How I Organize My Life (and Business) with Things 3

Alex Sanchez-Olvera
6 min readJan 2, 2019

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Image credit www.theverge.com

It seems like the world of productivity software is just an endless black hole.

Everyone is discussing their own personal productivity workflows and systems, sharing their favorite applications, and (what’s more) new software is being released every single day!

It’s so easy to get lost in all the noise, joining one 14-day trial period after another to find what works for you.

In the end, it’s always a personal decision.

We all have different needs and work styles. What works for one person might not always be the best solution for you, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, in creating and refining my own personal (and professional) productivity system, I’ve found that one of the most beneficial things for me has been learning the systems and workflows of others.

While I haven’t been one to try to emulate others’ systems, I’ve found it extremely useful to learn how other people have approached things like task management and calendar organization to take inspiration from their approaches and refine them to suit my own needs.

So, as we move into the New Year, I thought I’d share with you all my own personal productivity system.

Over the past few months of experimenting with this system, I’ve found that it’s kept me extremely organized in my goals, habits, and daily to-dos. And it all revolves around one brilliant piece of software: Things 3.

Image credit www.culturedcode.com

What is Things 3?

As you might have already guessed, Things 3 is the third iteration of a popular task management app called Things, created by a German software development company called Cultured Code.

Released in May of 2017, Things 3 signaled a massive overhaul for the application, sporting a new, MacOS inspired design and powerful interactions.

Good design is a huge selling point for me. In fact, I’ve even refused to use certain applications in the past — regardless of how well they might have worked for my needs — because of their appalling design. (Agenda, OmniFocus, Notion … I’m looking at all of you.)

And on this front, Things 3 has really hit the ball out of the park.

The user interface is clean, simple, and fits in well with Apple’s ecosystem with its flat design and uncomplicated color palette.

In terms of features, Things 3 is equipped with everything needed to satisfy beginners and power-users alike. This includes time-based reminders, scheduled tasks, deadlines, Calendar integration, sub-tasks, notes, and more!

In my opinion, it really strikes the perfect balance between a minimalist application like Apple’s Notes and a robust, full-featured software like OmniFocus.

Image credit appademic.tech.

How Do I Use It?

Most productivity systems take a while to get used to.

Before you can really start using the system to improve your daily workflows, you’ll need to take some time to familiarize yourself with the software and do some trial-and-error to discover which processes make the most sense for you.

With Things 3, the learning curve was minimal.

The simplicity and intuitiveness of the design really lends itself to quick learning. Within minutes of downloading the Things 3 trial, I was already well on my way to creating my own areas, projects, tasks, and checklists while developing my own personalized productivity system.

Here is what that looks like today.

Goals

This is probably the single most important section of my workflow. I have a Project Area called “Goals” under which I keep two projects called “Personal” and “Business.”

Within each of these projects, I have multiple headings. For example, under the “Business” project, I currently have headings for “Education,” “Finances,” “Marketing,” and “Miscellaneous.”

And under each one of these headings, I list my annual goals as tasks.

This way, I have a comprehensive list of the goals I’m currently pursuing, divided between my personal and business lives, and organized by area of focus.

I look at these goals at least once per day (and often, more than that) as I’m reviewing my list of tasks. This helps to keep my goals top-of-mind and always in focus.

Deadlines

I use deadlines a little bit differently from most people.

While I like to set annual goals for myself and for my business, I often find them difficult to actually pursue throughout the year.

This is because annual goals tend to be very large and sometimes quite abstract. And the fact that these goals aren’t “due” until December 31 can sometimes make them feel very far away … as if daily action isn’t required in order to achieve these goals.

So in order to make sure that I’m making continuous progress toward each of my annual goals throughout the year, I like to break down these goals into smaller, quarterly (or monthly) goals that are more manageable.

For example, suppose I have a goal of $120,000 in annual gross revenue.

This would amount to $30,000 broken down by quarter and $10,000 broken down by month — no small sums by any measure, but much more manageable than $120,000.

Breaking down my goals in this way also helps me to make sure that I’m on track.

If I only make $5,000 in January, for example, or $25,000 in the first quarter of 2019, I have a very clear picture of how much more I would need to earn in the following month or quarter to remain on track for my annual goal.

I use deadlines to keep track of these smaller goals.

By assigning a deadline of Mar. 31 (the end of quarter one) to my $30,000 income goal, Things 3 will place the “task” in my Today view on that day. Then, I’ll be able to sit down with my accounting software and see whether or not I’ve reached my goal.

And if I haven’t, I’ll be able to re-calibrate my goals for the coming months.

Time Tags

This is a new addition for me, and something that I’m still experimenting with to see whether it adds to my daily productivity.

Things 3 allows for the addition of tags to individual tasks.

These can be anything you want. For example, you can tag certain tasks as “Work,” “Important,” “Follow Up,” or whatever information you need to add context to a given task.

I’ve created tags to estimate how long a particular task might take me to complete.

I have tags for “5 min.,” “15 min.,” “30 min.,” “1 hr.,” and “2 hrs.”

Having this system in place allows me to quickly schedule my tasks each morning as I’m reviewing my Today view. It also holds me accountable for making sure that I’m not spending too much (or too little) time on a given task.

So there you have it: My personal productivity workflow in Things 3.

Since adopting the program a few months ago, I’ve personally seen a huge increase in my personal and professional productivity. Whereas before I was working primarily with scribbled-down to-do lists and schedules, I now have an organized and largely automated system for all of this (and more)!

Have you ever used Things 3? Do you prefer an alternative system like Todoist or OmniFocus? What does your productivity workflow look like?

I’m excited to hear. Let me know in the comments section!

Oh, and if you’d like to try out Things 3 for yourself, the macOS app is currently available for $49.99, while the iPad app is available for $19.99 and the iPhone/watchOS app is available for $9.99.

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Alex Sanchez-Olvera

I'm a self-taught UI/UX designer and front-end JavaScript developer with 5+ years of experience in end-to-end digital design.