Quirks with the Things 3 Sidebar

by default 2019-10-29 at 8.54.29 AMToday I wanted to take some time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for the last few months, and that’s Things 3’s sidebar.

I’ve raved on here in the past about how much I love the design philosophy of Things. The top part of the sidebar really does make sense in terms of guiding you to prioritize your work using the GTD methodology. I’ve come to realize the way it handles areas and projects could use some serious rethinking though.

For starters, if you adopt David Allen’s definition of a project where anything that takes more than two steps is a project you end up with an unwieldy sidebar of projects. I’ve tried breaking my areas down further, but then you just end up with a bunch of areas as well. While not as big of a deal on macOS, it certainly makes managing things on iOS cluttered and complicated.

Another perplexing choice is the progress pies. At first, I loved them, but now I’m just not sure what their purpose is. I’ve already mentioned my desire to have them be optional to allow for sub-areas, but there’s a bigger issue at play.

By not allowing for task dependencies, Things 3’s design encourages you to adopt a strict adherence of GTD where only next actions exist for projects and subsequent actions are stored elsewhere. If you do this, Anytime becomes a functional “Next Actions” list, but it also means your progress pies will be never accurate. A project will appear to be almost complete when in reality it could have 20 more actions, they’re just stored elsewhere.

I’m not really sure what could be done in terms of rethinking the sidebar, but for now, I’ve basically stopped using it. When it’s not completely hidden, my areas are almost always collapsed, and I work from the main area view. This has some limitations because you can’t drag a task into a project within that view – only via the sidebar. Why this is, I have no clue…

Progress pies have entirely lost their intended meaning in my workflow. Instead, what they’ve come to symbolize are stalled projects. If a progress pie is full, that doesn’t mean a project is complete but rather that it is missing a next action. Progress pies on my areas reflect how much I’m spending on them – the fuller the circle the more I’m accomplishing in those areas.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love Things, and I’m using it every day with no plans to move anywhere else. It has just been a surprise to me that an app so focused on its design has ended up with some oddly thought out quirks.


6 thoughts on “Quirks with the Things 3 Sidebar

  1. Jonathan says:

    Thank you for making this post. I stumbled across it while searching for a way to disable the progress pies. One of the things I love about Things 3 is the design. Unfortunately the progress pies are always present, reminding me that long term projects cannot be “completed”. I also agree with your assessment of the “stalled project” feeling it portrays.

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Jonathan,
      Thanks for stopping by. I’m definitely hopeful that Cultured Code will address some of these issues in an upcoming release. Fingers crossed!

  2. Marc Sandlhauser says:

    Hi Andrea,
    So, are you saying, if you have a project to completely revamp your lawn, for example, you ONLY put the project and the next action into Things, and the rest of the actions are stored in, say the Notes app, and when you do your weekly review, you copy the next action text from the Notes app into Things?

    I ask because, although GTD gives you the mindset of getting everything into your system, it soon fills with tasks that become unimportant (I had tasks “on hold” for 4 years in OF!).

    If that’s what you do (above), I think that’s a novel idea. May take a bit longer to do the weekly review because you have to repast stuff, but man, that would but down on task overload.

    (In fact, I may keep my list of projects in OF and cut n’ paste from OF to T3!)


    • Andrea says:

      Yes, I usually only keep the next action in the project. I do make an exception if I’ve committed to something on or buy a certain date, but for random next steps I think I’ll do without any defined date, I just make note of them in the notes field of the project itself or in Evernote if they’re more extensive. Another option is to just set their start date to Someday until they’re ready to be dealt with, which I do for some tasks I know I will be doing for a fact within the next few days, just not quite yet.

      When I do my weekly review, I just need to check that all my projects have a next action to move the project forward. If they don’t, I add one. If they do, I make sure that next action is still relevant or change it if it needs to be changed.

      Things 3 really forced me to revisit David’s natural planning model, which I didn’t pay much attention to the first couple read-throughs. Yes, GTD says to get everything out of your head, but it also says only actionable stuff should be living in your “Next Actions” list. Everything else is technically “project support” materials that are subject to change as the project changes. It took not being able to add all the details upfront like I could with Omnifocus to see just how much more complicated I was making things.

  3. Hans says:

    Your blogs about GTD and Things3 are so helpful! Thanks a lot for sharing them. I have started to use an option for small (and even not so small) projects that I learned from Priacta’s Total Relaxed Organization (TRO) system, which I have used for years with Nozbe before switching to Things3. The idea is to use a task as the Next Action pointer and to mark the following actions not as separate tasks but as bullets in the Checklist or Notes section. That will give you a task named My Project – Step #1, and in the Notes or Checklist you will have a list of My Project – Step #2 – #last. When you have finished Step #1, you don’t tick it off as completed, but you copy/paste the next item in Notes or Checklist as the new Next Action, My Project – Step #2. This keeps the clutter out of your To Do lists, because it will only show actionable Nexts Actions. It has proved very helpful to me.

    I also have two tags that have proven indispensable. Under Locations (Where?), I have Anywhere. When I am at home, I will check both Home and Anywhere to find what I could be doing, and similarly in the office it would be Office and Anywhere. Under Timing (When?) I have a similar tag Actionable Now. When I have some time left, I can check this tag to get things done that can be done right now but are not on my Have-to-do-today list.

    • Andrea says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words! I’ve not heard about TRO so I’ll definitely have to check it out. The longer I use GTD, the more I understand David Allen’s reason for only including the very next actions in a project, but my planer brain still wants to fight it.

      Working from home has admittedly made a lot of my location contexts obsolete these days, but I did use an Anywhere tag when I was using Omnifocus. As far as timing, I handle actionable now tasks by being really judicious with my tasks during my weekly review. If I don’t plan on doing something within the next week or two, it gets moved out to a later date or Someday, which means my Anytime list in Things is only things that are actionable.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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