omnifocus or things?

January 14, 2009 | 24 Comments

With the official release of Things (and the expiration of the free betas), there has been ongoing chatter from those trying to decide which GTD app to use: Things or OmniFocus. Things last beta, and a promotional discount, are ending tomorrow, so I know many are trying to decide which way to go. Since I’ve been asked by several people, I thought I’d just post my thoughts for all to read.

Let me be candid…this is not a side by side comparison of the two products. I have dabbled a bit with Things but only have fleeting impressions of it. I have been wrapped around OmniFocus‘ finger since the beta. Before that I was using Kinkless GTD in OmniOutliner, the forerunner and inspiration for OmniFocus. So at best, I can offer you the reasons why Things hasn’t been able to pry me away from OmniFocus. And, these are the reasons I encourage you to give OmniFocus a long hard look too:

User Interface

No doubt, Things is pretty, and OmniFocus is, well, structured. When I first saw Things, I thought a lot of screen space was lost to eye candy. I know some of the layout can be collapsed down, but I still appreciate the function of the simple columns and indentations of tasks in OmniFocus. And while I don’t use them very much, the Perspectives in OmniFocus offer a lot of flexibility to, um, focus.

Quicksilver

I could not consider a GTD app that doesn’t have Quicksilver support available. When a task comes to mind, I want to shuffle it away (and into my inbox) with minimal effort and distraction. At least 5 times a day, I activate Quicksilver and fire a task into my inbox while reading, sitting in a meeting or working on another project. (You can read more about how I set this up here.) OmniFocus‘ quick entry feature is convenient, but Quicksilver is still more streamlined. As far as I know, Things does not have Quicksilver integration yet.

Power Use

I’m still learning features of OmniFocus after over a year of use. If you use, or are considering OmniFocus, take a look at Don McAlister’s (of ScreencastsOnline.com) two screencasts on OmniFocuspart one: basics and part two: advanced. I’ve learned even more features from these screencasts, some I have implemented and others I have not, but, I know the app still has plenty of room to grow with me.

OmniGroup

I have 2-3 other OmniGroup apps and they make great stuff. I should disclose that I romanticize them a bit since their offices used to be right next to my favorite coffee shop in Seattle (and why they would move away from that java goodness…I have no idea). From my own experience, they are very responsive to customers via Twitter, email and in their support forums.

One Gripe

If I have one gripe, it is the OmniFocus iPhone app. It has great features, and I use it often, but not as much as I might. It is slow to load, and sync via mobileme is a slow process. I still don’t use OmniFocus for capturing tasks because of this (see my quicker solution). My wife syncs her iphone with OmniFocus via bonjour and it is a lot faster, but I don’t want to be limited to syncing over a local network.

I have several friends who love Things, and I don’t think it’s a mistake to go that route. Especially if cash is a deciding factor — Things (both Mac and iPhone versions) is half the price. But OmniFocus is the way to go for me…it has a learning curve at the beginning, but once you push through that, it is an app that will grow with you…and on you.

But I’d love to hear feedback from others too. My opinion is not the only one? Got other reasons to go with OmniFocus? Care to make a case for Things? Leave a comment below…

  • OmniGroup’s new offices are a block away from another great coffee shop – Q Cafe, which serves Stumptown Roasters coffee, and a few blocks away from Mulleady’s, a nice Irish pub/restaurant. All is not lost 🙂

  • I might be the exact opposite of you. I’ve been using Things for a while now, but have only dabbled with OmniFocus. I have to say, I like Things much more. Their simplicity bring usability to task management. And, as David Allen says, if it’s not easy to use, you won’t use it. OmniFocus is too confusing. I find it unintuitive.

    The tags in Things makes all the difference for me. It’s a dead-simple way to organize and view your tasks in ways that you understand immediately. Also, Things does have a quick-entry pane, though I’m not sure if it’s as functional as Quicksilver integration.

    Now, for the iPhone app. I obviously haven’t used OmniFocus for the iPhone ($20!). Things has been mentioned many times for a kind of “best of breed” interface design. It’s fast (both to load and navigate). Has almost every feature of the desktop app. Syncing is simple (though limited to a local network).

    And it’s cheap. Well… cheaper. $40 (with coupon code) versus $80 for OmniFocus. Things is beautiful, easy to use, highly functional, solid, and inexpensive. All these things add up to a killer app for me.

    Logans last blog post..2008, A Year Review

    • Logan,

      I have used both apps extensively. Having used Things first, and then tried OmniFocus, I’d like to offer some light on why OmniFocus is much better.

      [Syncing]
      Things fails tremendously in the ‘sync’ department. Not only is it limited to being able to sync over WiFi only, but both devices (my Mac Pro desktop, and my iPhone or iPad, for example) have to be on the SAME WiFi connection, turned ON, and have Things running before a sync will occur. Rarely are any *one* of those three pre-requisites happening for me. I use a laptop during production shoots, my iPhone everywhere, iPad during meetings or around the home and on the road, and my Mac Pro in the office. I need complete and reliable synchronization at all times, without having to remember to get everything on the same network, launch the app, and make sure it syncs. OmniFocus stays synced, whether I’m on a WiFi, wired, or no connection at all. I don’t have to have multiple devices turned on, present, and on the same network. I can be at a friend’s house, launch OmniFocus on my iPhone, and the items I entered that morning on my Mac Pro at the office instantly download to the iPhone. It’s flawless, and well thought out.

