Tech Life What is that smell?

R.I.P. Things

I’ve used Things longer than any other productivity system; this weekend I threw it away.

Things had its chance. I was initially enamored with it because the application forced very little religion on me and also easily adapted to my different productivity experiments I wanted to develop. The interface was simple, the application was stable, and, again, it stayed out of my way so I could focus on doing the work rather than worrying about doing the work.

I stuck with Things for the many years it lacked a credible sync strategy. Yes, I threw my Things database into Dropbox until the inevitable collision occurred by having two versions of the application running on different machines. Data corruption is usually grounds for immediate application deletion, but, again, Things integrated easily into my day, I knew all all the keyboard commands, so I went back to running a single instance.

The issue that pushed me over the edge had nothing to do with functionality or stability, but stagnation. I was performing my morning scrub on Things when I realized that nothing much had changed in Things UI in, well, years. Part of me has been fine with this lack of change because I don’t need my productivity system to do much more than capture a task, allow me to easily categorize and prioritize tasks, make it easy to search and filter them, and do all this work frictionlessly. “Things does these things well,” I thought to myself, “I don’t need anything else.”

Or do I? How can I trust that I’m using the state of the art in productivity systems when I’m using an application that took over two years to land sync I could easily use? What other innovations are they struggling to land in the application? Why hasn’t the artwork changed in forever? What is that smell? That smell is stagnation.

Over the course of the weekend, I moved everything I’m tracking into Asana. I’ve been using Asana on and off for a year. It’s added a little more friction and a little more religion to my task tracking process, but it’s also done something Things hasn’t done in years – it’s new bevy of functionality has me asking one of my favorite engineering questions, “How can I do this better?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

48 Responses

  1. I still can’t bring myself to remove Things. It was so promising, but you’re right it’s so stagnent it’s basically dead. You should give Luumin a try

  2. Kyle Dreger 11 years ago

    Have you ever tried OmniFocus? I’ve never used it personally, but it seems to garner good reviews from several of the bloggers I follow.

    A couple months ago I made the switch from Things to good-old pen and paper, but I miss being able to dynamically move and reorganize my tasks.

  3. Tytus Suski 11 years ago

    The most surprising missing feature in Things is its inability to search by multiple tags. Useful to find out what you can do e.g., with an ipad out of office. Defeats the purpose of using tags.

  4. I guess it’s too late to tell you to check out Producteev, but they do an amazing job as well. I love their multi channel integration which I use with instant messaging.

  5. Bryan W 11 years ago

    I understand what you are saying about Things. Cultured code do seem to be slow but what they do release is normally very good. Their sync solution has been flawless for me.

    Also has the act of putting a task down in a list changed that dramatically for new features to be needed every other month?

  6. Although it’s true the UI hasn’t evolved much and feels dated, I’d rather have a small team work on a rock solid syncing solution for 2 years than touching up the UI on a regular basis. Their home-brew syncing has worked perfectly for me since I started using it on my 3 devices. So no regrets there, it’s a trade off I’m living happily with.

    Their blog mentions a new version in the works, which they plan to release later this year. As much as I enjoyed discovering Things when they launched it, I’m looking forward to see what they come up with for this next version. They have some serious design skills, even if they lack the fire power to deliver it more regularly.

  7. I use Things (having switched from a web-based tool because native apps just seem easier to shuffle things around in.) And I know what you mean about its lack of updates.

    On the other hand, I switched away from a previous system because it was getting too many updates — the constant innovation meant it felt like I was trying to be productive on shifting sands, and existing features would get broken every now and again, because they just do, when you’re always adding new things.

    It’s a hard balance. Especially if, like me, there’s a temptation to play with your productivity system instead of being productive 🙂

    If I thought Things wasn’t supported at all any more, I’d switch away. As it is, at least there are bug fixes and, say, updates for Mavericks. Plus I came to Things *after* they added sync, so I’ve not been embittered by that long wait. I think I’ll be sticking with it for a while longer.

    Sometimes “stagnant” also means “unsurprising and reliable”, which might be what I need in a productivity system…

  8. Glenn 11 years ago

    My experience with Asana about a year ago was that I liked the UI but the stability and uptime was terrible. They had outages every few days or so. Never lost data but I couldn’t stay with them because of that.

