Things3: A How To Guide

September 28, 2020

Do you know how many to do list apps there are in the app store? I'm not sure either, but I started counting last week and gave up yesterday.

From Microsoft to Google, Apple to Android, every company seems to have made a to-do list or task manager app. Although most are mediocre and can get the job done, none compare to the ease and brilliance of Things3.

Founded by a German based software startup that goes by the name Cultured Code, Things3 is the most advanced, yet simple, productivity app on the market, winning an Apple Design Award in 2017.

The application is broken into six sections which are easy to navigate and live on the collapsible sidebar. You have the Inbox, Today tasks, Upcoming tasks, Anytime tasks, Someday tasks, and a Logbook.


The Basics

The ‘Inbox’ is the holding tank. This is where all the random tasks go to be prioritized and planned. One of the best features of Things is how easy it is to add a new task. No matter what you’re working on, you can press CTRL + SPACE and a window will appear for Things3. Simply type the task name in the window, add some details if you want, and press enter. That task is immediately sent to your inbox to prioritize and plan for later.

The Today List

The Today view shows the tasks you either scheduled for today or the ones that have yet to be completed from earlier in the week. The view isn’t necessarily tasks that need to be completed today but those that need to be completed sometime this week.

When I do my Weekly Review, I look through my Inbox and assign specific tasks that need to be done that week. When I come across a pending task, I use the keyboard shortcut CMD + T to assign that task to my Today view. I use this view to guide how I plan and structure each minute of my day.

If I see there are some tasks that require intense deep work, I will make sure to have more meetings in the afternoon. If the majority of my tasks have the “Waiting For” tag, then I know I need to schedule time to write follow up emails. 

Your tasks should guide your week, not the other way around. If I tried to force my tasks around my already planned week, it would be much more difficult to get stuff done. Use your tasks as an outline for when you can schedule lunch meetings, one on one’s, and phone calls.

If you connect a third party calendar, the Upcoming view can display your calendar as well as any tasks that are coming up in the next seven days. This is a great way to look at your week when you’re done planning to make sure there’s good rhythm. If one day seems too busy and another day not busy enough, you can simply grab a task and move it around.

The Anytime List

The Anytime section is used for tasks that aren’t urgent or important but need to be done sometime soon. These tasks are usually low pressure and simple to check off. I’ve found it helpful to block one hour per week on my calendar dedicated to my “Anytime List.” I simply set a timer and cross of tasks one by one. When the hour is completed, I’m done. I know the rest of the tasks will be waiting for me next week when I come back to them. The Anytime list can also be used at night while watching TV or winding down because of its low priority.

The Someday List

Drawing from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, the Someday task list is used like a wishlist. Tasks that would be fun to do such as, “Remodeling the Kitchen” or “Flying to Paris” might be on here. The someday list isn’t typically in my weekly review check, but it’s fun to see what gets captured there over time.

The Logbook is an easy way for you to see all the tasks that have been accomplished and on what day they were crossed off. This can be helpful to track work progress to report to your boss and, also, to reflect on each week to see how productive you were. If there was a day where no tasks were completed, it can be helpful to check in and see what happened that day.

Projects and Areas

That was an outline of the “out of box” structure of Things3. Now that you understand the basic functionality of Things3, you can start applying the “Projects” and “Areas”.

Projects are a series of tasks that need to be accomplished. Once they are, the project is completed, and it can be crossed off the list. Areas, on the other hand, are silos of life that can never be completed. Work, Family, and Kids can never be crossed off your list (Sorry parents). Think of areas like folders. You can group projects or to-dos under different areas based on the responsibilities each contain.

That’s a brief introduction of the capabilities and power of Things3. If you install it, make sure to check out the custom preferences. With custom preferences you can:

  • Connect your Apple, Outlook, or Google Calendars
  • Import reminders from your iCloud account
  • Set-up custom keyboard shortcuts for quick capture and quick capture with auto-fill
  • Some smaller, fun custom features 🙂

Here’s a link to download for MacOS.