Trying Things 3 for Two Weeks

I’ve been an on-and-off user of OmniFocus for the last half a decade or so. I got pretty excited at the release of OmniFocus 3’s iOS beta earlier this year. Omnigroup always does a great job with their software. However this time around, even after release, there are areas of OmniFocus 3 I felt needed some work.

I’m learning to experiment with my systems, so one night, I decided to embark upon an adventure — try Things 3 for two weeks.

Every task manager is different. If you’ve ever tried out two or three different apps, it’s easy to see each one has a unique focus, strengths, and weaknesses.

My goal in testing Things 3 was to find if it could really work for me, or if OmniFocus would still reign supreme.

How I Tested

There’s really only one way to truly test a task manager — go all in.

It’s true. The only way you’re ever going to figure out if productivity software will work for you is to throw everything you can in it to see where it breaks.

To get going, I downloaded the Mac trial and the iPhone app, set up a sync account, and started moving tasks over.

Importing items into Things 3 isn’t actually all that difficult. I set up some Areas, and I started copy/pasting tasks in from OmniFocus, setting tags, due dates, and the like as I went.

To be fair, I didn’t dive into automation, the iPad app, or much for keyboard shortcuts in my two weeks. These are strong features of the Things suite, but I’m not a heavy user of any of these anyway.

You might be asking, “Why only two weeks? It takes longer than two weeks to get used to something like a task manager.”

True, and fair point. I had two reasons:

  1. The Mac app trial and iOS App Store return period are two weeks
  2. Two weeks is a fair bit of time for the “new shiny” feeling of something to wear off and to get to the real meat of something.

With that being said, here’s what I found in my short venture into Things 3.

Things I Liked

Aesthetics. Things 3 has had its praises sung up and down for its world-class design. It’s true — this software is one of the best looking task managers out there. OmniFocus 3’s redesign is great, too, but it’s not quite as aesthetically pleasing as Things 3. What stands out about Things’ design is user experience did not take a back seat to visual design.

Whimsy. It’s rare to get a whimsical feeling from using an app these days. While Things takes notes from general design trends, it’s whimsical experience is what makes the app a truly enjoyable software to use. Its whimsy comes mostly from the little details — transitions, animations and how the app responds to user interactions. It’s hard to explain in words, but if you’ve used the app, you’ve likely noticed this.

Less-Pushy Due Dates. Nobody wants to wake up to 25 overdue tasks. Nobody. And let’s be honest — this is largely a process problem for most people by overusing due dates. However, if you do end up missing a task on its deadline date, wouldn’t it be nice if it just rolled to the next day instead of ending up in some different “overdue” screen? Things 3 does this, and it remove much of stress from missed tasks.

Rock Solid Sync. Sync is a core feature of any app these days. All I have to say about Things 3’s cloud sync is it just works. As a former Things 2 user, I am grateful to see this in action.

Floating Add Button. This is one of those whimsical design elements, but it deserves its own mention. The floating add button, which can be tapped to add a task in context or dragged to another part of the screen to add a task in place, is a genius addition. I never knew I wanted one until Things implemented it!

Rapid Development. It’s a bummer to see so many great apps (Editorial and Dispatch, for example) have ridiculously long release cycles, especially when OSes and other software are changing at a rapid pace. Cultured Code definitely keeps up with the changes, but also goes above and beyond with major feature releases every few months. I have to give total credit to the developer for this.

Things I Didn’t

No More Than One Level of Subtasks. I didn’t think this was going to be a big deal for me, but it turned out to be. In Things, you can have these items hierarchically:

  1. Area
  2. Project
  3. Task
  4. Checklist

Unless I was missing something, you can’t get any deeper than this.

As a person who sometimes has multi-step, nested processes templated out, this became a little overwhelming to deal with. In big projects, I rely heavily on the hierarchy folding features in OmniFocus. Not to have these was quite a challenge to overcome.

