Using Anytime as a Next Actions List in Things 3

It’s crazy to think I’ve been practicing GTD for over a decade now. My system today looks nothing like what I started with (feel free to venture back to some of my older posts to see what I’m talking about), which comes as no surprise since my life today is drastically different from when I was in high school. Life changes aside, one of the reasons my system has changed so much in the past year or so is actually due to Things 3.

Now that sounds like a bad thing, but coming from the virtually unlimited possibilities of Omnifocus, switching to the much simpler Things 3 and working within its constraints has actually strengthened my understanding of GTD.

One of the concepts I’ve been rethinking in recent months is projects.

David Allen’s concept of a project is anything that requires more than one action, but I’d long resisted that idea. It seemed pointless to clutter my system with overly fussy projects for seemingly simple things like buying a new jacket.

Instead, I’d just toss “Buy New Jacket” onto a list where it’d inevitably languish because, just as David Allen warned would happen, the next action wasn’t to buy the jacket but to first figure out what size my previous jacket from the manufacturer that fit so perfectly was.

Once I loosened my grip on projects needing to be 10+ actions, it became quite clear that even after years of using GTD, I was still relying on my mind to track a LOT of things. I had a lot of open loops I wasn’t accounting for.

So as pointless as it seemed to introduce clutter into the Things 3’s sidebar, following the more than one action definition of a project actually has gotten me closer to a “mind-like-water” state, as David Allen would say. If a little added clutter means less stress overall, that’s a trade I’m willing to make.

It also turns out that a more fine-grained approach to projects lets me use the Anytime view in Things as a de-facto Next Actions list.

The key is to

  1. Be intentional about keeping only things I can and also intend to do within the next 2 weeks in Anytime, and
  2. Limit the view to only display 1 Next Action Step (View > Next Action Steps).

With that, Anytime becomes a list of only currently actionable projects with their next actionable step I can take to move each one forward.

If you’ve read Getting Things Done as many times as I have, you know David harps on how freeing of a feeling it can be to have a grasp on your “open loops” at this level, but reading it and experiencing it are two totally different things.

I now have the clarity of being able to see exactly what I can to do to move a project forward. Ambiguous, overwhelming tasks end up being pretty easy. Moreover, I’m more cognizant of making sure there’s always a next actionable item on my part (even if it’s following up with someone else in a few days) so that the onus is on me to make sure projects I’ve committed to continue to move forward.

Both of these together mean I’m finishing more projects, doing them more quickly, and feeling less stressed about them. It also makes providing weekly updates to my colleagues a breeze since everything’s right there.

And with that, this will be my last blog post of the year. I’ll be taking off the remainder of the year to decompress, plan for the upcoming year, and spend some much-needed relaxation time.

As always, I want to give a big thank you to my friends and family, and most of all, you wonderful readers for supporting me and encouraging me to continue blog over the past year.

I’ll be back in the new year with my annual yearly update and goal post and plenty more content.



3 thoughts on “Using Anytime as a Next Actions List in Things 3

  1. Ikomrad says:

    I don’t know if Things has this , but something I really like in the new Reminders is setting due dates to a day instead of a datetime. If you don’t care what time something is completed, but what it done by the end of the day, you can specify that.

    I moved most of my tasks to Reminders from Omnifocus. There are a few features I still need from OF, but not many,

    • Andrea says:

      Things actually only has the option to set due dates to a day, not a specific time. In Omnifocus, I accomplished this by setting the due date as the desired date and time of 11:59PM.

  2. Marc Sandlhauser says:

    This is a great idea, Andrea! As a longtime OF user, I too moved to Things about a year ago. I like the idea of showing only 1 available action. Another way I’ve reduced the number of projects and side clutter is to utilize the checklist function of each task (for simple projects). So if I have a simple project like a return to Amazon, the task is “return xxxx to Amazon” and the checklist is:

    – Get RMA, if needed.
    – Package item.
    – Scan/input tracking number into Deliveries app. Label as a RETURN.
    – Drop off item at Post Office, FedEx or UPS Store.
    – Ensure company received package.
    – Ensure I received credit to my account.

    If I’m waiting on something in that list (the RMA for example), I assign a waiting tag (a clock emoji) to the task and push the date for when I expect to get it (a day or two). Since the tag is an emoji, it’s very short and colorful, and I can see at a glance that I’m waiting on something (on macOS, anyway, since iOS doesn’t show the tags in the list).

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