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.

Cheating on Things…with OmniFocus

There are a lot of good reviews about Things, and the CulturedCode developers are frequent commenters on reviews of GTD software that include Things. Things is a beautiful application that works amazingly well for a beta. And I certainly can’t complain about the nearly one year free trial while it’s been in beta. But I got tired of the regular pop-ups telling me that a feature is not available until the release version, and having to re-organize my Today list every morning was getting a little old. So I decided to give OmniFocus a try. Only a 14-day trial, kind of a bummer after a 9 month trial with Things, and I do wonder if I can be satisfied at the end of 14 days, about which application is right for me. I mean it took a lot of use for the nit picky items I mentioned above to start to bug me in Things.

As background, I’ve listened to the Unabridged recording of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done multiple times. The concepts were like a huge breath of fresh air to me and really made sense in the context of the many tasks I was trying to keep track of. That is what prompted me to go looking for a GTD application for Mac last winter.

There are a lot out there. The ones I considered last winter:

  • iGTD – maybe it is the interface design, but it just looked complicated and obtuse to me. It’s got a lot of happy users so it is worth checking out.
  • TaskPaper– sweet little app if your task list is short….mine is VERY not short.
  • OmniFocus – too expensive and every review I read said it was not quite as good as Things. That was then and this is why I’m writing now.
  • Things – right price and seemed to do everything I wanted. A nice little intro video from a user made it look simple.

There were a few features in Things that threw me from the start. 1) Areas v. Projects. Though I have spent a fair amount of time reading about the subject in the Things forum, I still don’t understand how to use Areas effectively, but I do have close to twenty. 2) There didn’t seem to be a way to see everything. I was always worried that I was overlooking some item, maybe hidden away in Scheduled or Someday. I really wanted a view that showed me everything relevant so I could do a quick review each morning. FWIW, after this long trial, I have come to trust Scheduled. It has always worked reliably, popping tasks to the Today list when their time is up. Someday can get overlooked, but honestly the few things I put in there were things I will probably never get too. That said, I think what I really wanted was a function in between Scheduled and Someday. There are tasks I want to review when I look at everything, but I want to decide when to review them. I don’t like having them dumped in Today and waking up to an 80 item Today list to cull through and reorganize.

Some issues that have bothered me after the long trial. 1) Maybe it is because I have so many tasks, but clicking a task seems sluggish. Things is especially slow to de-select an item. Sometimes I don’t know if I have not clicked in the right area to de-select or if Things has just hung up for a few seconds. 2) I guess not being sure if I have clicked in the right place after several months of use is one of my issues too. 3) I’ve never made much use of Tags. Probably I need to simplify my Tags even further. My Things are tagged, I just don’t use the available filters (though they look very cool!). Maybe it is that fear of missing something when it is hidden.

So I downloaded OmniFocus last night and watched the excellent OmniFocus Basics Video, produced by OmniGroup. (There’s also a Perspectives video in the Resources section on the main OmniFocus page.) I also did a quick scan of the manual and downloaded the one page reference chart.

A lot of reviewers have found OmniFocus’ interface design lacking. I think it is great and functional looking, whereas Things interface looks a little like a toy with all its eye candy. To me the <return> based item entry is much more intuitive, than Things’ <space><return>. I like that Omnifocus has all the pertinent data; Project, Context, Start Date, Due Date, Duration, in one line; and that I get to choose the Columns displayed. I don’t care much for having to click an icon to add a Note, but that seems to slow me down less than navigating the item entry box in Things. At first I didn’t like being limited to one Context per task, but I quickly saw the benefit of that, when I realized I never used Things Tags because mine were too complex. OmniFocus also has estimated Duration as a separate feature so time doesn’t have to go in your Contexts. Interestingly I have 23 Tags in Things and 22 Contexts in OmniFocus. For the most part they don’t map. I took the 11 most useful Tags from my Things list and added a Context for non-computer tasks and some subcontexts for errands.

A surprising realization to me was, while all the reviews I’ve read said Things was the simpler of the two applications, for me the reverse was true. OmniFocus was more intuitive and fit better with my workflow (admittedly somewhat shaped by using Things for several months). OmniFocus’ Views and the ability to organize Projects and Single Action Lists within Folders were more useful and made more sense to me than Things implementation of Areas. Though the two features are very similar. OmniFocus may have a more bells-and-whistles at this stage (comparing a release candidate version of OmniFocus to a beta of Things), but I think the basic usage of OmniFocus is more straightforward.

The cost of OmniFocus at $80 is a drawback, but not more than I would be willing to spend on a program I use everyday. The larger developer force behind OmniFocus is a plus. OmniGroup seems to be able to implement changes more quickly than Cultured Code. As a Blackberry user I was disappointed to see Things developers suddenly turn their attention to getting an iPhone version out the door to keep up with the release of OmniFocus for iPhone, pushing off the release date of the desktop version yet again. Though the upside is that Things is free as in beta, for another 3 months.

Overall I am impressed with OmniFocus. Enough to switch from Things to OmniFocus permanently? I don’t know yet, but I will create a task in both to let you know.

If you give OmniFocus and/or Things a try be sure to watch the videos first. It’s a few minutes spent that will save you time and get you up to speed using these applications and having fun organizing your task lists right away.