Perhaps by now you’ve seen the quick video I posted to twitter. In case you haven’t, take a quick look:

Your eyes haven’t gone bad; I did replace Things with Omnifocus. I, staunch supporter of Things, opposer of Omnifocus. I am now, officially, one of the Cool Kids. I even got my shirt in the mail.

Why the switch?

When I replaced my MacBook Pro with an iPad 2, the writing was pretty much on the wall. The first iPad app I purchased was Things, and the trouble began immediately. Don’t get me wrong – the Things iPad app is excellent. So is Things for Mac, and Things for iPhone. Individually they are all gorgeous, well-crafted apps that get the job done. However, keeping a Things database in sync between a Mac, iPhone, and iPad was at best frustrating, and at worst bordering on impossible. See, there’s that whole lack of OTA (over the air) sync thing. Turns out, it really is a Big Deal.

The Things Sync Dance

In the morning, I like to go over my tasks for the day on my iPad. Setting up the day, marking the important tasks, adding new tasks, rescheduling things, whatever. Now, my iPad doesn’t go with me when I go to work – that’s my iPhone’s job. The trick is getting my changes from the iPad all the way to my iPhone. The Things Sync Dance, as I’ve come to call it, goes something like this:

  • Make changes on iPad
  • Exit iPad app
  • Re-open iPad app to initiate sync with Mac.1
  • Wait for Sync to complete.
  • Exit iPad app.
  • Open Things app on iPhone.
  • Wait for it to sync.
  • Go to work.

As you can imagine, this gets extremely tedious and annoying in a big hurry. And if I forget to perform the Sync Dance before leaving for the day? I’m left with a stale, out of date task list on my iPhone, with no fix until the evening.

Introducing a third device to keep in sync is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s just not reasonable to keep these three devices in sync all the time… and that means I can’t always trust my task list.

So, about two weeks ago, I bit the bullet and purchased both the Omnifocus iPad and iPhone apps. Sixty dollars gone, just like that. I ran with the trial Mac app, because that was another $80 for a system I really wasn’t sure about. After all, we all know how I felt about Omnifocus before.

Three Things

Your task management system should have three important qualities:

  • It should be simple.
  • It should help you get stuff done.
  • It should be absolutely trustworthy. If you put something into the system, you need to be able to find it.

So, how does Omnifocus rate against these standards?

  1. F. There is nothing simple about Omnifocus. The iPhone app is much simpler than the Mac OS app, and the iPad app simpler still… but the overall system is far from simple. It takes quite a bit of time investment to learn the app, which I’ve already begun to put it. I’m only scratching the surface at this point.

  2. A+. With the high level of customization available, and especially the Next Actions perspective I set up, Omnifocus is great and telling you what you need to do.

  3. A+. The seamless (and free, using Omnigroup’s server) OTA sync means you always have your most current task list with you. That’s true no matter which device you’re using, and no matter where you are. The same cannot be said for Things at all.

Notes

Omnifocus for Mac treats notes like a red headed step child. I have to hit an obscure keyboard shortcut to even see if there are any notes. When I click on a task that contains notes, they should expand automatically. I put the notes there for a reason, after all.

Rating the apps

It’s been said a hundred times that the iPad app is the best of the Omnifocus bunch. My goodness. It’s the best iOS app I’ve ever used. Period. It’s absolutely fantastic. The attention to detail that went into this app is mind blowing. The Review function is excellent, and Forecast is amazingly useful.

The iPhone app is very good, but not yet great. You aren’t able to create shortcuts to custom Perspectives on the main screen, and there’s no Forecast tool.2 Supposedly this is in the works for the next major update.

The Mac app is… terrible. More specifically, it’s outdated. Clearly this app was designed in the distant past. It uses the Inspector, for crying out loud. Apparently that was a “thing” long before I ever started using a Mac, because I’d never heard of it. However, if you are willing to install a nice theme, play with the buttons, learn the keyboard shortcuts, and play nice with the Inspector… it’s usable. I purchased it, however unwillingly. I need to be able to capture tasks on my Mac quickly and easily.

Final Notes

Dishing out $140 for a brand new suite of task management apps is not my idea of a good time. I was happy with Things until the iPad ruined the experience. Waiting around for Cultured Code to finish developing Cloud Sync is not feasible, given their rate of development, which makes glaciers seem speedy.

Switching to Omnifocus solved this problem for me. Initially it was an extremely frustrating process, and I tried to learn the new apps quickly. Now that I have a simplified layout set up, and a great Next Actions Perspective… I am thoroughly enjoying the applications. The concept of Next Actions is something that Things doesn’t really do, despite containing a Next list. This Perspective helps me keep all of my many projects moving forward instead of being forgotten. In other words, it helps me get stuff done. That’s kinda the idea of this whole thing, isn’t it?


  1. Don’t forget – your Mac has to be on for this to work. 

  2. Since this article was written, the folks at OmniFocus have built Forecast into the iPhone app. Still waiting on the Mac version to get it.