GTD OmniFocus Productivity Tech

OmniFocus 3: What’s New and What’s Blue in Task Management

The sample projects included with OmniFocus 3, as viewed in the Mac app.

Challenge and activity administration is a posh matter that has spawned hundreds of apps and simply as many robust opinions about every of them. I’ve been making an attempt new instruments since I began with a Casio Databank watch in highschool and a Sharp Wizard in school. In case you don’t keep in mind these instruments with nostalgia, you’ll assume them horribly antiquated—however for a few years, Mac process administration software program was not a lot better. It wasn’t till ten years in the past that Mac apps in this subject started to be persistently helpful out of the field.

This decade of worthwhile software program roughly coincides with the preliminary launch of OmniFocus, which helped to create a market in which many apps now compete. OmniFocus has been reviewed right here at TidBITS more and more warmly (see “OmniFocus Willing, But Not Quite Ready, To Help Get Things Done,” 30 April 2008, and “OmniFocus 2 for Mac Brings a Fresh Look to GTD,” 22 Might 2014).

OmniFocus three is now a multiplatform app, though it really works completely high quality by itself on Mac or iOS. OmniFocus is now roughly feature-compatible on Mac and iOS with the variations principally referring to the totally different occasions and methods the hardware is used. However the expertise of utilizing OmniFocus on an iPad and iPhone is sort of totally different, so I consider OmniFocus as a set of instruments crossing the Mac, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, and—quickly with the discharge of software program now in public beta—the Net.

The discharge of the Net model brings with it an alternate pricing scheme. OmniFocus apps are nonetheless out there for one-time buy, however there’s now additionally a subscription mannequin that gives the newest Professional model of each app, which can be required to make use of the Net app. The month-to-month subscription of $5 or $10 might scale back the sticker shock of shopping for the apps, because the Professional variations (which I like to recommend) complete $140, dissuading new customers.

The issue with OmniFocus, and process administration apps in common, is that every requires you to undertake a specific approach of taking a look at your objectives, tasks, duties, and time administration. Complicated apps like OmniFocus offer you extra freedom to adapt the software program to mirror your work type, whereas easy apps pressure you into a specific technique which will or might not match your pure fashion. To show how OmniFocus presents each complexity and flexibility, I’ll begin with an summary of the way it works, and comply with it with a dialogue of what’s new in OmniFocus three and the place it has some tough edges.

Disclosure: After the publication of my e-book Take Management of Your Productiveness, the Omni Group contracted me to put in writing a publish for his or her weblog Inside OmniFocus—which in reality I’ll hyperlink to later because it’s related to this evaluate. I’ll do comparable work in the longer term however haven’t any ongoing relationship with the corporate.

An Overview of OmniFocus

The sample projects included with OmniFocus 3, as viewed in the Mac app.The pattern tasks included with OmniFocus three, as seen in the Mac app.

This screenshot offers a superb overview of each OmniFocus and what I meant earlier by “flexibility with complexity.” There are 4 sections, from left to proper:

  • View Column: The icons in the leftmost black column change the view of your knowledge. From the highest down:
    • An inbox that catches incoming duties you haven’t organized but.
    • A tasks view that shows nested outlines of your tasks and duties.
    • A tags view that collates duties by classes you outline, taken from a number of tasks and introduced as a easy record. For instance, you could tag duties with locations like “Home” or “Errands,” or with ideas like “Work” or “Volunteer.”
    • A forecast view displaying previous, current, and future duties with due dates, that are displayed alongside occasions out of your calendar so you understand how a lot time is left over to perform them.
    • A flagged view permitting you to notice some gadgets as necessary or particular, and show them individually.
    • A evaluation mode for a daily strategy of checking your tasks and duties, to ensure they’re up-to-date with what you’ve accomplished and correctly organized to mirror any modifications which have occurred.
    • Further customized views that you would be able to design, referred to as Views. On this instance, you’re seeing the icon for my “Due and Available” Perspective, displaying me what’s on deadline however omitting issues I can’t do now—so I’m not bothered by my laundry hamper once I’m not residence.
  • Navigation Column: The darkish gray column exhibits a navigational construction. On this instance, the tasks view is chosen and it shows folders and tasks solely, for fast navigation of your define. Within the tags view, it exhibits your outlined classes. Within the forecast view, it exhibits a calendar with counts of duties for daily in the subsequent month.
  • Tasks and Duties Column: The middle white column shows your tasks and duties in an inventory—an overview in the Challenge view and easier lists in Inbox, Flag, and Tag views. You possibly can modify this column to be easier and present much less info for every process.
  • Inspector Column: The rightmost column seems exhibits all the info for the chosen process. As you possibly can see, each undertaking and process can have various knowledge related to it—begin dates, due dates, repeat schedules, notes, and estimated occasions amongst them. You don’t have to make use of all this metadata, and you possibly can collapse sections and rearrange them so the Inspector exhibits you what you employ most frequently.

