OmniFocus: The GTD System On Steroids

In the world of to-do lists, the golden standard comes from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. Inside he details how to manage all of your tasks, sort them out, and accomplish them in a timely fashion. The book is so popular that it’s had multiple printings, and has become the benchmark for other organisation systems.

OmniFocus is designed to take the David Allen GTD system and make it easy to use on your Mac. The software implements the methodology to its core, making it simple to input, prioritise, and review tasks (and much more!) But OmniFocus is more than just a GTD manager—it’s a way to truly organize your life on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

GTD 101

Although the basic GTD system isn’t incredibly complicated, it does take a while to get used to. We could spend a good amount of time getting into it (after all, there is a book dedicated to the subject), but instead, check out the flowchart below from OmniFocus’ website. It does a good job of showing the process step by step.

OmniFocus Workflow

OmniFocus Workflow

Every task has a context as well. These should be places where you do the task at hand. If you have to make a phone call, then the context could be “Phone.” If it was an e-mail to send, it could be “E-Mail” or “Online,” depending on your personal preference. These contexts are critical to proper organization, because this way if you’re looking for a task to do, you can go to the context and select what actions you can perform.

At first, the GTD methodology may seem complicated, but in practice, it’s quite simple. Just give it a few days, and you’ll be fine.

How OmniFocus Works with GTD

When first starting the system, you want to do a “mind dump”, emptying out all of your ideas and tasks into OmniFocus. When doing so, you want to do it quickly, and just put it into the Inbox for sorting later. OmniFocus makes it super easy to do this, giving you two options for entering things into the system.

First, you can use the program directly, just by clicking on the “Add Action” button. Alternatively, there’s also a quick input method which can be done via keyboard shortcut. Just enter in the task, and if you have time, you can also enter in the Project it needs to go under and the Context. You can also add a date if this needs to be done at a later time.

OmniFocus Quick Task Input Box

OmniFocus Quick Task Input Box

Once your mind dump is complete, go back through the Inbox in OmniFocus and start sorting out your tasks. Create Projects for tasks that may need multiple steps, making every part of the process an individual task. Then start building your contexts, making it as varied as you like, depending on your preferences. Once again, if you need to assign a due date to a task, you can do so, and you can also flag them if they’re more important than others.

Viewing Your Tasks

Once everything is in the system, now you can see all of your tasks in a variety of different methods. Sort them by project, context, or flagged, just depending on your preference. One of the more important views, is “Due”. This will show you what tasks you have due next by date, or due by priority. If that wasn’t enough, you can also sort your tasks even further by clicking on the View option and narrowing down your choices by specific criteria.

Project view in OmniFocus

Project view in OmniFocus

If you have a lot of tasks to do, sometimes it can be difficult to narrow down specifically what you need to work on next. Fortunately, OmniFocus has a feature named – you guessed it – Focus, which opens up a new window dedicated to either one specific context or project. This can be really handy when you don’t want to be distracted by all of the things you’ve got to do, and just want to get one project completed.

Going the Extra Mile

Now the key to this system is being able to enter tasks as quickly and easily as possible. At some point during the day, you’re going to walk away from your computer, and you may have occasion to enter a task with your computer miles away.

To help with that problem, OmniFocus has an iPhone and iPad version, both of which sync with each other seamlessly.

OmniFocus Syncing Options

OmniFocus Syncing Options

OmniFocus gives you multiple options for syncing as well. If you have a MobileMe account, you can set all of your devices to sync to a folder on your iDisk. You can also use Bonjour or a USB key, depending on whether you’re trying to sync multiple computers or multiple devices. But even better, you can also share your settings by e-mail or Wi-Fi, which makes setting up everything as simple as possible.

The Alternatives

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention any of the dozens of different options out there for working in the GTD system, all of varying prices. One popular option is Things, which also has iPad and iPhone versions (but still no over-the-air syncing ability available to OmniFocus users). There’s also Firetask (which we recently reviewed), along with the seemingly forever-beta The Hit List . So why choose OmniFocus over these options?

OmniFocus is both powerful and simple at the same time. You can have tasks nested within tasks if necessary, making it easy to organize your system similar to a file hierarchy. But it’s also basic enough to just get the job done, and do the bare minimum.

It’s all about flexibility and ease of use. And if your GTD system isn’t easy to use, then you won’t use it. OmniFocus is by far and away the most faithful representation of this methodology in software format.

In Conclusion

I’ve tried dozens of different GTD programs over the years, including Things, which was my favorite until I gave OmniFocus a try. Between the interoperability and syncing options, and the ability to drill down tasks, I can organize projects to my heart’s content. It’s everything I want in a GTD program, without being so complex that you need an engineering degree to figure it out.

It’s not the cheapest option, nor is it the simplest. But it is the best, and for me, it’s the only method I have for getting things done.

Would you like some further reading, and an even more in-depth look at everything that OmniFocus can do? Check out Shawn Blanc’s piece entitled A Sledgehammer Called OmniFocus. It’s a great read!


Summary

OmniFocus is designed to quickly capture your thoughts and allow you to store, manage, and process them into actionable to-do items. Perfect for the Getting Things Done system, but remains flexible enough for any task management style.

