Things 3: A Quick Review by a Real User

Screenshot of Things 3 - A Quick Review by a Real User

A lot of things go into starting a new blog, a lot of things go into maintaining a blog, and a lot of things go into living your daily life.

I use Things, a productivity app geared toward getting things done and staying organized, to combat the jungle of my to-do list. I’ve been a long time user of Things starting with the first iteration of the product and shelling out cash for the updated version Things 2. Recently the developers at Cultured Code dropped the latest version, Things 3, to a thirsty fan base who have been waiting years for updates.

I took a look at Cultured Code’s website to see if the new Mac OS version was worth the price ($40 dollars for an update, $50 for new users) and as excited I was to see the new design I ended up disappointed. The first thing I noticed was that the app dropped many of its older skeuomorphic design elements and has adopted a lighter feel. The result is a cleaner landscape which will likely appeal to more users but lacks character. When I first opened it I almost mistook it for DayOne which is a journal app highly praised for its beautiful design. So yes, it is pretty but in an uninteresting way.

There is a long list of new features. I’m only going to address the Mac OS version of Things 3 since I don’t have the latest iPhone or iPad version.

The Good

There are plenty of things to like about the new Things. There is a new way to cleverly integrate your calendars so you can see your calendar events in the Today and Upcoming views which means, unless you’re editing your calendar, you don’t even need to have it open on your desktop. Things 3 allows you to plan what you’re going to do that day (or week) with what you already have scheduled.

Things has also created a way for you to segment tasks by the time of day with their “Today and This Evening” feature. For example, if you need to hit up the bank during the day but won’t have time to sort your sock drawer until later you can place it in the Evening section.

The Today and Evening View of Things 3 by Cultured Code
Today and Evening View – Things 3

I like to nest my lists which means I create tasks and then create tasks within those tasks. It is, essentially, an outline and Things 3 has created a way for me to create checklists within tasks without resorting to creating a new project.

Starting a Checklist in Things 3
Starting a Checklist – Things 3

When you create a new task in the lower right hand corner there is a small grey icon that looks like a checklist. If you click that and start typing you’ll be creating a new task and starting a checklist!

Checklist Feature on Things 3
Checklist – Things 3

Another major update is the addition of time-based reminders. Cultured Code is way behind on introducing this feature that most to-do apps have had for at least a couple years. The new time-based reminder works and performs its function flawlessly. If you want to set a reminder for any task simply double-click the title. If you’re in the Today view click Today and then Add Reminder. If you’re in any other view you’ll need to click the small grey calendar icon in the lower right hand corner to bring up the Reminder function. Unfortunately you can only set one reminder but it’s a start.

Set a Reminder in Things 3 by Cultured Code
Set a Reminder – Things 3

There are a few other updates which are nice. I like the ability to have multiple windows open. I also enjoy the little pie next to a project slowly changing based on your progress. The concept of Headings is fantastic but I could not figure out how to add them anywhere. I tried a variety of different selections but nothing would allow me to un-grey the New Heading option in the Menu Bar < File area.

Lastly, I appreciate that Cultured Code allows their users to purchase their software instead forcing their fan base into a subscription model. Things 3 is a hefty up front cost but the developers offer a free fully-featured 15 day trial so you can decide if it’s worth it for you. That being said, Cultured Code is not offering much of a discount for their loyal legacy users.

The Bad

Cultured Code did a good job with Things 3 but it could have been better.

As I stated earlier the design is pretty but lacks distinction. It blends seamlessly in with all the apps I already use which sounds nice but in practice it’s just a little boring. I would appreciate the ability to customize the application a little bit. I’ve included a picture below of an Evernote window and a Things 3 window side-by-side to illustrate my point.

Things 3 vs Evernote
Things 3 vs Evernote

There are wide gaps between my Areas of Responsibility which 1) don’t look good and 2) make my sidebar significantly longer.

Side by Side Comparison of Things 2 & 3 by Cultured Code
Side by Side Comparison of Things 2 (left) and Thing 3 (right)

The sidebar is an area where I would really appreciate that customization. In the latest design Things 3 eliminates the category titles from the sidebar leaving it up the user to guess what exactly they’re viewing. I know the designers did it to streamline the look of the app but they did it at the expense of clarity (ironic). I want the option to add helpful titles back to my sidebar. As long as I’m wishing and wanting, I’d also love:

  • The option to add a shortcut to the sidebar (for example, a “Tags” shortcut that took you to a view of all your tags)
  • The ability to collapse sidebar menu items
  • Being able to define where you want projects in your sidebar instead of living with the new default which places them underneath their area
  • If I add a tag to an Area of Responsibility or to a Project I’d like the option of having that same tag applied to each task within the respective container
  • Batch editing for multiple tasks
  • The ability to drag a task from the current list to an existing Project while in the slim view single window (existing projects are in the window, you simply can’t drag and drop as you would be able to with a Project listed in the sidebar)
  • Collaboration – this is Things 3 and the year 2017 and I still can’t share a list with Penny or anyone else unless I use a different to-do list app – big problem.

The Verdict

Would I recommend Things 3?

I’m not sure. I’m going to continue to play with the free trial until it ends and make a final decision but if I had to make a decision today I would not upgrade. The price to upgrade to the new version for legacy users is $40 which is a steep cost for what is available. I’m tempted because I really enjoy the calendar integration, checklist feature and separate windows but ultimately the cons keep me from opening my wallet right away. I’m on a budget so I want to make sure this is a product I would use daily and really enjoy. I take one look at that weirdly spaced sidebar and think, “I don’t want to see that every day.” If that could be adjusted I may change my mind.

If you’re a new user with disposable income and fondness for clean design (and can live without collaboration in your main to-do list app) then it’s a decent purchase. If you’re looking for a budget to-do list option with more customization and collaboration features check out Wunderlist.

Regardless of what to-do list app you use or if it’s just plain ole’ pencil and paper, happy travels!

6 Comments on “Things 3: A Quick Review by a Real User

  1. Thanks for the review. Worth pointing out that Wunderlist is being retired at some unspecified point in the future by Microsoft who purchased the company last year and are folding it into their own to-do app.

    • Oh, wow. I didn’t realize Microsoft was planning on folding it into their own offerings. I knew they purchased it but was under the impression that they were going to continue servicing it. That’s a shame.

      Thank you for the info!

  2. One thought on shelling out cash for an upgrade to Things 2-the upgrade from Things 1 to Things 2 was actually free. Things 3 is the first paid ‘upgrade’ since Things was first released almost 9 years ago.

    • I actually read a comment on a separate review where someone said the upgrade from Things 2 to 3 should be free but I’m not so sure. It has been almost a decade…that being said, jumping from Things 2 to Things 3 isn’t as big of an update as everyone is making it out to be. I wish the dev’s had offered a 50% discount to legacy users because the 20% off is kind of a slap in the face to those who have supported them thus far and allowed them to earn a living while they worked on the Things 3 update.

What are your thoughts?