This is the second part of our Mobile Mac Office series. Be sure to check out ‘Part I: Going Paperless‘ as well.
Organizing time effectively can be one of the most challenging aspects of work for small business owners and freelancers alike. You’ve got a million things on your mind, a growing number of projects to complete, and too little time to manage them all. Trying to stay on top of every task often feels like someone is pointing a stun gun straight at your chest. You’ll get less done simply because too much time is spent thinking about managing time. It’s a stressful catch 22.
To alleviate this problem, it’s important to get tasks out of your mind and place them into a collection system instead. Simply writing down chores that need your attention—even on a blank piece of paper—will already reduce your perceived stress levels. But you can do better!
As a matter of fact, there’s a multitude of so called GTD (Get Things Done) software solutions for the Mac that will allow you to not only store all of your tasks but also keep them organized for easy access.
One that works extremely well for me, and that I will use for the second part of our series, is ‘Things’ from Cultured Code.
Introduction To Things
At its most basic level, ‘Things’ is a software solution that will allow you to quickly enter tasks into a streamlined interface and help you keep track of what’s most important to you at any given moment. The software also allows you to attach tasks to specific projects and put them in context with tags. You can enter due dates, add notes, and even delegate tasks to other teammates. Basically, ‘Things’ can be kept very simple, or grow with your projects and needs. It’s really up to you.
The clean interface is divided into three parts. ‘Collect’, ‘Focus’, and ‘Active Projects’. When in a rush, I usually add tasks to the inbox which is part of the ‘collect’ part of the program. Here you can collect anything that may come to your mind at any given moment. When you have a little more time, you can attach the various tasks to specific projects, set due-dates, and add notes.
Once due dates are added, tasks will show up in the ‘focus’ area of the program. Any task that becomes due will then automatically move to ‘Today’ at the beginning of each work day. A red indicator on the dock icon will visually alert you how many tasks are currently due. Upcoming tasks will show up in ‘Next’ and are sorted in order of priority.
You can also add repeating events such as paying rent, collecting fees, or filing your taxes. These will show up under ‘Scheduled’. Tasks that you can’t be bothered with at the moment but that may need your attention at some unspecified point in the future can be dragged to “Someday”. Simply review these tasks once in a while to see if their priorities have changed, and if so add due dates or drag them into one of the other categories. I promise you, it will feel good to have all of your tasks collected in one place!
The most powerful aspect of ‘Things’ (at least to me), however, is the ability to create specific projects and and easily assign tasks to them. If you’re anything like me you have to juggle a wide variety of projects on a daily basis. When we recently redesigned ‘The Apple Press’, for example, I quickly created a new project labeled ‘Apple Press Redesign’, tagged it with ‘Apple Press’ and attached all tasks regarding the redesign to this project. This helps me to keep focused on the project that I decide to work on for any given day.
To speed up your workflow, ‘Things’ also allows you add tasks via systemwide shortcuts straight from ‘Mail’ or ‘Safari’, for example. This is called ‘Quick Entry and Autofill’ and works with a multitude of applications. This not only allows you to quickly add tasks from other programs, it also attaches highlighted text as a note, and includes a link to the current URL (worked with Safari and Firefox, but not Google Chrome) or email automatically. If you’re into shortcuts, this will be a godsend.
Things Mobile: Syncing Across the (Apple) Board
As mentioned above, using ‘Things’ for Mac is a very streamlined experience, and most likely the place where you’ll spent most of your time with the program. Many tasks, chores, and ideas will cross your mind, however, when you’re not by your computer. Fortunately, Cultured Code is also offering ‘Things’ for iPhone and iPad. Both versions work great in collaboration with ‘Things for Mac’ but can also be used as standalone programs. You can add, review, or edit tasks; write notes; and attach them to existing or new projects. Personally, I use the iPhone version to be reminded of upcoming responsibilities and to quickly add tasks on the go. Due to the larger screen, the iPad version is great to review or organize your tasks during lunch, for example. On iOS 4 devices that support multitasking ‘Things’ also alerts you of upcoming responsibilities via the local background notification API, so you never miss a deadline.
Obviously, you’ll want to make sure to keep your various ‘Things’ versions in sync with each other. Unfortunately, this currently works only if all of your devices are joined on the same WiFi network. Once set-up, however, syncing is as easy as opening the Mac, iPhone, and iPad instances of ‘Things’ and letting the program take care of the rest. Syncing your devices usually takes just a few seconds, but you’ll have to remember to actually open the program on your iPhone or iPad so that it can sync with the Mac.
Also, the iPhone and iPad versions of ‘Things’ currently can’t sync with each other without the Mac version present on the same, local network. This can be a real problem, of course, if you’re away from your primary computer during a long business trip. For many, this may a deal-breaker. It’s definitely the weakest spot of the ‘Things’ suite for me, as I absolutely despise having to remember to sync my data.
Fortunately, Cultured Code is aware of the problem and is currently beta testing a cloud sync solution for ‘Things’. Once the new system is rolled out, all devices will stay in sync automatically, without having to remember to sync each instance manually over your WiFi network. If instantaneous syncing is important to you, however, you may want to hold of on ‘Things’ until the system is implemented and tested.
Things Review Summary
If you’re overwhelmed by the tasks facing you each and every day you should give ‘Things’ for Mac, iPad, and iPhone a try. The interface is gorgeous and the design simple. If you teach yourself to persistently make use of the program, you will notice a positive impact on your productivity. And once Cultured Code finally releases their cloud syncing system, it will be one of the most useful products you’ll come across for your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
Unfortunately, each application must be purchased separately. Things for Mac at $49.95, Things for iPhone at $9.99, and Things for iPad at $19.99. That’s $80 for the combined package. Sure, you could get away with just using one of them, but ‘Things’ truly shines when used in tandem with Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
If it helps you organize your life, however, $80 may be a small price to pay for a little peace of mind.
PS: Cultured Code has a slick little interface for upcoming features. Have a look if you get a kick out of great website design!
Coming up soon: The Mobile Office – Part III: Bill & Payments