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Taking a Fresh Look at OmniFocus


I have used OmniFocus, off and on for around five years. I started with v1 only with the intent of immediately moving to v2. I didn’t like v1 at all but thought v2 was right on the money.

I took to OmniFocus in the beginning even though it was considered a hard program to learn. It was and it wasn’t. It was really all in the way you approached it. If you wanted something from NASA, this was your thing. If you just wanted a richer way of looking at what you need to do, Omni could easily adapt to that modality.

In short, it was only excessively complicated if you wanted it to be. To do that though, you had to crack open a manual and look at the tips and tricks. However, if you simply had a requirement for a very robust program that was quite scaleable (simple to complex etc) OmniFocus was a good tool for this.

Omni’s Own Undoing

This belief that OmniFocus is exceptionally complex was aided indirectly by Omni’s insistence that Omnifocus is the most powerful Task Management system on the market. There is no question that it is a powerful program but that does not mean it is so complicated only a physicist could use it. That’s simply not the case.

However, many people that you often hear names associated with OmniFocus are seen as academics or the creators of our products. They are somehow viewed as super human and therefore they use super human software to manage their lives.

Again, these are false assumptions again encouraged this time by the users of OmniFocus. As such, the program is overlooked before one even gets started. It’s price tag lends to these assumptions also. If you look at user feedback in the stores that sell the product they are of a very different nature than say Things.

Things reviews are incredibly positive. So are OmniFocus’ but they are commingled with the truth. People are rightly asking for this feature or that; is it as complicated as everyone says and the reviews are tinged with the subtle tone of subservience or I don’t know and feel ashamed to be asking this question. As an example, something as universal as tags has always shunned by OmniFocus. Logically you have to ask why. From Omni’s perspective they use David Allen’s contexts. Tags can be contexts and a whole pile more. No one should be embarrassed to ask the obvious.

It’s True that many Users Get Carried Away

I have seen many a user get very carried away with creating so many tasks they have no idea where to start. Then they try organize this mess but they’re not likely to ever catch up. It’s the whole you can’t see the forest for the trees sceario.

Omnifocus is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done model which is a good model. It should be noted that although David Allen is a psychologist that had a good idea it’s not gospel.

His book and ideas took off when they came out and the software community felt they could enhance on the model. David Allen himself though, tends to prefer the analogue mode as opposed to the digital reality of task management. This little video titled “How David Allen Gets Things Done” shows us how David Allen goes about his day to get things done thus alleviating stress, increasing productivity and allowing more time for himself.

For David Allen the task manager is only one but one very central component in his productivity management system. I have seen though with Omnifocus users getting so carried away with the product that it becomes the b all and end all of a productivity system putting far too much weight on this one component.

Add to this these Overarching Concepts and It’s Easy to See How OmniFocus is Viewed as a Product so Far from the People

In Mike Schmitz’s video about how he reclaimed his life with Omnifocus it imbues the product with this level of capability which at the same time implies complexity. This does not necessarily have to be the case at all. If a product works for you, it may, in a sense be your life saviour. There is no question that using a task manager in an effective way can not only save the day but relieve you of a lot of stress.

So there are many things that seem to present OmniFocus as this extremely powerful yet complex tool. Reflecting on this though I don’t believe this to be accurate. Yes, it can be overwhelming depending on how you approach it but the key here is how you approach the product.

On Reflection

As I mentioned, I’ve used Omnifocus off and on for a number of years. The way I currently use it though is no more complex than say 2do, Things and other products that are deemed powerful but simple to use.

Even though Omnifocus does not have an Android app, I still use it with Android using a third party product from Reiner titled “Focus GTD” ($5.99). I find it to be a good product that is easy to use and it works ideally with Omnifocus.

The key to using Omnifocus is not to get carried away creating unnecessary tasks and projects just for the sake of creating them. You’ll be happier with the outcome if you keep things within reason. In fact, this is where you are exerting control and coming out on top. You won’t bog yourself down in a morass of tasks but rather just with what you need to get done.

Omnifocus Works Similarly to the Others with Power under the Hood if You Need to Go Further

If you look at Omnifocus it is much like any other task manager. It is made up of:

  • Folders – to differentiate like areas
    • Projects – set of tasks required to get the project done
    • Tasks – the things you need to do
    • Subtasks – things that have to be done to complete the task

You could literally just jot down your tasks to get what you need to done or follow the full methodology through. This does not mean though defining every task required to get a project completed but that which is really important. Define what is essential and what you absolutely can’t forget to do.

Structure your task manager so that it makes ultimate sense to you and you’re not floundering. You can use the full structure described above very easily. If you need more views than are currently available define what you need. This will lead ultimately to your reaching your goals.

Omnifocus Can be very Fast and Easy to Work With

Omnifocus can be daunting but only if you want it to be. It can also be very straightforward. I find entering tasks in Omnifocus very fast and I keep my workflow exactly the way it works for me. As an example, you can look at something you have to do and ask:

  • is there just one task involved in this activity or more than one
    • if there is only one you place it under a Single Item step but if there is more than one task create a project to contain the tasks e.g. grocery shopping
      • create the tasks
        • create any needed subtasks
          • mark everything off as it is done
            • complete the project and next move on to that which you consider most important

This is actually a full workflow and is very straightforward. You can of course add more than I’ve outlined but do what works for you.

If you think Omnifocus is too difficult, take a second look without all the calls from the sidelines. It might be exactly what you’re looking for. All task managers really boil down to what you feel most comfortable with and works with you; not overwhelms you. On second glance, with all the noise turned down, I find Omnifocus to be a very effective tool; one I know well and just simply works.

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  1. Just now I first read your article from one year ago, in which you are very negative about Omnifocus. And then I read this article, in which you are very positive about Omnifocus.

    How come?

    I love Omnifocus by the way.

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