Home Tech OmniFocus: No substitute for full-sync task management

OmniFocus: No substitute for full-sync task management

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Prompted by the impending arrival of iPad 2, I have ceased my three-month dalliance with the excellent 2Do application and moved all my stuff back to OmniFocus. I never stopped using OF, but since I was wooed by the attractive user-interface and features of 2Do on my iPhone I have been putting more and more single-task actions into this stand-alone application.

2Do site universal preview

Above: 2Do for iPhone and iPad has a superb user interface and is highly intuitive. It is let down by the absence of a desktop companion application and by flawed synchronisation with iCal (entirely because of the limitations of iCal, I believe).

I have the greatest respect for 2Do and would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants an effective task (and limited project) manager for iOS. It is fun to use, intuitive and has a superb UI, one that could give more than a few tips to OmniGroup. It's also cheap at under £4. Without doubt, though, the most impressive feature of 2Do is call management on the iPhone. Call reminder tasks are brilliantly executed and allow you to drill down to the contacts list and make a call before returning automatically to your task list. This is so good that I have made 2Do my permanent call manager for the iPhone.

Sadly, 2Do falls down in its lack of a desktop client and absence of full synchronisation. It does offer sync, via MobileMe, with iCal. But the built-in task facility in iCal is rudimentary and loses many of the 2Do functions (primarily management of projects and checklists). Unforgivably, however, it fails to sync notes. These shortcomings, I believe, are entirely down to the limitations of the basic task system built into iCal. It just won't do if you are serious about task and project management.

OF Capture Feature 180x200

Much as I like 2Do and enjoy using it, I gradually realised that the split between OmniFocus and 2Do was actually harming my workflow. Above all, it introduced an element of uncertainty with some tasks here, some there. The first principle of GTD (Getting Things Done) is to dump your thoughts and ideas in one place and then sort them out into projects and actions at leisure. When you're not sure where you've dumped an idea you're in trouble.

I have now returned all my important stuff to OmniFocus and left just call reminders in 2Do. It does this well and it is a useful place to go to on the iPhone when you want to work through a list of calls. But there is no substitute for an efficient project management system that is available on all your devices, Mac as well as iOS.

OmniFocus

OmniFocus is that system. I've tried many alternatives, including the superficially attractive and capable Things. I actually like Things; in some ways it is more fun to use and more intuitive than OF. But it is badly let down by its lack of cloud synchronisation. With a task system you tend to work on a number of devices and the last thing you want is to have unreliable or network-only sync.

OmniFocus is a complex program capable of sophisticated project management, but it can be approached out of the box without the need to delve too much into the small print. It works well as a simple (though expensive) task manager, but excels in looking after more complex projects and coping with contexts (usually defined as where you can do a particular task – home, office, errands, calls and so on). It is important to be able to focus in this way when handling lots of actions.

OF context 180x200

Unlike Things, where the developers, CulturedCode, seem to be having a tough time coming up with cloud sync, OF does a superb job of keeping all your devices in balance (via MobileMe or any WebDAV server with a bit of fiddling). I have seldom come across anomalies and it is a system you can rely on.

I am feeling back in control now I have everything in one place. And the advent of the new iPad means I can get reacquainted with the iPad app which is without doubt the most usable and attractive of the three OmniFocus variants (iPhone/touch, iPad and OS X).

Price is clearly a factor in choice. I already own Omni's three applications, but the total cost of £81 is pretty eye watering. You need to try it out and make sure it is for you before investing that kind of money. 2Do is a worthy contender if you do most of your plotting and planning on iOS devices but it doesn't set itself up to be in the same league as OmniFocus. It is a compliment to the developers of 2Do that I can discuss it as a viable alternative for task management. And at £4 you can't go wrong, even if you use it only for call management.

Things, which I cannot recommend because of the absence of cloud synchronisation comes in three parts, the same as OF, and will cost you just under £50.

All we Omni fans are hoping that the experience of the iPad app will lead to similar improvements in the other two programs. The iPhone UI is overdue for a facelift, despite the obvious constraints of the small screen. But the Mac version is now feeling dated and desperately needs some of the iPad magic. All said, though, OmniFocus is really the only way to go if you are serious about your GTD workflow.

