Things: Elegant task management on the Mac and iPhone

Before I get into reviewing this app (or rather, apps), a bit of background is in order. I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which I have been using on and off over the years with my trusty combo of my iMac with iCal, a Palm Tungsten T2, and Missing Sync to glue everything together. It’s worked well enough, though I find it can get a bit overwhelming once you start having lots of actions and projects.

We don’t need no stinkin’ To Dos

Being a bit of an Apple convert, I’ve obviously been interested in this thing called an iPhone for a while. If you’re a keen follower of this blog, you’ll remember that I was put off buying an iPhone by its inexplicable lack of a To Do list system, which makes it kind of tricky to replace my Palm with an iPhone. (Mind you, it’s hardly the only feature missing from the iPhone.)

So before rushing out to buy an iPhone that would have less functionality than my 4-year-old Palm (ha ha), I started researching third-party To Do apps for the iPhone to see if I could close the gap that way. That’s when I came across Things. Not only is it a To Do app, but it even follows the GTD methodology of projects, contexts, Someday/Maybe actions and areas of focus. What’s more, it’s available for both the Mac and the iPhone, and the two apps sync together over wi-fi.

In fact, the whole setup sounded so impressive that Things ended up being the catalyst that led to me finally buying an iPhone. So was it worth it?

The review

The Mac version of Things is currently free, though it’s going to be $49 when it comes out of beta in January ($39 if you sign up for their newsletter now). The iPhone version is on the App Store at $9.99.

I’ve been using the iPhone and Things in earnest for a couple of weeks, and on the whole I’d say I’m now more productive than I was with iCal and the Palm. The fact that Things lets you organize tasks into projects a la GTD is a godsend. And the wi-fi syncing is great; it’s reassuring to know that my tasks and projects on my iPhone are always up-to-date with those on the Mac.

Things on iPhone…

Here’s an overview of how Things works on the iPhone. The home screen shows you various lists of tasks and projects:

  • Inbox is unsorted “stuff” – whenever you have something you want to do or remember, you create a new item here. Then when you review the list, you’ll probably move most of these items into Next (if they’re single actions) or Projects (if they have more than one action).
  • Today is all the tasks that you want to get done today. You can move tasks in and out of Today as you please.
  • Next is simply all your next actions, to do¬† ASAP. It includes all the tasks in Today.
  • Scheduled holds tasks that you don’t want to do ASAP, but on specified dates. When the dates are reached, the tasks automatically become active and move into Today. (Nice.)
  • Someday is the GTD “Someday/Maybe” idea – tasks or projects that you don’t want to move on now, but might at some point in the future.
  • Projects holds all your, well, projects. In GTD, a project is defined as anything that requires more than 1 physical action to complete. You can organize your actions into projects in Things (this is one of the key advantages over simple To Do systems like iCal).
  • Logbook is the task graveyard. At the end of the day, any completed tasks are moved here for reference.

…and Things on Desktop

The desktop version has all the same features as the iPhone version, and it also has tags (which you can use for GTD contexts: At Home, At Computer etc), and Areas of Responsibility, which are a level above projects (for example, “family activities” might be an Area of Responsibility):

Things on the desktop is superb. It has lots of nice UI touches, such as keyboard shortcuts for adding tags to tasks and projects, that make it super-quick and easy to use. The whole app’s very nicely laid out and intuitive. The only slightly annoying thing is that, when adding new tasks to a project, you can’t see the project’s note field (which in my case often contains the very tasks I want to add!).

In fact, the lack of tags in the iPhone version is a fairly major problem, especially if you have a sizeable Next Actions list. However, tags are supposed to be “coming soon” to the iPhone app.

The bug (there’s always one isn’t there)

I have come across a rather frustrating bug on the iPhone version. Occasionally I’ve added a task, only to find out later that it hadn’t been added after all. I can’t pin down exactly when it happens – it seems pretty random – but it’s understandably annoying, and undermines my trust in the app to a degree. It sounds a bit like this bug here, except that for me it also happens when creating a task outside a project.

But it’s still great

Despite this bug and other niggles with the iPhone version, Things is a very nice combo of apps. It’s simple and elegant, providing just enough organization to help you stay on top of your GTD system, but without overwhelming you with unnecessary features, or frustrating you with rigid workflows. If you’re looking for a GTD-style app that’s intuitive and works across both the Mac and iPhone, Things is well worth checking out.

By the way, if you’re interested in how Things compares with other GTD-style Mac apps such as OmniFocus and iGTD, here’s a great head-to-head review.

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3 Responses to “Things: Elegant task management on the Mac and iPhone”

  1. John B. Kendrick Says:

    I’ve looked at things before and it looks good. But you really should have a look at http://www.nozbe.com/a-CA512377 before settling on an application long term. You can access your contexts right from your iPhone, as well as projects and next actions.

    Any any tags you set on your computer will be carried over to the iPhone and vis versa. I recently wrote about that in a post entitled, Nozbe remembers on my blog at http://johnkendrickonline.com

    I’ve written several posts that provide details about my experiences with GTD and the applications I use on my blog at http://johnkendrick.wordpress.com/how-to-gtd/ John

  2. Matt Says:

    John, thanks for your comment. Wow, I thought I’d seen all the GTD apps in the universe, and then you spring a new one on me! :)

    Nozbe does look pretty comprehensive, and the Web-based access must be handy. Personally I have reservations in general about all these Web-based GTD apps where you sign up and store your lists on their server. I’d rather have my data on my own machines, so that I know it’s backed up and secure. But maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy. :)

  3. Olga Says:

    Have you tried http://task2gather.com? It is another great collaborative tool that can act as GTD tool for managing tasks.