When You Can Snatch the Pebble from my Hand.
When Kwai Chang Caine (aka Grasshopper) was finally able to “snatch the pebble” from Master Kan’s hand, the student had become the master. He had proven that through his training, he’d developed sufficient skills and wisdom and was ready to venture out into the world. Insert awkward productivity segue here … My hope is for you to become a Pebble Snatching, Productivity Fu Master, effortlessly executing Keyboard Shortcuts at just the right time, whittling your endless list of todos down to the one you need to take action on RIGHT NOW.
Once the appropriate todo has been surfaced, the Productivity Fu Master punches said todo square in the face 🥋🤜💥💪😼 and gets back to being present … back to being in the NOW. The Productivity Fu Master walks the Earth, selflessly spreading the good word about the power of being Productive with a Purpose 😇.
Inbox + Purpose
In Head Zero, Inbox Everything, I waxed poetic about the importance of being able to trust your Productivity System. The Inbox sits at the top. Without the ability to immediately, consistently and repeatedly capture (big, small, daunting, exciting!) thoughts and ideas when they hit you, it’s impossible to ever truly be in the NOW. In another post, The Why is your Shark Repellent!, I took a huge step back and asked WHY? Why? Because being productive for the sake of being productive is pointless. Asking Why? forces Purpose into the conversation, ensuring you are focused on what’s important. If the Inbox sits at the top, the Purpose is the foundation that holds everything up.
I use Things3 by Cultured Code as my one true “Inbox” and day-to-day project and task management tool. (*Using Things3 isn’t a requirement to get value out of this post, BTW!) I’ve tried a bunch of other todo apps and Things3 is the bomb. I’m going to get weedy and share how I use the app … not to suggest you should do exactly what I’d do … but instead in the hopes that you can steal a nugget or two from this post, getting you one step closer to becoming a Productivity Fu Master 💪.
Tags & Shortcuts
Tags and Keyboard Shortcuts in Things3 eluded me for a long time … I think I was afraid they would “complicate” my system. I’ve since realized that there is incredible power in using a simple set of Tags and Keyboard Shortcuts. The visual below summarizes my basic Tag & Shortcut setup in Things3. Three quick takeaways: 1) Each of my Areas has a Focus Tag: Work, Home or Me (any new project or todo I create inherits these Tags automatically) 2) Each todo has a simple Action Tag: Quick, Focused, Journal, Errand or Call and 3) I do it this way EVERY SINGLE TIME. This is an absolute must for me to trust my system 💯.
Quick side note on emojis … I don’t care what anyone says, I am a huge fan of including emojis in my Tag, Project and Todo titles. Why? Because it’s hard for me to not want to tackle a todo (even something that’ll take time and effort) if sunglass guy is smiling back at me (😎 Focused!). It makes my todo list more fun to engage with!
Each morning, I grab a cup of coffee and run through my Daily Review in Things3. I have three goals: 1) Enjoy the heck out of my coffee ☕️🥰👍 2) Review each item in my Inbox (ending with it cleared out) and 3) Determine what todos I need to get done today. The visual below summarizes the five questions I ask + the Tags and Shortcuts I use when reviewing each item in my Inbox. The questions are: 1) WHAT should I do with this? 2) HOW much effort will this take? 3) WHEN do I need to complete this? 4) WHERE should I put this? 5) WHAT ELSE should I add to the todo that’ll help me complete it later?
Once I’ve cleared my Inbox, I review my Today List. There may be a few recurring or previously scheduled todos that pop up (I want to make sure they are still relevant). After reviewing my Today List, I do a quick scan of my Anytime list to identify any additional todos that I need to tackle today. I also make sure to review my 💪 Me items to ensure that a healthy dose of Purpose makes its way into my Today list each day!
Today View Focus
If I’ve done a good job during my Daily Review, I can literally live in my Today list all … day … long! I shouldn’t need to hop around from list to list, looking for stuff to do. I can simply focus on my Today list … everything I need to get done today is right there.
Here’s where the magic happens ✨. Depending on what I’m doing and what I want to focus on, I filter (i.e. shrink) my Today list to ONLY show me what I want to see. I don’t want to stare at a giant list if I can only take action on a few todos right now. You can see a few examples in the visual below.
Maybe I’ve only got 15 free minutes so I want to knock out a few quick work todos … Two seconds and Two Keyboard Shortcuts later and …💥 … I only see my Work stuff that I can complete Quickly. Or, since my brain tends to fire better in the morning, as soon as I’ve finished with my Daily Review, I may want to tackle a few work items that’ll require some focus … 💥 … my list has been condensed to only show my Work items that’ll take Focus. The same is true for ANY Tag that’s in my system … I may only want to see Me items …💥 … or items I can only complete at Home … 💥 … or I may only want to see stuff where I’m Waiting on Bob to get back to me … 💥 … it’s like magic.
