Saying Goodbye To OmniFocus

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One of the key things for any productivity system is that you have to trust it. For me, the center of that system has been OmniFocus. To say it has run my life over the past 4 years is an understatement, so it was a no-brainer to purchase OmniFocus 3 when it was released for macOS a few weeks ago.

Then the unthinkable happened. I have to be honest, never in a million years did I expect that I’d be writing this post.

I can’t really pinpoint where trust in my system started eroding with OmniFocus 3. Maybe it was the constant threat of tags teetering on the line of becoming out of control, struggling to adapt my perspectives in meaningful ways, or maybe it was just a feeling that my projects were staring me down. Within a matter of weeks, it became overly clear that OmniFocus was no longer a joy to use, and I found myself opening it with dread.

Being a natural planner and someone who’s been using OmniFocus to manage every aspect of my life for years, not trusting that system sent me into a spiral of chaos fairly quickly. Before I knew it, I was 2 hours into setting up a trial of Things 3 on my Mac.

Yes, Things.

I was a Things user before switching to OmniFocus. I actually wrote about it on here many years back. Many of my gripes with Things 2 have been corrected with Things 3, but Things 3 isn’t perfect just yet. There’s a lot to love, but there’s also a lot lacking when you’re used to a task manager as powerful as OmniFocus.

What’s changed?

My experience with Things 3 this time around was a little bit like rereading a book later in life. My life isn’t drastically different. I still have the most of the same responsibilities and projects, with a few more added (Hello, condo and management position), so my needs haven’t gotten simpler. My mindset around managing tasks, however, seems to have. A task manager at its heart should help you accomplish tasks, and OmniFocus had led me down a road of managing tasks instead.

Migrating to Things wasn’t without its challenges though.

First and foremost, my project list had to change.

OmniFocus lets you organize tasks in a number of ways. For one-off tasks, they give you Single Action Lists (SALs). These most commonly end up being used for tasks related to the ongoing roles of your life (e.g. health). For traditional projects in the GTD sense (a completable task comprised of more than one action item), they give you sequential and parallel projects (depending on whether actions are dependent on each other.) SALs, parallel projects, and sequential projects can be grouped by folders (typically used for Areas of Responsibility). This gives you several levels of hierarchy to organize your tasks.

Things 3 only gives you two – Areas and Projects.

In the past, I struggled to find a way to migrate my project list from OmniFocus to Things because of this. I tried to either abandon my high-level folders entirely (resulting in a ton of areas) or I tried to collapse my SALs into a single area (requiring a ton of tags).

The key mindset shift here is that Things 3 is only loosely based on GTD. As soon as I loosened my definition of a project, I opened the doors for projects to be used as sub areas, just like my SALs in OmniFocus.

There are a few additional benefits to Things’ project lists. Areas can have their own tasks allowing me to get rid of my “General
tasks” SALs. Projects can be organized by headings allowing me to organize my lists in ways I’d never been able to before (e.g. breaking my cleaning list down into daily, weekly, monthly chores). Lastly, projects are denoted by completion pies. Since I’m using projects as both SALs and actual projects, it remains to be seen how useful this will be, but for now it’s a good visual representation of where I’m focusing most of my attention (a more complete Health pie means I’m spending more time on my health than a less complete Car pie).

A second mindset shift was about complexity.

Much like Things’ vastly simplified project list, how you work with your tasks is simplified. Forget stalled projects or tags. Forget setting times on your tasks. Forget action item dependencies. Tasks are available unless you set a start date or set the task to Someday.

In some ways, I miss Omnifocus’s attention to detail. I can’t set my task to take out the trash to only show after 5PM, and projects with sequential actions require a bit more thought. However, thought, in this case, isn’t a bad thing. Omnifocus’s ability to fine tune tasks gave me the option to get fiddly without realizing it. Migrating to Things forced me to reconsider just how bad it had gotten. Most of my sub actions could be removed entirely or accomplished with Things’ barebones sub-action feature of checklists.

