Today we review a thoroughbred Getting Things Done(GTD) App, Omnifocus 2. Omnifocus has been an omnipresent stalwart of the GTD Methodology for some time now on the Mac. Let’s see how this pedigree has been brought across into the IOS version in this Omnifocus 2 review.
Pros • Competent GTD implementation
• Multi-level project/task nesting
• Project reviews
• No annual subscription
• Well-designed UI
Cons • Lacking advanced features
(AI, smart dates etc.)
• Expensive entry price
• Exclusive to Apple ecosystem
• Some features only in Pro version.
Bottom Line Omnifocus 2 is like a tailor made tweed suit – created with care, comfortably familiar for GTD fans and….rather expensive. There is little bling and it just gets on with the business of managing your tasks in a competent, understated way with a minimum of fuss. To weight up against the expensive entry price is the fact that this payment covers iPads, iPhones and iWatch and there is no annual subscription to pay. So, in the longer term, Omnifocus is good value.
Omnifocus 2 is like a tailor made tweed suit – created with care, comfortably familiar for GTD fans and….rather expensive
I just realize that, although I have just started this Omnifocus 2 review, I am blithering about Thoroughbreds, Tweed suits and stalwarts. No doubt you are probably thinking when will the review begin. OK, buckle up and let’s get stuck into it.
Omnifocus is closely aligned with the infamous Getting Things Done(GTD) methodology. Needless to say, there are aspects of it which are part and parcel of Omnifocus 2 such as Inbox, Contexts, Reviews and the Next Action concepts. For people who have read the book and decided that this is the right system for them, Omnifocus is certainly worth consideration – with one provision, if and only if, you are also an Apple product user. Omnifocus supports all Apple products including Mac computers, iPads, iPhones and even iWatch. This review will be centred on the IOS version which can be applied to iPads & iPhones. There are actually two versions of Omnifocus 2 for IOS devices available in the iTunes store, standard and Pro, with the latter offering custom perspectives – I will explain this later. This Omnifocus 2 review will cover the Standard version, i.e. the choice of mere mortals like ourselves.
Omnifocus 2 User Interface for IOS Devices
If you are using Omnifocus on the iPad, in landscape orientation, the user interface is as that shown in the screenshot below. On the left side of the screen we have the Home Screen whereby the main topics such as Inbox, Contexts, Reviews etc. are listed. Those provide quick and easy access to the commonly used functions that you need when managing tasks in the GTD methodology.
Omnifocus main user interface
On the right, we have the Main Outline list. Clicking on any of the tasks will bring up the Task Editor, where additional task information can be entered. Naturally, the task title but also other things such as due dates, contexts, comments and so on.
Task Editor Window
These three areas, Home, Main Outline, Task Editor are where you will be spending your time. Let’s drill down into the nitty gritty details of each. So, starting with some of the swipe functions that are available on the Main Outline. Swiping the task to the left brings up three different actions that can be quickly and easily executed,
• More, which leads to date defer options
In the Task Editor Window Task dates can be entered using either the quick entry option of
+1 day, +1 week, +1 month to quickly increment the dates or alternatively one can use the old school calendar view to select the date.
Due/Defer Date Entry
My preference of course is for the former option so that with a single push of a button the due dates can be entered. I find ball park time frames sufficiently accurate for the majority of my tasks and certainly a single button push is much more convenient on a mobile platform than entering specific dates.
It is also possible to drag tasks up and down the task list and any nested tasks will also be dragged with them. Unfortunately though it is not possible to swipe left or right to indent the tasks. The procedure for that is rather more convoluted, where you have to select the task, push the task move button and then define it’s parent task.
One thing I am not so fond of it the time estimate entry for the tasks. It is necessary to increment the minutes/hours. That could be a lot of incrementing, depending on how long your task is. There is also the question as to how this information is used. In the GTD Methodology, one way to select tasks to do is based on the time available. So, if you have a 10 minute window you select a task that takes 10 minutes. If I am not mistaken, there is no way in the Standard version to make a task selection choice based on the Time estimates. It seems to be only possible with custom perspectives in the Pro version. For a task selection technique which is part and parcel of GTD, this should come in the Standard version. If I am wrong here, feel free to let me know in the comments section of this Omnifocus 2 review!
In general for time estimates, I see that Apps generally don’t make the best use of them. Nozbe is one exception that uses the input information a little better. In the case of Nozbe, when you select the tasks to be done, it will sum the task durations and provide an estimated time to complete all of the tasks. This is a great way to see if you are being overly optimistic in considering what can be done in the available time frame.
