[Taskmanagement Software] Things 3 - Tips, Tricks, Workflows etc.
One thread for all the best practices.
Is anybody using Things?
I am a Zettler
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I used to, and I really liked it, but I switched over to NotePlan (which does store everything in plain text files, by the way).
Why did you switch?
(Sadly, I am highly allergic to subscription. )
I am a Zettler
I used Things3, but switched to Taskpaper, because adding tasks seemed to be much faster.
What I like about things is the calender integration and the reminder functionality, which Taskpaper obviously lacks out of the box.
For working with time-sensitive tasks I would totally use Things3 over Taskpaper any time.
NotePlan looks awesome, but pricing seems to be a bit steep.
You mean because you can just write directly into the file instead going through a form?
I am a Zettler
Yes. Things3 is very "click-heavy" unless you learn the relevant keyboard shortcuts.
Ah, thanks. This is my (little) issue with things, too.
More difficult for me is that Things doesn't seem to allow very deep nesting. It is: Areas, Projects, Tasks, Checklists. But if I prepare some difficult research object or prepare something over a long time, I like the infinite nesting of TaskPaper.
But it seems that TaskPaper will be my long-term storage for all of my research work and Things is more for the immediate and normal tasks (like watering the plants)
The #tags should be instructive for the nature of the task. I have started to distinguish whether an audio-visual input is an interview or a lecture. It is completely irrelevant to me at the action level. I sit down at my computer in both cases and take notes as I watch and listen.
For me personally, it doesn't even make a difference whether I'm listening to a podcast or watching a video. I do both on my computer, because I only listen to both at home with access to my computer. I don't listen to anything on the side while on the road.
Rather, I differentiate by length when assigning tags: short (<20min) or long (>20min) audio-visual inputs, because I build both differently into my workday.
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I am a Zettler
As much as I liked Things (I used it for about 3 years), I felt there was too much friction compared to benefit. When I tried NotePlan, I fell in love.
You can "try out" NotePlan to see what is like for free. But I gave it a longer trial by accessing it through SetApp. I already have a subscription to SetApp and already use about a dozen of the apps available through it, so there was no extra cost to load and thoroughly test drive NotePlan.
I don't mind subscription if the app provides value, I use it frequently and I feel the cost is reasonable. I have subscribed to a few apps on that basis, but most I dropped at the end of the subscription period because I wasn't using them enough and/or I found alternates. Things and Bear are two of those, and they were both replaced by NotePlan.
I also believe in supporting software developers that have amazing products. I felt so strongly about NotePlan that I switched over from using it through SetApp to using it via a "normal" subscription at CAN $80 per year (no, I am not brainwashed in any way). Not only is the app amazing but the developer is super-responsive to questions and actively improving NotePlan. That's the first time I have taken that step with an app.
I use other software that I feel provides great value, that is sold using the model of: a) buy version X for $Y and get all upgrades to version X, until version X+1 comes out; b) buy version X+1 (usually at a reduced price for current users) - repeat for as long as you find the app useful. Usually the cycle from X to X+1 is about 2 years, so this is no different than a subscription approach charging Y/2 per year. I actually favour the subscription approach as it provides greater stability/certainty for the software developer. Too many developers following the approach described above at some point lose interest and stop improving their app.
I think I mentioned this once before, but I'd be happy if The Archive offered a subscription option - even something as simple as CAN $5 or $10 or $15 per year. I'd happily pay that and feel better about you paying your heating bill from month to month and continuing to improve The Archive. I know you do, anyway; I'd just like to be more supportive. Some people on the forum have felt similarly, buying The Archive even when, for other reasons, they were using different software for their ZK. I paid my original $25 three years ago, you have continued to improve The Archive, I still love and use it every day, but I've provided no more support to you, the developer. This doesn't feel right to me.
The bottom line - you guys are awesome and have an amazing app - you shouldn't have to worry about your future.
By way of context, an incomplete list of apps I've given sustained use: taskpaper, todo-txt cli (so cool), emacs org-mode (the king), omnifocus (many years), hipster pda (3x5 cards), paper, and many others. The gateway drug was the kinkless gtd plugin in the early days of OmniOutliner. I return to time and again to Things 3. At least for me, it's like a racecar for productivity.
