things-touch-screenshot-05Overview

I make no bones about it — I am one busy guy. I have classes to teach, books to write, articles to turn in to my editor here; and on top of all this, I’m a dad to a beautiful 4-year old daughter.

This is why you would think that something like Things, developed by Culture Code, would be the perfect application for someone like me.

It certainly has earned a lot of love with so many reviews out there from MacWorld, MacLife, and Apple-related blogs. When I read up on its features and surf around the interface, I felt promised a new level of organization.

But as I play around with Things, I can’t shake this feeling of déjà vu. I feel like I’ve been in this interface before, but with one dramatic difference: I was ten dollars richer.

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Features:

Assigning Deadlines to Life

Things launches you straight into getting things done with a series of Lists. These lists are broken down into several categories, but the heart of Things is in the middle section where you organize your “To Do” items under several categories: Today, Next, Scheduled, and (for the optimistic) Someday.

The items that take priority and have to get done on that particular day, you file under Today. Tap on to the Today option and then touch the “Add Item” (the plus sign) at the bottom left of the screen to add in your first item of the day.

Give your “To Do” a title such as “Write up a review of Things” or “Pick up kid from school” or whatever the job may be. The next step is to give the item a Tag. By default, your tags are listed as Home, Work, or Errand.

You can, however, create new tags in Things and conveniently organize and in some options view your agenda under a specific category. You can also add in any relevant notes in the Notes section, and finally assign this To Do item the all-important deadline under the Due Date option.

It is under this final option that you can have the To Do Item appear either under the Today listing or if you want it to appear under the other categories such as Next, Scheduled, or Someday, although the latter should really be reserved for something that is not time sensitive.

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Second Verse, Same as the First

“Keeping It Simple” is a wonderful mantra to live by, especially when you are a busy person and are spinning many, many plates in the air. With Things, the process of adding whatever items you wish to enter in your personal or professional (or both) “To Do” list is the same for every category.

Even at the application’s immediate launch, the “Add Item” offers you a chance to fill in every little detail you might have on an idea that strikes or a new responsibility put upon you, and then asks you where you wish to file this new item under.

With the interface being kept to the same options offered, this makes scheduling your life and its priorities simple as can be.

An Inbox of Ideas, A Place for My Projects

Things, from the first screen, offers to file any new items under “Inbox” which is the repository for all your ideas that you have, but aren’t sure where you are wanting to organize them.

This is particularly nice if you are uncertain if the new item is something you will be able to get done right away, be able to schedule in the future, or simply something to add on the great Wish List of productivity a year or several down the road.

Nothing is worse than a lost idea, and the Inbox serves as a wonderful resource for anyone who makes their business on ideas, and hates it when said brainstorm is lost when either the cocktail napkin is run through the wash or that scrap of paper has gone missing.

As I tend to be such a user who thrives on ideas, it is this next feature of Things I find most appealing.

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The “Projects” option allows you to group multiple “To Do” Items under one heading. This is a step up from other organizational software offered as any new items appearing in a Project can also appear in your “Today” category as a reminder that while you have other things on the day’s agenda, the project you created will also need some attention.

The items within a project can also be moved from their location to either the Next, Scheduled, or Someday category, pending the progress of the project in question.

Keeping Others in the Loop

Another option with Things is sending others in your network (along with yourself) alerts via email. You can send a reminder, complete with notes and deadlines, as to when your time and attention will be needed and when you’ll want to have this To Do item completed to others involved in your project.

Send it to family and friends trying to schedule a get-together, or simply to yourself so you don’t miss an all-important deadline. By tapping the “Send E-mail” option, you exit Things and enter your iPhone’s Email app.

Here you address the email, add or edit anything from the automated message generated, and then send. Things works to keep you in the know, but also offers the option of informing others in your own circles.

Breakdown

The Good:

As a writer, ideas come and go, and I truly regret not always having something on hand in order to jot down a concept, a quote, or even a juicy plotline. The same goes for when I have an idea for a blogpost or something I’d like to cover for Apple iPhone Apps.

The dismissive thought of “I’ll jot it down later…” is a death knell for ideas, and Things really helps to make “lost ideas” a thing of the past. With its Inbox feature you have a “braindump” for anything that might pop into your head; and then, on the long commuter train home or a casual stop at your favorite coffee house, you can dive into that Inbox and organize where those random thoughts belong.

I love that with Things, you have the option to take an idea or a simple “To Do” goal and either give it a hard-and-fast deadline, an optimistic listing under Someday, or perhaps elevate it to a Project status, assigning other ideas and items within it.

You may even find yourself coming up with projects for yourself just to take advantage of the Projects option. This, I will argue, is the strongest feature of Things.

The Bad:

However, the strongest feature of Things is hardly worth its price tag.

The interface, as I mentioned earlier, kept things simple; but simplicity does not always equate to intuitive. On entering in a few items into, I was notified I only had one “To Do” item do in a single day when I knew that as soon as I finished one deadline, I had two others to tackle.

The problem was that I had the first item filed under Today while the other two were files under Next. So, I had to go under Next and activate the option “Show under Today” even though their due dates were already set for “Today”. Once I did that, the items appeared without problem…and Things even moved the one “Today” item I had into the “Next” category. Why? I don’t know. Clear as mud.

So was how Things organized multiple “To Do” items. Under “Today” it was in the order in which I entered the items. However, when I jumped to “Next” the items were arranged alphabetically, and I was not allowed to rearrange them manually on this list either.

This trips me up a bit because I don’t normally enter in “To Do” items alphabetically but by their order of priority. It’s little organizational quirks like this that make me stop and question just how efficient this tool is.

My main problem with Things, though, is that everything it offered (with the exception of the Project feature) I had done all before on my iPhone. Perhaps this my own fault with expectation levels, but when I purchase and download a productivity tool, I expect it to do something that my current tools do not.

Now for the Windows users that’s using an iPhone, I can assume that they will not be taking advantage of iCal, at least for its ability to sync up with desktop applications; but for a Mac user who bought his iPhone specifically for organization and mobile syncing with his home computer, Things tends to be just a rehashing of iCal, and a very poor rehashing at that. For one thing, when you want to be notified of an item’s pending deadline you are offered a date.

iCal will offer you a date, a time, and several times when you can be notified of an event or deadline. When you are notified, you are given a notice on both your desktop and iPhone. If your iPhone is asleep, iCal wakes it up with the alarm notifications. You also have the ability to email a list of people with the details of a single item or even listed in iCal, and offer to put your schedule of events online for people to subscribe to.

Granted, while iCal’s “To Do” features of are not offered with the iPhone, Things falls short of what you can do already. And to be notified of pending items with a simple icon in your menu seems anti-climactic with the aural and visual alarms that iCal already offers.

Verdict

Things for the non-Mac user or for the Mac user not using iCal (and I’m sure they are out there) can prove itself to be a valuable tool in organizing your thoughts, your agenda, and your priorities for the day.

If you are already using iCal and taking advantage of its features in setting up deadlines and due dates for various priorities in life, you will find Things to be slightly redundant, and at $9.99 this application becomes an expensive redundancy.

So as far as organizing my life a little better, I think Things offers two nice options (hardly worth the price of the download) but this is nothing new. I’ve been here before and I think Apple tends to do it better than Culture Code.