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Things for Mac: Intuitive & Streamlined Task Management Software

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Things for Mac: Intuitive & Streamlined Task Management Software

things

    I’ve followed the development of Cultured Code’s Things with keen interest since it was announced in its early stages. It seemed like it was going to come closer to providing a truly seamless and ubiquitous, but most importantly, smooth application for managing the things that need to get done each day.

    My problem with task management applications is this: they require too much conscious effort on my part. Task management apps should flow, should make using them easier than jotting things down on a napkin. Many are perfectly functional but don’t put the effort into creating that flow. Things is the first OS X task management application I tried where I felt like I didn’t really have to try, despite it some similar features to other offerings.

    It received its fair share of praise and criticism while in beta, and I referenced both Things for Mac and Things Touch (the iPhone and iPod touch version) in articles here and elsewhere, but I always find it best – in terms of good etiquette, at least – to allow a product to exit beta before judging it.

    For those of you who want to save time, my verdict is this: it’s still the smoothest experience, and I still don’t feel like I have to try. For those who want the grand tour, follow along with me.

    The Inbox

    The first thing you’ll see when you open Things is the Inbox. Falling in line with good GTD methodology, you capture everything in your inbox as you go, and you process it later at an appropriate time. For me, this is the cornerstone of the system, and any good custom productivity system, because it allows you to keep track of everything that needs doing without allowing it to steal mental processing power and attention at that time.

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    1inbox

      The Inbox is built so that you can rapidly enter tasks in succession as they come to mind, which is great for a mind-dumping session. You can just enter the tasks as they are, or you can include notes and a deadline. Usually for a mind-dump, the description of the task is sufficient, but the extra features come in handy.

      Of course, rapid mind-dumping is important and Things caters to this, but perhaps even more important is ubiquitous capture. If all you want is ubiquitous capture on your one computer running Things, you’ve got it with the help of the Quick Entry feature. Tap a keystroke on your keyboard, and this window will appear:

      1bquickentry

        After you’ve captured tasks either on the fly with Quick Entry or in a mind-dumping session, getting those tasks sorted is an easy and smooth process. Once you’ve done some initial set-up work with Things, it’s a matter of drag-and-drop, and the occasional need to begin a new project or area of responsibility.

        Things offers ubiquitous capture beyond the computer, but it comes at a price. That price is the need to own an iPhone or iPod touch. You can then purchase and install Things Touch which is an excellent companion with sync capability, but is the subject of another review, another day.

        Today

        One of my favorite parts of Things is the Today screen. This section allows you to see tasks you have either manually designated or automatically (and perhaps recurringly) scheduled to fall on the current day. Basically, it lets you narrow down and focus exclusively on the tasks you wanted to get done today, and it reminds you of any deadlines that might’ve slipped past your memory.

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        2today

          I often have hundreds or thousands of tasks floating around in my task management software. Don’t worry, I haven’t been writing one thing here and doing another for the past year, because many of these are someday/maybe tasks I’d like to get around to in the future, when I have the time and inclination. But still, having dozens of projects and plenty of someday ideas can be a little distracting when you need to hunker down and work. I don’t need to or want to see them on a day-to-day basis; I need to see what I assigned for today on my last weekly review, hunker down, and get off the computer in time for dinner.

          And this is something I miss in too many programs: there’s not enough to focus you. There’s plenty to capture, sort, record, archive, and do all sorts of librarianesque stuff. But focus is perhaps the most important, and most frequently missing, key to having an effective and efficient day.

          Next

          The Next screen is another pane of focus, but of a different sort. Today is a focus restrained by chronological factors. Next is, as GTDers would expect, a list of the immediate next actions of each project or area of responsibility you’ve used Things to track. Today helps you focus on what you need to do to finish work and go home. Next helps you focus on what you need to do to move each of your projects forward, whether you want to finish them this week or this year.

