Goodbye Things, Hello OmniFocus

Is this indicative of something? I had a task in Things to blog about that app for many months before I downloaded OmniFocus and made my first post about Getting Things Done (GTD). I entered a task in Things and OmniFocus on November 3, to write a follow-up and here it is. I wish it meant I was going to be a lot more productive using OmniFocus. Probably it just means I’ve had a more time to blog since I’ve been home, but OmniFocus may be contributing a little too.

I do seem to be more focused and organized since I started using OmniFocus. It’s easier for me to switch between projects so I can make progress on several each day. As far as my blog, it is quicker for me to locate a blog post and make a note about it than it was with Things. That is true of other projects and tasks too, for a few reasons: 1) Perspectives. My “blog” perspective shows all the ideas for blog posts with one click or key combination. The other perspectives I use daily are “Today”, “Due Next,” and “Review”. 2) The organizational structure of OmniFocus, with folders, projects, and single item lists all integrated into one outline, is far easier for me to comprehend and navigate than Things separate Projects and Areas. 3) Tasks don’t get hidden in OmniFocus when you incubate something with either inactive folders or “on hold” contexts, like they do with Things “Scheduled”.

Which reminds me, the “Scheduled” feature in Things was one of my favorites, and something I thought I couldn’t live without. OmniFocus doesn’t have an analogous feature that I am aware of, and I don’t miss it one bit. It is SO much easier to organize, review and hide items I am not currently working on in OmniFocus, I don’t need the Scheduled feature…..and I don’t waste time constantly managing it.

What I love about OmniFocus: 1) I have my quick entry preferences set so I can enter multiple items. 2) I set up clean-up options so tasks automatically are filed in the correct project instead of stopping in the Inbox. That is a big time saver for me. (See this forum post for instructions.) 3) As I’m tabbing along entering a task’s info I can enter shorthand for start and due dates, like “Mon”, or “next friday”, “two weeks”, “+3 days”. (BTW, you can use date shorthand in Things.) 4) The folder structure works so much better for me I have to mention it again. Since my OmniFocus projects are organized within my OmniFocus folders choosing a project automatically puts the task in the right “Area”. This is how you would expect it to work, but Areas and Projects just don’t work this way in the current incarnation of Things. As I wrote in my first post, that is one aspect of Things that frustrated me from day one. 5) I no longer click an item to open its note. I just press command – ‘. And that is what makes OmniFocus work so much better for me than Things. I don’t use the mouse very much….and as great invention as mice are, they result in a measurable loss in productivity as compared to keeping your hands on the keyboard. Of course, I wouldn’t feel quite so in love with my keyboard without Colmak. 6) My fear of missing something in Things is eliminated by OmniFocus’s Perspectives->All Items. My “Review” Perspective is a modified version of “All Items” I spend 5-15 min every morning reviewing it and the “Due Next” Perspective, and flagging items for “Today”.

OmniFocus Archive!! So I was thinking, this file is going to be huge with all my completed items hanging around, and I took a glance at the OmniFocus menu for something like “delete old items.” What I found instead was “Move Old Data to Archive”. OmniFocus actually creates an archive of old stuff and gets it out of your working file. Did the developers think of everything or what? (Note: while this is a cool feature, I haven’t used it yet. I started using a “dropped” project folder for inactive projects. I don’t want these archived so I’m hoping for an option to exclude “dropped” items from being archived.)

With Things it is often difficult to reorganize tasks. For example, if you want to move tasks from one Scheduled project to another Scheduled Project. The only way I found was to move the destination project out of Scheduled. Move the tasks. Then reschedule. I have not found any similar restrictions to moving tasks in OmniFocus.

OmniFocus has a number of export options which is nice, and a feature missing from the beta version of Things. When I needed to transfer items to a colleague using Things I just punted and printed a hardcopy. It would have been more convenient to send an e-mail, especially if she had not been standing in the same room.