I don't think it's 'the best', whatever that means. But it is the best for me. A shift occured when I stopped fighting Things opinionated design and decided to trust the developer's decisions, that they'd figure out an effective way to get a lot of stuff done.
So, some ways I use Things 3:
A key Area is comprised almost entirely of repeating essential life habits in checklists. Checklists for 'do morning routine', 'track health/fitness', etc. It's also the place for new habits I'm trying to cultivate. I keep this area edited to stuff I'm actually going to do (most of the time) and avoid overloading it with aspirations.
I don't use deadlines and reminders in Things 3. I use BusyCal for those.
I rarely use the notes field except for web urls and url links to files (generally in Drafts or emacs/org-mode). I keep project support material elsewhere.
I use two tags, wip (e.g. work-in-progress) and hold. I'm a little obsessive about limiting wip to three projects (okay, most of time it's five).
For ongoing projects tagged with wip, I include a repeating task called 'work on [project]' that repeats 'one day after completion'. In settings, I toggle 'Group to-dos in the Today list by project or area'. Therefore, in the Today list, I see the 'work on [project]' task nested beneath the project. I tap the project and there's the next actions. This keeps my Today view from getting cluttered up with a bunch of project specific actions.
So in the Today view, it's 3-5 checklists from the Habits area (at the top). Then, 3-5 other actions. If I get those done, I'll work from the Anytime view.
I use a Drafts action that parses taskpaper syntax to send projects, checklists, and tasks to Things from phone or desktop.
I spend too much time using the dreaded arrow keys and trackpad to get around the UI. I would love to navigate Things using vim keybindings but that is so never gonna happen.
I hide non-wip projects in 'Someday'. Even better is to list Someday/Maybe (if I'm honest, probably never) in Drafts.
Keeping Things 3 limited to stuff I'm actually going to do helps me remember a truth elucidated by the great and gone-too-early poet Max Ritvo, who wrote in 'Receding'...
Edited to include more of the poem.
This fiction is something I already experienced. However, I narrowed down my actual needs and just came to this:
Project page: I want to have a central page for the upcoming project, where the self-organization is no longer embedded in the rest of the organization.
Push messages: I want to be reminded of deadlines and events.
Daily Tasks: I want to have an overview of what I have to do during the day.
Weekly tasks: I want to know what I have to do this week.
Overview of all tasks: I want to know what I have to do in total.
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Everything is provided by Things.
The one thing I miss in Things is nesting. The nesting is very limited but for complicated research I work with rather deep outlines. However, I think that I source out my research outside of my taskmanagement. I doubt that most apps could handle my research file which is at the moment arround 10k lines (links, ideas, book references etc) long.
The main obstacle is that things strangely does not export the notes to tasks and projects easily. Kind of baffling to me.
I really don't get deadlines in taskmanagement. A date is functionally the same to me.
When I read your post, I am really wondering how I even can wrestle with software. Almost anything you've written seems to make sense to me and I do quite simlar things.
In the end, it is the same: Generate a list for the day, know your week and have a project page on which you can get a bird's eye view.
Isn't it strange that there is so much fuzz? (And I am part of that fuzz)
I am a Zettler
@Sascha I'm totally part of the creating the 'fuzz' as well. I'm assuming by fuzz you mean unnecessarily complexifying what is in reality a simple process. Story of my life.
Task management software seem to exacerbate this inclination by virtue of the very thing that makes them so amazing—the ability to capture, process, store, and access a lot of data quickly. If I'm not super diligent about deletion, I end up with a very long list of extremely well-planned and well-articulated projects that I'm never going to have time to do. This leads to anxiety and just plain bad mojo.
Mild tangent: Pretty sure that the various iterations of Mark Forster's Autofocus Time Management Systems have been referenced somewhere on this forum but I'll add a link. I've found them quite useful. It's what I take refuge in when I hit task management system bankruptcy and go back to paper. I find it instructive that he refers to them as 'Time management' systems rather than task management.
Anyway, wishing you well with it all.
I have come to the conclusion that task managers are not much use to me because I just make lists and never do any of the tasks on the lists. About the only thing that would help, I think, is a program that was connected to a cattle prod inserted in my anus that would inflict electric shocks until I actually did something. But I have to say that I am not actively looking for such a solution.
Yes, that is what I mean.
