Distinguishing Sub-Areas in Things

A pet peeve of mine in Things is the inability to have sub-areas. In my eyes, you’re forced into categorizing your tasks into one of two ways – neither of which work all that great:

  • Option 1: Areas for all the things!
    Pro: You’re actually using areas and projects as Culture Code intended
    Con: In order to pull this off, you’ll likely have lots of areas which becomes overwhelming to look at, especially on iOS.
  • Option 2: Areas for higher level things, and projects for sub areas.
    Pro: Less visual clutter
    Pro: By using projects for sub-areas, you can take advantage of project-only features like headers
    Con: You’re not using the app as intended so you lose the distinction between actual projects and sub areas

While I’ve settled with Option 2 as the better option for my use cases, I’ve never been fully satisfied with my projects and sub areas being indistinguishable from one another.

Over the past several months of using Things, I’ve played around with a few characters to differentiate the two. The two that have stood out in my mind are the checkbox symbol (☑︎) and what Apple’s character palette considers a “Parenthesis Extension” (⎜). ( They actually have separate characters for both left and right extensions, but I can’t seem to find any visual difference between the two.)

I eventually settled with prefixing my sub-areas the parenthesis extension rather than prefixing each project with the checkbox.  The extension seemed to introduce the least amount of visual clutter, and I find the divide also visually indents the sub-areas nicely under their main areas which helps to further the idea of it being nested under the area.

I still wish Cultured Code would just allow us to selectively disable the “progress pies” for sub-areas, but until then, this is a nice way of quickly distinguishing sub-areas from projects.

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8 thoughts on “Distinguishing Sub-Areas in Things

  1. Mau says:

    Thanks for another great post.!

    Maybe this is a dumb question but, does a sub-area then get segmented into virtual projects using headers? Or is the content of a sub-area made up of loose tasks?

    I agree that an official sub-area feature would be ideal. I wish the glacial speed at which Cultured Code adds features would speed up a bit.

    • Andrea says:

      Whether I use headings really depends on the sub-area. For example, my “Pets” sub-area under Home doesn’t have any special break down, but my “Chores” sub-area is broken up into headings for Daily, Weekly, Monthly, and Seasonal. Anytime I’m breaking something down with headings, it’s purely to help my brain visually rather than to create virtual projects. Projects always get their own dedicated project.

  2. Mark says:

    I’m trying to solve the same challenge, which brought me to your excellent blog.

    The interesting thing about Headings is that they function like sub-Projects. Within each heading are Anytime, Upcoming, and Someday tasks. So a project with 3 heading could have 3 separate Anytime, Upcoming, and Someday lists all on the same “page”. Unfortunately, they’re all mashed together, so clicking the “Hide later items” button is the only way to visually distinguish them.

    My best solution (wish list) would be to add “Groups”, basically a dumb folder; it’s only functions to contain and collapse/expand areas (like a folder in Wunderlist). In your example, that would look like:

    Work (group)
    – Management (area)
    – Support (area)
    — Project 1
    — Project 2
    — Project 3

    Of course, that doesn’t exist (and probably never will). After using your system outlined here from July 2019, have you improved upon it at all?

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I am still using this method. While I’d much rather have the option for a desperately needed third level between areas and projects, distinguishing areas in this way does work for me. It’s not ideal, but until Cultured Code reconsiders, if they ever do, I’m forced to work with what we currently have.

      Best,
      Andrea

  3. Alex says:

    Hello Andrea
    Thank you for your post
    I have been using Things for years but I just realized how great it would be to have sub-areas
    I wonder if 3 years after you have found a better solution or still use “|” as a synthetic sub-area?
    Thanks in advance, Alex

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Alex,
      I haven’t found a better option, sadly. Every once in a while I consider folding sub-areas back into my main areas and using tags to differentiate them. It takes about 2 days before I find having to tag everything manually (even with my minimal use of tags) to be a hassle and end back up using projects for sub-areas. It’s not ideal, but it is the workaround that fits best with my workflow.

      Thanks for stopping by,
      -Andrea

      • Alex says:

        Thank you for a swift reply [to such an old post]
        Have you ever considered switching to some other productivity apps?
        I found myself so excited about the idea of how to integrate sub-folders in my productivity process that I am even ready to move to some other app (like Todoist, for instance)

      • Andrea says:

        I’ve certainly considered switching to other apps. In fact, if you poke around on this blog, you’ll see I’ve used other apps and actual paper in the past. I still keep up with other apps in the market because I’m generally interested in the space, but the draw to actually switch to them isn’t there like it used to be. What has helped me is keeping a note on my must-have features for my system. In that note, I also include the pain points I’ve had with other apps so that I can easily see if new features might resolve them. That being said, even after using Things 3 for nearly 5 years, it still continues to check the most boxes for me. IMO, you can spend a lot of time thinking and hoping for the most optimized system, but at the end of the day, no task manager will magically get your work done. That comes down to you.

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