Using Things 2 for TRO (an advanced GTD-type approach)

Q: Does Things 2 support TRO?

(TRO stands for Total, Relaxed Organization, which merges GTD principles with an automatic, Covey-type "big picture" approach. TRO delivers extra relaxed control with less effort than basic GTD.)

A: Yes! Things 2 is TRO compliant if you know how to make a few adjustments. Here's how to do it.

[Edited to support Things 2. -Ed]

The Pros

Things 2 is well integrated with the Apple OS X environment, Gmail, and the highly-popular Things apps as well as the new Things Cloud. Things supports multiple, hierarchical tags that make it easy to group meeting agenda contexts, 1-1 contexts, etc. It also supports a single date and a "today" (star) attribute for tasks. It also supports Projects and Areas of Responsibility. And Things 2 added a great Daily Review list for your TRO hotlist.

Accommodations to Make

Things does not have a ready-to-use second date field or Priority field that can be used as a "soft date" or "prioritization date" (important for the advanced benefits of Total, Relaxed Organization). So, you'll need to create special tags called "!This Week", "!Next Week", "!This Month", "!Next Month", and "!S/M". Create these under a ! hierarchy grouping so they appear together in your tag list. I also recommend assigning hotkeys of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 to these for easy tagging.

Things also supports "Projects" for multi-step actions. These projects include Project Dates, which you need to ignore (do not use them). A Someday list is supported for entire projects or lone tasks, but you are unable to add project steps to it;  use your new !S/M tag for all your Someday/Maybe project steps instead. This is explained more below.

Things 1.2 had an option to show tasks in Today list X days before. Disable that if you see it. You will use the Things 2 Daily Review list instead. You will enter task or project deadline dates in parentheses at the end of the task/project name as taught in TRO Online Training. It gives you much better control this way.

Do not use the Schedule list, as it hides tasks from your normal views when you should be seeing them.

Doing TRO with Things 2

Start your TRO Online Training and select Other as your task manager training tool. Then use these methods for these TRO methods in the online training:

* Date field is your hard date.
* Use special "!This Week", "!Next Week", "!This Month", "!Next Month" and "!S/M" tags as your soft dates, which you always assign to actions.
* Use Areas of Responsibility as your major categories like Work, Personal, and Family. There is no need to define these area names with special characters.
* Use Daily Review list as your TRO hotlist for daily reviews.
* Use Star as your DO Today indicator.
* Add a step in your Daily Review to look at your !This Week list (in addition to your Daily Review hotlist) and star any additional items you want to do today. Then work from your Today list during the day.
* Work from your Today list or your Area list for the current area of focus during that time of the day.

There is no automatic validation to ensure that you assign the right tags and dates to all your tasks when processing. Which means...

Extra Details for "Processing" in Things
* Leave tasks in the Inbox until you have assigned a soft date (This Week, next Week, etc.), a hard date (Due Date) if applicable, an Area, and any other tags.
* When marking the last task in a project as completed, add the next step immediately or look at the !S/M project tasks to choose the next one. If you fail to do this, your project may sit idle until your next Weekly Review.
* Add a few steps (below) to your Weekly Review to make sure tasks are processed properly. This adds no more than 5 minutes to your Weekly Review.
* True "Someday/Maybe" project steps need the !S/M tag assigned to them.
* Inactive project steps or lone tasks need to be moved into the Someday list instead.

Extra Details for Things Daily Review
* Look at the Next: !This Week list for things your want to do today. Star it to move to Today list. Add a hard date (Due Date) only if it applies.
* Make sure all items have "!This Week" as the tag by confirming the number of items at the bottom of the bar with the number in the Today: !This Week list (click !, then This Week) in the tag selector at the top).

Extra Details for Things Weekly Review
* Make sure there are no active projects without next steps.
* Go to Next: All and make sure all tasks have soft date categories like !This Week. (Check the number of items at the bottom as for Daily Review, check the Next: None list.)
* Look at This Week, Next Week, This Month, Next Month and move any forward that you're ready to move up. This is more rare than you may think, since people usually estimate too soon and new, higher-priority tasks always arise.

Extra Details for Things Monthly Review
* Look at the Someday Focus list and see if any projects/tasks should be done now. (This is the first part of your Someday/Maybe list.)
* (Optional) Look at !S/M project list likewise for project steps.

Other Great Stuff
Things is integrated nicely with the Apple environment and apps, which gives nice document management abilities if you create or get a lot of documents that are connected with actions (like scanned documents):
* Create an electronic file cabinet and "pile file" everything in a single location. Instantaneous Spotlight search makes finding those documents easy.
* Drag and drop any document into the Things task window to link it to a task as a resource.
* Things supports a Quick Entry dialog anywhere in OS X. It is assigned to Ctrl+Option+Spacebar but can be reassigned.
* You can use a cool Autofill feature instead. Highlight files, then use the quick buttons for quick entry with Autofill (fills in the task for you intelligently).
* GMail is nicely integrated. If you have the email window open, Quick Add will grab the URL to the GMail document and paste it in the Notes field when you create a task from a GMail message. Highly recommended!

Bottom Line

With these adjustments, Things 2 does a great job of managing your TRO tasks and projects.

Reply to tell us your experience with Things and TRO and ask us any clarifying questions.


