How I use Things by Cultured Code

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.

Adding to-dos

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.

Organising to-dos

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.


22 Responses to “How I use Things by Cultured Code”

  1. Brad Says:

    Thank you for sharing your process Rachel. I’m not installing all the apps I want to try; so a review like yours is priceless to me. Really puts me into the workflow of Things. Your process is like mine, and I sense Things is a better match for that process than Omnifocus. Do you agree?

  2. Rachel Murphy Says:

    I used OmniFocus for nearly 2 months. It has a lot going for it but it was just too complex for my needs. In the end it felt like it was creating work for me rather than getting me organised and saving me time. I have generally found Things much more straightforward and intuitive. (Which is just as well as it doesn’t have any help files yet!)

  3. teapotmonk Says:

    Great stuff, am enjoying the site a lot. Have nominated it and put a link to it on my site. Things and GTD applications per se need 3rd party user feedback and your site really helps.

  4. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @teapotmonk I find reviews on blogs enormously helpful. I always find it interesting to see how other people are doing things and to get a real user’s perspective.

  5. Scott Elias Says:

    I can’t believe I’m just now finding this write up! After all my agony with OmniFocus for iPhone… I decided on Things a few weeks back and now that the iPhone version syncs I’m VERY pleased.

  6. Rachel Murphy Says:

    Hi Scott! Good to see you here.

  7. Donald Verger Says:

    Glad I found your nice write up.
    Thank you.
    I am using things on my iPhone.
    I also use the today part mostly
    And like how quick it is.
    Do you know how to star items
    In today on an iPhone.
    Also some projects show up yellow.
    Some white. No idea why?
    Ps I am a photographer.
    Thanks. Don

  8. Donald Verger Says:

    Ps. Nature and lighthouse photos mostly

  9. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @Donald: There are two ways to star tasks on Things Touch. You can either select a task and then you have an option to Show in Today. Or when viewing a list you can tap the start icon at the bottom and then select tasks to give them a yellow today star.

    Yellow projects are those that are due today. Otherwise they are white.

  10. Barry Hess Says:

    “I have my Next list set to display only the top item in a project thus creating a Next Action list.”

    That sounds sweet, but I absolutely cannot find where to set this up. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks for the writeup!

  11. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @Barry: Go to the View menu and select Next Action Steps. You can choose from 1 to 9 items.

  12. Barry Hess Says:

    @Rachel: Thanks a ton!

  13. Why Cultured Code’s “Things” app can’t do GTD « Tempus Fugit by Mark Jaquith Says:

    […] site of them saying that it is a GTD app), countless reviews and articles have claimed that to be the case. They’re […]

  14. Diane Dusek Says:

    How do I set up the quick entry panel on the Mac? I am new to Mac so I don’t know how to make a hot key (as you referred to the F2 opening up the quick entry panel).

  15. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @Diane: Have a look in Things Preferences. You should be able to choose a keyboard shortcut for the quick entry panel there.

  16. Tom Says:

    Hi Rachel,
    I looked at Things, and on the surface it’s a lovely app. My biggest annoyance is still that it won’t sync over 3G networks with the iPhone app, otherwise I’d be using it.

    Instead I’ve gone with and any of the multitude of apps for the iphone, such as their own or even the Ultimate ToDo’s.

  17. aldar Says:

    Wow great post! It really helped to leanr to use Things. Thanks!!

  18. Breanne Says:

    I just started using Things and found your review so helpful! I was especially grateful for your explanation of how to use the “Areas of Responsibility.” Trying to figure out the difference between those and tags was quite puzzling to me, but now it makes total sense! Are you still using Things and happy with it? Do you know if there is any way to back up all of the data in it? I worry about my laptop crashing and me losing, well, every single task-oriented thought that has gone out of my head and onto Things!

    • Rachel Murphy Says:

      I haven’t used Things for quite a while now. My data file became corrupted. I contacted Cultured Code for support but they showed next to no interest in giving advice on how to deal with it. Coupled with my dissatisfaction with the lack of wifi sync at the time I decided to switch back to OmniFocus. It’s nowhere near as pretty as Things but it does what I need and I have faith in Omni as a company.

  19. Cathee Howell Poulsen Says:

    Too bad you aren’t still using Things, Rachel. I found your guide to be the best one I’ve found on the web and because I’m a woman it was particularly helpful as I could relate to your entries and categories. The new Things 2 seems to have fixed some of what you didn’t like. Anyway, thanks so much for your thorough explanation of Things.

    • Rachel Murphy Says:

      As it happens, I’ve been back using Things for the last few months! Omnifocus can get so complex and I found I was spending more time fiddling with it than actually doing stuff. In the end I seemed to be using it less and less. I thought I’d give Things another go as it is very good for keeping things simple, especially with the Today view. And now that they have proper syncing with the iPhone it’s working really well for me.

      • Cathee Howell Poulsen Says:

        I thought you might tell me that. I, too, have used endless apps for To Dos and productivity help. And I end up spending half the day managing all the apps. I like the simplicity of Things and learned about it from the Podcast Beyond the To Do List. Haven’t purchased my Mac copy yet. Just using the trial. But when the time is up I’ll order the app. Thanks again for your very helpful blog.

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