OmniFocus Unlocks a Better Today

OmniFocus-iOS-1024Do you feel busy all the time and a mental to-do list just isn’t cutting it anymore? Thankfully you’re not the only one. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve lost track of tasks I needed to complete. I’m a husband, father of a two year old, air traffic controller, union representative, and the head writer here at iOS etc. I have a lot to get done on a regular basis. At times it feels like I’m barely able to keep my head above water. Now that I’ve started using OmniFocus for iOS and OS X, I’m hoping the sink or swim approach to getting things done will be a thing of the past.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard to carve out time from an already busy schedule to catalog everything you need to get done. It takes a fair amount of time to think deeply about all the ins-and-outs of your to-do list. Instinctually you tell yourself you don’t have time for this sort of thing, but it really is worth the extra effort and with OmniFocus it definitely helps to get to the heart of how tasks need to be accomplished.

OmniFocus from the surface feels a lot like other productivity applications. Each one has something which pulls us in and keeps us coming back for more if we’re getting things done. In the past we’ve all had those productivity application we get excited about using these applications until inevitably the excitement trails off and we revert back to our old destructive ways. OmniFocus is going hold our attention with the amount of depth this application possess.

For example, there are six different categories or sections where you can review what needs to get done, add notes specific to each task within a project, setup repeat tasks, assign deferral dates, and so much more!

Inbox

The Inbox presents those items you haven’t assigned a project to, so it feels like a traditional to-do list. If at a later date you decide this item should be assigned to a project, simply modify the details and it’s quickly moved. Easily modify the details of this, or any task you add to any section, to include how long it should take, when it’s due, and if it should be repeated. You can also assign anything you add to OmniFocus a deferral date. Now you won’t see any alerts for this item until after the deferral date. This lets you focus your attention on more pressing issues while still allowing you to capture items you eventually need to complete.

Projects

Your Project list is where all those projects you need to get done are stored. The great thing about Projects is you can setup how the project needs to be attacked. Choose from sequential, parallel, or single action projects.

If there is a sequential order things need to be completed in simply set it up as a sequential project. Now you can see each step you need to get done in order to move onto the next. You can’t finish that work bench project until you measure the space it will take up, go to the lumber store and purchase the amount of wood you need, and then finally cut and construct your masterpiece. Setting up a sequential order project allows you to attack it with a plan so you don’t waste any time.

Not a sequential project? No worries, set it up as a parallel project, tasks completed in any order or at the same time, like paying bills. As long as bills are paid by the due date, it doesn’t matter what order they’re completed in.

Single action project items are those tasks which require only one action to complete. With Mother’s Day approaching you probably need to still get mother dearest a present. This is a project and a single item action, which is buy mom a present.

I have never really enjoyed setting up projects, but with OmniFocus I feel it’s a lot easier to edit and add details as well as visualize the flow of my ever growing and changing projects.

Contexts

Contexts are those tools, resources, or locations required for you to complete a task. Assign contexts to your projects and actions in order to keep track of the resource needed to complete an item.

There are times when I need to complete something as soon as I get home. I’ll quickly add this item to my inbox and assign “Home” as the context. Now when I get home I can see those items I need to complete while at home by quickly jumping into Contexts and clicking home.

Another great thing you can do with Contexts is assign a location to your contexts. I just mentioned adding items to my Home context so I can quickly view them when I get home but OmniFocus lets you take Contexts one step further by allowing you to add a location. Once you add a location you’re able to setup a notification for when you arrive or leave. Now you don’t even need to remember to review your tasks since you’ll receive a notification when you’re near the location.

If you simply want to review those items you’ve assign contexts to, tapping on each item will reveal all the items in a specific category. This is a great way to review what things you need to get done from any one specific context.

Forecast

Opening Forecast reveals what you have coming up as well as presenting any overdue items. Overdue items will show up in red to grab your attention. The iOS version of OmniFocus shows users a 5 day outlook with past due items and future items included. By selecting each day or category you’re able to see what items need attention. The OS X version presents a calendar view with a scrolling menu on the right side of the screen. Both versions are great to see how the next few days or week are going to play out. If I had to choose my favorite forecast view it would be the OS X version over iOS. However, the iPad does present an almost mirror image of the OS X forecast view when viewing in landscape mode. It all comes down to screen space and it’s just more enjoyable seeing my forecast on a larger screen.

Flagged

Flags allow you to mark a collection of projects or actions. Without any predetermined meanings, flags in OmniFocus lets you use them however you’d like. For example, you could simply flag those items you want to complete today so you’re able to quickly recall items you need to get done. Instead of going back and reviewing each category to find items you need to get done, simply jump into Flagged to see what else needs your attention. This is a great way to focus on only those items you need to get done right away without any distractions.

Review

The final section OmniFocus users have to supercharge their tasks is the Review section. This is by far my favorite section. Remember how I said I don’t enjoy setting up projects? Well, the review section lets me correct any errors or items I’ve omitted with my less than stellar project planning skills. When you setup a project the default review date is set for one week from its creation date. You can make this review date less than a week or more than a week, so you’re in total control. What this means is you need to review this project and their items on or after the date you choose.

The review process lets you check up on a projects progress. Did you complete items but forgot to mark them off? Are some items even relevant any more after project details have changed? Either way, you’re able to quickly update details and tasks on a project under review.

I’ve found this feature to be the deciding factor when it comes to my likelihood of continuing to use OmniFocus. It’s great to have an alert show up in the review tab so I can give a few minutes of my attention to the ebb and flow of ongoing projects.

