I’ve Switched To-Do Apps… and It’s the Best Thing I’ve Done

I was using the wrong app all along

Mark Ellis
May 3 · 4 min read
Image courtesy of author

I have the worst memory.

Honestly — if I didn’t have a to-do list from which to work each day, I’d have to sack myself. I’d forget promises, neglect to finish projects and miss those all-important publishing dates.

It’s why, for many years, I’ve relied on to-do list apps to get stuff done. Despite this, I’ve never really prescribed to the ‘Get Things Done’ (GTD) philosophy, because it just feels far too cumbersome for my needs.

But I do love a good, simple to-do list. And, recently, I’ve made a big switch.

I’m a fan of simple software. Unless it’s designed to edit a video, produce music or develop a photo, I want the absolute bare bones of what’s needed to get the job done.

This has tempted me towards a bunch of productivity tools that many would scoff at for being too simplistic. That’s fine — each to their own. But for me, these tools help me run a productive, profitable business.

The biggest issue I’ve found with to-do list apps is that, ironically, they often make a pig’s ear of helping you get stuff done. They take longer to set up than is necessary and feature so many smart features that you feel compelled to dig into them.

That’s why, for years, I picked one such app, spent forever and a day setting it up…. and stuck with it.

That app was called Omnifocus.

Omnifocus is a killer productivity app. Built entirely around the GTD philosophy, it hasn’t left any stone unturned.

You can create projects, contexts, tags and every type of task you can think of. Forecasting, flagging and reviewing is all immediately to hand, too. If you’re really into the GTD mindset and need a tool that’ll help you explore all of its possibilities, Omnifocus is the app to go for — no question.

I can’t remember when I first started using Omnifocus, but it was at least five or six years ago. It was certainly when I had a ‘proper’ job and needed to keep track of multiple projects within a company that didn’t have its own project management tool.

Yeah, I know.

Omnifocus was a lifesaver back then. But, as I transitioned to an independent worker and started up my own business, my use of its deep feature set began to reduce. In fact, it reduced to nothing more than a to-do list; a simple, task-based tool that has been most people’s go-to productivity solution for decades.

Each day, I’d open Omnifocus and systematically check off my tasks following their completion. It was akin to owning a Bentley Continental and only using it to play the radio while parked on the drive.

Then, someone in my Discord server mentioned Things, and I knew my love affair with Omnifocus was about to reach its conclusion.

I used Things (a wonderful app developed by Cultured Code) many years ago and remember being immediately captivated by its simplicity and design. Alas, it was too simple back then for my project management requirements and I had no choice but to opt for something else instead (hence, Omnifocus).

Boy, has Things come a long way since then!

As it turns out, Cultured Code has been rather busy during my hiatus from their software.

What impresses me the most about Things (currently in Version 3 form) is that it crosses that perilous divide between GTD powerhouse (think: Omnifocus) and simple to-do list app (think: any one of the countless apps on the App Store that fall into that category).

Because my use of these tools has reduced to nothing more than a checklist of tasks I need to get done, Things thoughtfully abstracts away all of the more impressive elements of productivity (of which it is more than capable) and leaves me with a simple list. Nothing more, nothing less.

I do make use of some other features in Things, though. For instance, the ability to create areas for each of my projects and contracts helps keep my mind and plans tidy, and the integration with both my iPhone and Apple Watch help me check tasks at a glance.

If you fancy it, you can go far deeper with Things, including the ability to dictate to-dos via Siri, create nested checklists within each to-do item and format your larger projects with headings.

But, for me, it’s the way Things displays information that’s so delightful. Unlike Omnifocus, there’s no constant, nagging feeling that I’m missing out on something or tinkering on the surface of a much more powerful beast.

This stuff matters with productivity apps, because it takes your mind away from what you should be doing. Things’ use of white space is a masterful example of this; it focuses your eyes entirely on what you need to get done.

The moral of the story? Don’t get too welded into a single app or ecosystem. Broaden your horizons, because switching is never anywhere near as much trouble as you might think. Similarly, you could be missing out on a tool or solution which provides a suite of functionality far better suited to what you need.

That was certainly the case with Things for me. It’s good to be back.

What’s your to-do list app of choice? Am I missing something with Things?

Originally published at https://markellisreviews.com on May 3, 2021.

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