Using Tags to Plan my Day with Things 3

Working from home during the pandemic has unsurprisingly impacted how I do my work. Back in September I wrote about the first of those changes – namely turning on the preference to group my Today view in Things by project to feel a little less overwhelmed.

A side effect of this setting is that I could no longer manually order my tasks to reflect the order I planned to do them during the day. As I shared in that earlier post, when first made the switch, I thought I’d be fine with this tradeoff because my areas and their respective projects are ordered by priority. This meant my highest priority tasks were always at the top for me to do first thing in the morning.

In theory, this change was great for my workflow. In practice, it was less so.

Sometimes those highest priority tasks weren’t things I could do in the morning. Making a handful of phone calls while the other half is still sound asleep in the next room probably wouldn’t go over well. Similarly, if my morning was full of appointments, I probably wouldn’t have time to handle putting together a report. I also tend to work better on reports in the afternoon anyway.

At the time of making that change, I even noted that I was already finding myself jumping around in the list. Little did I know just how much jumping I would end up doing. Over time, I found myself spending a LOT of mental bandwidth simply scanning through my list multiple times a day to figure out what I could work on next.

Ordering my list manually allowed me to build out a plan for my day every morning, and I no longer had that plan.

My solution ended up being a fairly straightforward method that I adopted from my Erin Condren paper planner days. While there’s now a few different layouts, the original Erin Condren planners I used broke each day down into three blocks, Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.

Things 3 already has a This Evening section, but I’ve manually created tags for This Morning and This Afternoon. (Cultured Code, if you’re listening, an option to have a This Morning or This Afternoon section could be nice.)

On mornings where I’m feeling a little more overwhelmed, I can go through and find all the tasks in my Today view that I need and can do first thing in the morning and tag them with my morning tag and (optionally) do the same with the afternoon tag.

Once I’m done, I can filter my Today list by the This Morning tag which reduces my Today list to only tasks I can do that morning and nothing more.

I’ve been using this method for a few weeks and I’m actually really liking it.

It’s also a bit reminiscent of my days using Omnifocus’s start times which prevented things from showing up until I could truly do them. As an Omnifocus user, I loved start times. Why see a task before you can work on it?

I’ll tell you why.

I’d start my day with no clue of how many tasks were scheduled. I’d check everything off for the day and revel in the feeling that my tasks were done, not knowing another task (or tasks) had a start time later in the day.

In the worst case scenario, I wouldn’t see those tasks until the next day missing them entirely. The more common scenario was that my task list started to seem neverending – “Congratulations! You’ve done all your tasks for the day! Just kidding! Here’s another one at 9PM!”

The lack of start times in Things 3 was actually a good thing for my life, but I still did miss that ability to filter things.

Now by using tags in Things 3, I still see every task I have on my Today list at the start of the day so I know what I’m in for, but I also have the option of breaking it down further if necessary.

2 thoughts on “Using Tags to Plan my Day with Things 3

  1. Mark says:

    “(Cultured Code, if you’re listening, an option to have a This Morning or This Afternoon section could be nice.)”

    100%

    I would also add that I want to reorder Areas/Projects in the sidebar, and see them reorder in the Today view in real time (without having to switch to another view, and switch back to Today). Or just recorder them in the Today view.

    I’ve resorted to using my Evening section as a “Maybe Later Today… ” container. There, I can reorder them independently of their projects. Also narrowing the focus helps reduce anxiety (compared to 10 Areas/Projects scattered, spread, diced, and chunked). The Today section is for tasks that absolutely have to get done today (top priority, “eat that frog”), and then and I can pluck the Evening tasks one at a time with a quick Command+T. So, evening is more like “Standby” or “On Deck” and “Ready when you are”.

    My Areas (and their nested Projects) are more or less ordered by how I time block, which is more like 6 blocks than 3 (morning, afternoon, evening). They’re also listed in the tag bar (on Mac) in that same order, so I can quickly filter them (on Mac). Extra clicks on iPhone…

    You’ve got me thinking though… I could add Morning, Afternoon, Evening tags in the Tags Window, and then organize (reorder, nest parents and children) to populate them in the tag bar how I want to see them for quick filtering.

    Anyway, thanks for another great post!

    • Andrea says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who would want additional sections or the option to reorder the today view when it’s grouped by project.

      Personally, I keep my Today view limited to the things I absolutely have to get done. If I have additional time, I’ll peruse Anytime.

      Tags are definitely one of those areas that I know I could explore more, so I’m always interested in hearing how other people use them. Nesting tags has been a huge help in my own workflow.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing some other ideas!
      -Andrea

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