Things's embarrassingly overdue cloud sync public beta: why it's underwhelming, but doesn't change my love for Things

by Heather Young

Cultured Code has finally launched a public beta for cloud syncing for their task management app Things. Their implementation doesn't fill one with confidence: the logos for the beta are covered with big striped "warning" tape, they require a new, empty database, and they beg the user not to share the details ("We would therefore like to ask you to not post screenshots or write about the beta in public at this stage."). Even more embarrassing is how far behind the curve Things is, compared with other popular to do list apps, most notably OmniFocus. As Ben Brooks notes, "They have now caught up (not really) to where OmniFocus was in 2008."

And yet... I still use Things. I still love Things. It's possible that part of this is due to the old sunk cost fallacy. After all, Things wasn't cheap. $50 for the desktop version, another $10 for the iPhone version. But I don't think so. Things just works for me. It hits that magical sweet spot: incredibly simple and intuitive to use, but with enough depth for the power user. It's simply laid out: when you create a task you want to complete, you choose whether you want to do it today, next, or someday. If the task is part of a larger project, you can create a project, and add other tasks. If it's reoccurring, you can fine-tune how often you want it to reoccur (the first of every month, every Thursday through the end of the year, etc.) and when you want to be reminded about it. When a task is completed, it goes into the logbook, which you can easily peruse to see what you accomplished when.* You can add tags to tasks, so it's easy to find all tasks, current or past, relating to a particular subject. It also has the shiny bells and whistles power users need — keyboard shortcuts, options to add teammates and areas of responsibilities, etc. — but it's incredibly functional from the get-go, even if you decide you're not in the mood to struggle your way up yet another app's learning curve. For me, it handles everything from intricate sets of work with multiple deadlines to mundane daily errands to long-term goals with perfect ease and simplicity.

OmniFocus gets all the productivity nerd love nowadays, but I found it fiddly and constraining. (It's also quite a bit more expensive: $80 for the desktop version, $20 for the iPhone version: not a huge deal for something you'll hopefully be using intensively on a daily basis for years and years, but still — ick.) Wunderkinder's Wunderlist, with its super-friendly interface, easy cloud syncing, and magical price tag of $0 gets a lot of love too, but I found it too basic. (I still subscribe to their newsletter, though, because everything Wunderkinder does is so very pretty.) Clear, the new iPhone app, is even more basic, but so fantastic-looking and fun to use that it's sure to win the hearts of those for whom all the power user features of apps like Things and OmniFocus are just so much cruft (I use Clear for grocery lists, but can't imagine using it for anything more complicated). The danger of all this productivity nerd stuff is that you can end up spending more time and energy figuring out how to do things than, you know, actually doing them. There will always be shiny new apps, new techniques, new productivity gurus our there that promise to boost your productivity to heretofore unseen heights. Meanwhile, I'll be sticking with Things. Why should I waste time daydreaming about invariably overhyped new productivity products when I already have something, eccentric as it may be, that I personally enjoy using, and that simply, effectively, measurably, helps me get stuff done?

Still looking forward to that stable, non-beta Things cloud sync, though.

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  • The new database required by the public beta compromises the functionality of logbook, which is why I won't be using it.
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UPDATE 6/12/12

So, I guess ignore everything I wrote above: I bit the bullet and switched to OmniFocus. I still find the whole contexts vs. projects thing at the heart of OmniFocus a bit disorienting, and think that Things' method for presenting completed projects is a great deal more clear than OmniFocus'. Still, once you make your way up the learning curve, OmniFocus is indisputably better in a whole bunch of ways, most importantly in the syncing, which is one of those things that even if you know you'll like it, is in practice wonderful and life-improving in ways you couldn't have anticipated.