An Attempt to Improve Things

It’s a bit annoying to me that Things doesn’t have a place to put your longer-term goals and any big rocks you define for the week. The result is that your actions (and projects) lack the overall context that really provides your orientation (within an overall gospel-centered and biblical framework — without that, a to-do list becomes law).

So I’m toying with the adaptation pictured below, which lets me do this. You have to use the program a bit differently from intended, but it feels better to me (at least initially).

Note that to make this work, you don’t explicitly tie actions to projects. I put the actions I need to take in the “areas” section, and just manually create another one when needed to keep a project going forward. If a project needs more detailed planning, that goes in project support, not Things (which I’ve found cluttering).

Here’s a screen shot of this layout:


  • Christopher Misiano

    8 posts since Sunday! So good to have this many updates from you Matt- keep it coming.

  • Daniel

    I agree that Things (and GTD generally) does not naturally work well with Covey’s Big Rocks and planning around one’s long term mission.

    An alternative approach (which I’m trialling) is to use areas (mine are areas of responsibility), and a tag called ‘big rocks’ – then to add a big rock for each area (as needed) during my weekly planning and GTD review. I also have a recurring reminder in Things on my GTD review day, to remind me to a) read my personal mission statement, b) review areas, projects and someday lists, and c) create big rocks.

    I’d like the process to be a bit less time consuming – but it seems to be the best of ‘Allen’ and ‘Covey’ for me. I need GTD to keep my whole life out of my brain and ordered in Things … but I need big rocks and personal mission as my overview so that I am not ‘climbing to the top of a ladder against the wrong wall.’

    But it’s good to hear whatever other suggestions people have for using Things!


  • Paul

    I’ve been using Things for over a year now to keep track of all my work and have run up against the same problem with long-term and weekly big goals.

    Here’s how I manage long-term goals:
    1. Like Daniel, I also use “Areas” in Things for big, top-level goals. It’s simply an area called “goals”.

    2. In my “goals” area, I enter individual To-Dos (often recurring – things like “run” or “study and pray” or “review goals for 2010″ which happens monthly).

    3. If a goal requires multiple steps I create a project for it in the “goals” area. For example, I have a longer term goal as a project that is “read at least one book a month in 2010″ so I create a project with individual to-dos (i.e., “finish book for January”, “finish book for February”, …).

    I find it pretty essential to keep the “Projects” area only for actual projects. Using the scheduled tasks and tags within each project helps keep it a little less cluttered for me.

    I haven’t found a way to make Things work well for weekly “big rocks” without keeping at least a simple list outside of Things. I’ve been using a small, action-method notebook for this and listing out 3-6 big rocks on every panel (one for each week of the year). Taking 15 minutes to do that and leaving it beside my computer for the week has been working well so far.

    Here’s the “Action Cahier” notebook for reference:

  • Zach

    Matt, how has this been going for you? Any changes to your system?

  • Matt

    I’ve changed it in a few ways. In the setup above, I created sub-groupings within the “Projects” category by creating “Core Goals” and etc. as Projects. Now, I put all of that in “Areas,” which allows me to just create projects as regular in there–and then group them by putting in to the appropriate area.

    The other change I’ve made is that I’ve changed what some of the areas actually are. There are actually quite a few changes here that I’ve made and found helpful — hopefully I’ll have the chance to blog on that at some point.

  • Walter

    I really appreciate all of the articles and the comments on GTD including this one. I’ve been using at one level or another the Franklin-Covey system for years (including the slow/unstable plan plus of outlook). Recently researched to find out What is the GTD system. With my ADD tendency, it seemed like an epiphany of sorts except for the apparent lack of rigor in areas. I’m glad to see I’m not alone and that others see incorporation of the 2 systems as a worthy pursuit.

    I need help with further training to ingrain what GTD is, does and wants to be at a deeper level.

    I really appreciate the approach of these blogs from someone with a theological worldview. With Christ as head of my life this is what is most appealing.

    Any insite on the time/life management for the easily distracted to allow me to focus on God’s glory in all I do more effectively and to combat distractions that still time is sent from above!