Review: Things – a stylish task management app for OS X

Things, a task-management application for OS X, debuted this year at Macworld after a lengthy public beta. Despite being Cultured Code‘s first foray into the world of task management apps, Things is an extremely polished, attractive app – but does it actually make you more productive?

UI & Design

Cultured Code really nailed the visual presentation of Things: The UI is very “mac-like” and looks very nice. Features are easy to discover and UI elements are easily identified.

The list view Things uses to display your tasks feels as though it is very iPhone-inspired does a good job of displaying your tasks and metadata without clutter. Cultured Code make a point of not using the typical column-based layout you see in other apps, and only show the information you’ve entered – not empty columns.

Things main window

You won’t find any revolutionary UI innovations in Things, but the UI works and is well thought out – far more important in this type of application.

Ease of use

One issue I’ve had with other todo managers in the past has been the barrier of entry: Managing todos is something you can easily do with a pen & paper, so a dedicated application needs to offer functionality beyond that. However: if entering todos is too convoluted and time-consuming, you may question whether it’s worth the effort – particularly if the task isn’t that important, time-consuming or complicated. Task managers can only help you avoid “I’ll get to it in a minute”-syndrome if entering tasks doesn’t become its own chore.

Extremely stripped down managers tend to be too simple – preventing you from adding supplementary information or tags to your tasks. At the other end of the spectrum you have todo managers that are too complicated, overwhelming you with sub-categories and scheduling features – so you end up spending more time managing your tasks than completing them.

Things manages to strike a nice balance between those extremes. You can use it as a simple notepad to scribble down a list of things you need to get done, but you can also set up projects, repeating tasks and areas of responsibility, if you’re so inclined.

Quick Entry

To allow for even quicker task entry, Things offers a Quick Entry hud-panel, that can be activated via a system-wide keyboard shortcut. Tasks added via the panel will be discreetly added to your Inbox, allowing you to continue working on whatever you happen to be doing.

Quick Entry

Tagging

tag editorThings offers powerful tagging features, offering some features that cause clutter in other task management apps: You can of course just assign regular keywords, but Cultured Code also suggests assigning your tasks time estimates, difficulty ratings and priority levels. Using tags to add that sort of metadata is a very clever way of hiding complexity: Users that don’t need that kind of detail won’t be distracted by those fields cluttering up the task entry interface, but power users still get the features they need.

Adding tags to your tasks is also nicely supported: In addition to iPhone-esque tag autocompletion, Things also intelligently assigns each tag a keyboard shortcut. Just select a task and hit the corresponding letter on your keyboard to tag it. Shortcuts can be edited later on, but by automatically assigning keyboard shortcuts, Things removes another step on your path to productivity.

Syncing

Under preferences, you’ll find syncing options for iCal and a companion iPhone application, which I’ll be reviewing separately soon. Those two options make it simple to get your tasks onto your mobile device, but there’s no built-in support for Mac-to-Mac syncing. But Things does support selecting your own library location, so you can easily set up syncing using a free Dropbox account.

Suitability for students

Students will appreciate the flexibility Things offers: You can choose to create Projects for some more involved courses, or just add your assignments and reading requirements to a semester-specific project or area of responsibility.

For team projects, the ability to delegate certain tasks to teammates is also very useful, helping you to keep track of jobs and follow-up with collaborators if necessary. On campus the iPhone application has proven invaluable, as it allows me to quickly make a note of something I can later follow up with when I sync up with my MacBook.

(And if you think Things is a bit expensive on a student’s budget, be sure to check out Cultured Code’s generous educational pricing offer!)

project view

Hidden gems

While preparing this review, I found myself frequently coming across little points of detail in the application, that just go to show how much attention to detail was paid by the development team, including the ability to print lists with several formatting options, support for teammates, including iChat status indicators and Address Book integration, automatic regular database backups and the Things wiki, which is full of useful tips and scripts, such as a useful ‘Mail to Things inbox’ script

Conclusion

Things has definitely helped me get organized and plan out my university assignments, work to-dos, personal projects and other errands. It’s easy to pick up the habit of adding even mundane tasks to your Things inbox and there’s nothing more satisfying than crossing off something you’ve completed.

The intuitive interface makes it easy to enter to dos, but also allows you to focus on certain tasks and plan out your day – something more basic task managers usually don’t offer.

But most important of all: Things stays out of your way and allows you to focus on your tasks and not on managing them, allowing you to get things done.

Things is available for $49.95 or $34.95 after educational discount. Be sure to check out the free demo!

Posted by Aptmunich