iPad, you can enter a Reminder with Siri and have that automatically turned into a task in Things. Things itself understands Siri’s gibberish so you can speak your tasks in the app directly as well.
On the iPad, Things knows about Projects and Areas, not Contacts — at least not in the sidebar. That surprised me, because the contacts I set up in Things for Mac were identical to those in Contacts on iOS 9.x. Nevertheless, this seemingly didn’t sync with Things on the Mac. Ultimately I found out it does, but the Contacts category isn’t shown in Things on the iPad. Your tasks are linked to the contact as they are on the Mac, though.
You can create new Projects and Areas — as well as tasks, of course — on your iPad and have them synchronise just as quickly as on the Mac. Better yet, Things for iPad is fully aware of iOS 9.x’s split screen feature, so you can copy stuff in one app and instantly paste it in Things while the apps are open side-by-side. In addition, the Today widget has a To-Do button that lets you quickly open Things and enter a new task. Finally, the “Add to Things” extension lets you add links or text from other apps, just like Autofill on the Mac.
Things is quite lovely to manage tasks with. I used to be a strong believer of a paper system, but now I only use my paper agenda as a backup thing for when I really can’t work with any of my digital devices. If you’re in the market for a task manager, give Things a look. You might find it’s just the thing you need.