The Power of Anytime
Once my Today list is clear and I’ve completed everything I need to get done today, my Anytime list becomes my new best friend 🤗. I pull up my Anytime list and using those same Productivity Fu Master filtering skills … 💥 … I whittle this list to show potential Bonus todos that I may want to work on.
Maybe I’ve got 10 mins before my next meeting and I want to see if there are any other Quick + Work items that I can knock out … or … I could followup on a few todos where I’m Waiting on people to get back to me. Maybe it’s the weekend and I don’t want to see any Work stuff at all! … I only want to see Me items that’ll bring me some joy.
I never used to utilize my Anytime list. I used to overfill my Today list with stuff I needed to do + a bunch of “I’d maybe like to do today” items. This is a slippery slope. What this led to most days was an unfinished Today list. It was defeating. I realized I wasn’t fully utilizing the power of the Anytime list. If you trust your setup and keep your Today list on a short leash of must dos, your Anytime list is a super powerful way to identify and complete bonus stuff you may not get to otherwise.
Thoughts on the Someday List.
Every Monday morning, I do a super weedy, Weekly Review of everything in Things3 (it’s my Daily Review on steroids). I go Area by Area and Project by Project, cleaning out junk and making sure everything is current. This includes doing a review of my Someday list. For me, the Someday list houses my Projects and todos that I don’t plan to take action on THIS WEEK. This leaves only ACTIVE projects and todos in my Anytime list (i.e. stuff I actually want to take action on this week). I know next Monday morning, I’ll have another opportunity to review my Someday list to see if it’s time to pull any of these Projects or Todos into Anytime 👍.
Download a PDF of the visuals.
I’ve included a downloadable PDF (see above) if you’d like to review the visuals in more detail. Getting to Pebble Snatching, Productivty Fu Master takes time … it’s definitely a journey! If fact, I’m sure there are folks out there who could taunt me with their Productivity Wisdom Pebbles 🤓. Regardless of what tool you use to track your projects and todos, I would encourage you to tinker with Tags and Shortcuts … tinker with your flow … eventually you’ll land on something that feels right. Once you can trust your Productivity System, you’ll be ready to venture out into the world and share the impact being Productive with a Purpose has had on you 💪.
Please leave a comment and share your productivity tips and tricks or ask questions if you’re stuck. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for my newsletter!
Brett Nord says
As always, great and helpful post! How can I make daily/evening routine items that don’t stay there if I miss a day or evening or don’t check hem all off? I want to start fresh next day evening with the set routine items back to work on each day. Possible?
Glad it was helpful! Regarding your question, I don’t think it’s possible to have items that aren’t checked off disappear the next morning. What I’d recommend would be to set a goal of clearing your Today list 100% before the end of each day (you could even have a recurring todo to remind you 😉). This way, you decide what to do with any left over todos … you could remove it from Today and it’ll roll back into Anytime or you could reschedule it to another date. Either way, my thought is that you want to be in control of what shows up when.
You can set tasks to repeat one day after they are completed. So if you check the box, it reappears tomorrow. and if you don’t check the box, it just stays there. It’s a good way to have a trigger list or daily habit baked in without it doubling and tripling when you fall off the wagon.
Brett Nord says
Awesome. Didn’t know that was an option. Is it self explanatory or deeper kungfu rangling?
It’s a terrific post, I started to organize my Things 3 with the suggestion here. I do have a question, how do you normally use the `someday` category?
Hi! Great question … so great that I realized I should have included a blurb in the post about the Someday list … so I actually update the post with my thoughts! Here’s what I added: “Every Monday morning, I do a super weedy, Weekly Review of everything in Things3 (it’s my Daily Review on steroids). I go Area by Area and Project by Project, cleaning out junk and making sure everything is current. This includes doing a review of my Someday list. For me, the Someday list houses my Projects and todos that I don’t plan to take action on THIS WEEK. This leaves only ACTIVE projects and todos in my Anytime list (i.e. stuff I actually want to take action on this week). I know next Monday morning, I’ll have another opportunity to review my Someday list to see if it’s time to pull any of these Projects or Todos into Anytime 👍.” Hope that’s helpful! BTW, how do you use Someday?
I was doing a pretty poor job managing someday. Most of the todos went there and never surfaced again. I think the weekly review should help.