Once you’re working with the Tasks and Duties column, you’re ceaselessly going to be utilizing in an overview in the tasks view. You’ll be able to nest duties to interrupt a undertaking down into subprojects, and these duties can have subtasks. That is helpful for complicated tasks, however can increase the query of when to determine a process with subtasks is giant sufficient to be its personal challenge. It doesn’t matter whether or not you consider a nested process as a subproject or only a grouping of even smaller duties, however OmniFocus treats tasks on the prime degree in a different way. If you’re working in an easier view that lists duties with no challenge hierarchy, it’s regularly helpful to shortly change again to see the duty in the bigger challenge, and OmniFocus supplies that functionality in a contextual menu.

Duties and tasks may be assigned tags, permitting for extra categorization. Tags exchange what was referred to as “contexts” in earlier variations of OmniFocus. You possibly can greatest consider a context as a filter as a result of a key use of tags is to solely see what’s related to the state of affairs at hand. It isn’t useful to see a reminder to purchase eggs once you’re in the workplace—you need that whereas on the grocery retailer—however you’ll probably need to see the reminder you have to go grocery purchasing in all places besides on the grocery store.

A venture or activity with subtasks might be sequential with all its elements occurring in order, or it may be parallel, the place you are able to do them in any order. Placing in your socks and shirt is a parallel activity, however placing in your socks and footwear is sequential. Relying on the way you arrange your process views, you possibly can cover “unavailable” duties—in the Get Dressed venture, you’ll see each “put on shirt” and “put on socks,” however you gained’t see “put on shoes” till socks are marked as completed. (This instance might sound foolish however the sequential/parallel dichotomy is beneficial for a similar cause contexts are. You typically don’t need to be bothered about issues you’ll be able to’t do proper now.) Placing in your garments is an instance of how complicated even easy duties may be, as a result of Get Dressed is a parallel venture with nested sequential elements—you can also’t put in your coat first or your underwear final. (Until you’re a superhero.)

Likewise, repeating duties can be complicated. You must pay your month-to-month cable invoice on the identical day each month, however a month-to-month assembly might require a process due by the third Friday. If you would like a haircut each month and you delay two weeks, you don’t need to see that activity two weeks later. In the meantime, when a repeating activity has subtasks—your grocery record consists of belongings you favor to purchase at retailer #2, the place you don’t need to purchase what you already picked up from retailer #1—typically the undertaking or container activity repeats, and typically the person subtasks repeat. OmniFocus has a system of assigning due dates and defer or begin dates, which hides a process till someday in the longer term. Repeating duties could be based mostly on both, with future duties scheduled both by date or after sufficient time has elapsed because the final time you accomplished it.

Lastly, process administration is one thing you need all the time obtainable. You may get organized in your Mac, brainstorm duties in your iPad over breakfast, and use your iPhone all day lengthy to verify issues off. OmniFocus has a free syncing service that handles all of this seamlessly, or you need to use a personal server should you don’t need your knowledge in the cloud. If it’s a must to use different platforms, the beta Net service is meant for non-Apple desktops and laptops, however not but designed for touchscreens.