Not as Easy to Hide Tasks. In addition to having only a single level of subtasks, I found it harder to hide tasks. Start dates were helpful, but sometimes they also hid tasks too well for my liking. What I need out of a task manager is the ability to hide tasks until I need them, and then make it easy to see them when it’s time to start checking them off. For the way I think about tasks, Things 3 only got part of the way there.

No Perspectives or Saved Searches. This has been a frustration of many who are coming from other task managers who have a saved search type feature. I’m not the biggest perspectives user in OmniFocus, but even the ability to show tasks fitting multiple criteria without having to retype a search query would be a great addition to Things.

What Did I Choose?

I went back to OmniFocus 3.

Indeed, it’s never easy to change a big piece of your workflow, and OmniFocus has largely been the rock-solid center for a number of years.

Don’t get me wrong — Things 3 is a fantastic task manager. I’m partial to the design choices made by Cultured Code throughout the app. It’s just fun to use.

However, you have to stick with what works for you. Some of the things I didn’t like simply kept me from working as efficiently as I could in Things versus OmniFocus.

Despite not making a change from this experiment, I did learn a number of lessons from Things’ opinions toward task management I’m taking and now applying to my OmniFocus workflow.

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There are a few other posts that discusses Things 3. Here’s a few links from fellow Guild members who have posted on this topic.:


One reason why some users have a need to switch is to nuke their entire task and project list and start fresh. It basically becomes a large review process to get everything up-to-date. I’ve used daily and weekly reviews to keep my system up-to-date and I don’t have the need to nuke-and-rebuild. I also have a monthly and quarterly review to check my higher horizons of focus - goals and general direction for the next month of next quarter.

I did read somewhere that a person used Keyboard Maestro and created macros that would auto-type the search query for them. This could become a form of saved search. Not elegant but as long as it works.

You could probably do something on iOS using Siri Shortcuts. Say “Hey Siri, what can I do at home?” and it could trigger a Siri shortcut to open Things and search for the Home tag.

OmniFocus 3 also has this feature. Go to Projects then drag and drop the “plus” button to a spot in your projects to create a new task there.

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You’re right here. Although I also use “Headings” to get another level of planning. This way I can do something along the lines of:

  • [Area] Work
    • [Project] Web Project
      • [Heading] Database
        • [Task] Install MySQL
          • [Checklist] Install Homebrew
          • [Checklist] Run brew doctor to ensure system is working correctly
          • [Checklist] Run brew install mysql
          • [Checklist] Run service to start mysql with the system

That seems to give me enough planning depth for stuff like this.

True. This can be a pain. I generally leave almost all of my Areas open by selecting “Show Later Items”. I also have a quick CMD+OPT+K shortcut I setup to show/hide these “Later / Someday” items so I can see my projects more clearly.

Yep. I use Keyboard Maestro to jump to specific areas in the app quickly. I also make use of lists in Keep It to quick review different areas in Things.

A tip I saw over at MPU was to make a “meta-area” for saved searches with tasks and then put the saved search into the notes.

I’ve also got a few select location alerts setup in LaunchCenter Pro to quickly open my “@ Home”, “@ Work”, “@ Store” tags in case I have stuff I need when I get there. Honestly though location tasks are nearly worthless for me, so it doesn’t bother me to have them outside of my task manager. Every once in a blue moon they’re nice to have.

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Aha! It was you, @kennonb. I’m becoming forgetful. So many channels (Twitter, Discourse, Slack, Facebook, etc.) to check and I am forgetting where I remembered little tidbits.

Thanks!

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:joy: Ha, believe me, I forget so much from all the different sources I read as well. I definitely don’t need credit for every little thing I type all over the internet. :wink: Everything is a remix anyway, right?

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I too love the headings feature in T3. You can go two ways here:

  • T3 “Project” as project: Headings become sub-projects/mega-tasks.
  • T3 “Project” as goal: Headings are projects.

I’m currently trying to decide which, if any, of these approaches I prefer.

I recently had a chance via Twitter to lay out some of the biggest improvements I think Todoist could make to be on par with OF3 and T3:
https://twitter.com/JWellsCFO/status/1045119765419823104

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The heading does look more distinctive and pronounced in Things 3. OF3 has a “heading” but it’s very subtle and doesn’t stand out. Sometimes, I’d like a theme editor to tweak the fonts and styles for my own personal use.