Andy “gtdandy”Cerier says
Great blog post. Thank you for sharing your system. You are a GTD Black Belt. Keep up the great work.
Thank you, glad it was helpful! Trust me, there are some actual GTD black belts out there that would probably cringe at my setup. I’ve def tweaked it to work for me, but I think it’s important to do that … one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Thanks again!
Another great article. Love your work. I set up and run things pretty similar to you. One area of tags I use that may be helpful to you to others is a category I call Importance/Impact. The tags in this section are Rocks, Pebbles, Sand. This allows me to prioritize things so that I always look at the Rocks first, then Pebbles and then Sand.
I really like that! May play with that in my setup, thanks for the suggestion!
Reading this and “Head Zero, Inbox Everything” made me realize that I’m severely underutilizing Things 3. Thank you for this post! I’ve set mine similar to yours (along with the emojis – didn’t think about this before!) and can’t wait to implement it. Will you be planning to do something like this for your calendar?
Glad it was helpful! Regarding the calendar, David Allen (GTD – Getting Things Done) nailed it when he talked about the Calendar being the detail level below Project and todo. Once you’ve got something on your calendar, it’s a done deal. You’ve essentially committed to something and you can let it go (from your mind) and get back to what you were doing. The inbox does this (capture something quickly, get it out of your mind so you can get back to what you were doing) … the calendar is the same thing … once it’s “written down” or scheduled, you can let it go and get back to being in the now.
Great post, really nice tips and tricks!
Glad it was helpful! Thank you!
This is the most excellent explanation of how to utilize Things in a GTD-esque fashion I’ve ever read! It gave me a bunch of very nice tips that made sense to me and that I incorporated into my own workflow.
However, I was wondering how you handle stuff like movies-to-watch and books-to-read lists? Do you put those in Bear, or do you have them somewhere not visible in the illustrations here?
Hi, so glad the post has been helpful! Regarding your question, I’ve tried a few different approaches … I’ve tried a list in Bear and I’ve tried a running project in Things3. Where I’ve landed is that I have a “Read and Watch” project that I leave in Someday. This keeps it out of the way of my active projects … but once a week, Monday morning during my weekly review, I peruse my list and see if there’s something I want to read / watch this week. If there is, I do 😊 This approach fits my flow best because I can use my inbox to capture any book, show, movie that I come across quickly and then during my daily review the next morning, if I’m not ready to start reading / watching today, it goes into my project in Someday. (I’m sure there are 10 different ways to accomplish this … this is just what works best for me, using my flow). Good luck!
This is really helpful — did not think of using Someday section this way! Started to do this in Bear, but now see the value in putting it in Things. Just created mine with headings for books, podcasts, music, movies, and series
This should be obvious but I can’t figure it out: how do you get your tags in the sidebar (as in your 2nd pic)? Or is this a window of your tags? How do you get there?
Sure! On your Mac, if you go to the Window dropdown (very top of the screen) you’ll see an option for Tags (or the keyboard shortcut is cntl + command + T) … this shows a list of your Tags and where you can input keyboard shortcuts 👍
Thanks again for your input.
That’s currently how I do it in Things, with projects for movies, books and TV shows in Someday, but I’ve been considering moving it to Bear instead in order to keep Things purely “next action” focused (as per GTD). However, like you said, the act of watching a movie or reading a book is definitely an action item, and having them in the weekly review is definitely a plus.
On a related note: do you put every single one of your “to read” or “to watch” into Things? For me, I tend to dump the odd YT vid into the “Watch Later” playlist, when browsing Netflix or iTunes I’ll add interesting stuff to the respective “To Watch” lists in those places… Is there any point in gathering it all in Things, or do you reserve that for stuff that might relate to your WHYs?
Hi, I know a lot of folks who use Bear (or their note app of choice) for lists like this and it is much more GTD friendly … I say, whatever works best for you, you should do it! I use GTD as the baseline for my system, but I’ve tweaked a few things to fit my flow. I think that’s totally ok.
Regarding your second question, I’d again say: do what works best for you. Don’t put things in Things3 for the sake of doing it if you’ve already got a place where you’ll store up your next watch items! Don’t do it for the sake of doing it. I don’t watch a ton of Netflix or YouTube, so my watch list is much more contained (which makes Things3 a viable options). Maybe Things3 (or Bear) would be a place where you store your MUST WATCH items? The right list of 3-5 “I have to watch this!” Items. Ones that you don’t want to forget about or miss.
This has been gestating over the weekend, and I actually think I’ve finally managed to nail it down to something actually workable. I’ve been on and off the GTD-train for years, never really getting it. But I think I’ve finally managed to find something that I’ll be able to stick with and develop further – thanks in no small part to this post, actually.
