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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 July 9, 2019

                    How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

                    How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

                    It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

                    So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to stay motivated and get what you want:

                    1. Find the Good Reasons

                    Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

                    You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

                    If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

                    Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

                    Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

                    • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
                    • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
                    • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
                    • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

                    2. Make It Fun

                    When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

                    Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

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                    Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

                    They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

                    Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

                    A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

                    • How can I enjoy this task?
                    • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
                    • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

                    As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

                    Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

                    However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

                    3. Take a Different Approach

                    When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

                    You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

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                    That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

                    If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

                    Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

                    My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

                    4. Recognize Your Progress

                    Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

                    We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

                    Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

                    Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

                    For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

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                    You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

                    Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

                    For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

                    5. Reward Yourself

                    This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

                    Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

                    Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

                    For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

                    For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

                    For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

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                    Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

                    The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

                    Mix and Match

                    Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

                    Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right way. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

                    Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

                    Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

                    More About Staying Motivated

                    Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

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