My third mindset shift is probably the most difficult – giving up custom perspectives.

I lived out of my custom perspectives in OmniFocus. Being able to easily bring up a list of all my available Work tasks was great. Things isn’t quite there yet, but because I’ve simplified everything so much in switching to Things, I can truly work out of the built-in Today view (filtering by my location tag if necessary). The one thing I can’t do is filter by multiple tags at once (e.g. Office OR Anywhere). Things treats selections of multiple tags as an AND operator, but overall this hasn’t been a deal breaker.

What I’m loving about Things:

  • The interface is incredibly simple. Seeing my tasks in OmniFocus vs. Things is a staggering difference, but now my focus can return to tasks, not the interface.image.png
  • Despite the simplicity, there’s incredible attention to detail. Tasks with deadlines even include a handy countdown letting you know how much time you have left.

What I’m missing (and hoping for) with Things:

  • Dates are just dates. There are no times. The only option to defer to a later time is to set a Today task to This Evening.
  • Task dependencies are a huge loss. Having to set arbitrary dates to overcome the lack of sequential actions is a bummer.
  • I’d also love to see Headers (currently only available in Projects) be made available in Areas or the Today view. Headers in areas would give me the true distinction of Areas, Sub-Areas, and Projects I am hoping for.

Things 3 has been a refreshing switch for me, and I’m interested to see where it takes me going forward.

Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

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6 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye To OmniFocus

  1. Nick Palermo says:

    I get around that “too many choices” issue in OF by not using Areas of Responsibility at all. It was an issue for me at first also until I decided that I don’t need that portion. Things does look pretty nice, but not having times is a show stopper for me. My whole day is in OF, in order by time. 🙂 I don’t even open my calendars anymore. I am right with though in that my task life centers around OF. Cheers and glad you found a new system!

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Nick,

      It’s interesting to hear you don’t use Areas of Focus. For me, areas are such a fundamental aspect of my system, I couldn’t imagine one without them. I actually use them as a sort of trigger list to make sure I’m not neglecting any areas. I’m still working around the time thing. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a complete picture of what I actually have on my plate each morning when I do my planning regardless of which time it starts, but I do get a little frustrated that I can’t hide what’s not doable until later. Thankfully Things makes it easy to reorder your Today list, so ordering by time is fairly simple.

      -Andrea

  2. Bobbie Lee Hubbard says:

    I’m so sad you have moved away from OmniFocus. I was looking forward to your review of 3. I will say I have also been moving away, because I find myself more worried about the complexities and not the tasks. Thank you for the read!

    • Andrea says:

      I’m still hesitating to completely uninstall OmniFocus, and I’m on both the Mac and iOS beta, so I’m still playing around with it. Who knows what the future will bring.

      As far as a review, I did post some thoughts of Omnifocus 3, a review of sorts, a few weeks back in a post titled Workflow Changes with Omnifocus 3 (https://andreamocko.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/workflow-changes-with-omnifocus-3/). In short, adding tags was big step forward, but until I can actually do something I find useful with those tags, it’s just added complexity in an already complex app.

  3. Ken Walker says:

    I’ve totally been rocking Things since v3 came out. The simplicity is huge and I feel like it fits into the weird way I think. I’ve even been using it as a general purpose outliner just because the interface is fun and easy to use. Also, Dark mode is kinda pretty.

    One thing I wish the desktop app had is adjustable font sizes. I asked on Twitter if Cultured Code was considering adding this. They hadn’t thought of it, but here’s hoping they might.

    • Andrea says:

      The simplicity is something I’m really appreciating in Things coming from OmniFocus. I’m spending less time fiddling with tasks, and more time actually getting them done, which is what actually matters. You’re right about Dark Mode. I honestly hadn’t tried it until just now, but it is very pretty – even coming from a non dark mode fan. There are plenty of things on my wishlist some of which I’ve managed to send in feature requests for, and I could see adjustable fonts being worthwhile too. Fingers crossed some cool things make it into the next release.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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