So, once again: thanks!
Hi, thanks for following up and congrats on finding a flow that works! It is such an awesome feeling to be able to trust your daily productivity system so you can quickly handle what you need to handle and get back to being present and in the NOW. Please keep me posted as you move forward and have a great week!
Stuart W says
Hello! I’ve stumbled across you’re website and this post in particular, firstly – thanks for this post.
I’m a bit of a serial procrastinator, and have been looking for a way to start trying to implement something towards my version of a GTD system, I have settled on Things and Bear in the past… but ultimately gave up and fell off the train. This post has given me some thoughts and inspiration.
I have an issue integrating work and home life, our IT systems don’t allow much, but I do have OneNote. I’m considering implementing Things similar to your view with OneNote holding more detailed notes and reference material, what do you think? Is that something that makes sense? For example OneNote may hold the reference material with Things holding the action – as I can easily put things in to OneNote during working time and use my phone to add a ToDo. How do you cut through the clutter?
Hi, glad you found the site and glad the post was helpful!
Regarding your question, I’ve got a few thoughts. 1) step 1 is to identify what tool you’ll use for your “Inbox.” This is where you’ll capture thoughts and ideas as they hit you. Check out my “Head Zero, Inbox Everything” post for details on how I tackle my Inbox. The net of it though: you’ll want one place where you can capture things, no matter where you are, immediately. I use my phone, my iPad, my MacBook, my Apple Watch, etc to capture todos quickly when they hit me. Not sure how this will work with your work / IT setup though. But you could absolutely use your phone to add a quick todo to your Things3 Inbox whenever something hits you.
Then you have your task management tool and a place to capture notes / details / reference material … OneNote would totally work).
I cut through the clutter by trying to keep it dead simple. Everything goes in my Inbox throughout the day. Each morning, I do a daily review. Each week I do a weedy weekly review. I’d encourage you to keep your setup super simple at first (maybe minimal to no Tags to start … until you gain the confidence that your flow is working for you) … then add in additional bells and whistles when it makes sense.
Hope that helps. Good luck!🍀👍
I stumbled upon your blog when I was researching ways to organize Things3. And I am so grateful that you shared your amazing set up!
I am really interested in timemanagement and optimizing workflows, and the main reason behind that is the believe that when you organize all the things you need to do properly, you can free your mind and actually live life. So I recognize a lot in your way of thinking.
I had a system that worked quite alright, but I always felt that something was missing. After some research I purchased Things3, but all the options where quite overwhelming. But after reading this blog, not anymore! 🙂 I spent the last couple of days implementing your set up, and I am really happy with the results.
So I just wanted to say: thank you, and please keep on sharing your insights! O, and I really like your style of writing too. 🙂
Greetings from Holland!
Hi, so glad you found the post helpful and thanks for sending me a note to let me know! Cleveland, OH says what’s up to Holland! 😎👋👍
Brett Nord says
Would love to have you do a FB live or YT of you showing/explaining how you set up your Things 3! I’m having a tough time making sense of the text of this email and would learn better with a visual walkthrough of your setup. Something to consider 😉
Hi! This is a great thought, I’ve added it to my list of ideas. Don’t hesitate to ask if you’ve got any specific questions, I’ll do my best to assist / clarify. Thanks!
I loved this article and it’s made me totally rethink my Things system. I’ve added sections for Focus and Action (except I called mine Task). Then I also added contexts because I visit a few locations regularly where I can do different tasks and errands.
One thing I wondered is how much you use projects? Do you mainly use them in the true GTD sense (ie only for steps with an outcome) or do you ever use them to batch similar types of tasks? Just curious! I like doing the second as I hate having loads and loads of tasks loose in areas but would love to know what you do.
Hi, I’m glad it was helpful!
Regarding projects, I use them religiously. And yes, I generally stick w/ the GTD tenant of anything that’ll take multiple steps. But, projects for me are def outcome based … I create a project when I need to accomplish something (vs. as a place holder for like tasks … I’d use Tags for similar types of tasks). Project examples: I need to hire 2 people. I need to finish a presentation by Monday. I need to work w/ my son to finish our Pinewood Derby Car by Saturday 🚙 😊 🏆. These are all projects because they have a clear outcome and they’ll def take multiple steps to complete.
I also hate floating tasks! So I always make a point to put each todo into a Project (whenever it makes sense). There will be a situation here or there where that doesn’t make sense (I.e. I need to get a haircut or I need to reply to an email) … but I honestly wouldn’t sweat it too much.
