Things vs Omnifocus
Ease of Use
Creating tasks in Things's application is very intuitive. Cmd+N gets me a new blank task or I can click a New Task button at the bottom. Once I fill out the mini task form (which appears right inline), and press return, I get another blank task. It was so much easier to migrate all of my tasks into Things than it was into OmniFocus. To remove a task, I click on it (anywhere) to select it and press delete, or drag it to the trash can. To edit it, I double click it and I get the same mini form I got when I created it. Simple. Creatings tasks within the application is much more easily and intuitively done on Things than Omnifocus.
The Things quick entry dialog looks nicer. It’s stylized more like what I might expect a HUD to look like, and not just another system-chromed window. But, it only lets you enter one task at a time. You get to choose where your task goes: inbox, project, etc., which is pretty cool, I suppose.
Things lets you put tasks into projects or areas [of responsibility]. I didn’t understand this at first, but then I realized I had effectively tried to use the notion of areas of responsibilities in OmniFocus. I had created some projects in a folder called "Personal" that are kind of on-going projects. Projects like, finance, household, travel, etc. This is exactly what areas are for. Projects can then be assigned an area of responsibility, though I really had to hunt around to figure out how to do this. You have to click on top-level Project link under Organize. From there you can drag the projects into an Area. I’d love to see a more discoverable way to do this. Maybe there’s an inspector for a project that allows me to choose what area it belongs to.
Things is much better at organizing tasks than Omnifocus. While not as powerful as OmniFocus, I find the simplicity of Things refreshing. I was having anxiety with OmniFocus because I could have organized my tasks hundreds of different ways.
Jürgen told me that tag support was developed for Things so that we could assign context, priority, energy available, time available, or any combination thereof. If you don’t use some of these, don’t use ‘em, and they’ll never be there to bother you or clutter your interface. That sounds sorta nice, right? I’m not so sure. You can have nested tags in Things, which is sorta like nested contexts in OmniFocus, but that structure doesn’t live through the rest of the application. For example, when I choose a tag for a task, there’s no indication that Target is a sub-tag of the Errand tag. Weird. There is also no differentiation between a priority tag and a context tag. Maybe I got carried away when I defined my contexts in OmniFocus but I like the work flow it afforded me. I’m still not sold on tags for everything. It feels a bit too one-size-fits-all for me.
Adding new tasks in OmniFocus is a lot like creating an outline using OmniOutliner (go figure). It’s like you’re creating a to-do list as a single document, which makes sense, but this actually feels really strange to me. Pressing Cmd+N creates a whole new OmniFocus window, not a new task, which was really confusing. Instead you press enter while one task is focused to create another. There’s not a really intuitive way to just say "create new task". Also, one way to remove a task is by deleting all the characters in the description (as you might expect you could do if you were editing an outline), but it’s really easy to push delete too many times and delete half the description of previous task. You can also remove a task by selecting the task, and pressing delete. The trick here is selecting a task without also focusing the description field (it depends where on the task your mouse is when you click). If the description field is focused, pressing delete will just backspace the characters in your description. All in all, I found entering tasks in OmniFocus to be rather slow; not better than iGTD, just quirky in different ways.
With OmniFocus you can create more than one entry at a time. Type in the description, and optional context and project, press return and you’ll get a blank line on which you can create another task. Create as many as you’d like, and then click save (or press Cmd+S) to save them and close the window. This is pretty slick. If you don’t like having to save, you can adjust the OmniFocus preferences so that return also invokes save. But, beware, if return invokes save, there’s no way to enter more than one task in the quick entry dialog, at least not that I can figure out. OmniFocus is much better with quick entry tasks than Things with its ability to add multiple tasks at once which is pretty handy.
Tasks in OmniFocus either live in your inbox or in your library. It’s as simple as that. Your library can subdivided using folders and projects. Folders can have other folders or projects. Projects have tasks, which can have sub-tasks. Suffice it to say you can go wild here organizing your tasks. A project is only a project if it lives in your library. As far as I can tell, that’s the only thing that distinguishes it from a task with sub-tasks. I had to mess around a bit before I came up with a good system for my stuff, and found myself wanting to add sub-projects to projects in the library, but having to use folders instead. Also, getting a hold of a task and dragging it around to the correct project or folder or whatever, is sorta tricky… it’s another symptom of the document-ness of the lists… it’s way to easy to select and focus the description field. I find myself clicking-and-holding the check box on a task so that I can get a hold of it, which is really counter intuitive.
