Staying Focused with Things 3

I’ve used Things 3 for nearly a year to track my todos and my reminders. It’s an amazing little app that has helped me become organized and stay focused and I wanted to share how I’ve been using it, just in case it might be able to help you, too.

One of my greatest fears as a human, fiancé, friend, and coworker is forgetting to do something that I said I would do. I try to aspire to be someone that can always be counted on, even on the busiest and most hectic of days. As I grow older, it seems that the amount of responsibilities and commitments only seem to increase and keeping up with it all can feel really difficult sometimes, which is why I love Things.

The Inbox

Admittedly, it took me a bit of time to feel like I had figured out the concept of the Inbox inside of Things. It was never quite clear to me what should go in there, when I should look at it, and well, it didn’t take long for it to quickly become cluttered and unorganized.

To really understand the Inbox, let’s first explore the other subsets of time and organization that Things offers.

To organize tasks, Things 3 offers the ability to sort and group tasks, through the use of Areas and Projects, to make keeping track of each task easier.

Creating Projects & Areas in Things 3.

Areas can be thought of buckets, which can hold several small projects inside. For example, I have two Areas: Work and Personal. For myself, it’s easiest to keep Projects, which are inside these Areas, separated. An existing Area is not required to create a Project, but I’ve found that having an Area does help keep the many projects you might soon have more easily organized.

Projects are small places where tasks can exist, ideally, all related to one another. For example, within my Life Area, I have a Project called Shopping List. It’s here where I put everything I need to buy, from groceries and clothing to household supplies and even things on my wish list. I have another Project called Books, which is a list of all of the books I come across and hope to one day read.

Projects are extremely powerful because they allow you to keep similar tasks together and they provide an additional way to maintain organization through the use of Headers. For example, in my Books project, I have all sorts of books that I want to read, from books on fiance, to design, to self-care. It would be kind of crazy to see all of them as a single list, but thankfully, Things allows you to include headers inside of projects, which are essentially labeled dividers, giving you the ability you to further group and collect related items. They’re helpful! Headers can also be transferred from Project to Project, if needed.

Headers inside of a Project within Things 3.

With my tasks organized inside of Areas and Projects, it’s easy to begin to specify when they should be worked on or completed. Any task within Things can be assigned a “when” date, which specifies the date the task should be worked on / completed.

A task can have any of the following subsets of time applied to them:
Today, Upcoming, Anytime, and Someday.

The four categories of time in Things 3.

Today means, well, today! Tasks that are marked as Today, either manually or because a date was previously applied, appear in the Today list, helping you keep track of what needs to be done right now. What’s great about this is when viewing the Today list, tasks still display which Project they belong to, making the Today view easy to scan through.

When a task has a status of Upcoming, it means that the task has been given a date, but it’s a date in the future and the task does not require your attention just yet. Tapping into the Upcoming view allows you to see your list of tasks, sorted by day, giving you a glimpse into what’s coming up next.

Anytime means that the task could either be assigned a date of Today, a date in the future, or has been given no date at all. Looking at this view allows you to quickly see all of the tasks with dates applied. I don’t use this view often, but I suppose it can be helpful to have for some!

Someday simply means you plan to get to the task someday. It’s the perfect way to indicate to yourself that you’re unsure of when it should be done or it can be a way to mark and sort those “when I have time” tasks on your list. For better or worse, I usually mark those annoying, “I’ll get to them one day” tasks as Someday.

Ok, time to get back to the Inbox! As I’ve continued to use Things, I’ve learned that what works best for me is to use the Inbox to quickly add items throughout the day for me to sort later. Maybe I’m unsure of which project they should belong to, or when they should be due. The Inbox is for when I’m strapped for time and want to just add an item and get back to what I was doing, knowing that I’ll take the time to organize and apply a date later. In my experience, the ability to quickly and easily add a task, worrying about the details of the item later, makes it so much more likely that I’ll actually use the task manager and include the things that I need to get done.

CTRL + Space, Things 3 Quick Entry on Mac.

If you’re using Things on Mac OS, tapping CTRL + Space reveals a quick entry overlay, allow you to add a task to the Inbox with ease. On iOS, regardless of which view you’re in, tapping on the “+” icon, and dragging it to the left, sends the task straight to the Inbox.

As the week continues on, it’s easy for tasks in the Inbox to pile up and become a bit overwhelming. To prevent this, each Sunday morning I’ll take 10–20 minutes to sift through the Inbox and move tasks to their appropriate projects and assign relevant dates to them. Taking the time to do the upfront thinking and assignment for my todos makes the coming week much easier, as they’ll just pop up when it’s time to knock them out.

Yay for thinking ahead!

One additional and convenient feature of Things is to be able to have tasks repeat. This is perfect for any of those daily or weekly tasks you might have, such as posting a stand-up at work or vacuuming the house.

What I love most is the ability to choose to have a task repeat at a set interval, say every two weeks, or to choose to have it repeat after n days, weeks, or months of it being completed. One example of this is I prefer to manually track all of my expenses and I have a repeating tasks that reminds me to record them 3 days after last completed. I do the same thing with haircuts, too! Receiving a reminder that I’m probably due for one 3 weeks after last getting one is helpful.

Adding repeating reminders to Things 3.

Things 3 on Apple Watch.

Beyond everything I’ve already mentioned, a reason why I find Things 3 so wonderful to use is it’s Apple Watch app and complication. Tapping into the app allows you to see everything you need to do today, as it displays all items in your Today list, and even lets you add tasks right from your watch through dictation. When you’re without your phone but remember something you need to do, tapping the complication and dictating it works so wonderfully well. You can even choose to add it to the Inbox instead of the Today list, if you’d like. The app’s complication is powerful, too. As you complete tasks throughout the day, the blue ring fills up, giving you a sense of accomplishment and just like with my Activity Rings, I definitely strive to fill this ring each day, too.

Finally, Dark Mode. Just last December, a new version of Things for both iOS and MacOS was released with an optional Dark Mode. On iOS, instead of forcing you to choose a specific theme, light or dark, you can set a brightness threshold, allowing you to indicate at which brightness Things should transition. On Mac, you can choose to match the system theme, or adjust it independently. It’s a small touch that makes using Things seriously delightful. Even better, is the ability to choose between a standard dark or a pure black mode, perfect for those with OLEDs, found in the iPhone X & Xs.

Dark Mode in Things 3.

👋 If you’re just starting out with Things, or maybe you’ve been into it for a while, reach out! I’d love to hear how you use it and what works for you.