02/03/14 19:00:20

How OmniFocus Almost Lost Me (A GTD App Comparison)

Gabe has posted how he revises his approach to task management, which I would have ignored, if not Sven pointed it out.

I did the same thing last year, when OmniGroup released a brand new version of OmniFocus for iPhone. A paid upgrade, which caused me to question whether OmniFocus still is king of task management. I was wondering what the competition was doing and so I looked for alternatives.


I’ll briefly explain why these are my favorites.


Trello is great because it follows a different approach than Getting Things Done. Kanban is interesting, but it’s just not for me. While Kanban is great for team work, I find it not as appropriate for personal task management. By personal I mean personal more in the context of “me personally”, which includes my professional as well as my private life.1
What I also don’t like is that Trello is a web-based app. There’s just too much clicking involved. I know their keyboard shortcuts are extensive, but when I use Trello, I click more than I would like to. Adding tasks after tasks is tedious. Looking at multiple projects too. When I want to compare whether project A or project B needs more love, I need to open two boards in two tabs and move the windows around and whatnot.

I use Trello for certain projects now, and I play with the idea to use it for zCasting 3000 in the future, but it is not the tool I settled with, for me personally.


First, the name is great. Second, the app is great. Asana comes pretty close to a wonderful GTD app, but it’s lacking in so many ways. It’s web based, which I just explained why this is a general downside for me. With Asana I can create multiple projects and manage subtasks inside, but what I like about OmniFocus is that I can have lists within lists within lists within lists. It’s easy to just take one of these lists and drag it to the sidebar to create a project out it. With Asana there’s a limit to how deeply nested lists can go. The lack of a really good iOS app is also a downside for me. A third-party app named Hill88 makes up for the disappointing iPhone app created by Asana.

Appigo’s Todo

Todo Pro is native, it has a lot of features, the basic version is free, and there’s more to it that I loved. The free version has so many features that I barely have a need for a subscription. I highly recommend you check out Todo Pro. What Todo Pro lacks is polish. The app is feels at home on iOS and OS X, but there are so many rough design edges. When I use the app it feels great, but then there are so many small things that don’t work as I intend them to, or are awkward, or just plain ugly. I give Todo Pro that it has collaboration. Considering my plans with zCasting 3000, collaboration is a selling point, but for my personal task management I’d like a native and well designed app.


Taskwarrior is amazing! Why? Because it’s so nerdy! Taskwarrior uses plain text files to manage tasks. The interface runs on the command line and is so hard to use that it’s a joy to learn.2 Taskwarrior is similar to todo.txt, but it offers more capability than todo.txt. I give todo.txt that it has plugins, which make it really really cool, but from my tests I liked Taskwarrior better. What put me off was the integration with OS X and iOS. I’d like to get notifications, for example. I don’t look at my command line to see when a task is due. I’d like to have it on the screen, right in front of my face.


The following apps I didn’t even test, because of various reasons. Either they are ugly, HTML5-based “native” apps, or something else.

Things is actually a really good app, but I tested it so many times in the past already… I just don’t like it.

A word on outliners and mind mapping

While I’m really into mind mapping, you may wonder why I’m not using it to get my stuff done. The reason is simple: managing tasks in these apps gets tedious. No notifications, and setting these apps up in a way to actually do task management, as opposed to their intended use, is way to cumbersome.

Apps not tested

I didn’t test the following apps, because I finally settled with OmniFocus. I tested so much stuff over the course of a month that I just decided my time is not worth trying out more.

I want to mention xPlan and OmniPlan separately, because as project management apps they stick out in a task management app comparison. I use OmniPlan to get a glimpse of what zCasting 3000, or even I, will be doing over the next year(s). It is something I use, to give people an idea where we’re heading. A project management app helps me to create timelines. Such an app helps me to break bigger goals down into smaller and smaller, more manageable, ones.
That said, I was intrigued by the idea to use OmniPlan for my personal task management. As it turns out, the tasks are just too small, too granular, to fit in a plan for the next year.

Why OmniFocus won me back

OmniFocus just does what I need from a personal task management tool. I can enter a task, give it a start date, then the task hides away. Later, when the day comes around to do the task, suddenly that task appears, I remember why I originally put it there and I can work on it again. OmniFocus allows me to create folders, projects, and task lists. Three very useful and distinctive things. Folders are for my “areas of responsibility”. Projects are just that. Projects come and go within an area of responsibility. I use task lists extensively throughout my week to get my day-to-day work done.

There’s more. Let’s not forget that OmniFocus has AppleScript support. I know AppleScript is not everybody’s favorite. Python is a really good and popular (scripting) language at the moment, but, I don’t know, I’m just more of an AppleScripter. Also there’s Chris’ Templates.scpt script which makes awesome things.
OmniFocus also has comments, which may be an underestimated feature for some. But having the ability to give a task any length of text (with formatting) is highly useful. Making meeting notes is super important to me. When I go back to a task, that I had deferred previously, it is good to know what caused the deferral. I use a TextExpander snippet called “update”, it inserts some “----" along with the current date and time. I also use external Attachments, and a script to copy a Mail.app’s mail URL to the clipboard.
Last but not least I like that OmniFocus allows me to “focus” and “zone in” on something. It has Perspectives. I can look at my life at different angles. Something highly useful so that I can work on my Priorities.

This is why OmniFocus is the king (or queen?) of task management for me.

  1. Managing tasks doesn’t stop when my office closes. It would be as if I stop existing right after my professional work is done. 

  2. Who wouldn’t be up for a challenge, right?