Over the past few years, I’ve been searching for the right task manager for my needs. Doing both client work and freelance writing—almost entirely on iPad now—I navigate a mix of teams, Slack channels, and tools. I’ve tried a number of apps including Todoist, 2Do, Trello, OmniFocus, and others. But when Cultured Code released Things 3 for iPad, iPhone, and Mac back in May, my interest piqued.
My original goal for trying Todoist and Trello was that my clients and editors could collaborate on tasks with me. Unfortunately, more often than not, they either already had their own task manager or they couldn’t get into those options. I work in Trello a little with a couple clients, but it hasn’t become a staple.
I picked up Things 3 on iPad and iPhone toward the end of Cultured Code’s beta and moved over a couple small projects. It’s certainly a unique experience from most other task managers; surprisingly simple and focused. You can’t pick your favorite (or any) colors for projects or set a pretty wallpaper photo.
After a couple weeks, I found that simplicity and focus to be refreshing. Once I caught onto the flexibility in Things 3, it clicked.
One thing I’ve never liked about many task managers is how rigidly dependent they usually are on deadlines. Working with clients (mostly) in the indie app space, projects sometimes slip or suddenly grow in complexity. It means a lot of tedious fiddling with calendar pickers and number wheels.
A core feature that draws me to Things is its clever, fast, no-pressure “Today” system. You can quickly and easily mark one or more tasks as “Today,” and they’ll all appear in that section in the sidebar. They don’t get stale or turn red if you don’t complete them today. It’s just an easy way to quickly build a list of tasks you want to focus on.
Now, you can set due dates, deadlines, and reminders for tasks, and I do for some. But these options are not a primary focus of the interface or organizing tasks. I like that.
Due dates, deadlines, and reminders
When you do want a due date or need a nudge to finish a task, Things 3 does some cool stuff. There are three options, which can be used separately or together:
Due Date – The task will appear in Today on the day you choose. Does not fire an alert, does not become overdue
Deadline – Similar to a Due Date, but can become Overdue and get marked as such. Does not fire an alert
Reminder – An actual task alert. Can fire at a specific time on a due date, deadline, or any other time
I thoroughly enjoy this system. For example: when I have a MacLife column due, I create a task with a deadline for a specific day. I also set a due date of a few days before. This makes the task appear in Today, but gives me a few days to finish it because I don’t always finish a column in one day. Sometimes I need to research or stew on a concept, or finish a first draft, trash it, and go for round two.
In most other task managers, a task simply has a due date. If not checked off that day, the task takes on some variety of scolding, anxiety-inducing OVERDUE badge. For a lot of my work, I don’t think or operate that way, so I’ve usually had trouble with this aspect (and others) of most task managers.
Drag & drop and headings
Another of my favorite aspects of Things 3 is how thoroughly it supports drag and drop. To reorder tasks or projects on any device, simply drag them up and down the list.
On iOS, you can tap and drag the new tasks (+) button anywhere in a list to creat a task right there. It’s very useful, especially with the next and final feature I’ll mention here: Headings.
You can now create multiple Headings in a project to organize tasks. I find it to be a great way to break down large projects or just create separate ‘buckets’ or types of tasks. For example: in the past few months, in my Finer Tech newsletter project (to which you should totally subscribe!), I had an “iOS 11” heading for collecting those tips. I also have an “Ideas” heading for saving ways to improve the newsletter.
Things 3 all the way
If it isn’t obvious by now, I fully switched to Things 3 for all of my personal and most work project management. Previous versions lacked a few things I wanted, but I’m very happy with 3. Since I work mostly on iPad and iPhone, I use it there the most.
I’m hopeful that Cultured Code will soon add iPad goodies like keyboard shortcuts and support for iOS 11 drag and drop from other apps. And, while we can filter by tags in a project on iOS, I’d like at least iPad to mirror the Mac version and place those tags under the project title at the top for easier access.
If you’re queasy about trying Things 3 on iOS, remember that the App Store has a decent refund policy now. For Mac users, Cultured Code’s website has a trial.