I’ve been reading your blog since you posted your first post on the Thingsapp subreddit. I’ve read this specific post probably four times by now, and I finally got it. My workflow have changed dramatically and I’m now way more productive at work and can relax more at home.
Your inbox post helped me clear my head and stay focused.
Thanks for making me productive with a purpose <3
Wow … you just made my day 😊 Glad you’ve found these posts helpful and thanks for your feedback!!
I also wanted to ask where you’re putting errands as I don’t understand how they fit into this workflow?
You can’t do errands at home, so where do they go? Or at least I can’t – if I see a list of tasks to do at home I don’t want to see errands on it. I’m struggling to see where they fit in here?
Hi! If you look at the visual of my Tags, you’ll see that errands are a unique action tag (quick, focused, journal, errand, call). So I flag “errands” (stuff I can’t do at home) with the errands tag. Then, when I filter my today view or the anytime view, I filter it by action tag … show me all my “quick” todos … show me all my todos where I need to be “focused” … show me all my “calls” … I’m about to run out, show me my “errands”.
Of course, I can filter the today list by Work, Home or Me (my focus tags) as well to make the list smaller.
Let me know if this doesn’t make sense, thanks!
Right but do they go under Home or Me? I tried to use your system, but I have home related errands I can’t do AT home and couldn’t work out where to put them!
OH … I see what you’re asking, sorry for the confusion!
My “Home” Area and Focus Tag isn’t specific to things that only happen at “Home” … it’s anything outside of work really. It’s anything having to do with “My Home Life” … so if I need to get dog food while I’m out or batteries or light bulbs … it’s non-work stuff, but tied to my personal life. Does that help?
“Me” focused stuff then is stuff that’s all about ME … so projects or todos that are all for me. So, from my above example, I want to keep lightbulbs and dog food and batteries (which are lame!) separate from stuff like: recording a song with my daughter or blog post ideas, etc.
Let me know if that helps!
Oh I see! Thank you!
I have read this article about 5 times now and every time I do I pick up another little nugget I overlooked. This is pure gold – thank you. I would love for you to revisit this setup in another article or video with more screenshots. The thing I am confused about most is how to set up Areas and projects. In one of the comments you mention that projects for you have a defined end date. But then I see one of your Areas is “My Why” which has projects like “Family” which to me sounds like it would not have an end date.
I have approached areas & projects in a number of different ways but never seem to hit on the right combo. Any insights, advice or screenshots would be much appreciated.
Hi Bill, super happy this article has been helpful!
I am working hard on a “Productivity Fu Master Fundamentals” Guide that will hit on exactly what you’re looking for. I realized I went pretty deep in my original Fu Master post and want to take a step back and focus on the higher level mindset and approach to trust your Productivity flow.
Thanks again and stay tuned!
Hey Bill, I posted a new article that is a Productivity Checklist using Things3. I hit on some best practices for Areas and Projects. “My Why” section has also evolved a bit. Check it out and let me know if any questions. Thanks!
How do tasks inherit tags on Areas? I added tags to my areas like you have, but when I add a task, no tags are applied. When I search a tag, I see Areas but have to drill down to see the tasks. Is this how you are doing it? I would prefer if there was a way to see an expanded list when searching tags. Do you know if it’s possible with having to add a tag to every new task? Thanks.
Hi Kris! It’s a little confusing because you won’t actually see the tag on the task.
But if you have a tag on an Area (let’s say it’s a “Work” tag) and have todos within the Work area, you should be able to filter your views by that tag and see the appropriate todo.
You’re right though, searching straight tags can be a little confusing.
I search less by tag … and instead will go into my Anytime view and filter by that tag. This will show me the items I want to see.
Let me know if that makes sense!
Yes that makes sense, thanks!
Thanks for all you write-ups, they are well explained and have given me things to think about. I also like to add emoji to items to help personalise the app but a problem with using emoji before a tag in Things is that autocomplete doesn’t work when assigning tags in the app. Do you just arrow to the tag or is there a workaround you know about?
Hi, glad the articles have been helpful! Regarding your question, I have run into this before. One way I’ve found to get around it is to use keyboard shortcuts when assigning tags (this removes the need to type the name to find it).
You’ll find instructions for adding keyboard shortcuts at the very bottom of this article by Cultured Code. Best of luck!
Great read, thank you! You noted that your area tags are automatically added to tasks. How do you do this? That doesn’t seem to work for me (adding a tag to an area, and then adding a task to that area doesn’t automatically add the area tag to the task).
Hi, glad it was helpful! It’s a little weird because the tag is there, it just doesn’t show when you’re looking at the task. But, if you filter by the tag, the item should show.