    I’m using Things. I agree; the stagnation is frustrating but it works. Never had problems with sync and the application is highly stable. I keep telling myself it’s better to focus on the work rather than the tools after years of bouncing between digital/analog and everything in between.

  9. Tomte 11 years ago

    I’m sticking with Things until after their UI-Switch at least.

    From their blog;

    “Shipping Things Cloud last year gave us tremendous freedom to shift our attention back to Things itself. It was time to start innovating again on its core features – reimagining how you interact with the app and how your content is presented to you. We also evaluated many of the feature requests we had received, and decided which ones would be a great fit. Then we started developing. When Apple unveiled iOS 7 three months ago, it only added fire to our plans and encouraged us to go even further.

    We are incredibly excited about what we have in the pipeline. Things is going to feel right at home on iOS 7, and we can’t wait to show you more—a bit later this year.”

  10. Chris 11 years ago

    I’m still using it. I don’t care about pace of development on my task manager app, I just need it to functionally meet my requirements. Things still does that.

    I waste enough time tinkering around checking out the latest and greatest, I don’t need to allow playing with productivity apps kill my productivity further.

  11. Hey there, nice read with very valid points. Although, according to the Things blog ( there are changes to be expected which are not simply optical and supposedly also not limited to iOS, but that’s a big maybe.
    I personally switched BACK to Things after AGAIN losing control over my OmniFocus db. It was like a fresh shower of simplicity reentering my task management. Like You describe it, there’s no need to go into detail with your tasks, but if You really want to, You’re offered a variety of options to do so (areas, tags, the amazing scheduling system unique to Things).

    While I am agreeing with the main point of this post (aaaaw, it looks SO old for such a long time now! And it takes those guys SO long to update it!) this actually doesn’t make me throw it away- Your complaint is basically: I am bored of this efficiently working system. Innovation is a good thing with things that urgently need improvement. While by no means saying that Things is not to be optimized at all the by far WORST thing to do is upgrading software just for the sake of upgrading, thereby maybe making good things worse… Cultured Code takes their time- and they don’t include all the bells and whistles available- but they do so for a reason.

    Since You’re still very well in contact with how Things worked and felt, You might write another update comparing it to Asana- I would be interested in Your thoughts on what the benefits were from Your point of view!

    Cheers, mat

  12. Gustag 11 years ago

    It seems like you want change for change’s sake. If the software does its job, and does it well, then why should it change? Stagnation is a goal you should strive for.

    It’s one thing to abandon a product because it doesn’t work well, or it doesn’t have a feature you want, and the developers won’t add it. But to abandon a product that does its job because it continues to do it is just being fickle.

  13. sean reilly 11 years ago

    While it is fun to play with new tools and toys, when one depends on a tool daily the best thing it can do is to keep working. The long-time-coming sync capability of Things is a great example of how Cultured Code took the time needed to Do It Right. They could have more easily slapped dropbox or iCloud syncing into the app but a) it wouldn’t have been as flexible, and b) it would’ve been subject to the same reliability problems that so many others.

    I’d even say the same about Apple and iOS7 vs Mavericks. On the desktop they’ve done a fantastic job of releasing a stable, usable operating system with incremental improvements. On the iOS7 side however they’ve released a shiny new facade and relatively little in the way of functional improvements but tons of new bugs to work around.

    I use Apple products to get stuff done, not to wallow in the UI style of the week. I’ll take the tried and true approach of making a stable product and then iterating until it’s perfect any day. It doesn’t seem fair to bash the Things people for doing things the right way rather than being reckless with a basic tool for productivity.

  14. R.I.P. Things | Makes Sense linked to this.
  15. Steven Harris 11 years ago

    s/it’s new/its new/

  16. Daniel S 11 years ago

    I don’t know exactly what your workflow is like, but I recommend checking out Nirvana if you haven’t already.

  17. The latest version of Things (with internet based sync aka ‘Things Cloud’) has been working flawlessly for me. Given you mention using dropbox to try and sync, perhaps you aren’t using the latest version?

  18. I wouldn’t have deleted things last week if the mobile experience wasn’t so clunky. I don’t love Reminders, but at least I can read full tasks in a list without drilling down into each individual task over X many characters (this is just one significant friction point in the mobile app that has kept me from using it ever since I found Wunderlist then switched to Reminders. I’m still open to replacements for Reminders, too, but nothing really ticks off the boxes yet (has to sync across platforms, utilizes as few drill-downs as possible for reading or editing, can quickly capture new tasks via Siri on the phone, etc.)