For all the above primary ideas, OmniFocus is both the most effective in class amongst Mac and iOS task-management apps, or at the very least the usual by which different apps are judged. Many of those concepts weren’t carried out nicely till OmniFocus got here up with an honest interface for them—at which level different apps differentiated themselves by responding to the issues individuals disliked about OmniFocus. Ideas like tasks with nested parallel and sequential duties require a extra complicated interface than apps that don’t embrace them. If you would like fewer options since you’re tripping over complexity, that’s a very good purpose to make use of one other app. However I usually advocate utilizing software program that’s extra complicated than what you want proper now, so you’ll be able to increase into it in the longer term. A lacking function is a low ceiling you possibly can bump your head on, and switching activity administration apps is a painful, time-consuming process.

(Probably the most generally talked about app for individuals who discover OmniFocus too complicated is Issues, which has a pleasant function set in a cross-platform package deal. Selecting and switching to a brand new productiveness app is tough to do proper, and I like to recommend towards the shotgun strategy of downloading apps till you discover one which’s superficially helpful. That is the topic of a number of chapters of my guide, Take Management of Your Productiveness, and its accompanying weblog has an article suggesting further apps when you’ve provide you with an strategy to evaluating them. OmniFocus, Issues, and Daylite don’t seem in the weblog submit as a result of they’re coated in the guide.)

What’s New in OmniFocus three

Whereas designing OmniFocus three, the Omni Group targeted on addressing issues that customers had with complicated complexity and difficulties utilizing contexts.

Tags Exchange Contexts

In earlier variations of OmniFocus, a process might solely have a single context, which required leaping by means of hoops to filter them correctly. I divide my work duties up into a number of classes (to remind me to generate income earlier than I change to extra fascinating work that doesn’t), however I additionally need to filter out duties requiring my Mac once I solely have my iPad. In OmniFocus 2, this required nesting contexts, similar to Income Work:Mac and Income Work:iPad. However I additionally wanted Income Work:Apple to point duties I might do on both system, however not on my Android telephone. It will have been good to additionally have the ability to divide duties based mostly on different standards: issues that require a quick Web connection, or issues I can do once I’m drained.

Tags remedy this drawback properly, as a result of a process or undertaking can have any variety of them. As an alternative of a ridiculously complicated and repetitive context construction, I can create a process and tag it [NonRevenue] [Mac] [iPad] [Low Ebb]. I’ll filter it out till I’m finished with extra necessary classes of labor, and additionally by out there gadgetry or present neural performance.

Tags in OmniFocus 3.

This screenshot exhibits a tag view of duties I brainstormed for this text. (Sadly, I truly have to do them.) This view is sweet for prioritizing however not filtering. You’ll by no means have to see your “Low Ebb” and “On Fire” (mentally) duties side-by-side, as you’d filter for these solely when in one state or the opposite. Customized views are the way you filter these duties with extra precision, as you’ll be able to create views that present “only those tasks with both of these tags,” or “every task except the ones with these tags.”

Tag nesting continues to be out there and typically helpful: once I tag a activity with an individual in order to have a ready-made agenda for once we meet, I nest that as Individuals:Josh Facilities, which permits me to tug up a Individuals record to see all the agendas I’ve to organize for. That is additionally helpful for preserving an extended listing of tags organized—I nested my tags in this screenshot in order to keep away from displaying you all those I truly use.

Higher Perspective Layouts

Totally different sorts of labor have totally different necessities, and now you possibly can change layouts and the info you’re proven to match these necessities. More often than not once I’m engaged on my duties, I need to see a Tag or Forecast view with tasks, flags, and due dates listed alongside. However once I’m planning future work, I’m in a Undertaking view and need to additionally see begin dates and notes.