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  • Jesse

    The iOS companion apps as well, with syncing – make this a dream app. I seriously could not live without it.

  • http://www.timstringer.com Tim Stringer

    Great article! I’ve been using Things for over two years. While I really like this software in many ways I’m growing a bit tired of waiting for the long promised cloud syncing. I may give OmniFocus a try if this feature isn’t introduced soon.

    One correction – GTD is not a system, it’s is a systematic approach to productivity. A GTD system is a specific implementation of GTD, which in your case includes OmniFocus.

    • axxo

      Totally agree with you. I’m also tired of waiting for the long promised cloud-sync (hopefully «DropBox») and I’ll give now OmniFocus a try.

      BTW
      Thank you for this great review!

      • Sean Sutton

        I quit waiting for Things about 2 months ago and have been better for it. Things is hype. They will never do over-the-air syncing. They promised it in the iPad 1.3 version, but that has come and gone with no real improvements beyond cosmetics and bug fixes.

        Things is a beautiful app that HAD a world of possibilities, unfortunately the developers seem to be happy making money on what 90% looks and works like the 1.0 product.

        Omnifocus is great if you don’t mind spending the cash. Toodledo plus Apptogo or Tasksurfer are great budget alternatives.

  • http://www.ardissone.com/ Leandro

    A great alternative to Omnifocus but web-based is Checkvist: http://www.checkvist.com/

  • http://yourworkflow.ca curtismchale

    I would stay away from The Hit List. It’s been long on promise but not really delivered. I reviewed it a while ago and there was no information from the developer on future work on the ‘beta’. The ‘beta’ was set to expire every few months and updates would come that simply changed the expiry date, the night before it expired. THL showed lots of promise but unless there has been a significant change in the development I’d say it’s a lost cause.

    http://yourworkflow.ca/2010/05/06/review-of-the-hit-list-it-came-with-a-bundle/

  • sannyd

    While im new to my mac..i was instantly drawn to things and use it quite alot. I became aware of OF due to the snobs that go on the culturecod e forum and bemoan things. i got my company to pay for OF and im still not impressed. things suits my personal life fine and im intergrating it into my work life too.

    • Sean Sutton

      I think Things can be ok if you are a one computer, non-smart phone or iPad user.

      No need to sync makes Things a rocken app. I think people are hard on Culturedcode because they have been making promises for a really long time.

      Some people need a carrot, some need a stick. Not sure what CC needs.

  • Doug A

    Although I use OmniFocus (OF) extensively, OmniGroup needs to overhaul the interface. It could be greatly simplified. In part this has been the appeal to Things and The Hit List. OF is highly customizable but perhaps some pre-built themes would do the trick and a simplified “view” bar would be a good start.

    • Sean Sutton

      Having one a few google searches, found some great OmniFocus themes that have made all the difference.

      There are some great easy to install themes for OF that can help clear some of that clutter that OF is so famous for.

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  • Tom

    I guess I’m in the minority here because I switched from Omni to Things a month ago and find it a better app. Lack of cloud syncing is a problem but I’m able to live with it. I also agree Things may never sync via the cloud.

    I will look into Omnifocus themes but I’ve already paid for two apps. At some point, a person needs to just stick with something and live with the issues if they are not dealbreakers.

    • Sean Sutton

      I agree with you about having to choose. The thing that bothers me about GTD (or the human element in it anyway) is that many of us spend more time checking out new software when we should just be “getting things done”

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  • http://www.forexanddomain.in nosheen

    gud site here

  • http://www.immediate-effects.com Goran

    I use KOI Tasks, a good alternative to Omnifocus and Things. The Dektop App works on both MAC and PC and it syncs OTA with iPhone and Android.
    What I like most is the possibility to add attachments to tasks and darg/drop emails to create tasks and projects, either from Mac Mail (which I use at home) and at work on my PC I can drag/drop emails from Outlook as well.
    You can download the Apps at http://www.koi-community.com

  • John Steel

    http://actionmethod.com/ is the best I’ve tried so far for managing creative work, and I’ve owned things and the omnifocus software for iphone/ipad.

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  • http://moredecisive.com Steve Steinitz

    You mention priority twice in your review, implying that OmniFocus supports prioritizing one’s tasks. Besides flagging, it most assuredly, dogmatically does not.

  • http://www.free-ipad-books.org/ Brazila

    This tool sound to be very smart, I wonder whether it will make our human beings more foolish and lazy.

  • http://www.removedrmsoftware.com/ remove drm protection

    totally agree with you. it is boring to wait for the long promised cloud-sync.

  • http://www.removedrmsoftware.com/ remove drm

    i can not agree with you any more, i felt rather boring when wating for the long promised cloud-sync .

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  • http://www.ipad-ebooks.biz/ Peach

    well, i must try it. it’s good to read the information you provide here..

  • sldiner

    To be frank , at firstly, i am very strange to the GTD System On Steroids, now after reading this article, i have a good idea of it.
    Speaking of apple, most of us use apple’s products to read ebook. When it comes to read ebook, we have to convert the ebook formats.
    http://www.istonsoft.com/pdf-converter.html

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