Omnifocus 2 Task And Project Indicators
For both tasks and projects, Omnifocus has a number of subtle indicators to indicate their status. Let me give some examples of these indicators and how you can utilise them. Let’s start with the task indicators. The screenshot below lists a few tasks with varying status.
- Flagged tasks – orange with a little flag
- Late tasks – red
- Upcoming due tasks – yellow
- Repeating tasks – three dots inside the circle
These icons can be useful to quickly pick up tasks of different status.
But to make your life even easier, there is a readily accessible filter on the toolbar. Using the Toolbar view options, you can select Available tasks which immediately removes the blocked, future or on hold items. That, together with the project configuration options such as sequential, immediately helps to reduce a mountain of tasks down to the most critical actions that you can take action on now.
Omnifocus Task indicators
On the Home window, we also have a little indicator showing the open tasks for each project – grey dots below the Project Title. This also shows the overdue tasks and any upcoming tasks – refer to the little red and yellow dots below the Project Title in the screenshot below.
Home screen showing open tasks for the “Upcoming reviews” project
Omnifocus 2 Features and Functions
Before I get onto the GTD and Omnifocus specific items I want to first address the basic features and functions in this Omnifocus 2 review. Since Omnifocus is an IOS application intended for the iPad and iPhone it obviously needs to carefully consider the specific needs of mobile task management .So, as always I will subject it to the gruelling assault course that that I reserve for such applications. These are,
- Fast task entry on the go
- Fast manipulation of the tasks between lists
- Easy addition of labels, tags, or defined dates for tasks
- Quick and easy view of what is to be done given your current context
Fast Task Entry
From every screen in Omnifocus, there is the possibility to add new tasks to the inbox. One must simply hit the little inbox button which enables new tasks to be entered quickly. So if a new idea or task comes into your mind, you can quickly add it to the Inbox and then get back to your current task with a minimum of disruption. Thumbs up for that feature.
Task Manipulation and addition of Task Information
The ability to manipulate tasks in Omnifocus 2 is straightforward but not particularly slick
The ability to manipulate tasks in Omnifocus 2 is straightforward but not particularly slick. To move tasks between lists, you have to tap the task which brings up all the task details. From there you can select which list to move the task under. When complete, press Done. Moving tasks can also be done with Cut and Paste but this implementation is also not perfect as it is not possible to define whether the task should be pasted as a subtask or peer. Omnifocus has pre-defined that – if pasted onto a project it will be a subtask and if pasted onto a task it will be a peer.
Both methods are simple to use but not as slick as some of the other implementations I have seen. For example, with Apps such as TickTick and Nozbe task migration can be done with a simple swipe and press of a button.
Task manipulation and entry of additional Task details are both handled within the confines of the same Task Editor window. The additional task information that can be entered and edited includes dates, comments Contexts etc. Note that labels/tags are not supported.
Context dependent views
This one is handily dealt with by Omnifocus as there is a dedicated button on the Home screen for it. Context in the GTD arena refers to a task pre-requisite that is necessary to complete the task. In many cases this refers to a geographical location. So, for example some tasks that you have can only be done at a computer, while shopping, others at work or even in the car. All of these are examples of Context. So, when you find yourself in any of those places you can immediately, or even lazily, depending on your mood hit the Context button, select your current context and it will show the list of tasks that can be done there.
Omnifocus 2 is also location aware as it can leverage the GPS on your phone to determine your location. So, when you arrive at a particular location, Omnifocus 2 can recognize that and alert you of the tasks that can be done at that Context.
This removes the hardship of having to hit the Context button.
That concludes the basic items that we need to cover for mobile Apps. Now let’s review a few more that are specific to Omnifocus 2.
In Omnifocus it is possible to add new tasks from any screen using the little Inbox button on the top right of the screen. At some point though all those inbox items need to be processed. This is done by simply hitting the Inbox button on the left overview screen which brings you to the list of inbox tasks. From there, each task can be selected, task details entered and a destination project defined. As always, these details are all located on the Task Editor window.
Task Processing using Editor
This can be a little tedious processing the tasks this way as all task details have to be entered one by one.
If your task lists stretch beyond the complexity of a grocery list then you will want to consider nested lists or projects. Thankfully Omnifocus has your back covered. It is possible to group projects into folders and also to create subtasks. As mentioned above in the User Interface section, this is done via the Task Editor window.