          3next

            Scheduled & Projects

            The Scheduled pane shows you a list of all tasks for which you’ve elected to assign a due date or a recurrence. The way the data is presented is refreshing; some programs sort the tasks by numerical dates (like 12/12/12). It’s important to see this data, but what’s better is to sort the tasks by a more human-readable name and provide the exact date next to the task description as Things has done.

            So what you get here are tasks sorted by names like Daily, Every month, or just March, to give you an overview of when and how often things happen:

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            4scheduled1

              I would suggest that Cultured Code implement a calendar view so you can see what’s coming up in a more tangible way.

              Projects is a succinct, well-presented listing of all your active projects, as well as your someday and scheduled projects which can be hidden from view until the time comes. I haven’t got a lot of them going on in this reviewing deployment of Things – there are a heap in my day-to-day deployment and I’ve just taken that and stripped it of sensitive projects for screenshots, and that happened to be most of them!

              5projects

                Things will give you the name and rough due date of the project, along with the number of tasks inside and a satisfying checkbox for when you’ve completed the whole thing.

                The pane for active projects themselves gives you all the information you’ve recorded regarding the project as a whole at the top — description, due date, notes, tags, and so on — followed by a listing of all the tasks that comprise the project, with similar data available. You need to double-click tasks to see info other than the description (which I think is a good thing), but the project overview information is persistent:

                6activeproject

                  Area of Responsibility provides a place to assign those tasks that don’t fall under a time-constrainted, results-oriented project, and are either one-offs or recurring tasks for a role you occupy. This pane works a lot like the Inbox, a clean listing of the tasks, and nothing but the tasks.

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                  Someday

                  Every good system needs a place for you to dump the ideas you’ve ubiquitously captured but can’t or don’t want to work on yet. Someday items and projects stay out of the road until you’re ready to review them or drag them onto the production line. If a piece of task management software doesn’t have a Someday section, I won’t use it, so I’m glad to see this.

                  someday

                    What I’d Like to See

                    While Things is a great piece of software and is now my preferred day-to-day digital task management system, there’s one place where I think it falls down the most: synchronization. The ability to sync between my phone and one Mac is a great start, but I have more than one Mac and I spend equal amounts of time working on each.

                    So while Things works great when I’m out and about and need to remember something, or I’m plugging away at my iMac, I’m left out in the cold while I’m on my Macbook Pro. So far I’ve made this work by using Things Touch, but trust me when I say this approach gets mighty tiresome. I’m longing for Things to synchronize between my iPhone and multiple Macs.

                    Perhaps the best way to facilitate this would be by syncing through a service like Remember the Milk; it saves Cultured Code from having to develop an entire online infrastructure to facilitate said synchronization over the Internet, and it allows you to access your tasks wherever there’s an Internet connection if you don’t have an iPhone or you lose it.

                    Go take a look at Things for Mac — I highly recommend it!

                    More by this author

                    Joel Falconer

                    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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                    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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                    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

                    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

                    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

                    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

                    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

                    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

                    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

                    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

                    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

                    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

                    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

                    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

                    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

                    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

                    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

                    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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                    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

                    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

                    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

                    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

                    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

                    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

                    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

                    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

                    How To Be a Better Listener

                    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

                    1. Pay Attention

                    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

                    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

                    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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                    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

                    2. Use Positive Body Language

                    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

                    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

                    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

                    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

                    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

                    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

                    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

                    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

                    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

                    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

                    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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                    Be polite and wait your turn!

                    4. Ask Questions

                    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

                    5. Just Listen

                    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

                    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

                    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

                    6. Remember and Follow Up

                    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

                    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

                    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

                    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

                    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

                    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

                    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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                    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

                    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

                    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

                    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
                    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

                    8. Maintain Eye Contact

                    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

                    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

                    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

                    Final Thoughts

                    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

                    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

                    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

                    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

                    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

                    Reference

                    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
                    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
                    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
                    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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