I do like trying out other apps and see if I can learn from a different perspective. I’ve often trailed other software and find ways to emulate a workflow that I liked in other apps.

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A clever chap was able to do something of a review in the Automators forum. Check it out here!

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Thanks :pray: for the interesting posts. I went all in with Things 3 for a while on Mac and iOS and migrated my whole database from Omnifocus 2. My experience was broadly similar. Things 3 is nice to use, but lacked some features that made a big difference for me. I use the GTD approach and could not find a way to review actions in a simple list by context . Things 3 seemed to insist that I review actions in a project format . I missed the ability to collapse and expand information in the way that I can with Omnifocus. Notes is a good example . I don’t want to see a possibly extensively populated notes field at the top of my project and be unable to hide it. The Things equivalent of Forecast view in OF is neat but I like the interleaving available in OF3. I returned to Omnifocus and have made the transition to OF3 . Have to say that I really love the OF3 experience on the Mac, it’s the best I’ve had with any task manager - and I’ve tried a few . So, a worthwhile experiment with Things, but it’s back to
Omnifocus for me :slightly_smiling_face:

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If I have to hack a software as critical to my system as a task manager with a 3rd party tool to do something I find necessary, I think that’s a little too far. But that’s just me :D.

Ah yes! Headings. I forgot about those.

Headings were great, but they bugged me. They function almost as “mini-areas” in a project, versus a grouping of tasks. Seems like a great feature for bigger, long-term projects.

Good thoughts here. I really like Todoist, too.

Basically, it’s no better of a time to live than now for productivity junkies. There are so many great, mature apps out there for varying different needs.

This is very much the case. I love opinionated software (do the thinking for me please!), but it’s gotta be the right opinions :smile:

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Haha! That’s how I feel currently about OmniFocus. :joy:

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I’ve felt this resistance before. But no app will follow what we want in our own workflow. That’s why we have AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, Siri Shortcuts, Hazel, TextExpander. and other automation tools.

I’ve dipped my toes into automation. I did small shortcuts or macros to speed up common actions. I started with simple automation workflows. After I developed confidence in my Keyboard Maestro skills, I’m starting to create some higher level macros that I never would’ve thought to do.

Once you get into AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, Hazel, Siri Shortcuts, TextExpander, or whatever automation tool, you’ll open up a whole door of opportunities. You’d never be able to imagine a Mac or iOS device without any of these tools.

Siri Shortcuts is a game changer in the iOS world.

It’s a matter of getting past that initial resistance. You’ll never be able to live without third party automation.

I’ve already purchased @Sparky’s Siri Shortcuts Video Field Guide. It’s in my queue to watch as soon as i’m done with the OF3 Video Field Guide.

Oh yes. I totally use these. My point is for a feature I feel is key to my use, I’d rather use a tool that has it built in vs. having to make the feature myself.

3rd party automation is so vital. I don’t know how many hours I’ve saved this week with TextExpander and Keyboard Maestro.

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And that’s why we have lots of tools at our disposal! :smiley: everyone’s needs are different!

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Totally. For me I found I don’t need perspectives, or really even tags. They just bog me down. But for someone who needs perspectives, it’s definitely better to use something with it baked in. :+1:t3:

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Thank you for your very helpful comments on this page. I’m a long-time OF user who is just trying to switch back to Things, and this article, along with your comments are very useful.

Sorry if this is an obvious question, but how did you make this show/side shortcut? It’s not a menu item, so I couldn’t use Apple’s built-in keyboard tool; it’s surprising given CC’s extensive shortcuts, that this action doesn’t seem to have one. -Carl

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So it’s a total hack. I’m using Keyboard Maestro for some automation + image checking. If you’d like the workflow I’ll send it over to you.

Also I agree about the oversight on CC’s part. I wrote them about this a while ago and they still haven’t put it in. Quite odd given that almost everything else is manageable via keyboard.

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