I am currently using Things by Cultured Code to store and organise my to-do lists. My usage of it is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done but Things can just as easily be used by someone who isn’t into GTD. Here I describe how I use Things.
I usually add to-dos using the Quick Entry panel.
I have this mapped to F2 and it can be activated no matter what application I am in (so long as Things is running). I don’t usually add any details such as tags at this point. I just click return, the to-do will be sent to the Things Inbox, and I can get on with whatever I am doing.
I often turn emails into to-dos. If you drag an email onto the Things dock icon it will open the Quick Entry panel with a link to the email as a note. (There is a bug in Things at the moment – you have to drag the email onto the dock icon twice.) Similarly a URL can be dragged onto the dock icon to create a to-do with the link as a note.
And of course I sometimes create to-dos directly within Things.
Next I add tags which are analogous to GTD contexts. I find tags most useful for keeping track anything I want to read. I then add a work or leisure tag and another with an estimate of how long it will take to read. Then, say I find myself with a half hour spare that I’d like to spend reading. I select reading, 30min and either leisure or work depending on the mood I’m in. And, hey presto, I have a list of suitable articles to peruse.
If a to-do is part of a project I drag it to the appropriate project in the Projects list in the sidebar. If it is a single task I drag it to the Next list. The Next list contains all active to-dos (whether individual or part of a project), not just next actions. I have my Next list set to display only the top item in a project thus creating a Next Action list.
My favourite feature of Things is the Today list. First thing in the morning I quickly go through Next and tag anything I intend to complete today with a yellow star (by clicking command-1). These will then show up in the Today list. I find this tremendously useful. During the day I only need to look at Today. Only once everything is ticked do I look at the Next and Project lists to see what else I could be getting on with.
The Scheduled list is also extremely useful for me. All my recurring housework jobs are here: daily, weekly and five-weekly cleaning rotas. I also have other recurring reminders such as to water the houseplants every week. The Scheduled list also allows me to create to-dos for a future date. For example I have created a reminder to book my daughter’s swimming lessons. The pool won’t be taking bookings for another two weeks so there is no point having the to-do in the Next list at the moment. Instead it is in the Scheduled list and will added to Today on 28th July.
Finally the Areas list.
I use this to keep a list of projects that are ongoing and will never be completed. Take “Things to read for work” for example. This isn’t a project that can be completed. (Well, not until I retire and that’s well over twenty years away!) It is continually having new items added (and at a much faster rate than I am managing to read them unfortunately). I like that I can separate these ongoing projects. It keeps everything nice and tidy.
Things is still a beta application and as such there are still features missing. There are only two features that would really improve it for me. Firstly, iPhone access (which is coming soon). Secondly, the ability to postpone or set a due date for a to-do within a project (rather than the whole project). I’m sure this will be dealt with by the time Things is finally released. It is due later in the summer and I will be very happy to hand over $39 for an application that not only is a pleasure to use but also makes my life a lot easier.