Using Things 3, A Great To-Do List App

A simple guide to this awesome task/project management app

It’s all a part of my to-do list
Such as writing about life lessons that some of you missed

Jericho Jackson, “To-do List”

After using EVERY task/project management app, I can say that I’ve finally found my favorite, Things (v3) from Cultured Code.

I’ve found that most to-do list apps are lacking the depth needed to handle full projects. Sure, Apple Reminders is cool if you need to jot down a shopping list, but if you need manage a project with multiple stages and deadlines, then Reminders won’t cut it. And apps like Todoist or Wunderlist (which is on its death bed) don’t handle projects as nicely as Things either. With Things, I can create a project, assign both a start date and a deadline (more on that below), add tags to it, write a description and notes about it, and add tasks with their individual deadlines, start dates, and tags, and divide those into groups with sub-headers. Here’s an example:

As you can see, Things has a clean, pleasant design. If you have a list of projects as long as mine, then you know how stressful it can be just looking at it. But Things makes great use of whitespace, uses simple icons, and has quick and easy ways to simplify the view.

Additionally, there’s mad polish. Reorganizing is so easy, even on mobile. The “Today” view has an evening section, and you can use a keyboard shortcut to kick tasks down into the evening. Also, there’s a global “quick add” shortcut on Mac.

Share/Export options are robust. Filtering views by tags is super easy. So is creating keyboard shortcuts for applying tags. And finally, I can create “Areas” as buckets for my projects (e.g., “Personal” and “Work”)

The concept of a start date and deadline is so simple, yet so dope. Most to-do list apps only allow for one “due date,” and that’s the date in which that task will pop up in your daily view. However, if you have a task that’s going to take more than one day, then that due date isn’t as helpful as it could be. In having a deadline and a start date, you can have your tasks pop up into your Today view on the start date, and also see when it’s due and how many days you have left to complete it.

Recently, in version 3.4, Cultured Code launched deep-linking to specific tasks, projects, etc. What’s really cool is that you can use the links for automation. I haven’t set it up yet, but I plan to use the feature in conjunction with Alfred on Mac and Workflow on iOS.

As I created and used tags, I realized that there was no way to filter a view by items without a tag. This made me anxious that there were tasks missing tags and only visible when looking at all items in a view. So I reached out to support and learned that the “None” filter was a removed feature from a previous version of Things, and they were happy to give me the Terminal command to resurrect it! So yes, I’m a fan of Cultured Code’s customer support.

As always, no app is perfect, and there are a few things that Things could do better. For one, that “None” filter that I enabled on Mac isn’t available on iOS. Another design misstep is that it’s not obvious that you can set reminders using natural language. For months, I’d been setting them using a clunky, two-step process, yet all I had to do is type in the “When?” field…but it doesn’t exactly look like a field due to the calendar below it, and it took some experimenting to see what I can type there. Plus, it doesn’t work the same way on iOS.

Reminders on Mac
Reminders on iOS

Also, there’s one major thing that’s missing from projects: the ability to attach files. I would love for Things to be the one place to manage my projects, but right now, I have to link to a folder to look at reference materials.

And finally, the potential dealbreaker for many readers…Things ain’t cheap. I was lucky to catch a deal during the release of v3, but on a normal day, the iOS version will cost you $10, and you’ll spring an additional $50 (yes, 5–0) for the Mac version. Ouch. I guess it’s because from a features standpoint, Things lets you do more than Reminders or Wunderlist, but less than something like Omnifocus (which is $40 on Mac + $40 on iOS — and that’s just for the “Standard” version). The value will definitely depend on how complicated your life is and how you like to manage that complexity. That said, Things is perfect for me.

Product Manager. @UMEngineering and @ChicagoBooth alumnus. Native of Flint, MI. Oakland, CA resident. I write about tech, culture, and life.

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