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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Overlooked Apps: My Favorite macOS Utilities

If you look at this blog’s tag cloud, you can get a quick overview of some of the apps that are essential to my workflows. These are the apps and services like Omnifocus, Keyboard Maestro, and Pocket, but there’s another set of apps that don’t get as much love that are just as essential. In fact, I have used them for so long I often forget they’re not actually part of macOS in the first place. Today I wanted to share some of my favorites that don’t get as much love on the blog.

Bartender ($15)

I cringe a little bit whenever I catch a glimpse of a menu bar that stretches across an entire 27” display. Don’t get me wrong, I love my menu bar apps, but Bartender allows me to be much more intentional with how I use my menubar. My default menubar now only contains Fantastical and the time. Everything else lives tucked away in the Bartender bar or is hidden entirely unless I need it.

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A view of my menubar while I’m working

One of my favorite features of Bartender is it’s ability to only show a menubar app when it has an update. This lets me see when Crashplan or Time Machine are backing up or my MacBook Pro’s battery is dying without having them in my menubar. Not only does it keep my menubar streamlined, but I now notice when something pops into it much more helping me to know what’s going on on the computer.

Taking things a step further, many of my menubar apps only launch under certain conditions thanks to Keyboard Maestro.

Healthier ($3.99)

Healthier is one of those menubar apps that Keyboard Maestro launches only when I’m at work. It’s function is simple – every 60 minutes, it overlays the screen with a quote and a quick timer to remind me to get up and take a break from my computer. Unlike other apps that remind you to take breaks, this one lets you continue to work if you happen to be working on something important which I like.

Moom ($9.99)

Apple tried to improve window management in El Capitan, but it just didn’t work in the way I had hoped. As much as I hate to admit it, Microsoft was on to something when they added the Aero Snap feature to Windows. Moom brings that experience and more to the Mac. Snapping windows side by side is something I do regularly and immediately notice when it’s not there.

PopClip ($6.99)

The first time I tried this app, I hated it. It was always getting in the way and seemed like a total nuisance at first. It wasn’t until I took some time to explore the various extensions for it that I learned to love it. Now sending highlighted text to Day One, Deliveries, Notes or Omnifocus are just a click away. It also automatically calculates word counts and allows me to highlight PDFs in Preview with ease.

QuickCast (Free)

Working in tech support, I’m often needing to show people how things are done. QuickCast is the best lightweight screencasting app I’ve found.

ClamXAV ($29.95)

While viruses are still fairly rare on Macs, I still like to keep some sort of virus protection on my computer. I never know what kind of attachment someone might attach to their support request or email. I also don’t want to be that person who unintentionally sends something malicious along to some poor unassuming Windows user. ClamXAV has been there for me as long as I’ve used a Mac. It’s not free anymore, but for $30, it’s well worth it.

GhostTile ($9.99)

This is one of those apps I never see mentioned anywhere. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very intentional about what is visible on my devices, and many of the apps I like to keep running in the background don’t have settings to hide their dock icon. Apple’s also made it increasingly difficult to modify the app’s settings to hide the icon without also breaking the app. Ghosttile is the only app I’ve found that successfully hides the icons of apps I truly never need to have in my dock.

I’m always on the lookout for new apps, so what are some of your favorite “hidden gems” for your Mac?