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TickTick and Things 3 – two Fantastic yet Similar Architectural Approaches to Task Management

by Kerry Dawson

I spend a lot of time looking at Task Managers and Management Systems for a variety of reasons but the most important being I need them. When I was younger, I think I used to use a lot of memory power to keep it together and fortunately either the times were a bit simpler or my memory was stronger or possibly a combination of the above. Now I tend not to leave things to memory generally but rather write what has to accomplished down to either just get things done that have to be done or possibly meet some longer term goal.

Initially, I was quite taken with the GTD model. My academic background was in Psychology as is David Allen’s, the creator of GTD. The idea of a model to guide the way seemed right on to me.

I started to use the big GTD apps of the day:

  • OmniFocus
  • the Hit List
  • Things
  • Todo
    And with good results.

Time Passes and so Do Approaches

Although GTD seemed to be working for me as did the apps, I also started thinking is all this necessary. I started questioning, at first, the applications especially OmniFocus for being extremely rigid, complex and obtuse. It seemed to considered the GTD leader but what I began noticing with many an OmniFocus user was the insane creation of numerous Projects and Tasks with subtasks.

In fact, the odd user never seemed to get anything done and it struck me for a couple of reasons:

  • they were too busy writing down tasks to the nth degree
  • when they approached their projects and tasks they were overwhelmed as to where to start

I’m definitely not saying this was everyone’s blight, but the more I looked at it, the more obvious it was becoming. It wasn’t necessarily just OmniFocus that was producing these skewed results but other GTD type programs also.

Questioning Success

Did success, as David Allen suggests, depend on using the GTD methodology. It reminded me somewhat of the 60’s psychoanalyst. The only way to deal with your neurosis was to confront issues after extensive analysis. Today, we know this isn’t exactly true. In fact, maybe a person became completely messed up as a result of their psychoanalysis and we know that to be true and that’s why it really doesn’t exist anymore.

When Freud developed psychoanalysis it was based on:

  • the socio cultural aspects of Vienna at the turn of the 1800’s to 1900’s
  • medicine had not advanced enough to deal with the complications Freud was seeing (he was a neurologist by training)

What this tells us is that certain things are right for certain periods based on the parameters of the period.

Can Simpler Not be Better

The approach that Things from Culture Code took consistently is that simpler is better. Although it was more loosely based on GTD than OmniFocus they were too very different beasts and for a while OmniFocus seemed to be the way to go. For this discussion I will use OmniFocus as the example to have one extreme looking at another approach.

Microsoft came out with their own version of a task management system called “Microsoft To-do”. Carefully looking at this product, it incorporates concepts of GTD such as lists in which tasks sit. However, when you really look at the product and use it, the product is extremely easy to use. It is really all most people need. It integrates with their larger product (Outlook) which is probably extremely valuable but you don’t need a manual to use nor does it make you feel you need to get carried away with it.

Why, if you were to use say David Allen’s concept of a brain dump (externalize that which has to be done on paper or whatever as your brain can’t hold anymore than 7 or 8 things) do you not feel compelled to write down every little aspect of what needs to be done for any project or thing. It might actually go back to this concept of 7 or 8 things. In psychology, an experiment demonstrates we can retain by rote memory 7 digits but not more.

There’s nothing to dispute this except one thing. Observing something can generate a whole new pile of stuff and stuff that needs doing. This hasn’t been defined with a limit. In essence, these are two kinds of memory functions – one which is pure recall and one which is stimulus recall.

Two of my Favourite Task Managers Currently

There are two task managers which are my current favourites, one which has a history but has been reworked extensively and one which is new but is oddly very similar to the other. TickTick is currently my favourite task manager as not only does it work in an extremely fluid way it is fully cross platform (runs on Android and the Apple environment).

The other task manager which I’m very impressed with is Things 3. It only works on Apple products but it is a much nicer iteration of v2. As mentioned, there are certain architectural similarities between these two task managers even though they visually look different.

Things v3

Things v3 is a beautifully reworked system. It is clean, elegant, intuitive and with that easy to use. It uses space efficiently on the screen by hiding what you don’t need to see until you need to see it and it has implemented the concept of a checklist right within a task. That is, the task might say grocery shopping but in your checklist might be all the items to be picked up. These can be checked off within your task and the task brought to completion.

Things can be as simple as that but if you need it to be a little more extensive it can be. In fact, it could be a full on GTD system or some variation of that which might suit you better.

You can have a project such as build a garage and with the project a variety of tasks to accomplish what you want to do. In those tasks can be checklists so that you don’t forget something.

Things has always used the concept of areas of responsibility. I’ve tended to think of these as Folders, a way of further delineating your projects and tasks.

At it’s highest level, this is Things but you have to see it to appreciate it’s clean lines and subtle colours. It is not overwhelming but almost spot on. It could be your very simple task manager to todo list right on through to a full fledged GTD system with project management capabilities.

Add to Things tags and you can further delineate your items. A tag can be used for priority such as High, Medium and Low or to identify an items function spread across tasks thus pulling them together. Flexibility and ease of use is the name of the program.


TickTick interestingly is not much different than Things except it works cross platform on Android. It uses Android’s concept of material design and is, like Things, clean and easy to use. It can be a simple task manager right through to a full on GTD program.

TickTick also uses checklists within a task and Projects or a primary list that tasks can be part of. Add to this a true priorities system, the ability to set due dates and add tasks and you have a very robust system.

Instead of areas of responsibility you use folders but I look at the two and they mean the same to me. If you look at these two programs, the are uncannily similar in functionality to each other.


There is not one over the other program I would recommend here. If you are using an Apple environment say with an Android phone, something which is growing in popularity, TickTick would be the way to go. If you’re at work and you expect to be a part of a team to solve problems, you might want to recommend TickTick as these days it is very likely your room will consist of iPhones with Android phones. Even your Blackberry is based on Android.

I don’t think you can go wrong with either of these programs provided you take into consideration your hardware mix. Things is no reason to run out and buy an Android if you’re happy with your iPhone. Much to Apple’s dismay, the LG G6, Samsung S8 and HTC u11 likely can’t be beat for power and elegance. I tend to prefer the LG G6 but this is the beauty of Android – there are styles that can suit your needs without blowing the budget. Further, software is becoming more and more cross platform all the time.

Things v3 and TickTick are perfect examples of how you can have high quality software fitting into a homogenous environment vs that of a heterogenous environment. Both these programs can suit you well.

You might have extensive knowledge with OmniFocus but there is a way to work with that in a heterogenous environment also. However, I think there might be a trend or at least consideration towards the move to more conducive software that frees you up to do work instead of you becoming a slave to your software.

This tech has many benefits with many to come. There is a downside though when our social systems deter us from true socializing and our systems enslave us to a system making us less productive than more.

Task management is as good as any example I can think of around this. There is nothing to say that something such as Microsoft’s To-do, a cross platform system, can’t leave you more functional than a full on GTD system. In fact, it is time to start questioning GTD as a rigid model that potentially takes away from productivity as enhances it. The idea that we can benefit from a reminder type system is as old as time itself. Structure in how we approach things is not bad either. However, my form of studying might work very well for me and not well for you at all. Finally, the idea that the brain is so well understood as to put a premise forward on what we can deal with is dangerous and foolhardy. The one thing that is well understood is the easier we make it to get from point A to B the more productive we all are.

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