★ Re-understanding what needs to be done with Things 3

I have been a victim of my to-do list for years. A looming mountain of tasks, reminding me of how little I am getting done.

My list of unchecked to-dos stands out as the confession of a procrastinator. It’s paining me with guilt. Why do I have these tasks that I never check off but only push further ahead in time?

Todoist offers an objective measure to my productivity. Or lack thereof. They call it Karma and guys like me can’t escape its sharp edge.

My Karma level has remained stagnant at around 11900-ish for a while now. It’s a proof of mediocrity. I’m never to reach Enlightenment. A “meh”-productive failure.

I have repeatedly tried to escape this downward spiral of demotivation that is my to-do list by the habit of switching task management apps.

The wave of nerdy excitement that accompanies the set-up of a shiny new app wears off quickly. This habit has hardly ever helped me get better at managing my tasks. Neither of my transitions, whether it was formerly from OmniFocus to 2Do or from 2Do to Todoist, has fundamentally changed my “get something done, already” problem.

Well, time was surely ripe for another app transition then, wasn’t it? And so I recently left Karma behind and switched from Todoist to the redesigned Things 3.

Things feel different with Things 3 now. The pacing has changed. And so have my inner tensions.

For a long time, I haven’t made this kind of progress with the mess that is my productivity as I have with Things 3.

What I am accepting more each day, is that most things-to-be-done deserve less eagerness and attention than my busy mind claims they do. Labeling work and productivity as a constant “struggle” or a “hustle” is bullshit. And Things 3 is a strong tool to support me in this position.

But will it forever put to rest the eternal question of which is the best task manager? I’m not sure whether this is the actual question to answer.

For my switch to Things 3 from Todoist, I used my usual scorch-it-all-to-the-ground approach of deleting my old task management app and all its content from all my devices first, then starting with the new one from a clean slate.

Who needs the old task-cruft, anyway? Once you delete your to-dos, you’ll find out how little most of them matter. It feels great. Like opening a window in the morning after a hung-over night in a dorm overcrowded with teenagers.

I started with Things 3 only on iOS.

Why not start small and keep it small for once? I am using multiple devices in concordance - iOS and macOS - but my iPhone is the central, most important hub for everything.

Don’t listen to gurus that implore you to push this button and that, get all the apps for all the platforms and choose an app for its “feature-completeness”. These people are full of shit.

Start small. Don’t create dependencies. Things 3 embodies this mindset but it allows you to take off from there. If you want to.

The iOS app gives you everything you’ll ever need. It’s beautifully serene, yet more than powerful enough on its own to guide folks like me and you through our days.

At around 10 bucks, it’s rather expensive for an iPhone app. It’s still significantly less than its 50 bucks macOS counterpart. If one day you find more comfort in having the additional Things 3 on your Mac, perhaps try the free 14-day-trial, first.

I’m glad Things 3 is not part of the subscription shit show that some popular apps have moved to.

Things 3 acts as a benevolent being with a helping hand on your shoulder. It’s not a stern authority lashing a whip.

Marius Masalar put it best in his article on eight months with Things 3:

I find myself wondering if what I want in a task management app is a grandmother (“it’s okay dear, you can try again tomorrow”) or a coach (“it didn’t get done — what are you going to do about it?”).

An easy answer for me: Fuck the coaches. We all need more of grandma, instead.

Here is a work-in-progress conclusion of my struggles with Getting Things Done, the system: Some things are great about it, but others are fundamentally flawed.

The “mind-like-water” thing is GTD’s big bingo. Much of the rest of it, like The Weekly Review, countless drawers to sort your stuff into, nagging tickler files, its embarrassing “created with business executives in mind” coat of paint, not so much.

Even though Things 3 is essentially GTD, you can cherry-pick the “mind-like-water” raisins and toss the David Allen old-guy-in-a-suit rest to your liking.

Things 3 has the great feature of areas made for people like me that prefer some sort of looser organization of tasks over the notion of priorities and dependability that comes with projects. Not every task in Things 3 has to live inside a project. Yet, areas still allow for a grouping of related tasks.

Things 3 also allows you to create checklists within a task. I prefer such a checklist within a single task over a project with each item as a separate task nine times out of ten.

Projects are indeed rare exceptions within my task management system. If something isn’t a true project with a start and an end (think Ikea manual), I won’t create it as one.

The classic GTD mantra of “every task lives within a project” is a hoax. If I bring out the trash and thereby check off the last task within a project called Home, do I really have completed my area of life called Home then?

