One of my recent post was about the great todo-manager for Windows, Tudumo. But since then, I have changed platform. I am now writing on a MAC. Unfortunately Tudumo was Windows-only. So I had quite a challenge on my hands. How should I handle my Getting Things Done routine on a MAC?
Well I did some research and narrowed it down to a shortlist of two apps:
- OmniFocus made by Omni group with Merlin Mann from 43folders on the team
- Taskpaper a wonderful tiny app, really cleverly made by Hog Bay Software
These were the only ones that integrated well with my GTD system. And very important, they looked nice :)
Taskpaper is the micro app with a really wonderful and innovative design, but lacking in features. Mainly it lacked a good "fast capture".
OmniFocus is the complete all in one package, but slightly bloated, and cursed with a rather non-intuitive keyboard-layout.
In the end I chose OmniFocus because I lacked a couple of critical features in the Taskpaper, but I would really recommend checking it out.
So here's how I use Omnifocus for GTD.
Omnifocus for GTD
OmniFocus has a couple of really great features for GTD'ers. Unfortunately the richness of features offered are a little overwhelming, especially in the beginning. It really could use some streamlining.
But lets run through the basic GTD phases.
One of the main reasons that I ended up using OmniFocus is the nice capture function in Omnifocus.
Just hit CTRL-ALT-SPACE and Omnifocus will launch the capture window.
The great thing about the capture-tool in Omnifocus, is that it gives you the option to add project and context info right away, and as you start to type, Omnifocus will start to guess what context or project you're looking for. If you're not certain where to put it, you just wait, and it'll just end in your Inbox.
Capture with Omnifocus is fast. Hit hotkeys. Type. Choose project and content. Enter. Done!
Planning your Projects
The main concept in Omnifocus is the way you switch between planning and viewing actions. The designers of Omnifocus have come up with the idea to separate these different phases in GTD.
So while most applications require you to plan actions and chose actions to execute in the same view, Omnifocus offers a special view for each of these phases in the GTD proces.
So when you plan your projects and next actions you do it in "Planning Mode" (APPLE-1)
Here you can add new projects. Your projects are the containers for your actions.
When you begin to plan your project, you can list up all the steps you need to complete to finish it, and define the contexts (@home, @phone etc) in which these actions will be done.
When you switch out of "planning mode" to "context mode" (APPLE-2) you will see your list of next actions. Here you'll only see "available" actions. So Omnifocus will only list the first action from your project. When you tick this off as done, Omnifocus will grab the next one from the list. This is really clever!
If you want a project, where all actions can be done as soon as you feel like it, you can change the project-type to "parallel" or a "single action bucket". Then Omnifocus will put all the actions on the Next Actions List.
Advandced Planning with the inspector
The type of a project can be set by clicking on an icon on the project header.
But I'll recommend that you get into the habit of using the inspector. This is summoned with APPLE-SHIFT-I.
The inspector is context-sensitive. So if you have activated a project it'll let you
- Change the type of project.
- Put a project on hold for later or mark is a completed.
- Set a default context for a project (very convenient).
If you have activated and action, the inspector let's you modify basic stuff like the context and project of an action. But it also lets you set a start date and a due date for the action. This is really cool for deferring actions.
When you set the start date of project to someday in the future, this is the day the action will become available on your Next Action list. I use this all the time.
The hidden SWITCH button
Switching between planning and context mode will often be something you want to do when you're handling a planned action. Perhaps you're skimming your contexts on your next actions list and come across and action for a project, that isn't the actual NEXT action.
So you want to get into the project in "planning mode" for the action, and replan a little by inserting the actual next actions into the project.
Omnifocus have a great little hidden tool for this. If you choose customize toolbar (view > customize toolbar) you'll find the SWITCH button. Drag this unto your toolbar.
Now when you find action, where you need to replan something, you just hit switch to take you from project to context and the other way around. It's really neat.
So, processing in Omnifocus is really easy. You'll be able to assign actions to projects and contexts really easy thanks to the autocompleting input fields.
Adding new projects in planning mode, and having quite a lot them won't mess up your system, because you get to skim next actions only when looking at the context list.
If you don't put a context on an action it'll just sit there in your project list. This is a handy way to handle someday/maybe items. I put these in a couple of someday/maybe projects, without assigning contexts.
There's a special type of contexts called "waiting" if you need to keep yourself reminders of delegated tasks.
And you can defer actions to a specific time in the future by adding start dates.
Everything you need to handle a GTD system is available, when you get to know Omnifocus.
A bit to complicated
And this is perhaps my primary concern with Omnifocus. It is a quite complicated application.
It offers a lot of pretty complicated tools, that just clutters the app, and overshadows the main tools of Omnifocus.
You can for instance design your own views, called perspectives. This is really quite over the top, and it seems more like a bad compromise caused by lack of focus on offering users a few really welldesigned filters/views. Keyboard shortcuts is another headache. I have used apps like Tudumo and Taskpaper, where an intuitive keyboard layout lets you do everything efficiently.
In Omnifocus I find myself reaching for the mouse all the time.
The keyboard shortcuts are poorly chosen. Core functions like adding actions and projects are difficult hard to remember three-finger shortcuts. I constantly confuse adding projects (SHIFT-APPLE-N) and adding actions (CTRL-APPLE-N).
I miss a stringent concept for the user-experience when using Omnifocus. When I use an app like Omnifocus I want to feel efficient and competent.
If Omnifocus wants to be the primary MAC application for todo-lists, and charge a hefty 80$ for a license, then they need to apply som focus to this. The user-experience is simply under to much pressure from an avalanche of features.
A system you can Trust
But even though Omnifocus is haunted by these interface problems, I will recommend it to anyone using GTD.
The basic design that splits planning and context mode in two separate work areas is a really powerful concept.
It lets you get all your stuff of your mind into projects in planning, but it only serves you the relevant next actions on your todo lists.
When you put something in there, you can rest assured, that it will pop up on your context list at the right time sometime in the future. And that's really cool. It actually helps you reach a state of "Mind like Water"
You can check it out yourself by downloading it with a 14-day trial from Omni Group.
- Jens Poder