Without my to-do list, I’d inevitably end up sacking myself. Certainly, this blog would probably never have seen the light of day.
My memory really is that bad. I am made for apps like Things.
However, if you’ve spent any amount of time digesting my content or chatting to me on my Discord server, you’ll know that I’m not particularly adventurous when it comes to my software usage.
I rarely dig particularly deep into feature sets or use the inevitable Siri integration that now comes as standard with most productivity and business-centric apps. Nor do I create Shortcuts.
I don’t even have an IFTTT account.
Things is a great example of how I use the absolute bare bones of a platform to get stuff done. Some of my techniques might work for you; some may force you to ask “why isn’t he doing it the other way?”.
So, let’s get into it.
Making use of Areas and Projects
Like most people, I have a number of different projects I work on every day, and they all relate to different areas of my business.
I’m a big fan of categorising my tasks. I don’t use tags for this, but I do make use of Things’ Areas and Projects. For me, an Area will signify either a client or subset of my business, and within each Area, I’ll place Projects for task categories.
For instance, for my reviews brand, I have an Area dedicated to that (it’s technically a subset of my main business), and within the Area, I have separate projects for admin stuff, blog work, videos and more.
I do this, because in the Today view, Things groups all of my tasks by project, so I can immediately see what I’m working on (or who I’m working for) each day. The brilliance of Things’ ultra-simple design and glanceability is what makes this such a useful way of organising my to-do list.
Inbox and Someday: proceed with caution
I rarely use the Inbox. This is a feature that comes with most Get Things Done (GTD) apps, and is intended to be a dumping ground for ideas, tasks you remember while out walking the dog and to-dos that you just can’t be bothered to categorise right now.
In my experience, unless you dedicate time each day to triaging the Inbox, it simply piles up with stuff you never touch again. That’s a task I just can’t be bothered with, which is why I use the Inbox so fleetingly.
My rules are simple – if a task can be categorised and scheduled immediately – do so. If I have zero time to do either of those things but need the task to be undertaken at some stage, it goes into the Inbox. Thanks to a tip-off from my podcast co-host Rob, I’ve enabled Things’ ability to link Apple’s Reminders app to the Inbox, which enables fast capture of ideas via Siri when the need strikes (which is incredibly rare).
Then, there’s the Someday section. Again, this is a prime opportunity to set and forget tasks, which seems rather counterintuitive to me. So, just like the Inbox, I use it sparingly. If I place something in Someday, I accept the fact that it’s of extremely limited importance and isn’t time-bound. A quick check of that list every few weeks is then all I need to worry about.
Planning ahead with Upcoming
One of my favourite features in Things is the Upcoming section.
This neatly displays upcoming tasks from tomorrow onwards. It doesn’t faff about, either – you just get the list of tasks for each day, which project they relate to and, because I’ve integrated Things with my calendar, any meetings or appointments that have been scheduled.
As a result, I tend to use Things even more than Fantastical when planning my week.
Over the years, I’ve realised that there’s no merit in setting yourself unrealistic to-do lists each day. We’ve all done it, and it invariably results in an incomplete list at the end of every day.
I now complete my daily to-do list pretty much without fail. And I do this by double-checking the Upcoming list at the end of each day to ensure I’m not overpromising myself for tomorrow. If I am, Things enables me to quickly drag and drop tasks that can be undertaken at a later date to the date in question.
It’s intuitive, addictive and ultimately satisfying. More importantly, it means I wake up to a realistic to-do list every morning, and that’s quite a feeling.
I have a few repeating tasks that I need to complete every day, and because my memory is so dreadful, I rely on Things to ensure I never miss a beat.
There are a couple of ways to set repeating tasks in Things, but I always choose the ‘Regularly’ option (as it is known on iOS/iPadOS – you simply choose the frequency of the task in the Repeat drop-down in macOS Things), which places a new copy of the repeating task in the Today view, even if I haven’t completed the first one. Therefore, on the rare occasion I don’t complete a repeating task, it simply builds up as multiple instances; there really is no better way to give yourself a kick up the arse.
Notes to oneself
Like any to-do app, Things offers you the ability to add notes to each task (you can do the same with Projects). I use this feature all of the time.
The notes themselves can’t be formatted, but that doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s a benefit – it forces me to keep any notes relating to tasks as short and concise as possible.
If the task relates to an email, I may paste the most relevant part of the email in the notes, or if I simply need to remind myself how to undertake a task (yep, I’m that bad), I’ll make a quick note to myself.
Keeping the main list tidy with checklists
I like to keep my to-do list as simple as possible each day, which is why the checklists feature in Things is so useful.
For any tasks that have constituent elements about which I need to remind myself, or that need to be undertaken in a particular sequence, I simply add a checklist. This is essentially a to-do list within the main to-do list.
It’s perfect for those tasks where I need to methodically work through a process in order to complete the main task at hand. And thanks to the addictive nature of the Things user interface, it’s more checkboxes to tick-off – something that’s forever satisfying.
See? I told you I only skim the surface. If you’re a Things user and dive far deeper than I, let me know in the comments how you make this brilliant app work for you.