I have the worst memory.
Honestly – if I didn’t have a to-do list from which to work each day, I’d have to sack myself. I’d forget promises, neglect to finish projects and miss those all-important publishing dates.
It’s why, for many years, I’ve relied on to-do list apps to get stuff done. Despite this, I’ve never really prescribed to the ‘Get Things Done’ (GTD) philosophy, because it just feels far too cumbersome for my needs.
But I do love a good, simple to-do list. And, recently, I’ve made a big switch.
The big problem with to-do apps
I’m a fan of simple software. Unless it’s designed to edit a video, produce music or develop a photo, I want the absolute bare bones of what’s needed to get the job done.
This has tempted me towards a bunch of productivity tools that many would scoff at for being too simplistic. That’s fine – each to their own. But for me, these tools help me run a productive, profitable business.
The biggest issue I’ve found with to-do list apps is that, ironically, they often make a pig’s ear of helping you get stuff done. They take longer to set up than is necessary and feature so many smart features that you feel compelled to dig into them.
That’s why, for years, I picked one such app, spent forever and a day setting it up…. and stuck with it.
That app was called Omnifocus.
My love for Omnifocus was futile
Omnifocus is a killer productivity app. Built entirely around the GTD philosophy, it hasn’t left any stone unturned.
You can create projects, contexts, tags and every type of task you can think of. Forecasting, flagging and reviewing is all immediately to hand, too. If you’re really into the GTD mindset and need a tool that’ll help you explore all of its possibilities, Omnifocus is the app to go for – no question.
I can’t remember when I first started using Omnifocus, but it was at least five or six years ago. It was certainly when I had a ‘proper’ job and needed to keep track of multiple projects within a company that didn’t have its own project management tool.
Yeah, I know.
Omnifocus was a lifesaver back then. But, as I transitioned to an independent worker and started up my own business, my use of its deep feature set began to reduce. In fact, it reduced to nothing more than a to-do list; a simple, task-based tool that has been most people’s go-to productivity solution for decades.
Each day, I’d open Omnifocus and systematically check off my tasks following their completion. It was akin to owning a Bentley Continental and only using it to play the radio while parked on the drive.
Then, someone in my Discord server mentioned Things, and I knew my love affair with Omnifocus was about to reach its conclusion.
Enter Things (again)
I used Things (a wonderful app developed by Cultured Code) many years ago and remember being immediately captivated by its simplicity and design. Alas, it was too simple back then for my project management requirements and I had no choice but to opt for something else instead (hence, Omnifocus).
Boy, has Things come a long way since then!
As it turns out, Cultured Code has been rather busy during my hiatus from their software.
What impresses me the most about Things (currently in Version 3 form) is that it crosses that perilous divide between GTD powerhouse (think: Omnifocus) and simple to-do list app (think: any one of the countless apps on the App Store that fall into that category).
Because my use of these tools has reduced to nothing more than a checklist of tasks I need to get done, Things thoughtfully abstracts away all of the more impressive elements of productivity (of which it is more than capable) and leaves me with a simple list. Nothing more, nothing less.
I do make use of some other features in Things, though. For instance, the ability to create areas for each of my projects and contracts helps keep my mind and plans tidy, and the integration with both my iPhone and Apple Watch help me check tasks at a glance.
If you fancy it, you can go far deeper with Things, including the ability to dictate to-dos via Siri, create nested checklists within each to-do item and format your larger projects with headings.
But, for me, it’s the way Things displays information that’s so delightful. Unlike Omnifocus, there’s no constant, nagging feeling that I’m missing out on something or tinkering on the surface of a much more powerful beast.
This stuff matters with productivity apps, because it takes your mind away from what you should be doing. Things’ use of white space is a masterful example of this; it focuses your eyes entirely on what you need to get done.
The moral of the story? Don’t get too welded into a single app or ecosystem. Broaden your horizons, because switching is never anywhere near as much trouble as you might think. Similarly, you could be missing out on a tool or solution which provides a suite of functionality far better suited to what you need.
That was certainly the case with Things for me. It’s good to be back.
What’s your to-do list app of choice? Am I missing something with Things?
Hi Mark, a big fan of your work here. Thanks for all the great content and well-executed delivery! I felt a similar desire for a simpler To-Do app, and for now, I’ve reverted back to the default iOS Reminders. For you, what are some key features sets Things apart from Reminders and justify the extra spending?
App design, mainly. Things is a beautifully functional app. I’ve never been keen on Apple’s Reminders app. Just a personal thing, really.
As with the other comment, if you want simple, why would you pay $50 (mac) + $20 (ipad) +$10 (iphone) for Things when you can just use the Apple Reminders app which comes pre-installed on all these devices and sync’s via iCloud?
See my other reply, Andrew – just a personal preference based largely around the design of Things. Also, I enjoy supporting independent developers.
Interest that you’ve gone the direction of super-simple task list. I think that’s great to one-off tasks. But, when it come to recurring maintenance, pet care, appliance upkeep…generally the adulting part of life, we built Upkeepr to organize tasks around the items/assets/stuff in your life. Look at your car to see when you last got an alignment and should do next. Look at your pet to see when they need their flea and tick meds again. And the convenient dashboard show’s you all the upkeep coming due, in progress, or recently done. You can easily share accounts with family and coworkers, too. Check it out! https://upkeepr.com
Hi Mark. Like you, I used to be a big OmniFocus user and loved it. When my life became simpler, I also didn’t need such a powerhouse tool and so I went completely old school and am using a bullet journal. I love it just as much as I used to love OmniFocus.
I could have written this article ?
Was a big fan of Omnifocus back in the day but found Things and have been using it for years now.
Great app that has served me well.
Thank you, Paul! You could still write your own version 😉
Unless something has changed with Things, the biggest detractor for me was the fact that it didn’t have a web-based function. I live in the Apple World 90% of the time, but there are times I can’t avoid using my Windows machine at work and I just don’t want to always use my phone for bigger tasking functions. So I’ve gone with Tick Tick and really enjoyed it.
That is such a good point, Corey. A web version of Things would be very handy indeed. Let’s hope they’re working on it.
Great post, Mark: thank you.
To do lists, you say?
It isn’t just the app: it’s also the algorithm you use to work through them.
If you haven’t come across Mark Forster, you have a treat in store. He has spent twenty years (at least) blogging about ways to work through a list. In particular, his ideas on self organising lists are pretty cool.
GTD works for some: I’d put his ideas at the other end of the spectrum.
As for apps, I don’t aspire to The Fruit: plain Outlook Tasks linked to the To Do app on my phone are good enough for me. Every so often I detox with a moleskine 3×5. The To Do app is particularly clean.
Less is more.
Unfortunately, Things only work in Apple World. Lots of users supplicate thel for changing that but they don’t have a clue.
I’ve switched from Things to https://www.nirvanahq.com/ some years ago wich offer the same fantastic interface and simplicity and work everywhere. (web, mac, pc, ios, Android)
I probably never get back.
[…] Things. It remains the best to-do list app I’ve ever used, and after a hiatus from the platform, I returned recently and realised what a fool I’d […]