Growing Pains with Things

Hi everyone, I’m back from a nice little 4 day vacation in Atlantic City with another post about Omnifocus vs. Things. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve outgrown Things. So what specifically started bugging me?

Things is loosely based off of GTD. This is both a blessing and a curse. It did mean I got right into using it because there was no learning curve. It’s also meant it failed pretty quickly because I didn’t think of how I should set it up.

My first struggle was with Things’ Areas of Responsibility. Because it’s loosely based off GTD, Things doesn’t have traditional “contexts.” Instead, it has Areas of Responsibility which according to Cultured Code, “allow you to group both projects and to-dos according to your responsibilities.” Areas of Responsibility to me meant things like Personal, Work, School, etc. which is how I initially set everything up. The problem is, when I’m deciding what to do, I don’t necessarily care what area of my life it’s for. I’m more worried about whether or not I have the resources to do it. In some cases, personal tasks do mix in to my work day and vice versa. For instance, if I put off calling my doctor until after I get home, they’ll probably be closed. So, using Areas of Responsibility as I initially had gave me lists of tasks categorized based on parts of my life, but with no particular regard to what I needed to actually do those things.

I took a second go at Things, and redid my Areas with more traditional “contexts” in mind. I ended up with Work, Computer, Errands, and Home. After all, I have certain tasks I have to do when I’m either at work or at home, things that I need my computer for, and things I need to do when I’m out and about. This was better, but my Today view still showed me EVERYTHING regardless of whether I could actually do those things. If I’ve learned anything from all my planning OCD, it’s that having a task in your face nagging you that you can’t do is draining. For me, sitting at work seeing that I needed to clean 6 things at home distracted me from the 2 things I needed to make sure I did while I was working.

Contexts, or Areas, weren’t my only issue though. Things seemed to lack organization in general. Again, this is makes Things incredibly simple to start using, but the more I used it, the more I struggled with it. Active projects are all kept together. My school projects with hard deadlines were mixed in with remodeling my room which is just something I’m tackling on the side. Moreover, when it came time to my class which I broke down into a project for each week, I either needed to manually schedule every one to appear x days before a certain day, or choose to make the projects inactive and manually activate the next one as I finished each week.

The issue I had with scheduling my projects leads me to my last gripe. Tasks can only be assigned a date not a time meaning, if I had to do something by the end of the day but couldn’t start it until 3PM, I still had to stare at it all day (again nagging me making me resent it). This created constant friction in deciding whether to put time-sensitive tasks without due dates on my calendar which I try to avoid, in a separate app which I also try to avoid, or just live with it.

All in all, my struggles led me to Omnifocus which has solved all of the issues I had with Things. It’s not perfect, and I’m still tinkering, but my next Omnifocus post will be about how I’ve organized my projects and contexts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and thank you for stopping by.

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Switching from Things to Omnifocus

I’ve been using Omnifocus for a little over 2 months now I believe, so I think it’s time for some details about my journey from Things to Omnifocus.

Let me start off by saying I tried both Things and Omnifocus at some point in the past and both got either uninstalled or stored away in the depths of the Applications folder for quite some time before I ever really used them. Omnifocus has a high initial learning curve which puts off many users including myself initially and truthfully I hadn’t gotten into task management enough to need it’s features or use it to it’s full potential. Things, on the other hand, is much simpler, loosely based on GTD, and looks pretty good too. As a newbie to GTD and a fan of well-designed apps, it’s no surprise that I found myself using Things.

Things is a beautiful app on the Mac {a bit dated on iOS right now until they release version 3 though.} I didn’t jump right into using Things. Instead I found myself gradually putting more and more into it – chores, tasks that repeated at intervals I was bound to forget, school assignments, etc. – until eventually it became habit for me to put everything into Things. You can read more about my early set up of Things here. As I began to use Things more, I began to readjust my system. Then came the day that I realized I trusted Things and Google Calendar enough to abandon my Filofax all together.