Siri Reminders

If you’re already using Siri to setup reminders, they can automatically be imported into OmniFocus. Next time you enter a reminder it will be aded to OmniFocus and synced across all your devices.  Check out the video below where one of the Omni Group “support humans” will take you through the steps on how to setup this option. To view other amazing support videos on OmniFocus, check out their support page where they have everything you’ll need to know for both iOS and OS X.

iOS & 3D Touch

For iOS users with a device capable of 3D Touch, you get to enjoy a few extra goodies in OmniFocus. While on the home screen users can press on the app icon to access quick actions. You can add a new inbox item, go to your OmniFocus home, or preview your day.

Once inside the iOS version you can peek and pop at everything you’ve entered. While previewing an item you can push deeper on the screen to bring the item full screen. This is a great way to quickly check out information on items you’ve added to OmniFocus without having to open another screen.

Apple Watch

Interacting with OmniFocus on the Apple Watch is fairly simple and straightforward. Users are given a snapshot similar to the iOS version. Clicking on each section presents a list of items for this section. To add a new inbox item simply engage force touch to receive the “New Item” selection and tap to add. Next, speak into the watch microphone to use dictation to add the new item. This new task is added to your Inbox and if this item needs to be flagged, select it from the Inbox and engage force touch again where you’re given the option to flag the item.

This new inbox item is synced with your account and viewable on all your devices within seconds. I witnessed this myself when adding an item on my Apple Watch with OmniFocus open on my MacBook Pro. It was roughly 5-7 seconds after adding an item on my Apple Watch that it synced with my account and populated on my OS X version of OmniFocus. I was very impressed!!

iOS vs. OS X

I found both versions to be amazing, but there were times I wished one version mirrored something the other didn’t. For example, the iOS version is great for catching your eye on those projects needing review. In the iOS version users will see a number for how many items are up for review. The OS X version shows a color on the left side of the tab. It’s not too terribly difficult to notice, but you don’t know how many projects are under review in the OS X version until you select the tab. If there are 5 projects up for review on one day, I’d probably want to tackle the review first before I jump into anything else that day OmniFocus.

As one would expect with the OS X version you can see a lot more options with the vast amount of screen space you have on MacBooks and iMacs when compared to iOS devices. Even thought the iPad Air 2 lets me see quite a bit, it’s still a smaller screen and it simply cannot give me the same amount of information all at once like the OS X version. Therefore, when I’m at home or at work, I prefer to use the OS X version for better viewing and I also like being able to use a mouse and keyboard to quickly add information. On the go, the iOS version is great for quickly adding and reviewing items on my iPhone 6s Plus thanks to the 3D Touch functionality.

One thing I would suggest for those of you who would like to use OmniFocus on your iPad is to use a case with a Bluetooth keyboard. I use a Clamcase which was purchased from Amazon. This case and keyboard makes it feel as though I’m back on my MacBook Pro interacting with OmniFocus. Sure you can use the onscreen iOS keyboard, but you give up a lot of screen space and you don’t have to if you’re willing to spend a few more dollars; trust me you’ll be glad you did.

OMNIFOCUS & BEGINNERS

Getting things done seems to get harder and harder with age. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re taking on more responsibilities or our aging minds are not quite as sharp as they used to be. I like to think it’s because we’re just taking on too much since I don’t want to admit I’m getting up there in age. Regardless of the reasoning, OmniFocus is here to save us in a huge way.

As a brand new user of OmniFocus I will honestly tell you I was a bit overwhelmed by everything it had to offer but the support videos they have on their website are phenomenal to get you in the swing of things! With great depth comes a slight learning curve, but in order to take back your tasks and projects you must grab the bull by the horns and come along for the ride. Once you get the thing hang of things you’ll be wondering why you’ve been wasting time attacking your responsibilities the old fashioned way.

When I wake up in the morning, I’ve always felt as though there was a scrolling list starts running through my head for those things I need to get done. If you’ve ever watched 24 hour news channels, you’re familiar with the scrolling news feed running across the bottom of the screen. This is exactly what my task list has always felt like, a constant scrolling feed running through my head. After using OmniFocus for almost two weeks now I feel like the scrolling list of items in my head is finally gone. For the first time I can finally say I’m able to relax knowing I’m capturing everything I need to do in one application which syncs across with all the devices I rely on. As long as I input information accurately, I’m able to easily see when things need to get done. If I make a mistake, the review process is there to help me catch my errors on a weekly basis.

Still on the fence about purchasing OmniFocus? I don’t blame you, it’s pricey. What I can tell you is I’ve tried other productivity applications to supercharge the way I get things done. Gneo is one I’ve reviewed and enjoyed it very much since it synced with Evernote, which I love. After about 6 months I discovered I stopped using it. Sure it had some depth and features to it, but obviously I needed more, something I could use on my OS X devices too.

OmniFocus is so much greater than any other productivity application I’ve ever used. I feel as though it was designed for me and it’s taken me years to finally discover it. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling of constantly trying to keep track of what I need to do until I met OmniFocus. Don’t just take my word as the gospel though, another member of our staff has been using this application for a while and offers up his perspective as a seasoned veteran of OmniFocus. Be sure and check out his review too so you can see where this app can take you and your to-do list after years of use.

OmniFocus is available in the iOS App Store and Mac App Store today. There are two versions available for you to use and this review is for the standard version. The iOS & OS X versions are $39.99 each with pro versions available if you need more productivity options. Read more about OmniFocus pro on the Omni Group website.

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About Author

Jeremy McGinty

Jeremy McGinty is an iOS expert and has written over 350 articles relating to Apple and their products over the past two years. Writing about iPhones, iPads, and anything relating to Apple is what Jeremy does in his free time and you’re going to love reading how he’s a normal guy just like you. Jeremy is the most approachable person you’ll ever meet and you should try it out for yourself, send him a message here!

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