OmniFocus printing is a bit of a disappointment to me, but many users may like it. It prints whatever is in your current view, which is very similar to printing with Things. I would like a print option, not tied to views that printed all tasks, or all tasks in a project, or context. That said it is trivial to set up the view you want and print it.

I am trying to think of one feature I like better in Things than OmniFocus. I do like the Today view. But I don’t miss it because it was simple to set up a similar OmniFocus Perspective with instructions from the YouTube videos Mike mentioned in his comment to my previous post about OmniFocus and Things. (The YouTube “Do Today List” videos, Part 1 and Part 2.)

Syncing: neither has exactly what I want. I like the iCal syncing options better in Things, but either work for me. I just sync to iCal so I can get my offline and shopping items on my Blackberry using MissingSync.

The Things “trash can” is nice. A little insurance against an accidentally pressed delete key when you don’t know what was selected. With OmniFocus I use “Undo” in that situation.

In some ways. Things seems cooler, more popular. Then again I have never been one to make decisions based on what the cool people are doing.

If you decide OmniFocus has too many features you can export to a Taskpaper file and give it a try. I tried it out for fun, and to see how Taskpaper would look with all my stuff in it. Not all my tasks transferred over correctly. It’s possible that I mistakenly exported only a subset of my tasks.

So the verdict, as you have already guessed, is OmniFocus. Yeah, it is $80, but I think it will more than pay for itself in a few weeks because of the time I save during task entry and not having to reorganize my next actions or “Today” list several days a week. I actually was pretty sure after a few hours and had made up my mind and stopped using Things after 5 days of the OmniFocus trial, but I couldn’t have come to a decision so quickly if I was not already familiar with Things.

Given my preference for OmniFocus, my final recommendation my be surprising. I don’t think a 15-day trial is long enough for most people to evaluate OmniFocus, especially if you are just getting started with GTD. At least while Things has such a generous trial policy, it may be better to try Things first and if doesn’t quite feel right give OmniFocus a try. Things is planned to be priced at $49; $39 if you sign up for the newsletter during the beta period. (OmniGroup also has a Trial License request form. You may be able to extend an OmniFocus trial a few days with that.)

So thanks to CulturedCode for their generous trial/beta period for Things. And thanks to OmniGroup for a GTD app that is more comfortable for my workflow.

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7 Comments

  1. I’m right on the fence between buying Omnifocus and buying Things, both frustrate me in different ways, though the #1 thing about Things is that it doesn’t force me to put in a context, which is a bit of structure that I find really helps me stay focused. But then I started looking around and thinking about the interface stuff in Omnifocus that drives me crazy and looking at Things again.

    You post helped me remember what it is that made me choose Omnifocus over Things. Thanks for that!

    One note (and the reason I am comenting) you mention using dropped projects for innactive projects. Try using On Hold instead!

    Tim

  2. I’ve been using Things since early beta. I think that its interface is simple and looks very good. And if you’re not a strict GTD user it’s perfect choice.

    But since I started to follow GTD more I had to switch to OmniFocus. The reason is that Things lack sequential projects. Without them all contexts are useless. And working strict GTD style is simply impossible. You can’t filter only next actions for given context (tag). And 90% of my projects are sequential so until Thing would implement this feature i’ll stick with OF.

    And I have to say that OF is a great app. You’ve got to get used to interface and workflow but then working with it very easy and intuitive.

  3. I am still using both, OmniFocus and THINGS. The today list in THINGS is my favorite because I can easily change and sort the order of items. Helps me a lot in planning.

    In OmniFocus I am missing the ability to rearrange items (priorities) in lists generated via VIEW BAR!

    Hopefully the new iPhone 3Gs will make opening and syncing documents faster.  I recommend THINGS to people who first want to get familiar with the GTD ideas.

  4. There is a schedule in Omnifocus – it is called Start Date. It makes the task or project unavailable until that time. Of course, if you have a perspective that shows them, they will still show up greyed out.

  5. There is a schedule in Omnifocus – it is called Start Date. It makes the task or project unavailable until that time. Of course, if you have a perspective that shows them, they will still show up greyed out….

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