Home is forever repeating. So are Work and Travel and so on. Why would I want to build these areas as projects?

If a task in my Inbox demands too much further fiddling - rearranging, resorting, tagging, prioritizing, rescheduling - something is fundamentally off. Things 3 allows you to go as deep as you want - deadlines, due dates, reminders, tags and all. Or you can just not care and dumb a task in the Someday or Anytime categories.

One of the most annoying issues I had with Todoist was its labeling of tasks as overdue if I didn’t check them off on a due date. Yes, these task may be overdue, but who cares? Stop blaming me, computer. Things 3 just quietly carries these tasks over for today or tomorrow or the day after.

I do live by accountability to my goals and I hold high standards for myself. But I don’t need my to-do list to be a brat about it.

I prefer to set all parameters of a task (like the area it belongs to or the reminders I to want to receive) on entry so that I don’t have to rework my Inbox repeatedly. Too much reviewing - especially, if it doesn’t result in deleting a task - doesn’t help my GTD.

I can’t always forgo the concept of the Inbox, though, and Things 3 doesn’t allow to turn it off.

I set up Things 3 to pull in tasks from because I want to get all the support I can from my pal Siri. If I tell my pal Siri on my iPhone or on my Apple Watch or on my Mac to remind me of something, it will get imported as a new task within the Inbox of Things 3. That’s pretty nice, even though it’s somewhat of a hack and not new.

If I wanted to commit to the native Things 3 Siri integration on my German iPhone, I’d have to contort to a weird Dr. Strangelovian German-English (“Tings”) to get it to work. Most often my attempts sadly end up with Siri failing like “I found this on the web for you…”.

Besides the ability to email a task into Things 3, Siri is the only automation worth having with my task manager. The supposedly more powerful integrations and X-callback URL options that come with Todoist or OmniFocus have never been a proper cure for the disarray in my task management system.

I don’t feel the same devotion to automated or computer-generated tasks that I do to the ones I create manually. What I type into my task manager is more likely to get done. I can’t fully explain why. Maybe it’s the blink of an instinctive distrust of the machine, a resistance to follow the orders of a computer, a potential evolutionary safeguard a human harbors against the dystopian AI future that’s looming ahead of us. Maybe it’s just me. But I prefer to manually enter my tasks into Things 3, even if it is slower than other ways and lacks the natural language input Todoist has.

Manual data entry is where the app’s beauty shines. And design does matter.

I have fallen in love with the Magic Plus Button in Things 3 that is so much better than the standard Plus Button in other apps like Todoist. I drag it to create a new task directly into areas, bypassing the Inbox, all the time.

Then there is the Today view which lists all your tasks for the day alongside the items within your calendar. It’s a killer feature that’s so much more correct than the opposite approach of the Reminders integration within Fantastical.

I use the stock iOS and macOS for calendar management and data entry. It trumps all other third party calendar apps in terms of speed and data visualization.

I now only refer to my Today in Things 3 anymore.

I also love This Evening within Today. At present, my life is rather binary. There is work and there is after-work. Many tasks don’t matter till I come home from hospital, so why not put them where they belong?

It’s annoying that I have to assign tasks to This Evening manually every day. I’ll hope this gets better in a future update to Things 3.

Some further things to take note of: I am not a collaborator. My task list is my holy-place and I don’t share it with others. I didn’t care about sharing in Todoist and I don’t miss it in Things 3.

I don’t look back on completed tasks too much and I haven’t opened the Logbook view in Things 3, yet. It might be nice to have if you need it, though.

Tagging is seated in a second or third row in Things 3 when compared to Todoist but I feel like with all the theoretical benefits of tagging - whether it’s tagging to-dos or files or whatever - it hardly ever pays off in practice. Search within Things 3 is great and it gets you to what you’re looking for, even if you slacked out with your homework and didn’t implement a proper tagging system.

As a side note to tagging: Who cares about “contexts” anymore? That old relict from GTD days past even in a fresh paint hasn’t aged too well.

Things 3 is a great app for all those of us that can’t opt for the Luke Skywalker way of life on a desolate island with frog-nun caretakers and green space-walrus milk, fresh from the teat, cut-off from the daily demands of our galaxy.

Meanwhile, I’m practicing “mind-like-water” with Things 3. Perhaps, it’s a solution to many troubles I have with getting shit done. A potential step closer to being one with the “productivity-force” if there is such a thing, after all.