Getting Things Done on the iPhone: Things



Cultured Code

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iPhone Life is planning a series of blogs and articles on the top Getting Things Done® apps for the iPhone.

Getting Things Done on the iPhone (Bryan Schmiedeler)

OmniFocus (Cindy Downes)

Things (Bryan Schmiedeler)

reQall (Bryan Schmiedeler)


Cultured Code’s “Things” is a beautiful, polished Macintosh and iPhone/iTouch application. The Macintosh version won the coveted Mac OS X Leopard Developer Showcase Apple Design Award at WWDC and was a Macworld Expo Best of Show. The iPhone version can run as a stand alone application but Things really shines when integrated with its more expensive Mac brother.   

The first step in using a GTD®  system is “off loading” all your to dos into the tool. For Things this is the Inbox. Using a system-wide shortcut on the Mac client brings up a quick entry panel. Type in your task, click “Save” and the new to do is put in your Inbox. Not requiring you to switch apps means you don’t lose focus, a key element of GTD® . Unfortunately, there is no real equivalent to the quick entry on the iPhone, as you can only run one foreground app at a time. But once in the iPhone version of Things, tasks can always be entered by tapping the “+” sign in the lower part of the screen, regardless of the list you are in. To Dos have due dates and tags and  can include links to files, folders, web pages or emails in the notes section.  



Things Quick Entry Panel


Things is the only GTD®  application that gets contexts right. To dos have “tags”, which can be used for the location (home, work, school), priority (high, medium, low), or even the difficulty (easy, hard) of a task. Tags are user-defined (unlike some GTD®  implementations) and can be sorted or searched against. This flexibility hits the sweet spot between to do managers that devolve into a jumble of unsorted, unprioritized and uncompleted tasks and overly rigid software that force you to conform to it instead of the other way around.

Things provides five lists for putting your to dos into focus: Today, Next, Scheduled, Someday, and Projects (see image at left). 

Things InBox iPhone.jpg

To dos with date assignments fall into the “Today” or “Scheduled” lists, and ones without any date in the “Someday” lists. “Someday” is one of my favorite elements of the GTD®  approach to task management – a place for tasks, goals, dreams that you want to do someday. The Next list is where you will find the next task on multi-step Projects (see image on the right). 

Breaking large tasks (Projects) into smaller subtasks sets Things apart from many other task management systems that have no hierarchal structure and is indicative of how well the program follows the GTD®  methodology. 

Another important feature of any robust GTD®  implementation is delegation of tasks. In Things any person in your address book can be added as a Teammate and have tasks delegated to them. Tasks have two elements, what the task to be completed is and your responsibility to ensure that task is completed. Unfortunately Things does not synchronize the delegated task to the other user’s Things, or send an email – you are supposed to tell them yourself, which somewhat defeats the point of delegation.

Synching works via Wi-Fi, and is easy to set up. Simply identify your iPhone in the desktop app’s preferences and the two programs will sync whenever the iPhone version is open. One limitation is that the two applications must share the same network, so you can’t sync by logging into a Wi-Fi network while on the road. 

Things Next iPhone.jpg

The Mac version of Things can sync with To Dos in iCal, and then sync iCal to your iPhone, but you cannot directly sync Things to iCal on the iPhone. So items entered into the iPhone version of Things won’t show up as To Dos in iCal on the iPhone until Things has synced.

Things’ flexibility and simplicity is its greatest strength. A new user can start with simple to do lists and then add more functionality as needed. Some additions that would be helpful include capturing when a new event is added and allowing a user to enter a note when an even is completed.

Some features of the desktop version are still missing on the iPhone, like repeating tasks, but Cultured Code has a good track record of quickly adding desktop features to the iPhone client.

Cultured Code claims that Things is the most popular to-do/task manager for the iPhone and I don’t doubt it. Things hits the sweet spot between being too simple to be useful and too complex to be used. An intuitive and uncluttered interface, developers who clearly love their program, and a steady stream of improvements and bug fixes makes Things a winner. 

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Bryan Schmiedeler has been a programmer for 14 years, working with enterprise database systems on the iSeries using RPG. He also writes client and web-based applications using Lotus Notes, and specializes in iSeries/Lotus integration issues. He uses a MacBook Pro, iPhone, and an iPad at home in Overland Park, Kan. He can be reached at <a href=""></a> or