It was already potential to toggle show choices in OmniFocus’s preferences, however customized views help you create units of choices assigned to every view. Views even have activity guidelines just like sensible playlists in iTunes, and allow you to management what you see in your customized format. On the Mac, customization is extra highly effective than earlier than, and in iOS it’s the primary time you are able to do it in any respect. Customized views will sync between your units (however to not the Net app), though in some instances you may need to create platform-specific views regardless in order to make the formatting higher fitted to the dimensions of the display you’re utilizing.

Customizable Inspectors

OmniFocus now has venture and activity inspectors. This variation allows you to disguise interface parts in the duty record that you simply may want solely sometimes, and show them solely as wanted. On the Mac, you’ll be able to flip sections of the inspector on and off by clicking disclosure triangles. On an iPad, you select which parts to cover by default, and learn how to organize extra parts whenever you faucet Present Extra.

OmniFocus 3 inspectors.

Adaptive controls and customized ordering of the inspector classes additionally assist make the inspector simpler to handle: a date picker seems solely if you faucet a date, a second sidebar slides in whenever you set a activity’s repeat schedule, and you’ll be able to rearrange your most commonly-used choices to the highest of the inspector.

The place OmniFocus three Is Nonetheless a Bit Blurry

Like most apps which were round for a decade, OmniFocus is usually polished. The woes and options of hundreds of customers have all contributed to this third model, and it exhibits. However a number of issues stay, a few of that are associated to new cross-platform capabilities.

The most important of those is that I’ve been utilizing OmniFocus three on my Mac and iPad for months, and I nonetheless haven’t completely found out the iOS interface. I think that for those who’re iOS-centric, you gained’t have this drawback. However I do most of my OmniFocus heavy lifting on my Mac, and so once I go to the iPad there are options I do know exist however I can’t work out the faucet targets to invoke them. Most egregiously, the button that exhibits or hides unavailable duties—which you’re going to make use of typically—is in totally different locations on the 2 units, so I commonly discover myself wanting into the improper nook of the display on each the Mac and iPad.

One answer to the consumer interface drawback is to learn the superb assist, which is top quality and written like a guide. (OmniFocus 2 used to offer in-app assist as downloadable EPUB ebooks, and I hope Omni Group brings these again. Few individuals sit and learn a guide cowl to cowl, nevertheless it’s a good suggestion with OmniFocus.)

I might love to go to OmniFocus’s builders and see how they organize their OmniFocus home windows, particularly when working from a espresso store. The subsequent difficulty can be much less troubling on a 27-inch show, however my work is totally cellular and my workflows are constructed round MacBook and iPad-sized screens. The OmniFocus window takes up a lot of the show, so I make it a full display in Mission Management to keep away from having stacked home windows. Meaning I want one Area for OmniFocus to inform me what to do, and one other Area the place I do it. When that work requires me to make ongoing modifications in OmniFocus for documentation, I want my iPad as a second display to keep away from switching each two minutes—both displaying the iPad model of OmniFocus, or working as an exterior monitor with Duet Show displaying my Mac’s OmniFocus window. There are occasions once I don’t have room for the iPad—planes, buses, Starbucks throughout rush hour. My instincts inform me there’s in all probability a greater means of working with a small OmniFocus window—resembling creating customized views that pop up further home windows with compact info views—however it’s not intuitive or simply discoverable. (Scripting this made me understand I might additionally create a brand new tag so I can filter out duties that want two screens.)

That leads me to the final problem. I’ve used OmniFocus since virtually the day model 1 was launched, and earlier than then, I used its religious predecessor. I’ve written a guide that options the app prominently. However this assessment has required lengthy notetaking and analysis, as a result of every time I’ve stated “you can’t do such-and-such,” I’m nonetheless not totally positive there isn’t a specific 12-step process that matches it into OmniFocus strategies. (In such instances, I regularly verify the OmniFocus discussion board to both discover somebody’s intelligent answer, or a minimum of commiserate with different individuals dealing with the identical drawback.) After 10 years of continuous utilization, I really feel like I ought to know its edges and limits higher.

