Are we all just pretending Natural Language input is not a thing?


A quick rebuttal: try Fantastical or Todoist’s natural language processing and let us know how your arguments hold up.

I agree that the above example uses arbitrary and confusing abbreviations that would slow the process down. I’m not advocating for that, though. My experience with the two apps above is that you type pretty standard English and it autofills a lot of details for you. Then you can do the tippy taps to add and tune as needed—it is orders of magnitude than adding to OF.

I think most of your (feisty!?) arguments against this are predicated on the idea that it isn’t natural language input, but try a couple of the apps that do this well and I think you’ll change your mind.


I am sorry but it’s nothing to do with “mindfulness” whatever that actually is, it is about exactness, most tasks I add to OF impact on my business and my clients and their businesses so I need to be correct and accurate in what I enter.

Are we really all so busy and important that we need to shave milliseconds off everything? Personally I doubt it. The danger is that we can become so busy and therefore sometimes careless that we stop seeing the bigger picture.

The name of the product is Omnifocus, Omni and Focus, that is the key here I think.

For me adding a list in Drafts app, in natural language, and then refining things, or not if it’s not required works best, but we are all different I guess.


The strongest argument against so-called natural language input is AppleScript. :-)

I’ll get my coat. :-)


Dumb of me not just to include an example of what this looks like in the apps I’ve mentioned. See below. You can write this sentence in virtually any (sensible) order and it autocompletes the fields below for fine-tuning. (Note that Fantastical doesn’t use tags, so the hashtags are just for demo purposes). The / is indeed a quirk to specify which calendar, and something similar would be needed to specify project.

This is what this thread is about. @TheOldDesigner this retains the exactness you’re looking for (as nothing changes except you have the ability to write task details in) while granting the mindfulness (e.g. frictionlessness; no mental energy needs to be spent moving through the UI, no distraction comes from browsing the app to enter the data you want) that other users in this thread are asking for. Sadly I don’t have Drafts, but it sounds like you’re saying you’ve implemented natural language parsing for OmniFocus in another app—kinda defeats your own position against it here, doesn’t it?

And @dompelpomp, I get what you’re saying—indeed there are other ways of improving the speed of data entry, but including (this level/implementation of) natural language processing doesn’t prevent the ideas you’re suggesting above. (And yes, I’d love extending the keyboard further too.)

Incidentally we’re all yelling into the ether here. A quick reminder to email with a feature request if you’d like to see more natural language processing in the app.


I regret using the phrase “natural language” - I simply ment “text parsing for fast input.” And btw, in the example, you can type out the whole word if you want. That’s sorta the point:

  • take out trash ev thur 9p
  • take out trash on every thursday at 9:00pm

both work

I know - that’s why I am suggesting “fast text input” as what to change to (or I should say “allow” because, of course, you can always do it manually)

This, as well as your other stated concerns, makes me think you might have a different idea of what it is than what we’re saying. Please try it before you try to explain what would happen…

On the iOS Todoist app, I can type the exact phrase “take out trash ev thur 9p #chores” and it makes a repeating task at 9pm every thursday and files in the Chores project. It even auto-highlights the matched keywords/phrases as you type. No autocorrecting when you don’t want it to. And in the occasional case where you want “ev” to actually stay “ev” (or any of the other auto-detected keywords) before you press save, just tap the highlighted “ev” and it will not parse that. Works the same on the Mac, iOS, Android, and Web versions.

Here’s a video of me doing just that:

It’s free, so you could download and play around with it to see what it would mean for faster and easier entry.


Was there any need to try and score points and show just how clever (read condescending) you are? FYI no it does not defeat my point, the way I use Drafts is to make notes/memos to myself these may turn into tasks in OF they may not. If they do they are almost always cut to a simple focussed few words.

Feel free to have the last word.


I may be wrong but is ToDoist not a web app offering a simple UI wrapper, and therefore dealing with the “natural language” processing on its servers? This is a polar opposite with how OF works, a native MacOS/iOS app which syncs its database.Therefore we are not really comparing like with like.


I’m condescending because I posted a vid showing you that what you thought wasn’t correct? You would rather we all just believe something that’s not true because you said so? And I don’t want the facts to get obscured with speculation when trying to suggest an improvement.

Here comes more “clever” facts: iOS Todoist is native iOS app. The desktop apps are Electron apps, which is a native app framework based on Chrome, but native nonetheless, and require no connection to the internet to work.

All of this could simply be avoided if you would download and try it. You would see rather than incorrectly speculating


Well put. And, expressed this way, I agree it could be very helpful to many people - probably even me, although I’d need to break some habits first :-)


Just because it is not helpful to your workflow @OldDesigner, does not mean it is not a helpful tool for many for their workflows. As the support on this thread shows, that seems to be the case. I do not think anyone is advocating to replace the current point-and-click design with natural language. In fact, it could be an option in preferences that you can turn on or off. I BELIEVE that is how todoist is if I remember, but either way, that would be a great way to implement it so OF is a better task management tool for ALL.


Actually if you check I was replying to someone else and never intimated you were condescending or anything else but never mind.

I actually used ToDoist for over a year (pro plan), as for speculating it was just that, I did not say I was right merely that it could be a fact.

Really I just put another side, personally I do not think natural language is that important (for me) and detailed why. Sorry for swimming against the collective group think.


You know what they say about assumptions. The assumption that I haven’t used any of those systems is incorrect. My reply + arguments are based on both the idea behind these systems as well as real world usage of them. Instead of making (incorrect) assumptions it is better to ask.

And that’s the other problem: not everyone lives in an English speaking country. The applications you mention have been designed primarily for English speaking countries which makes their natural language input very hard or even impossible to use with any non-English language. They may do natural language input well for English but that doesn’t mean it works as good with other languages. This is extremely important for OmniFocus since it supports many languages. What good would natural language input do if it isn’t available in ones native language?

