Review: OmniFocus for Mac

Derek Schauland reviews the OmniFocus app for the Mac, a program based on the Getting Things Done concept for improving productivity.

Being an IT Pro by day and just a general computer geek all the time, the concept of David Allen's Getting Things Done has some appeal to me -- when I can stay on the wagon that is. There are many tools, from paper notebooks and filing systems to digital applications and recorders, to help you manage your open loops and actually get things done.

Being one of those who is in and out of the GTD club and who recently took the leap to a Mac, I discovered OmniFocus for Mac and thought I would get to know it for a review. Who knows, it might become the latest tool in my quest to get things done.


Who's it for?

OmniFocus is intended to help with organizational productivity. Built on the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology introduced by David Allen, anyone with lists to manage can benefit from using this application. Sure there are groups of people who seem to swear by GTD, but almost everyone uses lists to accomplish things more efficiently.

What problem does it solve?

Many people use lists for things like grocery shopping, errands, and just to help us track progress on a project. OmniFocus for Mac can help you group your lists into projects and apply contexts to those list items and projects.

What is a project?

David Allen and OmniFocus define a project as any task that requires more than one action to complete. For example, "Clean the House" would be a project because it might take multiple actions to accomplish the house cleaning. These actions can be things like Doing the Dishes, Vacuuming, or simply doing a little dusting.

Actions that can be completed in one step do not need a project and may end up on a single action list in OmniFocus. This type of list is designed for one step actions.

Because OmniFocus uses GTD as its primary framework, it also supports contexts. A context is a designation of the tools or locations needed to accomplish the task. For example, one of the default contexts in OmniFocus is @Errands. Adding this designation to an action or project like "Get Laundry Soap" would notate that you would best be able to accomplish this task while out and about.

Standout features

  • Nested items - I like this feature because of the way Contexts make sense to me. The Errands context is great, but what if I need to pick up pickles and a spare power cord for my Mac? I cannot get them at the same place (in most cases). Under Errands in this case, I can add sub-contexts like Groceries and Electronics so that items from each type of store can get categorized separately while remaining in the errands context.
  • Straight Forward Interface - One of the things I have gleaned from reading and learning about GTD is that is designed to be simple. OmniFocus meets this goal head on by keeping things streamlined and easy to understand.
  • Great Capture - Capturing lives at the heart of the application in the Inbox pane. If you cannot capture the things on your mind, in a location that you trust, you will likely forget about the item. The inbox handles this in a very simple to use method. Simply pressing return when in the Inbox view will add a line item to the list. My current inbox is shown in Figure A below.
  • Quick Add - Sometimes things need to get captured when you aren't in OmniFocus. Using a quick add window, which pops up with a customizable hot key press, you can add items into your inbox without leaving the application you are in.

Figure A

Click to enlarge.
My OmniFocus Inbox

What's wrong?

  • No Windows Application - I know that many Mac people do not use Windows, but I think this application would be a great port to Windows. Because GTD seems so popular among IT professionals, porting OmniFocus to as many platforms as possible seems to be a great idea.
  • Inclusion of the iPad/Phone client - Because the mobile clients are available through the Apple App store, it isn't possible to give these items away, however providing a promo code or maybe a discount off the desktop product when the mobile client is purchased would be something more feasible. The application is really growing on me, but the iPad app is a bit cost prohibitive when combined with the desktop application.

Competitive products

There are several competitive list management tools available:

Keep in mind, these tools can be used in a way that mirrors the functionality of OmniFocus but may not be a direct replacement for it.

Bottom line for business

For business the bottom line is productivity. OmniFocus is a great step toward helping people get organized and become more productive. Worrying about things I need to get done is one of the things that makes me feel stressed and as though I am not accomplishing anything. Having an application that allows me to organize tasks and set reminders is a welcome addition.

User rating:

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