Posted on Fri 02 February 2018

How I use Things 3

I wrote about how I use Things 3 back when I was still working at RescueTime. It's now been more than four months since I left RescueTime to work full-time on Hello Code, so here's an update of how I use Things these days.

Capturing tasks

Things 3 new task

I mostly capture tasks directly into the area or project where they'll end up. Things encourages you to capture into the inbox and sort tasks later but I don't spend enough time with it for this approach to work for me. I don't remember to sort or review my tasks, so I need to capture all the detail and put them in their place from the start.

Reminders and due dates

I love start dates, which aren't available in many task managers. I use start dates in Things to make tasks show up in the Today view when it's appropriate for me to start working on them, but before they're due (lots of my tasks don't have due dates anyway, so they just show up in the Today view until they're done, without ever being "due"). For instance, I'll set my monthly goals to start on the first of the month and have a deadline for the last day of the month.

I use deadlines for anything time-sensitive, such as putting out the bins each week or sending my weekly newsletter on time. I have Things set to show a badge on its icon with the number of tasks due today. I hate badges and try to clear them as soon as possible (I also barely use them, so they're very meaningful because they're so rare). For this reason, I don't include tasks with a start date of today in the icon badge number. The badge is just for tasks that must be done today.

I use reminders for time-sensitive tasks because I don't look at Things throughout the day much. I can easily go days without looking at it at all, if there are no badges or reminders encouraging me to do so. I probably get 4-5 reminders from Things each week, mostly for repeating tasks like putting the bins out or making a manual weekly payment. Reminders are a step up from the icon badge, because they're harder to ignore.

Projects and Areas

Here's how I've currently split up my work in Things:

Things 3 sidebar

I have an Area for each of the apps I work on, and I make a new project for each new version. When bugs are reported, I generally throw these into the project for the next version.

I also have a perpetual project called "backlog" in both cases, where I dump all future plans and ideas until they get pulled into a new version project. My Backlog projects are set to be due "Someday", which makes them stay out of the UI unless I manually make them show up or search for them.

You can see that Exist for iOS has a lot of projects right now—I'm working on a big refactor of the app, and the planning for that became too big to keep in a single project, so I've split it up into a project per section of the app. I used to name my projects with a version number, like "1.1.23" but since I switched to Fastlane for automated uploading of new builds, it automatically increases and sets my version and build numbers for me, so I don't always know what the next version will be. Now I just name each project for the major new feature or focus of that version, and use headings to split up the different types of work it will be made up of.

I like to use headings to break up my projects, since I spend so much time in the project view. For my programming projects I use headings for categories of work such as bugs, admin, tests, and new features. This helps me focus as I work through a new version.

For projects related to various blogs, I use headings for categories of blog post ideas, with each task being an idea.

And once a project is done, I complete it. For new versions of my apps, I tend to leave them incomplete but with all their tasks completed until they're fully live and released. Then I complete them, which sends them to the logbook in case I ever want to check up on those completed tasks again.

How I work

I usually keep Things open on my Mac on the Today view if I have anything that needs to be done that day. Things 3 lets you open projects in new windows, so these days I keep a long-running project open in a separate window. If the Today view is empty of tasks I plan to deal with today, I tend to leave the main window open to whichever project I'm currently working on.

And that's pretty much it! Things is one of those apps that's got just the right balance of simplicity and complexity, so it feels simple to use, but it does everything you need it to. I'm really enjoying it these days, and I've lost the itch to try other to-do list apps since switching to Things 3.


P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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