OmniFocus: Pros and Cons from the Perspective of a Things User

Things Prefs vs Omnifocus

£# OmniFocus: Pros and Cons from the Perspective of a Things User

Many GTDers maintain that OnmniFocus is more complex than Things. But just what do they mean? Alain Latour rolls up his sleeves and finds out just so you won’t have to.

omnifocus icon

It’s no secret that I am a Things fan. But far be it from me to refuse to try out a new product, especially if it’s the main competitor to the one I use. That is, after all, how I became an Apple user.

It’s in this spirit that I’ve decided to take the Omni Group’s GTD-oriented task manager OmniFocus for a spin. If I like it enough — if I think it will do a better job of helping me get organized — then I will have zero qualms about jumping ship. (All the more so now that it seems that Things 2 won’t be here for a while.) On the other hand, if I don’t like it enough, I will happily keep on using Things.

As for you, the reader, you can learn from my experience, especially if you’re a current Things user who’s curious about OmniFocus, but has neither the time nor the inclination to spend days trying it.

(Disclaimer: If you’ve never used Things, this may not be the article for you, as it assumes you’re at least acquainted with the suite. Instead, I recommend you read my previous article Things 2: Could This be The Perfect App for People Who Want a Simple, Yet Powerful GTD Solution?)

Different software, same great features

table with OmniFocus features
List of OmniFocus’ features. I highlighted the ones that Things is missing. 

Admittedly, OmniFocus has all of the great features I listed in my review of Things 2 — and then some. Obviously, these features sometimes go by different names, and sometimes they split the same functionality among different apps.

Here’s what I mean. Both Things and OmniFocus have a Quick Entry feature that makes it easy to enter tasks even if you’re using another app at the time. However, Things’ Quick Entry with Autofill also does the same as OmniFocus’ separate Clipping feature, that is, it lets you automatically pre-fill a new to-do with useful information from the application you’re using at the time.

Other than that, both products share a sync function and Siri integration on iPhone and iPad. OmniFocus, however, has features which Things doesn’t. Some of these I like; others, not so much.

OmniFocus Pros

picture of OmniFocus location-based alert feature
One of the features I wish Things had. 

  • Supports attachments. Does a project entail using images, audio or PDFs? OmniFocus handles them all, both on iOS and Mac. This is a big one for me. As a Things user, I have to rely on Evernote or Scrivener to store files which are relevant to my project.
  • Lets you quickly convert actions into Projects by dragging them into the library.
  • You can hide projects to reduce distractions.
  • In the same vein, toggling the Focus button makes it easier to focus on the task at hand. I like these two features, as I sometimes find a long list of tasks visually overwhelming.
  • Email Actions. This especially handy — in theory. It involves sending an email to send-to-omnifocus@omnigroup.com and getting a reply. In it there’s a clickable link that lets you add that action to the OmniFocus inbox. But I think an Evernote-inspired solution would be much easier. For example, adding an "@’ followed by a project name to the subject line could add the task to that project. Or you could leave it blank for the task to be sent straight to the OmniFocus inbox. OmniFocus’ current solution strikes me as cumbersome.
  • The Due perspective makes it easy to see which tasks are due soon (or for that matter, overdue).
  • On the iPhone and iPad apps, you can send tasks to the OmniFocus inbox from other apps like Safari and Twitterlator. This is similar to Quick Entry, which Things does not have on their iOS apps.
  • Location-based alerts. I don’t use these often as they drain my iPhone’s battery, but I wish Things had this feature for those days when I turn location-based alerts on.
  • Calendar integration. Another feature I sure wish Things had.

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When in doubt about an app’s simplicity (or lack therof), check the preferences pane. Can you guess which one is Things’ and which Omnifocus’?

OmniFocus Cons

“OmniFocus (…) is so powerful it could lend itself to unnecessary tinkering and literally a scenario in which all you’re doing is creating tasks and projects.” —Kerry Dawson.

  • Price: This is the most important one. While getting all of the Things apps will cost you almost $80 ($49.99, $9.99 and $19.99 for the company’s Mac, iPhone and iPad apps cost respectively), OmniFocus’ will set you back almost $140 ($79.99 for Mac), $19.99 for iPhone and $39.99 for iPad). Both Things and OmniFocus offer a free two-week trial on their Mac apps.
  • Lacking Retina support on the Mac. (This explains the many Retina-compatible icons which are available online)
  • Less attractive interface: Albeit subjective, this perspective is shared by many other reviewers.
  • You can only create Perspectives on a Mac; touted as one of the best OmniFocus features, Perspective is nevertheless not offered on either the iPhone nor the iPad versions.
  • Steep learning curve: OmniFocus has always had a reputation for being difficult to master. Even advanced GTDers who like OmniFocus concede that it’s a “fairly complex product” and that “one has to wonder is all that complexity needed.” Having used it for a week, I must say I agree. OmniFocus simply offers too many features and ways to customize. For example, when you create a task you can add a due date, tags, and notes. That’s what you do with Things, and honestly I never wished I could do more (except the ability to throw in attachments). But with OmniFocus you can also add date and a time estimation, plus you can flag the task and define whether it’s parallel or sequential. As for projects, they can be indented — and you can create project templates. (Note that Things still lets you do many of these things via tagging, which is simpler and far more flexible.)

Summary

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Things remains simpler to implement. 

The common perception is that OmniFocus is a complex, heavy-duty app that supports professional project management. As such, OmniFocus is the better choice for advanced GTDers, people who can’t get enough customization, or people who are handling a great many projects.

On the flipside, this implies that Things is a better choice for users who want a simpler, elegant solution that works out of the box.

Although simplistic, this conclusion remains accurate. What’s more, OmniFocus does offer convenient features like attachment support, email actions, calendar integration, and location-based alerts. These are so convenient that they might sway Things users. In fact, I genuinely believe Cultured Code had better implement these soon, lest they lose clients like myself.

For the time being, I’m not switching to OmniFocus if only because I’d rather not deal with a complex tool. I also remain curious to see what Things 3 will bring us. And there’s the issue of price. But should Things 3 fail to deliver, I will take another long hard look at OmniFocus.