Omnifocus 2 Project and Task nesting
Another nice feature of Omnifocus is the ability to indicate the status of the project, whether that be Active, Paused, Cancelled or the most unlikely scenario – completed!
This status is set via the Project Editor window as shown below. Changing this setting also will have a direct impact on the actionable tasks that are displayed. So, if you stop or pause a project, those will not be shown up in the Available Tasks view for instance.
Omnifocus Project Status Settings
A powerful concept in the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach is that of the “Next Action”. This is the next physical thing that you can actually do to move a project forward. This implies that a series of tasks must be done in order to accomplish a project.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that series of tasks were spoon fed one by one in small, digestible chunks that fly towards you with the gentle words of encouragement, “here comes the big airplane!”. Well, in a way this is what Omnifocus 2 does, without the big airplane bit. When you enter tasks for a projects, you can decide how the tasks should be executed,
- Single actions
- In Parallel
- In Series
If you take the Series approach, it will only show the first actionable task on your task list. The others will be hidden (or all tasks can be displayed if you wish). When you complete that first task, the next will be shown, and so on. This helps to remove the feeling of being swamped by tasks by only having the next actionable task per project displayed.
Omnifocus Project type – Parallel, Single actions, Series
The Standard version offers only two perspectives, completed tasks and recently changed. This is not of much benefit
Perspectives has to be the most glamorous title I ever came across for a filter and in Omnifocus that is pretty much the function that it fulfils. The Standard or Pro version of Omnifocus determines what capabilities the Perspectives view comes with.
The Standard version offers only two perspectives, completed tasks and recently changed. This is not of much benefit.
The Pro version on the other hand enables you to set up custom views with defined values for all of the task details such as Flagged, Dates, Estimated Time and so on. This is a much more powerful feature if you are interested to tailor Omnifocus to your particular workflow so that it shows you only the tasks you are interested in. To get more detail about these custom perspectives, check out the video below.
Another critical element for both the GTD methodology and Omnifocus 2 is the concept of Reviews. A review is to go through a project or list of tasks on a regular basis. In Omnifocus, it is possible to define which projects you wish to review and at which intervals. Clicking on the review button will then list out all the reviews you have created in order of the next review date.
Configuring Reviews in Omnifocus 2
Omnifocus 2 Standard vs Pro
As mentioned earlier, there are two versions of Omnifocus available for IOS devices, Standard and Pro. The key differences that the Pro version offers is to have custom perspectives and to have flexible organization of those in the Home screen. If you feel the need to have filters based on the task details, then the Pro version would be needed. There is also the possibility to purchase the Standard version and upgrade later to the Pro version using an in-App purchase if you need that extra functionality.
Omnifocus 2 Price
At the time of writing the pricing of Omnifocus 2 for IOS devices is $39.99 for standard and $59.98 for Pro. Those prices are quite high for an App, especially when other task management apps are given away for free. However, you also have to factor in that there is no subscription to pay whereas with some other apps such as Todoist you will have to pay about $30 per year for the Premium version. In the longer term, Omnifocus may turn out to be a good investment. Link to Omnifocus 2 at the iTunes store.
Omnifocus 2 Review Summary
If you fulfill the following two criteria then Omnifocus 2 is probably a good purchase for you
As mentioned previously, Omnifocus 2 is a very competent task manager. It is well aware of its raison d’etre and it executes it with a minimum of fuss. It adheres to many of the principles from the Getting Things Done methodology so if you are a follower of GTD then you will feel quite at home with Omnifocus 2.
While this Omnifocus 2 review has focused on the IOS version, a version for macOS is also available and will likely be an additional purchase for you if you own a plethora of Apple products. But, if your devices extend to Windows PCs or Android then you may have to seek elsewhere as these are not supported by Omnifocus. And, there are other strong Omnifocus 2 alternatives out there such as Todoist that not only support macOS and IOS but a myriad of other platforms. There is an initial high cost of entry to Omnifocus 2, with the IOS standard version costing nearly $40. If you add the macOS standard version on top of that, that brings you to a total of $80. Going for the Pro version brings the initial purchase price to over $100. This is a big chunk of cheese. That said, Omnifocus 2 does not charge any subscription fees like many of it’s competitors. So, over the longer term, it may well turn out to be a sound financial decision.
Wrapping up this Omnifocus 2 Review. If you fulfill the following two criteria then Omnifocus 2 is probably a good purchase for you. Those two criteria are, first you prefer the GTD approach for task management and second, you use exclusively Apple platforms, IOS and macOS. I hope you found this article useful and if so please share on your social network of choice – the little buttons on the left!
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