Update — Since writing this article, I’ve switched back to OmniFocus.
When CulturedCode finally announced the public availability of their cloud-based syncing system, I decided to switch back to Things, from OmniFocus, for my task-management tool. Although I’m quite happy with the switch, there’s one killer feature that (for me) is missing from the app, which I’ll describe in this article.Why I switched from OmniFocus to Things
It’s all about the user experience.
While I love OmniGroup and the quality of their software and support, I just don’t like the user experience of OmniFocus on the Mac, probably because it’s still so tied to its ancestor — OmniOutliner. I imagine OmniGroup are aware of this, because when they built OmniFocus for the iPad, they started with a clean slate, thinking, what’s the best OmniFocus experience on the iPad, rather than starting with a derivative of OmniOutliner for iPad.
In fact, OmniFocus for iPad is quite nice; but at the end of the day, I’m working on my Mac far more than I am on the iPad. And for that reason, I prefer Things. Here’s what I like about it:
- The user interface is simple and clean, and the user experience is efficient. OmniFocus provides more power — e.g. highly configurable “perspectives” — but the weight and cost of complexity that comes with that power ends up, for me, to be ironically unproductive.
- There’s native support in Things for a “What am I working on today?” context. Working on that task today? Press command-T.
- Speaking of contexts, Things doesn’t support them. That’ll come as a shock to GTD types, but after using OmniFocus for a long time, I realize I don’t organize or work with my tasks by context. Things supports “tags”, and I’ve created three of them — “This Week”, “Important” and “Urgent”.
- You can toggle the tagging of items very efficiently in Things, by key assignment. In my case, I use, “t”, “i” and “u”.
- I like that I can easily kick the can down the road, by moving tasks to the “Someday” bucket, or “scheduling” them to disappear until some future date.
- Since probably 90% of my tasks are created from emails, I love that when I envoke Thing’s quick-entry window from within Mail, the selected message is auto-linked to the created task. With OmniFocus, you have to manually drag-and-drop the message into the quick entry window to get the same effect.
A minor gripe about Things for iPhone
I use Things on the Mac, iPad and iPhone — and the one annoying thing on the iPhone is that it truncates the titles in the task list, preventing you from getting a quick overview of what’s on your place, and requiring you to tap each and every one.
And now, for the missing killer feature — a weekly planner
Here’s how I use any task-management tool.
Weekly review — On Sunday afternoon, I review all my tasks, in all my projects and areas:
Before getting started, if anything’s in the “Inbox”, I file it in the appropriate project or area. (I actually try to do this daily.) What that out of the way, I start reviewing each project and area:
- I punt on any task that’s not urgent, important or interesting, by rescheduling it for a few weeks later (or months, or whatever) or moving it to “Someday”. I don’t want the cognitive effort of even seeing these tasks again for a while.
- I try to think about any new tasks that need to be added, given the current state of the project.
- I tag any tasks that I want to get done in the following week with, “This Week”.
- If I consider tasks important or urgent, I tag them as such.
- About once per month, I review what is in the Someday bucket, in case anything there appears interesting enough to get started on it now.
Daily review — each day, I filter the “Next” view on the “This Week” tag, and move whatever tasks I feel I can (or need) to do today into the “Today” view — taking into account a quick overview of “urgent” and “important” tags. (And in the “Today” view, I review any auto-placed tasks Things itself highlights via its new “Daily Review” feature.) Then, I get to work.
As you can see, the main purpose of my Sunday afternoon planning is to figure out what I’m going to work on during the next week. And there’s where Things, and other task management systems, are missing what for me would be a killer feature — a weekly planner.
I don’t just want to know what I’m going to work on next week, I also want to have a rough idea when I’m going work on these things. For that, I would like to have a one-week calendar-type view, where I can plan and schedule my work on the tasks I’ve scoped out for the week.
I need to be able to easily stretch blocks in time (say, from one hour to three), and move them around (say, from Monday to Wednesday). Something even as rough as this:
The yellow blocks represent Things tasks that I’ve dragged onto the calendar, and the gray blocks represent fixed, scheduled commitments brought in from, say, iCal.
So the purpose of this planning view is just to provide some visual validation that the time I have available in the coming week is compatible with the tasks I’d like to get done. That’s all.
Why not just use iCal? Apart from the obvious loss of integration, one problem is that while I do want my planning area to bring in scheduled commitments that I have in my iCal calendars, but I do not want my work plan synced back out to iCal. This is about a plan, not a commitment.
Hopefully someone from CulturedCode will read this, and add such a feature to Things. If such a feature could be useful for you, maybe consider tweeting this article to CulturedCode. Any momentum we could build could only help in terms of giving them some motivation. 🙂
I wonder if you found anything that does what you described. I have been looking for something similar.
Hi Jim, I’ve still not found anything. 🙁
I have tried to find that kind functionality too. I send similar advice to Marketcircle some time ago, but it is not there yet, maybe never. Also, I would like to have possibilities to change tasks to the appointment and vice versa.
Great writeup. I have become obsessed with productivity software over the past several years, and I, too, have dreamt of exactly this interface! It needs to happen — it would enable real productivity wizardry!
In my search for a task management app that also enabled weekly planning, I found this:
which seems to do the job. I’m concerned however by their lack of market presence (though the firm seems to have been around for a while), and the daunting task of learning yet another interface.
Anybody had experience with this?
Ie2€™ve been using Things since early beta. I think that its interface is smilpe and looks very good. And if youe2€™re not a strict GTD user it’s perfect choice. But since I started to follow GTD more I had to switch to OmniFocus. The reason is that Things lack sequential projects. Without them all contexts are useless. And working strict GTD style is simply impossible. You can’t filter only next actions for given context (tag). And 90% of my projects are sequential so until Thing would implement this feature i’ll stick with OF.And I have to say that OF is a great app. You’ve got to get used to interface and workflow but then working with it very easy and intuitive.
Have you tried the new version of OmniFocus? I’m a longtime user of Things as well, but I bought the iPhone version https://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnifocus-iphone/ just so I could get a feel for their Forecast function which sucks in your main calendar events.
No, I haven’t tried the new OmniFocus. Are you happy with it?
Has anyone tried SmartDay?
It seems to integrate ToDo with Calendar, but I’m worried about the degree which it does so automatically.