OmniFocus Raises the Bar for To-Dos

OmniFocus iconWe’ve spilled plenty of virtual ink on to-do lists in the past. But despite the  plethora of alternatives on the market, there always seems to be room for one more. Now Mac software house The Omni Group is preparing to launch OmniFocus,  a “professional-grade task list management” application with its roots in GTD. For web workers who spend most of their days tied to a Mac, it’s definitely worth a look. Though the program won’t ship until January, it’s in open beta now, and you can buy a discounted early bird copy ($39.95 instead of $79.95) until the official ship date.

I’ve been using OmniFocus since early in its alpha days, and I’ve grown happy with it as a well-designed and well-integrated OS X to-do list manager. At its core, it embraces the GTD methodology: you organize your tasks into folders and projects, and everything is assigned a context. Switching from planning mode with its emphasis on the project hierarchy to context mode with its emphasis on next action for each context lets you instantly drop into the GTD mindset of focusing only on what can be done right now to advance your goals.

But one of the key points of OmniFocus is flexibility. Though you can use it with GTD, you don’t have to. If you want to work entirely in planning mode, and see all of your tasks all the time, you can. If you want to put your tasks into buckets and ignore the project hierarchy, or set projects to “parallel” so there is no sense of “next” task, you can do that too. Even better, you can store what OmniFocus calls perspectives, which are sets of display settings. For example, you could have a perspective that showed everything in planning mode, grouped by project, sorted by due date, filtered only to active projects – and call that perspective up with a hot key. Build enough perspectives, and OmniFocus becomes a to-do list chameleon.

You’ll also find good integration with the rest of OS X here. Spotlight integration is here, of course.  You also get synchronization with iCal-maintained to-do items, a hotkey-loaded quick entry box so you don’t have to deal with the whole OmniFocus user interface just to jot down a new task, and a way to add new tasks by mail. The latter feature will appeal to the sometimes on-the-go user who needs to send brainstorms back to be processed from the OmniFocus inbox to their proper projects at a later time.

What’s not to like here? Even though you can hide the GTD trappings, if all you want is a flat to-do list manager, there are less expensive alternatives, so if that’s your goal, OmniFocus is overkill. And obviously, if you’re not sitting in front of a Mac for the bulk of the day, this isn’t the program for you: web workers on the go will be better served by an online application, while Windows users aren’t the target market at all. But if you are within Omni’s demographic, the current beta builds are plenty stable enough to download and take for a spin.


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