  19. Nic Cottrell 11 years ago

    I’ve been using Asana for about 6 months for work projects after abandoning Trac. I’ve been hesitant to switch from things since the Asana iPhone app doesn’t seem to work in offline mode. I like using my time on a flight to catch up on my filing so need to wait for that.

  20. TidalSoup 11 years ago

    After using it for years, I gave up Things for many of the same reasons. I forked out the funds for OmniFocus and haven’t looked back… much.

    As odd as it may be, I still have a nostalgic affinity for Things/Cultured Code.

    It’s a shame.

  21. Talk about jumping the gun! Things stated they were forgoing iCloud or Dropbox sync in favor of a more stable, proprietary sync engine. Yes, they took forever, but it was rock solid after it publicly launched. In fact, I got in on the sync beta about midway through and never had any issues with it. They take the slow and steady approach, thinking things through and finally releasing once things are perfect.

    That may sound like another company called Apple. We all know from experience that Apple may not be first but they’re always best and Cultured Code is no different.

  22. A real scary scenario is when an app no longer works properly with a new OS revision, and promises a fix that doesn’t arrive for months.

    Never mind a stale interface, or the fear you’re no longer using the best app for what it does. It threatens to drop out of the “good enough” category.

    That was Quickeys a few years ago. It was an automation app that I had used since the days of System 7. When Version 4 of the OS X version of Quickeys came out, it was magnificent, the best version of QK ever released.

    About a year or so later when MacOS X “Lion” came out it, QK had some bugs in the new OS revision. A fix was promised. It never came. Then as time passed and my worries were switching to questioning compatibility with the upcoming OS X “Mountain Lion”, it was revealed that the publisher of the software, Startly, didn’t do its own coding, but contracted it out.

    Startly apparently didn’t keep close tabs on its contractor, because no work was done on it due to the contractor’s illness. By the time we users were told of this, the contractor had passed away, and Startly was begging for leads for a new programmer, even offering a “bounty” to whoever referred the coder who would be hired.

    It was at this point I realized that I could not rely on Quickeys anymore. It was too tightly integrated with the operating system be assured that Startly could keep up with the new annual OS release schedule.

    I ended up trying a newer app, Keyboard Maestro, to replace QK.

    I occasionally pop into the Startly forums to see if any progress is made. As of today (Tuesday, November 19, 2013), nope. Strangely, they still offer the app for sale. I guess Startly could be called a “Zombie developer”: dead, but still walking.

  23. I don’t get the point. Things works, does what it is supposed to do and works reliable. What else can be expected from an app to manage the tasks?

    Being bored about having the same interface is more a problem of the author. Capitalism always wants something new. “New” and “Change” has become a value in itself. This is the real problem, not Things.

  24. I agree that Things has become stagnant, but Asana is terrible too. Its “new bevy of functionality” doesn’t make up for a terrible UI. Give a try, or even Wunderlist.

  25. Konstantin 11 years ago

    Things is dead. It’s too expensive, too old, too stiff and very very mediocre.

    I will be glad to see it die.

    Asana is much better and free.

    Things had its chance, but they blew it. Let them burn.

  26. Hey,
    I’ve been using for 3 months and I am happy with this app.

    I am planning to check asana and getflow.


  27. Michal Žďánský 11 years ago

    Moved from Things to 2Do and I can’t be happier. I was able to reproduce all Things’ features and add ton more – custom reminders, custom perspective (via smart lists), you name it. It’s very customizable so I can have my own workflow. Their new Mac app is even more beautiful than Things IMHO and I can’t wait for their iOS 7 update.

  28. Things work like my brain. I keep using it.

    I used Things, left because of sync in favor of OmniFocus. When sync came to Things I went back. Why? It works for me. I organize my lists by area of responsibility and persons assigned. I’ve looked, but haven’t found anything that will do that for me. I really like being able to click on area of responsibility x and then see all the tasks, projects, and the people. Doing a 1:1?, then I just click on the person and can see all assigned and the context. I use very few tags.

