Returning to Omnifocus

For to-do-list software, I’ve been using Things 3 by Cultured Code for most of the past 14 years, but when I started the new job, at first I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue to use Things, so i switched to Todoist, because it’s a pretty good app and it integrates well with Microsoft Outlook.

Two weeks into the new job, I learned I could use Things after all, and I was getting a little frustrated with Todoist in the Mac. It’s not a native Mac app, and it shows. Working with Todoist seems to require more taps and keystrokes than it should, and sometimes menus scroll off the top or bottom of the screen, requiring scrolling to see everything. And Todoist doesn’t support start dates for tasks, which I find important to my workflow.

This gave me an opportunity to start fresh and reevaluate task management software. Going back to Things would be about the same amount of work as just starting with something new. And Things is rigid—it works great if your brain works like Things wants it to, but I was finding it a bit difficult to work with.

Switching to-do apps is dangerous for me! I have wasted a lot of time fiddling with productivity apps. While I usually come back to Things, I’ve also tried OmniFocus, Todoist, the Tasks plugin for Obsidian, TickTick, Workflowy, Remember the Milk, Microsoft To Do, Taskpaper, todo.txt, bullet journaling and probably others I’m forgetting about.

I realized that what I want is something like Todoist but with a nicer Mac app, and with support for start dates.

So I went to Omnifocus. Here are some first impressions:


  • It’s a nice-looking app on the Mac and iPhone.
  • Has start dates, just like I want it
  • Seems surprisingly flexible. In the early days of the app, 15+ years ago, Omnifocus rigidly conformed to David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, but now It seems pretty loose.

Also added to the plus column: Omnifocus is, as far as I can determine, unique among task managers in that it’s very easy to import and export task lists in human-readable format. So if I want to do housecleaning on the task manager—get rid of projects I’m not going to get to anytime soon—without outright deleting the projects, Omnifocus will let me easily do that.


  • Expensive. Mitigated by my already having paid for earlier versions so being eligible for a discount.

Could go either way—maybe a plus, maybe a minus, maybe no big deal:

  • Really wants everything to be a Project. I like using single-actions. Yes, “write article” is technically a dozen or so steps, from thinking about how to start research to proofreading and submitting. But I don’t need to list those steps—at least, not in my to-do app. (Though maybe I should—and there certainly are things I do need to write down for every article, like lists of people I want to email for interviews).
  • Extremely flexible and customizable, leading to a moral hazard to fiddle with Omnifocus when I should be doing other things.

Originally posted to: I embark on the dangerous mission of changing task management software

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@MitchWagner Came from Things 3 as well. And the „…Really wants everything to be a Project.“ surprised me as well. I think OF uses this to be able to use its Review functionality with such lists as well.

So, I made it simple. Every area of focus got a single action list project as well. It has the same name as the area of focus, but got a leading „— „ before its name. That took care about my single next actions requiring no project.
Because areas of focus generally don‘t change much creating these projects once is no issue for me.

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When I transitioned from Things to Todoist I of course did a lot of random reading about getting started and tips and trips for Todoist, and one tip was to start with the bare minimum and then add complexity only when you encounter problems.

So I started with everything in the inbox and that worked for a few days and then I broke out two lists, one with the name of my employer and one named “Everything Else.” And then I threw in a third, for things to look into when I’m puttering around online.

I’ve started with the same level of simplicity in OmniFocus.

When I did my random reading to get reacquainted with OF, I saw a tip that said you should use Projects promiscuously, so I’m doing that too. Anything with two or more steps that actually require spelling out gets a project (but only if the steps actually require spelling out). I have one project that will take me about five minutes to complete, but I needed to remind myself of each of three steps so it gets a project. (Send an invoice to a client on a specific day, send a text message to my contact there that I did it, and make a note that it’s done in my financial records. This client and I are parting ways [thankfully, amicably] and so the invoicing procedure is unusual this time around.)

I had been thinking that I would only use OF for tasks that I was committed to doing—no someday/maybe list—but I’m seeing that OF4 is such a nice listmaking app that I might use it for other things too. Books to be read, maybe?

Do not do this. Omnifocus full of lots of unimportant things will eventually lead to you collecting “garbage”. The weekly preview is important when using Omnifocus in terms of GTD. You have to keep control over the tasks and too many entries in lists. I realized when I was doing exactly what you are considering that I was hardly checking tasks anymore. It wasn’t until I did a major cleanup and removed all the Someday/Maybe lists that I got structure back into Omnifocus. “Books to read” and similar lists end up strictly in my Apple Notes. Clearly defined tasks in well-structured projects belong in Omnifocus and not whatever comes to mind spontaneously.


Good point. And that’s why OF’s easy exportability and importability appeal to me. EIt is easyto export a project that’s been indefinitely postponed, and re-import it when it goes live again.

A somewhat analogous experience, I used OF1 and OF2 when working, then after retirement switched to what was for me at the time the simplicity of Things. However, I have found in retirement that I have far more projects and cyclical tasks that I ever did at work! (I was an independent researcher/adviser, as the briefest explanation of that.) You can imagine that my current age implies a lifetime of trying to wrangle different bits of paper, strategies and software to manage tasks efficiently with low overhead.

Returning to OF4, I found a cleaner experience than previously, perhaps helped by having a better understanding of what actually works for me. We always learn. I strongly agree with @MitchWagner’s comment to add complexity only when needed. My biggest mistake with early OF versions was to try to exploit the software’s entire capability before need.

I slightly differ from @Monika about “Maybes”. For those I set long review intervals, months or a year, then very seriously consider whether something should be promoted, retained, or dropped to something else. Control should be proportional to significance, though need for garbage collection is always a risk. Perhaps that is what I could call my long period reviews.

I suspect our ages are similar. I have no plans to retire in the near future and yet it seems all my friends and cousins are either retired already or counting down impatiently.

And friends who have retired say after a few months, “I’m so busy! I don’t know how I found the time to do everything important while I was still working!” (I should turn them on to Omnifocus. Heh.)

I think there are many places for lists and someday/maybes and the best one is a personal choice. I think I’ll put my to-be-read books list in Omnifocus, in part because I think it will be fun to set up and only take a few minutes. But honestly I think maybe a note in Apple Notes might be the best place.