Omnifocus is the Omni Group’s submission in the growing field of OS X task management programs. OmniFocus has been in development over a year. I was fortunate to get into the alpha test early and I’ve actually been using OmniFocus as my exclusive task management application since June.
I am a believer in keeping tasks lists. I would like to say this arises from some inherent sense of order and organization. In truth however, it arises from my very early realization that I am scatterbrained and often have the attention span of a goldfish. As a result, I write things down. I’m not just talking grocery lists here. If I can not do something immediately, I write it down. Since I do the legal work several companies and have other commitments with my family, my community, and macsparky, this list gets pretty long. So getting back to that part about being scatterbrained I am constantly throwing tasks into OmniFocus. When do I need to prepare for trial? When do I need to volunteer at my daughters’ school? When do I need to clean the air filter and rotate the tires? For someone like me, dumping these things into a system is liberating. Trying to track even a small percentage of these things without tools like OmniFocus could get really ugly, really fast.
So the Omni Group enlisted some very smart productivity folks and came up with OmniFocus, an application designed to hold all those tasks you are carrying around in your head and spit them out to you in small, bite sized, pieces.
The first part of any task system is input. That is, how do you get your tasks into the system? In OmniFocus, the best place for me to do this is the planning window. In it I can create folders and projects and load them up with tasks. You can customize this window to be as simple or complex as you need it. I use the fields for description, project, context, start, and due dates. OmniFocus helps you here anticipating your entries. For instance, I have a project for my fantasy football league, the Riddiculous Football League. If I type “RFL”, OmniFocus figures that out for me. It does the same thing for client projects. Likewise, OmniFocus is very smart on dates. I can list a due date by writing the month and date (like 1/15) or contextually like “4d” for three days or the monday in two weeks “2w Mon”.
Entering new projects and filling them with tasks is easy enough this way. However a lot of time I think of tasks when I’m not even in OmniFocus. For this, the application has a very handy quick entry panel. So I can be in Safari and be inspired to add a task to some project of mine. I’ve mapped a key combination that allows me to open the quick entry panel which also recognizes all of the project and date shortcuts you get inside OmniFocus. It takes just seconds to create.
Another feature for task entry is clippings which allows you to select text inside your browser or mail program and with a simple key combination create a quick entry task item with the text attached. Speaking of mail you can also preface emails to yourself that OmniFocus will read as new tasks and input them automatically.
Once the tasks are in you can add notes and attachments to them. I scan most important documents that come my way and drop them into OmniFocus as an attachment to their corresponding tasks so when it comes time to get to work, I don’t have to go searching for the related documents.
Once you’ve got your tasks inside OmniFocus, you can organize them by project or context. But that is really just the first step. OmniFocus has a series of filters you can apply to these modes to sort by folder, due date, start date, durations, flags, and several other criteria that you may, or may not, care to use. Once you have a set of filters set up just the way you like you can save that as a Perspective. You can save all of your favorite Perspectives and access them with just one click. I’ve set up several Perspectives on my system and jump between them as I go through my day.
The print dialogue also gives you several options if you want to make a hard copy which is nice if you are going to be away from your mac. Another trick I use is to print portions of my task list to pdf and then email the pdf to myself so I’ve got it on my iPhone.
OmniFocus also has a robust syncing system with iCal. I used it for awhile but found iCal’s task management system so anemic that I just turned that feature off. Now I just manage tasks in OmniFocus and have no complaints.
Using all of these tools together is what makes OmniFocus really shine. I usually spend about 15 minutes every morning planning things out and prioritizing as necessary. I then spend the rest of the day checking off items and adding new items as projects and tasks present themselves. I’ve got a lot of plates in the air and OmniFocus has really helped me keep them from smashing to the floor.
OmniFocus was not developed as a "kitchen sink" application. By this I mean the developers had a clear idea of what they wanted and did not include every conceivable feature. For instance it does not support numerical prioritization like some task management applications do. I thought I would miss this feature but I haven’t. The application does allow you to "flag" certain items and that is enough for me.
OmniFocus also does not allow you to easily synchronize between multiple Macs. I read in the forums that some users accomplished this by keeping their data on a thumb drive but a .mac sync solution would be very nice. Likewise, a way to easily sync and amend this data on my iPhone would be great. Fortunately, this is just a 1.0 release and the Omni folks have stated their intention to tackle these problems with future updates after Apple releases the iPhone SDK.
OS X is very fortunate to have a variety and ever growing set of task management applications. Having tried a lot of them I find OmniFocus to be perfect for my particular needs. It is scaleable and can grow (or shrink) depending on how busy things get for you. A license will cost $79.95 which is not cheap, especially in light of the fact many competent alternatives are free. You can get $20 off if you already own an OmniOutliner Pro license. Regardless, if you spend as much time managing tasks and projects as I do, this investment is well worth it. The people at Omni Group just deliver. Every day I find myself using their products and being more productive, efficient, and just looking better to my clients. In that respect OmniFocus is entirely what I expected: reliable, efficient, and helpful. You can download a free trial at OmniGroup.com.
You can listen to the above review on The MacReviewCast Episode 142.