    The combination of Area of Responsibility and Person Responsible required multiple (usually forgotten) tags in OmniFocus.
    I’ve tried many other alternatives.

    FWIW I would use WordPerfect any day over Pages or Word. Alas I live in a Word world.

  29. Matt Taylor 10 years ago

    Lost count of how many to-do list and productivity apps and methods i have tried over the years in many jobs, roles, countries. Wunderlist was the only one that stayed installed on multiple devices for more than a few days, Trello seems to work for groups, and now looking at Producteev to take it for a spin on a project. But alas it seems my brain is not suited for this 21st centruy style of organising. If i write it down with a pen, on some paper, then it goes in my brain and i remember it as something i have learnt/read/planned. The best to-do list holder is my brain but seems the only reliable way to get something ‘filed’ is to write it down. i find my to-do items across work and all aspects of my life is something that floats around in my conciousness permanently (usually with a guilty tinge for all the things i have procrastinated over, and an acute awareness that 24 hours is far too few in a day).

  30. I keep checking Things for new features, as its missing some things I need. Been doing this for over a year now. Everytime I check it out its the same! I’m going to give up.

  31. Cultured Code announced development of Things 3 yesterday via their blog, and selling the 1,000,000th copy. Wow.

  32. Flavio 10 years ago

    I think this is some kind of paid post by Asana..

  33. Andrea Fare' 10 years ago

    I use Things, but I am surprised by the fact that it lacks key features in the area of integration.

    1) A strong integration with Evernote would allow me to group task/project related notes in a Notebook that mirrors a Things Project…. Very easy, but, I have to rely on Things Folders, which I don’t even no if still maintained.

    2) And what about importing/exporting tasks. If you are confident with your apps you must encourage people to switch, they’s come back in a snap, and stronger supporters than they were before.

    I am not willing to trade off stability for features, not in 2014, I want (and deserve) both as a paying customer…

  34. Gabor Balatoni 10 years ago

    I have also left Things once. And tried many of the mentioned alternatives. And many others not mentioned here. And then I returned. And I immediately felt “at home” again. Some features missing, very few are really important, if at all. For those who wish to experiment and lose time, go ahead and try all the other stuff. For those who wish to work, effectively, I strongly recommend Things. Oh yes, and don’t forget about the monthly fees, some are really not that low at all. With Things you pay once, and go for a life-time.

  35. Jt Hollister 10 years ago

    Yeah, the price I paid for Things was an absolute ripoff and I feel cheated. These guys are LAZY developers. They almost never do anything. I don’t believe they have any full time workers. Their communication is horrible. It’s really sad that people who could put together such a solid initial application are such a joke of a company.

  36. How do you feel about Asana, assuming you stuck with it from this post on? I have been using it religiously for over 4 years as a dedicated fangirl. Due to some of its drawbacks I am now shopping other options, but trying not to jump ship too quickly, especially since it’s free!

  37. I thought you were wrong.

    And yet here we are, one year on. Things 3 still isn’t here. It still can’t filter more than one tag at a time. It still slows down my week.

    I’m learning that Cultured Code don’t really have a productivity app after all. Maybe if they did, they would stick to their own schedule someday.

  38. Adrian 8 years ago

    And here we are in 2016 and one of their recent (as of this posting) Twitter posts indicates they STILL are not sure if it will even come out this year (“We hope so, but can’t offer any ETA”). Beyond belief. To think they had such a huge head start, too.

  39. Mitesh Ashar 8 years ago

    @Lauren Presuming you are still looking for reasons to stay with Asana & @rands Assuming you’re still with Asana, I write this.
    If you’re wondering what’s missing with Asana, here’s what I recently figured out when I found Instagantt. You cannot tell Asana how long a task takes and if you falter on tasks you do not have dependency management.

    So, as the name suggests, is based on gantt charts. As a happy user, I endorse Instagantt. It’s just a cool UI on top of Asana, adds a few awesome features to your productivity workflow and stores all it’s data back in Asana. You should check it out.

  40. Interested in where you landed with this. I too got fed up with Things, ended up trying to use another tool, and found myself floundering for months. I was excited about my new tool for a while and then it started failing in lots of little ways.

    I just tried out Things 3 and realized that they not only refreshed the UI, but also improved a *lot* about how it works in very little, subtle ways. Have to say it’s good to be back.