Languages have a certain amount of complexity to them that not always is good to capture into code and algorithms. Dutch is such a language which is why support for Dutch mostly means they have translated the text and provided a dictionary. Grammar checking and all the other fancy stuff is too difficult so you are not getting these. English is actually one of the easiest languages.

However, the main gist still is that it isn’t very necessary for OmniFocus to support it since it is a standard feature of the operating system it runs on and it isn’t going to solve the speed of data entry at all.

Question back to you: have you tried using the natural language input of these (and other) apps with Siri and also with a language that isn’t English?

A quick word of advise here: be more careful with this subject. The world has far more languages than English with Chinese being used by the most amount of people. It can come across rather arrogant if you only take English into consideration.

It is actually the other way around: you guys have a very different idea of what natural language input is about then what it really is as well as the real problem of what is causing the slow data entry. And apparently you have also missed the point of the part of my reply you are referring to here. The problem is that some people here are oversimplicating things. Implementing something like natural language takes quite a lot of effort because of all the other things you have to take into account. The autocomplete was just an example because it was a rather simple one: the developer of the app can disable autocomplete for the input box. The point was that the developer needs to be aware of the future and program the app to disable it. However, as I have stated earlier, autocomplete could be a very nice addition to have so the developer also has to make the decision if it is a good idea to disable it or not.

Or in other words: things aren’t as easy and simple as you think. There is more than meets the eye.

I think the biggest problem here is that (some of) you are looking at it from a user perspective where I’m looking at it from a software and system engineering perspective (it is my day time job). I know a lot about the technology behind the feature that you are using which is why I’m stepping on the brake here. Some of you guys seem to have entered a discussion that is above their heads. There are a lot of things that they seem unaware of.

You are wrong in this case. Natural language input, speech recognition, etc. all require a lot of computing power. The small devices where they are used on may pack quite a punch when it comes to computing power but it is nowhere near enough. That is way a lot of the stuff you do with Siri, Alexa, Google, etc. will go to their servers and be processed there. The way OmniFocus syncs its database has got nothing to do with that. You simply need to make certain information available to the natural language input service. If you read up on Siri you can find that some stuff it will do locally on the device and other stuff will be send to the servers at Apple. Simply has to do with processing power required. This is going to shift more in the future now that Apple (and others) is designing their SoCs with machine learning, deep learning and neural networks in mind (they made a big deal out of it when introducing the iPhone 8 and X).


I thought I’d add my thoughts here as I am a recent convert to OF from Todoist and, prior to that, Things. I thought that natural language was a massive thing for me and it’s what made me leap to Todoist. But, in fact, natural language doesn’t fit with the GTD methodology at all. It’s great for adding quick reminders and to-dos definitely. But it’s not great for a process that suggests you use an inbox as a dumping ground and then you process that inbox and assign tasks from there. Natural language input means you bypass the inbox entirely. If OF implemented a natural language feature throughout the application, it would (in my mind) cease to become a GTD app and it would become a generic to do/reminders app instead.

Not sure if that adds to the conversation here or not but I hope so. Natural language input isn’t the dealbreaker I thought it was…


I used Todoist and have come to OF and love it precisely because it doesn’t have natural language parsing. Because natural language input across the entire app would change it from a GTD app to a reminders app (IMHO)…


It is sad to see that people are now using the antispam feature to flag posts they disagree with. Can we all act like adults in this discussion and refrain from childish behaviour such as flagging non-spam posts as such?!


I don’t really get the animosity around this topic. OmniFocus is software that gives you many different ways to do things already, if for some users having NLP functionality like Todoist would be more convenient, then why not consider it, perhaps with a toggle that allows users who do not want it to simply disable it.

Personally, I’d appreciate if this was part of OmniFocus - I create and remove repeating tasks fairly regularly based on what I’m doing at work, and writing “Check in with X about Y every Monday” in the quick entry box would be much more convenient to me. I don’t think it’s an all or nothing thing either - there’s plenty of tasks I wouldn’t use this functionality for, but there’s also plenty of tasks that I would. For me, having a feature like this is about ergonomics: it’s another way in which OmniFocus can adapt to the way I prefer to work, as opposed to the other way around.


Text parsing would be great. I’ve got a work system which automatically e-mails me individual tasks. Those e-mails always follow a templated format. They list the task name, the project, and the due date in the body of the e-mail. If OmniFocus had text parsing, I could forward those e-mails directly into Omnifocus and have Omnifocus do the work of assigning due date & project name based on text parsing. As it is, I can forward the e-mails (or use mail extension) to put them in Omnifocus, but I still need to enter due dates & project names by hand. It’s a silly amount of duplicated effort when that information is already in the e-mail and is clearly labeled with natural language “It’s due on Nov 21” or “Related to: Project X.”


I’d be interested in trying this, but have found Workflow (Shortcuts) confusing. Any chance you could point me in the right direction about how to pursue this, @phukus?


Need natural language, complete quick add please! Omnifocus is the best, but need more fast easy to add!


The Fantastical model is brilliant. I love how it shows you an animation of the parsing. For those who have never seen this, it opens a window from the menu bar, displays the text to be parsed (e.g., Lunch with Ted at noon next Friday at French Bistro), then animates filling out the calendar form with the components.

Lunch with Ted → subject of calendar entry
Next Friday → pre-populates the date picker
at French Bistro → opens up the place search with this phrase

Sometimes there is nothing else to do but confirm. Sometimes tiny tweaks. In all cases, it saves time and drudgery. The animation helps you learn how the parser works and makes it easy to get better at typing exactly what you want.

It’s fast and delightful.