OmniFocus comes with several pre-defined contexts, and I only had to add a couple to suit my needs. It supports nested contexts, which I find really handy. Many of my tasks classify as errands, but some of them are specific to a certain store (usually Target). With OmniFocus I can assign somethings to Errands and some to Errands:Target. If I’m going directly to Target, I’ll just look at what’s in Errands:Target, but if I’m going out to run errands, which might include a Target run, I’ll check out everything in Errands. Assigning these context to tasks with the auto-complete gadget in OmniFocus is a breeze. Nice work guys! Now, what about the other stuff like priority? Well, I can flag a task, but I don’t see support for much more. Admittedly, I don’t often use any thing other than context, though I messed around a bit with priority in iGTD.
I always loved how things looks and its simple, elegant user interface. The iPad version is simply beautiful: it works exactly the way a task management app on an iPad should work. Unfortunately, Things’ syncing has never worked smoothly. Syncing it between two different computers can only be done with something like DropBox, and you can’t run it on both machines at the same time when using the same data file. Things can also sync with iCal, but that always causes duplicate & missing items and doesn’t work at all between two different machines sharing a data file. Things usually syncs nicely between a single Mac, iPhone, and iPad, but today it suddenly stopped recognizing my iPhone, even after I removed it and paired it again.
OmniFocus is a lot more powerful and flexible, but as a result it doesn’t feel as clean & elegant as Things. OmniFocus has a major advantage over Things in syncing. While Things only syncs mobile devices over the local network, OmniFocus supports several different syncing methods, including MobileMe. OmniFocus can only sync manually with iCal, but it doesn’t screw up the way Things does. Most importantly, when syncing via MobileMe, you can run it on two computers at the same time without screwing anything up, and you can sync your iPhone even when you’re away from the computer.
It was like the first time I used a Mac after years on a PC, and discovered that things really didn't need to be all that difficult. It's a piece of cake. It's looks like a Mac app, and Command-N creates a new task, like anyone in their right mind would expect it to. Tasks can be dragged from project to area of responsibility to Inbox to Today and most anywhere in between. There's keyboard shortcuts for everything I've wanted them for, so far. Tags can be associated with a character to quickly apply them to a task. If you select a task and hit the key that's associated with a tag, it will be added to the item. For example, Things comes pre-loaded with some tags for priority: High, Medium, and Low are associated with 1, 2, and 3. I have w for 'work' and p for 'phone'. If I select a task and hit w, it gets the 'work' tag - or I can hit w and then p and then 1, and it gets 'work', 'phone', and 'High'.
OmniFocus is a workhorse. You can create projects. You can create lists of single-action tasks. You can create folder of projects. You can create contexts. You can create sub-contexts. And yes, you can create tasks, which can have due dates and notes and might repeat. And you can filter on all of that. The way I see it, OmniFocus is like taking a 747 when, really, all I need is a kite. It's got a ton of features and options and filters and what have you, and it's really easy to waste a lot of time fiddling around with settings and just managing the app itself. This was my biggest problem with OmniFocus - it was so easy to just keep tweaking my projects and contexts, and I never actually did anything. Just firing it up to figure out what I needed to work on started to feel like a chore. Also, Command-N opens a new window, which makes sense in some apps, but not in this one. If you want to create a new task, the key combo is Ctrl-Command-N, and I could never get the hang of that.
I haven't tested out Things for iPhone.
For the longest time, you couldn’t actually interact with the iPhone OmniFocus app until >30 seconds after launching it–sometimes not for minutes after launch. Even in the latest version, after a ~5 second start-up delay, I’m sometimes able to enter new to-do items, but only in a special mode where I can’t categorize them. So then I have to remember to go into this special mode out of my normal workflow in the desktop application where I can see them–otherwise, they are lost forever. Of course, that’s only sometimes. Most of the time after I launch the iPhone version, the UI just sits there completely non-responsive while I watch a spinning circle. I’ve watched the circle spin for minutes with no indication of what’s happening (just last night, in fact). You can re-launch the app, but it’ll out-smart you and re-spin the circle when you go back in.
