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Issue 7.3


Things Mac and Things iPhone

Issue: 7.3 (March/April 2009)
Author: Dave Mancuso
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 6,643
Starting Page Number: 11
Article Number: 7304
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Every once in a while an application appears that you'd like to use but is overshadowed by a much larger competitor. In the Getting Things Done (GTD) field, OmniFocus is the big player in the room. It's made by the well established Omni Group, it's assisted by an early GTD tech adopter Ethan Schoonover, and it's advised by Merlin Mann, a well known GTD guru. A developer would have to be crazy to develop an idea in the same space as OmniFocus. Enter Things.

I tried Things early in its beta period and liked it a lot, but I held off purchasing it because its competitor was imminent. I actually bought Things' competitor and tried it, but I found it to be somewhat rigid and clunky. Menawhile, Things got better. It honed its workflow and interface. It enhanced its operability with other apps like Mail. And finally, it gained a sibling in Things for the iPhone. I decided to give it a try again.

Everything in GTD is based on Projects and Actions. Each step of a project is an "Action" that moves the project toward completion. A Project is a list of Actions categorized toward a goal. You're expected in GTD to organize your To Do lists into projects and actions. The idea is that once you quantify things in projects and actions, you're more likely to achieve your goals. The problem for me is that GTD wants everything to be in a Project. It has no way to really categorize or tag Actions into my roles or responsiblity without making them into Projects. If I have something to do for the town band, for instance, I'd like to assign Actions (and Projects) to my role as a town band member. Things gives me Areas of Responsibility for this. Things' Areas feature lets me mate GTD concepts with Stephen Covey's Seven Habits Roles, giving me the best of both worlds.

In Things, I create my Areas of Responsibility (roles) and Projects I want to complete. Then, I create a To Do and assign it to an Area, a Project, or nothing at all if I choose. I double click on a To Do to expand its line entry and set details. I can drag a To Do to the application's sidebar Projects or Areas icon to assign it. The interface is fluid and responsive, and the workflow seems clear. Double clicking on a To Do highlights its name for renaming as you'd expect, but it also expands it into detailed view, which takes some getting used to. There are similar interface design choices elsewhere in the application, but it's clear that the developers strove for simplicity. Details and deeper options are usually hidden from view this way. This does put the onus on the user to read the Help section or use online screencasts to best access deeper Things functionality. Between the simple and more complex user interfaces, it's as if the designer has developed multiple applications (or done that much work, anyway).

If you want more flexibility with your To Dos, Things offers Tags. You can make any tags you like and assign them to To Dos. Things chose to make this a wide open feature; tags can be places, people, priorities, completion times, level of difficulty, or whatever you desire. Tags can be assigned to Projects or Areas too, giving additional flexibility. Multiple tags can be assigned to any item. Again, this functionality is usually hidden, only appearing if you want it.

Things offers a Quick Entry option, available systemwide from any application. It uses a HUD-style interface and is fairly unobtrusive. The application also provides two Service Menu commands, letting you select text and then use the commands to make a new To-do containing the selection as its title or notes. Things will optionally sync to-dos with system-wide to-do service (in this case, iCal and Mail--this is a Leopard only feature). You need to read the documentation to understand in which cases a To-do is synced, no longer synced, and deleted (or not deleted).

I appreciated Things' traditional master window three pane view, and its icons were informative and a bit fun (in a Web 2.x, Ajax kind of way). It would be nice to have the option to use big or small icons (or to customize the toolbar at all), but for a 1.x app, I'm happy to leave cosmetics for later updates (I'm using Things 1.0.4 as of this writing).

Things iPhone (and iPod Touch) is an accessory application, purchased separately through the iTunes App Store. It's interface is clean and looks well, like an iPhone interface should look. It keeps your items synced to your Mac over Wifi using Bonjour networking. This means that you don't need to use wired syncing, but you do need to have a wireless network. If a network isn't available, you can set up computer to computer networking. Once I set up syncing, it worked without any fuss at my home and work wireless networks. The odd thing to me is that you must launch the Things iPhone application and have it active to achieve a sync. This is an iPhone system limitation, but iPhone mail services work in the background, so I hope that someday the iPhone apps go "MultiFinder." Syncing issues were reported with earlier versions, but the 1.3.4 version seems to have addressed them. Things iPhone doesn't display Areas of Responsibility, but developers have made this a priority for furture updates.

Some applications are used because they're the corporate standard. Some are used because they're the big name on the block. Some applications, however, are used because they make things easier and more enjoyable. Things is such an application.

End of article.