I have a thing for Things

I have a thing for Things

Until very recently, I have not been a fan of GTD applications. Frankly, I resisted learning anything about David Allen’s widely celebrated methodology for getting things done. In my quest for a law practice management solution, however, I have tried out a lot of GTD type applications.

Recently, I have become a convert, and, although I have never read David Allen’s book, I have become convinced by some of the most rudimentary elements of his methodology (capture tasks, assign them to a context, assign them to a project, and move on)

One day, several weeks ago, I inexplicably became obsessed with finding a solid to do application that would be attractive, powerful, and easy enough to use that I’d actually use it.

To me, the most important element to any GTD application is the ability to dump a thought as soon as it comes to you. You think of something, capture it, and move on with whatever you were doing.

In order to manage my tasks in the past, I’ve used the Sticky-Notes application on my Mac, I’ve used TextEdit files, I’ve tried to use Mail.app’s built-in to do functionality, and I’ve used scraps of paper laying around as well as the palm of my hand. I know, chaos. But, I kind of reveled in my ability to be chaotic.

So, I don’t know what came over me a few weeks ago, but I have found what I think is a great solution for me.

I know a lot of folks are big fans of OmniFocus. I tried it out extensively, and I just couldn’t get into it. The interface felt a little wonky to me. I really didn’t like how the “items” didn’t have any sort of UI that made them feel like “items.” They are just kind of text fields, and you can’t really just click on the item itself without entering into a text field. This is a small complaint, but to me it is significant, and it made the app just feel not right. The other big pain I found about OmniFocus was the inspector window that always hangs around. That does not make for a clutter-free desktop environment. [rant warning] I know you can get rid of it, but so much of your necessary and mundane functionality is in the inspector window that you can hardly do anything without it open. To me, the inspector window is like using footnotes in legal writing: Sometimes they’re great to use, but for the most part, you should say what you need to say in the body of your work. If it’s important, don’t bury it in a footnote. OmniFocus, to me, feels like a brief that is written with 30% of the text in the main body and 70% in the footnotes. A very capable brief can be written that way, but it’s a pain in the ass to read [end of rant]. OmniFocus is plenty competent in terms of functionality, however, and it allows you to manage contexts and projects like any good GTD app. I just couldn’t get down with the feel of it.

Anyway, this post isn’t supposed to be about how much I don’t like OmniFocus, it’s supposed to be about why I have a thing for Things.

Things is a beautiful application from Cultured Code. Currently, Things is in beta, with version 0.9.4 being the latest release. The app is free while in beta, and will cost $49 when it is released “Summer 2008.” If you sign up for their newsletter at their website before its release, however, you can purchase it for $39.

In Things, you can set up a system-wide hot key that will bring up a window that allows you to enter a new to do with as much or as little information as you want. This is awesome for me, because I don’t want to leave whatever application I’m in just to make a silly to do. What is really nice, for me, is the fact that you can drag files into the notes section of the to do item, and it will create a link to that document. That works with emails as well, which is a huge help to me.

If you have been following me on Twitter lately, you may have noticed me commenting on the zero-ness of my inbox. Now, when I get an email that I need to act on, but can’t or don’t want to right now, I hit command-shift-space and drag that email into my new to do window, make a quick note of what to do, set a due date and click save. Then, I file the email away from my inbox, and the inbox goes back to zero. Now, everything I have to do is in my Things app, and not lingering around haphazardly in my inbox.

The next best thing about Things, and the thing that actually sold me on Things, is the iPhone app and the ability to do two-way sync of your to do’s.  Cultured Code introduced Things for the iPhone and iPod Touch several weeks ago, but it did not allow for syncing. I was definitely not willing to shell out ten bucks for a stand alone to do app on my iPod Touch – especially after I had become proficient familiar with the desktop app. But, then Cultured Code announced that sync for the iPhone app had become their top priority and that it would be included in the next update to the iPhone app.

They delivered. The day they announced that the Things iPhone app would be updated with sync I plunked down my ten bucks and bought it. And, the day Things was updated, I downloaded the update.

The sync interface is actually quite clever. It operates over the local wifi network and requires your desktop app and your iPhone app to be running at the same time. This may be a pain to some, but it’s beautiful to me. I don’t have an iPhone, so I’m not used to ubiquitous internet, and therefore cannot demand that the app be synced whenever the heck I feel like it. I also applaud Cultured Code for not requiring me to sync my iPod through iTunes to sync my to dos. That would have been a huge buzzkill, and they are wise for avoiding that method. I don’t know whether they’re working on cloud-based sync, but I suspect they are.

Once you link your desktop app and your iPhone or iPod Touch through the preference pane of your desktop app, all you have to do to sync your to dos is to open your iPhone app any time your desktop app is running and on the same network. Instantly, the two apps sync.

I will admit that there are some bugs and limitations. For instance, there are no “Areas” in the iPhone app, and I have seen duplication once or twice. That said, it’s still very useful, and I have a ton of confidence in Cultured Code, and I know they are working on these issues as I type.

To put things in perspective for Things, they have been pushing towards a 1.0 release for many months, and then this iPhone thing came up, so they diverted their attention to build a great iPhone app. Now that they have gotten the basics of sync down, they are reshifting their focus to rolling out the 1.0 release. I cannot wait, and I wish them the best.

Now, I get to check off the “blog about Things” item on my to do list.