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Things for Mac: Intuitive & Streamlined Task Management Software

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!

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                    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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                    Last Updated on September 28, 2020

                    The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

                    The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

                    At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

                    Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

                    One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

                    When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

                    So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

                    Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

                    This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

                    Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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                    When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

                    Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

                    One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

                    Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

                    An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

                    When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

                    Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

                    Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

                    We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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                    By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

                    Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

                    While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

                    I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

                    You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

                    Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

                    When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

                    Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

                    Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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                    Con #2: Less Human Interaction

                    One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

                    Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

                    Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

                    This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

                    While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

                    Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

                    Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

                    This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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                    For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

                    Con #4: Unique Distractions

                    Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

                    For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

                    To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

                    Final Thoughts

                    Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

                    We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

                    More About Working From Home

                    Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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