The iteration in my personal solution will be to factor out anything that is not truly a task. In my case, it is all the "read X" or "Answer question Y" type of entry.
It think there is a selection bias going on with people who actually are using task management systems: They are quite often either high in openess to experience ("new things are valuable because they are new") or high in intellect ("things are interesting because you can analyse them") or even both.
It might be that both leads to bad filtering and misjudging the value of a development in ones thing. I am not very open to experience (cf. Big 5 personality model) but I am exeptionally high in intellect. I can already observe my bad tendency of over-valueing my improved and deepening understanding of all the aspects of self-organisation taking over.
So, I will constrain myself by a) treating as if I am writing an ebook about self-organisation, b) adopting the principle of BASB "organize for productivity" in every aspect of my self-organisation.
Luckily, my main job entails getting people to devolop habits which is the major bottle neck of most endevours. So, I am at least aware that this is already the case of my self-organisation. (It is, since I am one of the most efficient people I now but also a low in effectiveness)
So, I force myself to some essential habits along the way.
Thanks! Many more research tasks..
Back to you.
@MartinBB I think its the habits that are the bottle neck. With a little bit of habit development you might avoid the anal electrocution.
I am a Zettler
Wearing my two hats as both psychologist and psychotherapist I have to say that I'm afraid it is much more complex than that (in my case)! And I'm sure my psychoanalyst would agree. He's been working with me for years, and he knows how intractable some factors can be. As he observed to me a couple of weeks ago, sometimes "the illness becomes the identity". Getting someone to let go of an old identity that has served them well -- in a manner of speaking -- for many years is no easy task. I encounter the difficulty with my clients, and I recognise it from my own experience.
Sometimes software, and the use of software, is much, much more than it seems. It can be an expression of who we are.
So true! There is no sense discussing which is the "best", when that word means something different to every person. I remember having an "aha" moment as a young engineer. I was enamoured with the use of decision analysis in engineering, until one day I realized 50% (if not more) of every decision is emotional, which isn't captured in decision analysis techniques at all. Then I started seeing that many people manipulate decision analyses to get the result that "feels right" to them. These things go much deeper than the rational mind It's funny how we can argue about a result that is arrived at logically, using a method everyone agrees is fair - until they see the answer.
I don't know if you have read it, but this is roughly what appears in Daniel Kahneman's book: https://goodreads.com/book/show/11468377-thinking-fast-and-slow
Psychoanalysts know all about rationalisation (which is different from rationality). Rationalisation is one of the classic defence mechanisms.
Thanks @MartinBB - I have this in my Kindle library "to read", once I get past a couple of other non-fiction books. But the description in Goodreads is enticing. Appreciate the recommendation, which reminded me I wanted (at some point) to read this book. It had dropped off my radar, but now I may move up its reading priority.
@MartinBB pm because I text walled you something that is too private in my estimation.
So, how do I deal with info that is just important to the project? Now I see the benefit of not separating informationmanagement and taskmanagement super strictly.
This seems to be solved much more efficient with NotePlan.
I am a Zettler
Sascha, just curious: have you tried OmniFocus? If yes, what did you not find functional for your needs?
I played with it a little bit. I am pretty sure that it has the power I like (deep nesting for my research etc.). But it feels a lot more hektik than Things. So my plan is to make Things work and if it doesn't move to a more powerful solution (and then perhaps Omnifokus)
I am a Zettler
I've been using Things since version 1, which means 10 years and counting. Love the software but I have always kept my usage relatively light.
I'm not much of a calendar person, so it keeps track and reminds me of anything I need to do regularly or on a certain date. 99% of that are bills, payments, trials running out etc. There are occasional appointments and events I need to be ready for. I don't use it for habit tracking or anything that would fire up too regularly, so if I get a notification from Things, I know it's something important.
Things having a smart watch app is probably the main reason I'm using the app or smart watch itself. It's a convenience I'd hate to give up.
I try to keep my task lists relatively flat. Part of it is a habit, as checklists did not exist in the app until recently. But I also find it's easier to take action when my next possible steps are all visible on the same level. I make use of Areas and Projects but avoid nesting anything important in comments or checklists. I'd rather have a long list of smaller tasks with a
prefix:if I have to.