Sadly there came a time where no amount of readjustment to things would have solved my gripes with the app. I simply wanted more than it offered. Around that time, I discovered Mac Power Users, an amazing podcast that I listen to regularly each week. David Sparks, one of it’s co-hosts, is a huge Omnifocus advocate, and the more I listened to the MPU podcast, the more interested I got in revisiting Omnifocus.

Off I went to redownload the trial, but once again, I was immediately put off by the complicated interface. This time I perservered though. I knew Omnifocus had features I wanted that Things didn’t have like time-based or even location based tasks, and if “Mac Power Users” could figure it out, so could I. I watched a bunch of videos, read a ton of blog posts, and even read a few books, and Omnifocus finally clicked.

It took some time, and as with most Omnifocus users, I’m still tinkering {us digital planner people mess with our set ups as much as paper planner folks do if not more!}, but I couldn’t be happier I switched to Omnifocus. I’m currently in the test group for Omnifocus 2 which I’m incredibly excited about. Omnigroup plans to release version 2 in June.

I couldn’t possibly cover everything Omnifocus in one post, so I’m going to be breaking my Omnifocus journey up into a few posts that will hopefully include what I like about Things vs. Omnifocus, how I’m using Omnifocus {contexts, projects, and perspectives}, and some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about my journey from Things to Omnifocus.

Signature Update

Rethinking Things

Over 6 months ago I first posted about using Things for Mac/iOS to manage my tasks. For those of you who don’t know, Things, is a beautifully designed task manager loosely based of the GTD system available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. For me, it’s been one of the few constants in my planning set up, but it took a really long time for it to get there. {I actually hated it at first. True story.}

The Things app for Mac is set up with 4 main areas {The iOS apps don’t actually label these.}:

  • Collect – for your Inbox
  • Focus – for Today, Next, Scheduled, Someday, or Projects
  • Active Projects
  • Areas – Contexts in GTD

Now Things is designed with GTD in mind, but I never actually used it that way.  I set up my areas based on “areas of my life”, like my Google Calendars are set up, not based on actual physical areas. These were the areas I was using: Blog, Work, Personal, Cleaning, Pets, Media, and Shopping.

ThingsOld

The more I started using Things, the more I realized that these “areas” really didn’t work that well. When I opened Things to the Today view, my first thought was “I am at this location. What can I do right now?” I wasn’t concerned with what kind of task it was. I just wanted to see what I could do based on where I was quickly, so I changed my areas to reflect actual physical areas:

ThingsNew

  • Home – Personal things, pet things, cleaning, and anything else I need to be at home to do all go here.
  • Work – Work-related tasks go here. {A lot of these tasks are technically computer related tasks, but I really prefer to keep my work tasks at work, so computer-related or not, they go into work.}
  • Computer – These are things I need a computer to do like watching a video, buying something online, filling out a form, etc.
  • Errands – And this list is for things I need to leave the house to do like pick up something from the store.

Things also has tags. Using the 4 areasalong with tags gives me a really great set up. Cleaning tasks in the Home area have a cleaning tag, so I know I have to be at home to do them, but if I want to see all my cleaning tasks, I can view just that tag. Tags really shine in terms of shopping. Whether I want to buy something online {in the Computer area} or in a store {Errands}, I can filter by the shopping tag and see everything on my shopping list. Even better, I can add a tag for a specific store, so the next time I decide to go to Target or Walmart, I can filter by the store name and see everything I need to get while I’m there.

When I first installed Things and started playing around with it, I never imagined it’d be such a huge part of my daily routine. I also never imagined, my set up would evolve to where it is now, but through a lot of trial and error, I’ve been able to get Things set up in a way that really works wonders for me. {I’m talking my daily to do list is now 2-3 things vs. 20 things I put off doing for the past week.}

By the way, please check out the wonderful campaign going on for the BlueFit bottle over at Indiegogo. This awesome bottle reminds you to drink water throughout the day and links to your smart phone to track your drinking habits over time. They have 14 days left to raise another $84,000, so please consider contributing if you can.  They’ve been running quite a few referral promotions over the past couple weeks with great prizes so pass along the campaign and you might just be able to score some free prizes as well.

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