OmniFocus for Mac and iPhone – a Perfect Task Management Solution

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If you’re like me, you have more to do than you could realistically get done in a month. How do you keep up with it all? There are dozens of productivity applications for your Mac, and a few for your iPhone. But there’s one application that’s available on both your Mac and your iPhone… OmniFocus.

I’m sure most of you have read, or at least heard of Getting Things Done by David Allen. He started a real productivity movement, and has millions of dedicated followers. He has excellent and practical advice for organizing your life and work, and there are a lot of tools available that you can use to take advantage of his recommendations… some specifically designed around his methodology. OmniFocus is one of them. At its core, OmniFocus IS “GTD” task management. Don’t worry if you don’t know what GTD is, fortunately you don’t have to know anything about it to become more productive using OmniFocus. For more information about Getting Things Done task management, check out David Allen’s website.

How OmniFocus is Different

OmniFocus categorizes your to-do items in two different ways, projects and contexts. At first this may seem to waste time, but once you get in the habit you’ll find that it’s amazing how simply you can manage your to-do’s this way.

Projects
Just as they sound, projects are anything with a desired outcome. You can probably think of many projects right now if you try. Everything from “file taxes” to “go to the beach” is a project. You’ll have projects related to work, and projects in your personal life.

Contexts
Contexts are where or how you get things done. To write an article, you might need to be at your computer. To file paperwork, maybe you’d have to be at your office. To call a client, you’d need to be around a phone. Contexts associate actions with the context in which you’d perform them, so you can group actions by where you will be or what you have access to.

OmniFocus for Mac

The desktop application is a fairly straightforward but there is a great video tutorial on the OmniFocus website and a quick reference card you can download. The home screen is comprised of a menubar at the top, projects or contexts in a sidebar on the left and tasks on the right. When OmniFocus opens it returns the context or project you were last viewing before you closed the program.

Inbox
The inbox is the “home screen” of OmniFocus. Here any uncategorized tasks without a context will be waiting on you to categorize them. This is similar tot he GTD inbox in that it’s just a temporary holding bin for tasks you need to record quickly. You should go through the inbox regularly and give each task a project (even if it’s miscellaneous) and a context.

Quick Entry Shortcut
One feature that I absolutely love about OmniFocus is the quick entry shortcut. The shortcut lets you quickly enter tasks, even when OmniFocus isn’t the frontmost application.

Email Entries
You can email yourself tasks when you’re on the road, and OmniFocus will grab them and add them to your inbox. I tested the feature and it works well, but since I use the OmniFocus iPhone application, I don’t really have a use for it. Blackberry or Treo owners will find it’s a lifesaver though.

Backups
OmniFocus might just be a little OCD when it comes to backing up your information (which is a good thing). It seems by default OmniFocus backs up your database twice daily and when you close OmniFocus. If you open OmniFocus several times a day, you can easily rack up half a dozen backups in a day. Of course, this is better than losing tasks you’ve entered due to a software or system crash.

OmniFocus for iPhone

I’m surprised that over a year after it’s initial launch, the iPhone still has no ability to sync iCal tasks. When OmniFocus released the iPhone application, I immediately purchased it even though I had never used the desktop version. I had already tried several free (and a couple paid) task management applications from the App Store and none of them worked well for me. After looking at the information on their website, and knowing it was built around GTD, I was comfortable spending $20 on a quality GTD task management system.

The iPhone application is simple, easy to use and has some great iPhone-centric features.

Adding New Tasks
Adding new tasks is the best feature of the iPhone application, and the one that will likely be the most used. When you’re in the car or eating dinner at a restaurant and suddenly think of something you need to do, what do you do? Take out a napkin or scrap of paper to write on? Then what? A week or two goes by and you lose the scrap of paper containing the note, forget completely about the task and only remember it when it’s almost (or already) late. Adding tasks in OmniFocus for iPhone is extremely simple, and the new task button is on the menubar in every screen. You can also attach a voice recording or photo to the task, which is a very handy feature. You can give the tasks a context and project or just let them sync to your computer and organize them later.

Location Aware
You can associate contexts with geographic locations. Office and home are two excellent examples, but you could do many more. Then just hit the location icon in the menubar to find all the tasks near your current location.

Syncing
To sync with OmniFocus on your Mac, you have to have the latest “Sneaky Peek” version, which you can download on this page. The full upgrade from 1.0 to 1.1 will be a free upgrade, so don’t let that keep you from purchasing OmniFocus. I’ve found the “Sneaky Peek” version to be very stable. It seems the only changes over the stable version of OmniFocus 1.0 is the iPhone syncing.

Conclusions

I have found few flaws in OmniFocus. I’ve managed to get it to crash a handful of times but that’s not really any different from any other application on my computer. I crash Firefox 2 or 3 times a day so I can’t fault OmniFocus too badly for crashing 2 or 3 times in the month I’ve been using it. I’ve used it day-in and day-out.