The iPhone app for Things costs $9.99. The iPhone app is just as simple and pretty as the desktop app. Unfortunately, they're still working on it, and it doesn't have all the functionality: areas of responsibility and tags are both missing, but Cultured Code has said that these are both high priorities. It would be nice to have them, but I'm doing OK without. On the upside, the sync works great. Things doesn't sync through any third party service. You must connect both your desktop and your iPhone to the same wireless network, make sure Things is running on the desktop, and then start it on the iPhone. It sounds like an ordeal, but it's really not: if I'm at home or work, both devices are already on the same network, and I have Things running on my laptop all the time anyway. And, if you're the kind of person doing secrety things, you don't have to worry about your task list going through a third party like MobileMe. The sync only takes a second or two, and I've never had any conflicts or lost data. Once or twice, there has been an item that was marked complete on one device but got marked incomplete during the sync, but really, that's about the least harmful issue I can think of.
The OmniFocus iPhone app is steep as well (considering how much apps generally go for): $19.99 The sync is dodgy. The sneakypeek beta version of OmniFocus can sync its database to MobileMe (and other WebDav servers, if you have access to one), and the iPhone app can do the same. As far as I can tell, though, it syncs up it's whole database at once. There were a lot of times that I would sync and it would find some conflict, so I would be forced to choose to use the server copy or the local copy - either way, some data gets lost. It also means that the sync takes a little while. The biggest issue I had was adding an item to my inbox on my old iPhone while I was out somewhere, then waiting for it to sync the whole database up to MobileMe over Edge. Factor in all the problems MobileMe was having a couple months ago, and it was not a pleasant experience. They may have improved this process since I stopped using OmniFocus a month or two ago, but I haven't tried it since.
While the UI appeals to me much more than OmniFocus, I found the quirks unpalatable. For example, when entering a new project with the keyboard, there are four fields. The third field is the due date. When this field gets focus, it is instantly populated with today’s date. If you wanted to get to the fourth field on the way and just happened to pass through the third field on the way? Tough. You’ve now got to delete the date with the mouse. Hmm… Then take the “Areas of Responsibility”, something like what other to-do managers call a “context” (but, don’t they advocate tags for contexts?). There is no way to assign to-do items to an area without using the mouse, and areas don’t sync to the iPhone version of Things. As I explored deeper, I found other bothersome limitations. For example, OmniFocus has a notion of projects with to-do items that can be completed sequentially, in parallel, or that are just catch-alls for items. In Things, projects just contain to-do items. Oh, and in Things items in projects can’t be set to repeat. (The Things developers promise to rectify both of these limitations.) I use both of these features. Duration of a to-do is implemented as a tag? Really?
I’ve been using OmniFocus on OS X since the betas and have never really enjoyed it. I find the UI quirky and am still in awe of how tracking to-do items can become as complicated and unintuitive as the Omni team have made it. But with time, its concepts have sunk in and I’m able to be productive with the sucker. I don’t enjoy using it, but I appreciate it.
No doubt, Things is pretty. When I first saw Things, I thought a lot of screen space was lost to eye candy.
Although OmniFocus appears very structured, I still appreciate the function of the simple columns and indentations of tasks in OmniFocus. And while I don’t use them very much, the Perspectives in OmniFocus offer a lot of flexibility to focus.
I’ll tell you right now that Things is going to lose this round. The only place I can see a comprehensive list of my tasks is to select the Next focus, and I only see them all here because I’ve not moved any of them into a different focus like Today or Someday. When looking at the list in the Next focus, my tasks are sub-categorized by project and areas, but not in a way that I can distinguish projects from areas. "Send out christmas cards" is a project that in an area called "Friends / Family". The tasks within it show up under the Send out.. project, and not in the Friends/Family area. I’m so confused. Ok, forget it, seeing a comprehensive list isn’t really what I want to do right now anyway, I want to see what errands to run. I guess the only way to see tasks with the errands tag is to use the search input. I type in "errands". I see things I’ve tagged errands, but not my Target or Safeway tasks. Apparently giving something a tag does not implicitly assign it the parent tag of the one I just picked. Weak. Forget that too… I’m going to Target and then to Safeway. Crap. I can’t enter more than one tag in the search field, and if I could, I wouldn’t know if it would show me tasks that had both tags or had one or the other. I can’t really trust that I’m seeing enough tasks here to make an informed decision. This seems like a fatal flaw.