My task list in general tends to be pretty lean. I limit it to items I know I want to take action on in nearest future. I do keep some things in Someday and there are tasks and projects I schedule to some date months in the future, but there are a lot of things that could go into Things in theory but they don't. I've mentioned not adding habit forming tasks already. All kinds of reading, watching and gift lists don't go there either. Tasks related to note taking & processing often stay in notes themselves. If a project involves tasks that go through stages of completion, they get handled through a kanban board instead. If my understanding of a project is vague and there are things I know I could do but I'm not yet sure if I should, it stays in a planning note somewhere until I've made up my mind. I don't use template sets of tasks for similar projects either. I would keep such a template in a note somewhere and only add tasks that are meaningful at the time to Things. So what ends up in the app is quite straightforward and easy to manage.
Things never have been the app capable of handling a lot of complexity but it's a joy to use if it's enough for what one needs it to do. Fortunately, that's the case for me.
@val I share your sentiment. (aside from the smartwatch thing. I avoid any smart somethings like acid covered stink feet)
The actual taskmanagement is tainted by pretty little complexity already.
How do you solve those kind of issues instead? (To your satisfaction?)
This is an important aspect that I think is true. The complexity discouraged me from OmniOutliner. By complexity, I mean in this case: The lack of calm and clarity when I review a project or an area of responsiblity. The confrontation with unrest and disorder seems to me the exact opposite of the emotional problem you want to solve when you take a look into your taskmanager: Order and whatever the opposite of anxiety is. This might create the very friction that puts you off your taskmanager. (via positive punishment)
I am a Zettler
I don't have any particular opinion on smart things in general. Watch just happens to solve a couple of very important problems for me, so I wear it. Being able to tap things away on my wrist as I roam a local grocery store is just a bonus convenience that comes with it.
I tend to develop "banner blindness" for items that show up in the same spot every day. And once my eye starts to skip, it does affect my ability to focus on surrounding items as well. Another issue is, with tasks that reoccur often it never feels like they are ever truly completed – you get another copy shortly after checking off the previous one. And failing to complete one often results in nothing but an absence of a new copy and a bit of self-reprimand. It's not the mentality I want to spread to my other tasks.
There is no alternative solution that I apply universally. Just like other types of tasks that don't end up in Things, I try to come up with something that works best for each particular task.
Fully developed habits require no reminders. I know to brush my teeth without a checkbox to tick. I aspire to get most of my good habits to this level of automatism.
With habits I'm working on forming, tackling more than a few at a time quickly gets overwhelming, so I limit those to 2-3 and need motivation more than I need reminders.
Progress visualization works wonders for me. Especially in an analog form positioned somewhere I keep encountering it unintentionally. I used to study Japanese and would have a sheet with 2000+ kanji taped to my wall. Taking a marker to highlight 20 new ones I just learned would make me want to do a bonus 10 just so I could make that line longer. A "Learn 20 kanji" item ever present in my todo list would feel like a nag I'd eventually start ignoring. For things that matter I come up with some visual representation of progress either on paper or in white chalk marker I keep next to my windows. In some cases it allows me to see the start and end points of my journey and my current position relative to them. In other cases there is no destination but I can see the length of the path I already walked. If calendar is involved, my hesitation to "break the chain" makes me less likely to skip a day. Regardless of the type of visualization, the interaction with it is very physical, which makes the task feel real and significant, despite its constant presence on my agenda.
For things that aren't as important or need to be handled digitally for whatever reason, I used to go for a basic habit tracking app. It solved the issue of keeping such items separate and would offer a convenient interface for creating and completing regularly occurring tasks. A calendar view didn't harm either. These days I find a brief moment of reflection in my daily note that I treat as a journal is enough more often than not.
For some things that need to be done regularly but aren't a solid habit I don't bother with any form of scheduling or tracking at all. I simply adjust my environment to make them hard not to do. I don't have a "Water plants" task in my todo list but the watering can is right on the path between me and my breakfast every single morning. I may decide not to use it but I can't forget about it. I put natural clues and reminders wherever I can and put together routines where one action reminds me of the other.
To sum it up, I try to have as few regularly occurring tasks I have to consciously plan for as possible: I turn them into habits/routines or let them stay in environment where they occur naturally. When I do have to plan, I try to make it physical or at least different enough to avoid developing numbness to them.