I started using Omnifocus to remember, collect, and organise my tasks back in 2008. I never followed GTD strictly but liked the flexibility of Omnifocus to allow my specific work style.
Since then, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to use in a way that makes me efficient. In fact, I was spending far too much time looking for things and organising them in Omnifocus and too little time actually doing them. So I looked at Things more seriously, which has got a lot of attention recently for it’s nice interface and iPad app. I was instantly converted. Here’s a quick run down on why.
You don’t need to be a Steve Jobs to see this. The Omnifocus interface leaves a lot to be desired. Even with it’s high level of customization in how it displays items, the Things interface wins hands down. It’s easy to find what you are looking for, simple, and elegant. And there is not a clutter of features you don’t need, just the right level of user interaction.
I struggled for a long time with flagging items, making them due, even trying a ‘Now’ context in desperation, but couldn’t find a good way in Omnifocus to make a simple task list for today. The today list in Things brings a simple implementation of exactly what I was looking for. The list is automatically populated with due items, a cool feature in itself, but the real power is in the flexibility of being able to add and remove items from the today list with ease. Perfect. Great for just getting things done.
Strict GTD relies on the rather airy idea of context as ‘the set of tools available or by the presence of individuals or groups for whom one has items to discuss or present’. Omnifocus allows single contexts, but actually I’ve never found any use for the context view in Omnifocus. Contexts have only ever got in the way for me, except when you really want to tag something when they fall short because you can only assign a single context to an item. Tags in Things work great, they are unobtrusive and powerful, allowing Tag hierarchies and easy addition, removing, and searching of tagged items.
I like the idea of Areas of Responsibility in Things. They are kind of a cross between single item lists and contexts in Omnifocus. Because you don’t need to ‘complete’ them though, they are a much more natural container for things like simple home to-do lists which awkwardly end up in single item ‘projects’ in Omnifocus.
Things wins here too, mostly because of the different way it handles items. I am able to easily select items inside containers based on tag, and also order them by date due. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely enough. In my experience the Sorting and Filtering in Omnifocus is highly frustrating. You cannot sort within projects. You cannot filter within projects. These are serious oversights, and frustratingly the program teases users into believing it might be possible by showing column headings to sort items and view controls to filter them, only to discover that these controls only work for entire projects. How annoying! The screenshot below demonstrates this gripe. Not one of the filtering or sorting columns has any effect on items within projects, even when viewing that project.
Syncing in Omnifocus has always been slow, though on my new iPhone 4 it’s finally a little faster. The iPhone app with Things is simpler, faster, and more usable than Omnifocus on the iPhone. Until I got my iPhone 4, all the ‘updating database’ wait screens on omnifocus made entering or editing items on my iPhone something I rarely did, instead relying on Apples simpler and faster Notes app.
I still don’t have a killer feature I’ve been hoping would come to Omnifocus for a long time. Mac applications such as iPhoto, iTunes and Mail have had smart group features since the early 2000s, allowing users to group items based on their metadata. I wonder why these have yet to be included in GTD lists – becaus I’m sure this kind of feature would be an instant hit with users.