Totally Hooked: ‘Things’ for Mac

First, I want to point out the only thing I hate about this application: the name. It’s bad for me, it’s bad for the developers… it’s just bad. If I ever had a problem, how am I supposed to do a search for that? If the developers want to find blog posts like this one, how are they supposed to do that?

Aside from the name, Things for Mac really, truly shines. I’ve tried lots and lots and lots of task managers, project managers, life managers, blah, blah, blah. I’ve probably tried 15 of them, and really tried hard to like them, but I just couldn’t. Some are too rigid and structured, while others are completely lacking any structure whatsoever. Some have a learning curve that forces you to make time to sit down and learn them. Others take pains to pay special attention to every aspect of your life (a model doomed to failure). I don’t want to mention all of the ones I’ve tried, because they’re not bad products and don’t deserve bad press. Mostly, they all worked well — they just were not right for me.

Things, on the other hand, I like. It’s just the right balance of features, structure, and ease-of-use. After watching the screencast introduction, I was off and running, and haven’t looked back. I wrote a short poem (a la Dr. Seuss) about my experience:

I do not like them on my Dock,
I do not like them in Firefox.
I do not like them in my car,
I do not like them near or far!
I do not like most “task”ish apps,
but I find I like this “Things” for Mac!

Ok, it’s totally corny. On to what I like about it.

On the Desktop

I actually didn’t expect to like the idea of a desktop application. Of the 15 other tools I’ve tried, only one or two others had a desktop app, and those two apps were opposite ends of the spectrum: one required a PhD to use, and the other was more like a free-form note pad. Things is neither. If you’re in a rush and just want to make sure you don’t forget a task, you can click on ‘Inbox’, type in as many or as few task details as you want, and be done with it. Later, you can drag the task into a project, or add scheduling information, make it repeat, etc.

Even better, it has a keyboard shortcut that’s settable, so if the app is running somewhere, you can just use that to do a “Quick Entry” without leaving the app you’re currently using. Very handy.

Though Things is not project management software, you can create “Areas of Responsibility”, and then have projects inside of those areas. This is perfect for me. I have areas of responsibility like “Home”, “Work”, and “Blog”, and inside the “Home” area I have all of my home improvement projects. My “Work” area contains a list of projects, which themselves contain high-level tasks (I leave the detailed stuff to actual project management software), and also projects which are related to business development, which I don’t use project management software for. The “Blog” area is a perfect place to jot down ideas for blog posts that I can go back to later and check off when they’re completed.

You don’t have to worry too much about being reminded about upcoming due dates, assuming you set due dates (which you don’t have to do). When due dates are approaching, Things will move the tasks into the “Today” queue, so if you have some down time during the day and aren’t sure what to tackle next, click “Today”, and start on something! I find that there’s almost always something in that queue that I have time to do before I need to (or am able to) get back to what I was doing. That, alone, is worth the $50 I paid for Things.

On the Go!

I’m not sure I would be so into Things if it weren’t for the accompanying iPhone app, which pretty much rocks. I guess if that didn’t exist, they would’ve considered having a companion web interface or something, but really, given the choice, I’d rather have it be mobile than solely on the web (though I’d like to see Things work on non-Apple mobile devices too).

One of the really awesome things about the iPhone app is that it syncs over the air to the desktop app. Of course, both have to be running, and they need to be on the same network, but my desktop app is *always* open, and I have yet to be inconvenienced by anything related to the sync functionality. Some folks have requested mac-to-mac sync capability, which isn’t currently there, but I don’t need it, so it’s not an issue for me.

While the iPhone app is missing some features of the desktop application, 90% of what’s in the desktop app is doable from the iPhone. The only notable exception for me personally was an apparent inability to create new areas of responsibility. Indeed, this is the one place where the interface is a little inconsistent. While clicking “Inbox” or “Today” will bring you to a list of tasks and projects, they chose to list projects and areas of responsibility in the sidebar for easy perusal and drill-down capabilities. It works well in the desktop app, but it’d be nice to make “areas” a queue on the iPhone, just like “Projects” is.

A Compeling Duo

In the end, Things has two things going for it: First, it has the nicest, easiest to use interface. Second, it has the ability to sync over the air with my iPhone, which also has a nice interface. In the old days, you might leave your bulky planner at your desk and carry around a note pad, and this mimicks that kind of experience, but takes away the need to sync them up later by hand.

It’s simple, but not too simple. Structured, but not too structured. I’ve been using it for a little over 2 weeks now, and have no plans to change. I know this sounds like an ad, so I should also say that I’m not being paid for this and don’t work for the company that makes it. I do recommend you check it out, though, if you’re in the market for something to help manage your time.

  • Rob Bageant

    The name is not as bad as it sounds.

    “Things for Mac” quotes included is the proper search string. That’s how I found this site, searching for information on “Things for Mac.”