  • Hi Kevin
    Thanks for this. Couple of questions.
    Unsure of how to do this "Disable the Things option to show tasks in Today list X days before."

    Also, you mention not to use the schedule section as it hides items from view. Is that not helpful in the case of tasks you know won't be on your radar for the foreseeable future?
  • I'm not running Things and can't answer your question directly. I remember seeing it as an option or setting in the setup section of Things.

    You'll have to play with the Schedule feature if you want to use if as a "Hide Until" method. One big problem, as I recall, was that you could only hide entire projects, not individual tasks. After trying it in different ways, it seemed to not be useful for a TRO approach.
  • Thanks for these instructions, I'm trying to follow them to use TRO since I've chosen Things as my task management program. One thing that has me confused is the line that says gmail is nicely integrated - I have gmail open but when I pull up the quick add screen on things it does not automatically put in the URL for the email. Do I have to do something else for this to happen? Is there something to change in Gmail? The TRO training instructions for gmail seem a little out of date - I tried to follow them but I see nothing related to "tasks" in the Settings area of Gmail. I know I can just use the label function, but I will want my email tasks in Things, and see no way to easily integrate the two without copying and pasting the URL. Has anyone figured this out? 
  • Thanks for asking. Here are the instructions: Look partway down the page for the Show and Autofill hotkey.

    Please reply and let us know how it works for you.

    RE: Gmail instructions: The "Tasks" option only appears in Gmail if your have the Remember the Milk add-on installed. That instruction is for Remember the Milk only and not Things, so you can safely ignore it.

    That brings me to something else...

    Update to TRO Training

    Actually, the TRO training system has been completely revised and updated (in-house at the moment). New tools, new instructions, new scalable architecture created and coming soon so new tools can be added quickly and dynamically on short notice, and even a great new look. (Coming soon: Paper planners, Toodledo, Android, iPad, Blackberry Storm, Palm Pre, Lightning (calendar), detailed instructions for applying TRO to Generic tools of your choice, and a big surprise or two.) Gmail instructions are getting updated too.

    This change will eliminate overlap between RTM and Things instructions. The tools and methods are well-defined separately from each other, and the whole TRO approach is even easier to understand independent of the tools you choose.

    The new price may be higher, but all existing users (if you buy it now) will get the upgrade free, no upcharge even if the price increases. The change will automatically be pushed to all existing users without making you repeat your training in progress. We will also notify existing users of the change. So start/keep training now and get all the benefits of TRO, but look forward to the update when it arrives. 

    Also, the new system will not include the eBook, so by buying now, you still have and keep the eBook option.

    In the new system, you will be able to see which sections you visited already and what is new (those sections will not be marked as "Done"), so you can easily go back and brush up afterwards. If you completed the full training with "Outlook" but were really learning on Things, email [email protected] and they will change the training tools for you so you can go back through for Things. (Note: Things instructions will not be included in the initial release, but they should follow shortly thereafter. Until then, follow these instructions in this post for adapting the Outlook training.)

    No date is announced for the update, but it's soon.... :-)
  • Thanks so much for your response. The autofill is extremely helpful. Despite the "update" on that page it still does not work in Firefox (copies the text but NOT the URL). But mostly I use Chrome and it works just fine there.

    I'm excited about the new TRO instructions, especially for instructions more directly related to using Things. When when when will these be released? I'm struggling along trying to implement TRO with the RTM instructions, but definitely not clear always how to adjust Things to use with TRO. I'm really looking forward to understanding the TRO approach better independent of tools but also with the tools I'm currently using.
  • Thanks for all this information and dialogue!

    I started TRO with Windows, TROG Bar & Outlook with an iPhone.  I recently purchased a Mac and am transitioning to Things for Mac & iPhone; therefore all of the detailed explanations are abundantly relevant.  

    Perhaps, if there isn't one already, it would be helpful to centralize this discussion around GTD software specifically for Mac, so that it is more easily found, followed and supports a greater ease of exchange?

    Thanks again for the questions as well as answers.  I am quite enthusiastic about my new Mac as well as TRO; and want to continue to maximize the benefits of each!
  • is wonderful. There's always all of the ideal info in the ideas of my fingers. Thanks and keep up the excellent work!
  • I've just recently moved onto using Things 2.0. 
    I note these directions are from 2009. I wonder if the TRO training using Things is significantly different from these? I have Priacta training from RTM. Just wondering if I need to buy a new training license for Things in order to maximize my usage of TRO within things?
  • edited March 2013
    I see that Things is supposed to be supported in TRO, but I can't find any info on setting up Things 2.0.. 

    If this information does not exist yet, would you please create it? 
  • This post has been updated for Things 2. Overall, Things 2 works well as a TRO task manager.
  • Re: * Make sure all items have "!This Week" as the tag by confirming the number of items at the bottom of the bar with the number in the Today: !This Week list

    I can't see where Things 2 shows you the number of next action at the bottom (maybe a feature stripped out of Things 2?)
  • edited October 2013
    Check for a Setting or Preference. List counts are an option in most apps.
  • Just wanted to mention that Ken was nice enough to figure out the process for setting up the latest Things 3 with TRO and committed to posting them online soon. So the good news is that it's supported and verified! Working my way through them now. Will report back or perhaps start a new thread.
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