PRICES

  • 2Do for iPad and iPhone (universal app), £3.99. Total = £3.99
  • OmniFocus for Mac (Mac App Store), £44.99; iPad, £23.99; iPhone, £11.99). Total = £80.97
  • Things for Mac (Mac App Store), £29.99; iPad, £11.99; iPhone, £5.99. Total = £49.97

6 COMMENTS

  1. I have Todo, Omnifocus, Things and Firetask. I started with Things, than used Omnifocus as companion, installed ToD and Firetask for a short time.

    I am not a GTD pro but Things is for me still the most intuitive app on both iOS and Mac. Omnifocus has no multiple tasking but the excellent Cloud syncing. But since I van use Things with Dropbox I can sync too and in fact never experienced a problem. I agree with you that Omnifocus iPad is the best of their apps.

    Todo is flashy and colorful but IMHO too much. I don’t like it and it has no desktop sibling.

    Firetask is perhaps the most core GTD app, but since I am so used to Thing I don’t want to switch. Firetask can also be used with Dropbox and a next release will also have cloud syncing.

    So for me Things it is 🙂

  2. Thanks for this useful contribution. I hadn’t realised that Things worked well with Dropbox. I sync a number of other “non-syncable” applications such as Bento and MarsEdit via Dropbox and have had no problems. But you have to be careful not to leave the database open on one device before moving to another. Have you had any sync problems and do you find updates are quick?

  3. Michael, I agree with that one must be alert not having Things open on multiple Macs. So that never happened to me using it on a desktop and Powerbook.

    btw I use the same setup for 1Password to sync my password and license database.

    Things and Omnifocus both have their own adapts and fans. I installed Omnifocus twice but for me the UI on both Mac and iPhone was not intuitive. The iPad is a big improvement there.

    Bottom line for me is that Things is so Macintosh were Omnifocus and Firetask are so GTD 🙂

    P.S. I didn’t know that you could sync Bento through Dropbox. Doesn’t Bento import native iCal and Address book records which conflicts while syncing ?

  4. Hi again. I think this is the main difference between Omni’s sync solution and a workaround via Dropbox. The Omni system appears to cope well with multi-users (or careless single user). 1Password is also very flexible in this regard and I wouldn’t put it in the same category as Things, Bento, etc. I also use 1Password via Dropbox and have had no problems.

    Bento is one of those programs that insists on looking for its data in Library/Applications Support but you can get it working by using a symbolic link. See my post on this subject:

    http://www.macfilos.com/2011/01/dropbox-symbolic-links-database-location-bento.html

    You are right in respect of Bento’s link with iCal and Address Book but I haven’t noticed any problems. I THINK (but am willing to be contradicted) that Bento looks at the local iCal and Address data so as long as this is synced via MobileMe there should be no problems. I have certainly not noticed any anomalies in the additional fields in my Bento database.

    Michael

  5. Hi Michael
    I"ve been playing about with 2Do again (having purchased it ages ago I might as well!). However, like you it will not do the job for me until it has a companion desktop App.

    iProcrastinate is fun and colourful and seems perfect for anyone needing a simple to do list on Mac and iPhone (iPad is in the works). Free for desktop and 0.59p for iPhone! You may enjoy having a play! Syncing can be via Dropbox.

    It's at: http://www.iprocrastinateapp.com/mac/

    I'm using the latest desktop beta. It allow repeat tasks (often missing on new apps). You create subjects (broadly equivalent to contexts). Within those subjects are Tasks and each task can be broken down in to Steps (so a simple form of project).

    Files can be added to tasks.

    The one thing I miss is being able to take one Subject (Context) and then filter for just today's tasks in that context. I can get all tasks – or all tasks in all contexts due today – but not any finer. In Omnifocus it's a bit of a work around using Perspectives but at least it can be done.

    Paul

  6. Paul,

    I'm a professional procrastinator so I'd better take a look. In the past couple of weeks since I relegated 2Do to a simple phone management app, I've been spending more time with OmniFocus and trying to expand my knowledge so I use it to the full. I find the iPhone app, though rather pedestrian in appearance, is now much faster and has some detailed improvements (such as accepting the current day for a new task without having to jiggle the date wheel first).

    Thanks for the information.

    Michael

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