If you need better task management and want something that will work both on your Mac and iPhone, I highly recommend OmniFocus. My only caveat is the price. At $80 for OmniFocus, the $20 iPhone application hurts a little. I wish they’d give the iPhone application to registered users of OmniFocus. It would probably increase sales of the desktop client (and $80 is better than $20!)

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18 Comments

Peter

I’ve been using Easy Task Manager for a few months and based on my experience with it I would not recommend it. It is buggy, loses tasks all the time, and the built in Context’s such as “Next Action” don’t sync properly with the iphone app. I’m really fed up with it and I think based on the review and comments I read here I will try Omnifocus or Thing. Thanks for all the info.

Terry

I totally agree with the original post – Omnifocus is perfect for me. I run two companies, sit the board of a few nfp’s, and am always stretched to make sure everything is completed. I started with Omnifocus a few months ago when I learned it had an iphone app and wow – I can’t believe how productive I’ve been. I find things like ‘it syncs too slow’ or that it’s too expensive as strange remarks. How much is having your life organized? We’re not talking about a $1,500 seminar here… sure you can find work arounds, but here is a great app with support and a process that works.

Sam Hall

I like Things, but it doesn’t allow for multiple project groups like Omnifocus. I have several different project groups created for different clients.

In my opinion, OmniFocus is worth the money. But it depends on why you are using it and how you are using it. If it weren’t for multiple clients, I’d go with Things.

CScott

I bought OmniFocus based on the work they’ve done with all the other Omni-Apps but quickly became disappointed. I agree that it is way too complicated and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

I tried ‘Things’ out and love the interface and the simplicity. Unfortunately, it still feels too beta for me and there is no way export function.

I then tried a couple of online task management apps and have to say that Toodledo is awesome. I have been using it for company for about two months and have been just thrilled with everything about it. The iPhone webapp is fantastic and the method it uses to prioritize things just makes it a joy to use. The Firefox plugins (two of them) work as advertised as well.

I highly recommend trying Toodledo for those of you that don’t have a problem with web applications.

Chris

I have used both OmniFocus and Things, and clearly Things allows me to “get things done.” I found OF to be too strict with the GTD system, which is fine, but it can get in the way. I found Things to be a simpler, more flexible system. And the most important part of Things, for me, is the ability to list future events by time. The Today feature pays for itself in minutes. It’s almost all I use, and I have tried almost all of the Mac-based GTD systems.

It does a great synch with ical and iphone, and it has quick entry. And it is much less expensive than OF.

Michael

I cast my vote for EasyTaskManager at http://www.orionbelt.com/productMac.php
The iPhone app is free, and it can sync to a free online site accessible on any browser. It also has a iphone-formatted online version too.
For desktops, it has Mac and PC versions, both of which have a free demo listing upto 15 tasks. Costs $19.99 to unlock that restriction.
So far, its working great for me. Interface is clean and simple, and especially like how the iPhone native app has projects and contexts at the bottom dock of its UI for quick access.
The desktop app also integrates in realtime with iCal. Virtually all you need.
Would be very interested to hear anyone’s comments on EasyTaskManager on features/faults I’ve missed so I can be aware of them, or what the competition offers.

mark

Wow, omnifocus has been around for a while. Slow news day or are they paying you? (joking, kind of)

Put me in the Things camp. I own omnifocus, but Things is a pleasure to use. Omnifocus felt too much like work.

Eddie

Anyone have a link for Things? Google is not your friend with just a word.

Dale

Sync is still in alpha, or beta at best. Rarely works, scrambled my lists and spent hours trying to recover lost data. Please read the omnifocus forums before you buy. I am an avid GTD’r and love omnifocus, but sync simply doesn’t work. If you need a standalone app it’s great. I moved to Things and haven’t been more productive or happier. Oh… and Things syncs perfectly.

Jesse

I really like OmniFocus but I just couldn’t justify (or afford) the price. It costs about $100 to get the Desktop and iPhone versions plus MobileMe to sync. As an alternative I’m trying out “Things” on the desktop and iPhone and so far I like it. It is a lot more simplistic with not as many features as OmniFocus but it seems to do a good job. Maybe the simplicity is good.

Antonio

Personally I like Things a lot better. It makes more sense and is easier to use and understand at the same time giving you powerful features. The current version syncs between the iPhone and desktop versions.

Steve Tsuida

Be careful.
I love OmniFocus and I’ve been using it since its beta days (and bought the iPhone app the day it launched). So why becareful? One fundamental of David Allen’s GTD system is having a trusted collection system. Omnifocus 1.1—which introduced a sync-with-phone feature—has been a really rough ride. Agonizingly slow syncing and buggy crashes mean you’re less likely to put “everyhting” in your OmniFOcus “Collection Bucket”, and that means you’re not really using the GTD system. Twice now I’ve sworn off OmniFocus and migrated to a less-than-perfect iCal, and then come back to OmniFocus after the support site’s message boards suggested things had improved.

Right now, things are good again. Sync seems fast enough. I trust the desktop and phone apps. Life is good. But like I say, play safe. Back up to iCal if you need to. Sync is really hard stuff, and Omni’s doing the best they can to make it as bomb-proof and fast as you’d expect for a real GTD solution.

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