This drawback was vital sufficient that I cheekily wrote a narrative for the OmniFocus weblog on when to not use OmniFocus. I did this partially as a result of it’s widespread to listen to individuals making an attempt to make use of their process administration app to arrange and retailer every little thing with out regard as to if that’s a good suggestion. Typically it’s simply simpler to pop up a TextEdit window to make a fast listing than it’s to create and use an OmniFocus perspective. However perhaps I’m nonetheless utilizing tips like that as a result of I’m confused about what OmniFocus can and can’t do. Is it an excessive amount of to anticipate that I ought to be capable of maximize the productiveness software that I exploit to handle my productiveness? I don’t assume I’m there. (The truth is, I’m positive I’m not, as I haven’t but discovered OmniFocus three’s AppleScript instructions or iOS Shortcuts.)

Briefly, OmniFocus has in depth assist documentation in the app and on its companion Website online, plus the aforementioned boards. OmniFocus has a steep studying curve, and should you’re simply getting began, you need to be ready to scale it. (Word that on the lookout for OmniFocus documentation might land you on a website referred to as Study OmniFocus. It’s designed to appear to be the Omni Group Website, nevertheless it’s a unique firm promoting coaching. I can’t say something about their merchandise, however the confusion they create by mimicking the Omni Group’s design requires me to warn you—which doesn’t make me really feel charitable about them.)

OmniFocus’s complexity isn’t solely the Omni Group’s fault as a result of all productiveness strategies require a time value overhead. OmniFocus is not any exception. There are duties that I name “meta-tasks,” that are what it’s a must to do to handle your productiveness system. (Should you spend 10 minutes every single day brainstorming a to-do record, that’s a repeating meta-task.) A few of these are inherent to an organizational technique, similar to time you spend reviewing present tasks and duties to see in the event that they’re up-to-date. However different meta-tasks could be particular to how the app works. It takes me 10 minutes to arrange at Starbucks with my iPad as a second display; if I might use OmniFocus extra successfully on a small display, that wouldn’t be essential.

Finally, after years of refining and streamlining my activity administration, I nonetheless spend much more time than I’d favor twiddling with my knowledge as an alternative of checking issues off my lists. It’ll in all probability take a totally totally different process administration paradigm to distinction, in a brand new app or a future model of OmniFocus, earlier than I can think about the way to really remedy this drawback.

The Remaining Focus

I can’t consider an instance of somebody who may need to keep on with OmniFocus 2; for those who just like the app, you’ll just like the improve. When you’ve tried and deserted OmniFocus in the previous, you may discover OmniFocus three extra welcoming, however there’s a catch-22 concerned: you need to use preferences and customized views to make the interface a lot easier, however that’s not the way it seems to be out of the field. It’s a must to discover ways to use it in order to make it simpler to make use of.

You should purchase the OmniFocus apps a la carte as one-time purchases for Mac or iOS, or as a subscription throughout all platforms. The standalone model of OmniFocus three Commonplace for the Mac prices $39.99 and OmniFocus Professional for the Mac is $79.99. The iOS model of OmniFocus Commonplace can also be $39.99, and the Professional model is $59.99. Improve pricing is obtainable for earlier variations of OmniFocus, or from the Commonplace model to the Professional model. I don’t assume many individuals will probably be glad with the Commonplace model for very lengthy—a number of options together with customized views are Professional-only and they’re too essential to skip.

If you wish to use the forthcoming OmniFocus for Net, a subscription is required—however in case you’ve beforehand bought the app, the subscription is half-price. OmniFocus for Net is a stripped-down model of the Mac and iOS apps, meant for use in parallel, in conditions the place you possibly can’t use the app; OmniGroup compares it to their first iOS launch. If you wish to attempt it out, and you personal any OmniFocus three app, sync your knowledge to Omni Sync Server and a checkbox on the Website online joins the beta. Subscriptions gained’t be obtainable till OmniFocus for Net launches (which their roadmap predicted by the top of 2018, however the beta continues). A subscription will value $9.99 per thirty days and consists of the Professional variations of all apps, or $four.99 per 30 days for simply the Net service in the event you’ve individually bought the apps you need.