Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, co-founder of lifestyle magazine Lagom, founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, and an electronic musician.

The to-do list problem & the ‘Things’ solution

Posted on 01 May 2008 Comments

Article illustration for The to-do list problem... and the 'Things' solution

I’ve been promising a post about to-do lists for a while now, and I’m so enamoured with the beautiful Mac app Things that I just can’t hold it in any longer.

Until very recently, I wasn’t a fan of to-list apps in general. I’m not sure why that was exactly; I think perhaps it was because I associated them with ‘work’ and always stuck with my good ol’ whiteboard for personal to-dos. And I guess I also just really loved the tactile nature of a whiteboard hung just above my desk – it was easy to see, and whacking a great big tick next to an item… well now, that’s satisfaction embodied.

But now that I’m working for myself and my to-do list has grown rapidly in size, it quickly became apparent that my trusty whiteboard just wouldn’t hack it, especially as I’m living out of a backpack from now until early July. I needed an app to look after this stuff for me.

When I was at Carsonified, we all used Remember The Milk, which is a pretty nice little web app. Prior to that we used Basecamp, which is quite full-on as far as task management is concerned. 37signals also have Ta Da List, but I fancied something with a little more OSX ‘sexiness’ (forget the to-do functionality built into iCal and Mail – they’re far too simple). Plus I decided an offline tool would be better, for when I’m without an internet connection. Things pretty much ticked all of the boxes, and as I’d already been trying it out as an early alpha tester, I’d got a taste for how nice it was to use.

So what makes Things so great? Well, for a start, it looks lovely, with all the charm you’d expect from Cultured Code. But its simplicity is what really sold it to me: the auto-completes, the ease of tag entry, the ‘magic’ filter-by-tag ability… and then you’ve got the Quick Entry semi-transparent pane that can sits above all other windows and is invoked by a simple key combination. A very nice touch. There are also more complex features like the ‘projects’ and ‘areas’ lists, although I must admit that I haven’t felt the need to use them yet.

One of the issues I’ve always had with to-do list apps is their generally poor calendar integration; due dates and time estimates would do well to be represented in the more visually appealing format used by apps like iCal and Google Calendar. Things also falls down in this department, but not for long: iCal integration is coming soon, and it looks very comprehensive. And that’s not all there is to get excited about: Scroll down the page on culturedcode.com/things and you’ll see that and iPhone version of the app is on its way in June.

Besides the ‘cool’ factor, this means big things in terms of having your to-do lists and calendars completely integrated and synced. Right now I use Spanning Sync to sync my iCal and Google Calendars, and then iCal is synced with the calendar on my iPhone. But as soon as the Things desktop and iPhone apps enter this mix, it’ll mean five-way syncing and more integration than you can shake a stick at.

You can download a free preview of Things now prior to its ‘actual’ release, and in case you hadn’t guessed by now, I’d highly recommend it.

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