OmniFocus has introduced an idea I’ve never seen in a GTD system. There are two discrete modes in the application: one for planning and one for doing. I actually like this. In the doing mode, I see a hierarchal list of my contexts, and I simply choose the context I have access to right now, and look at what I should be doing. If I select the Errands context, I see a list of my general errands and the items in my sub-contexts of Target and Safeway. If I click on Target, I see my Target errands. OmniFocus fell short in the last round in being able to prioritize things, but once I have a list of things to do in a given context, I can do some quick ad-hoc prioritization… though, it might be nice to do a little more with the items in the list. I guess I could flag them.
OmniFocus is far from perfect, but at least I can see the tasks I so painfully entered previously.
I’m still learning features of OmniFocus after over a year of use. If you use, or are considering OmniFocus, take a look at Don McAlister’s (of ScreencastsOnline.com) two screencasts on OmniFocus — part one: basics and part two: advanced. I’ve learned even more features from these screencasts, some I have implemented and others I have not, but, I know the app still has plenty of room to grow with me. If I have one gripe, it is the OmniFocus iPhone app. It has great features, and I use it often, but not as much as I might. It is slow to load, and sync via mobileme is a slow process. I still don’t use OmniFocus for capturing tasks. My wife syncs her iphone with OmniFocus via bonjour and it is a lot faster, but I don’t want to be limited to syncing over a local network.
I could not consider a GTD app that doesn’t have Quicksilver support available. When a task comes to mind, I want to shuffle it away (and into my inbox) with minimal effort and distraction. At least 5 times a day, I activate Quicksilver and fire a task into my inbox while reading, sitting in a meeting or working on another project. OmniFocus‘ quick entry feature is convenient, but Quicksilver is still more streamlined. As far as I know, Things does not have Quicksilver integration yet.
Average: $49.95 for a basic single user package.
Pretty steep: $79.95
There is no winner here, which sucks. One system does well what the other one doesn’t, at least for how I want to use a GTD system. I guess I’ll keep tracking them both.
For me Omnifocus is the clear winner. I expected to be won over by Things - to catch the zen of Things’ fantastic design and use that to overcome the missing features. But in the end, I find I am an OmniFocus kind of guy after all.
You can read my original article comparing these items here
Due to all of the syncing problems I’ve been having with Things, I’ve switched back to OmniFocus. Unfortunately they still don’t have an iPad version, so the iPhone version (like most iPhone apps) is just plain ugly when run on an iPad. I miss Things’s beauty & elegance, but not losing data is more critical.
You can read my original article comparing these items here
I have several friends who love Things, and I don’t think it’s a mistake to go that route. Especially if cash is a deciding factor — Things (both Mac and iPhone versions) is half the price. But OmniFocus is the way to go for me. It has a learning curve at the beginning, but once you push through that, it is an app that will grow on you.
You can read my original article comparing these items here
If OmniFocus were a Microsoft product, Things would be the Apple equivalent. It's simple, it's easy to use, and it's pretty to look at. Things offers enough options to be really useful without being obnoxious. You can create projects, and you can create areas of responsibility. This took me a little while to get used to, because they aren't exactly contexts, necessarily - they're intended for things that don't have an end-point like a project, but will include several tasks over time.
I spent a few months using OmniFocus for task management and tried really hard to like it. It's got a lot of horsepower - if you want a lot of customization and need to track a ton of items, OmniFocus might be good for you.
Obviously, I'm a fan of Things. Like I said, OmniFocus is probably appropriate for a different kind of user. I'm the kind of person that needs a simple, easy system that won't tempt me to waste time. Things has filled that role quite nicely - I'm getting a lot done these days, and thanks to the easy iPhone app, I never lose track of anything I need to get done.
You can read my original article comparing these items here
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