      [Interface]
      I will concede that you are right that Things has a simple interface. And as someone who has also read David Allen’s book and tries to follow that ideology of organization, I find that the lack of synchronization alone is enough to deter me from using Things, but I have found that after watching the introduction videos created by Omni Group on using OmniFocus, the program was so undeniably easy to use that it seems second nature. They have nearly a dozen or so videos from basics to advanced features (which Things lacks) and everything in-between freely available on their website. Lynda.com also offers courses on using OmniFocus. I don’t mention this to say that OmniFocus seems so complicated that you must watch a video to learn it, but it has many deeper advanced features available that empower a user to fully recognize David Allen’s approach to organization – and these features are easily understood after investing 10 minutes in a quick video tutorial. Conversely, I struggled with figuring Things out in the beginning. Remember, I used Things first for months before trying OmniFocus. Perhaps I found OmniFocus easier to pick up because I was already familiar with Things, but my opinion is exactly opposite from you regarding intuitiveness of OmniFocus vs. Things.

  • There are just too many GTD apps. Have you tried The Hit List?

    Michaels last blog post..DestroyTwitter, Yet Another Twitter Client

  • S Gerard

    First of all, I want to tell you how much I enjoy your site. I like the careful way in which you write and indeed, the topics which you choose.

    I am also an avid Quicksilver user who is concerned that Quicksilver may be neglected and I have some questions to ask.

    Quicksilver has become an Open-source item. How is this likely to affect it’s future development, do you think? I’m aware that a B 56 version is available through Google Code but I couldn’t get it to work for me so I rolled back to B54. Perhaps the reason is that I am still using Tiger, I don’t know. Have you tried B56, I’d like to know? Is Quicksilver in safe hands, do you think? Will Quicksilver die or will it continue to be supported? It would be a real shame to lose such a nifty application. Surely this will not happen.

    I take it that Nicholas Jitkoff, who is now working for Google, has abandoned the project. I wish him the best of luck with the ‘Google Quick Search’ appliance which I would like to try but cannot as it’s a Leopard only release and I’m going to stick with what I have until Snow-Leopard is released.

    Maybe Mr. Jitkoff plans to make an improved version of Quicksilver; he has hinted as much in the past. It would be nice if the present undertaking produces something along those lines.

    Life without Quicksilver would be a lot less convenient than it is now and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who thinks so. It would be a shame to lose it and have nothing there to take its place.

    Information about the present state of this wonderful app is difficult to find and that is why I’m writing this comment in the hope that you are better informed and that you will share any information that you have with your readers.

    Best wishes with the blog.

  • I have tried both apps. I think it boils down to GTD pref. If you’re a strict GTD user Omnifocus is most likely better.

    Things does not work with quicksilver. But I can add a quick todo with ctrl+1 in less then 10 seconds, with tags.

    One gripe about things is the lack of context in the iphone application, which is a vital GTD issue.

    Seem to me that both are quality apps with pros and cons.

    Chris Marlows last blog post..Passion City Church Is Launching

  • Brian

    John, thanks for the kind words about OmniFocus! If you’re having trouble with sync speed, there are a couple of things you may want to try.

    1) on the Mac, select “Archive Old Data…” under the file menu. This creates a second database on your machine to store older completed actions. You can still review them on the Mac, but doing this may reduce the amount of data synced to the phone considerably.

    2) Make sure all your devices sync fairly frequently (at least once a week). This reduces the number of transaction files we store in the sync database. You can check which devices have synced when by pressing the “Show Clients” button in sync preferences.

    3) If you primarily want fast access to your data, it can help to separate the “loading my data” phase from the “syncing with the network” phase. To do this, open sync preferences on the phone and turn “Auto-Sync” off. You’ll need to tap the sync button from time to time, but we’ll just load the data on the phone when we launch. This also lets me pick times when I want to sync; say when I have a WiFi connection, or when I can just stick the phone in my pocket and not worry about how long it’s taking to sync. I don’t want the fact that the phone network is being pokey to get between me and my data. 🙂

    Another tip that may be handy – the last release activated the “New Inbox Item” toolbar button before we’ve loaded your data, so you can dump something in the inbox more quickly.

    With all of those tips, I’ve got my launch time on my first gen iPhone down to about 5 seconds, which is what we’re shooting for. If you’re regularly seeing times longer than that, please shoot the support ninjas an email so we can help.

  • Ready-Set-Do! is less expensive than both OmniFocus and Things and it offers a unique approach to getting things done on the mac. The tutorials that come with the free trial explain how it works and are helpful in their own right.

  • John

    Michael,
    I saw the release info, but hadn’t downloaded it. Just did…it looks nice.

    Logan,
    Thanks for the thoughts. I didn’t really have a learning curve with OmniFocus so I’m not sure why my experience was so different from others who were a little overwhelmed by it at first. Actually, my wife picked it up pretty quick with a few minutes of orientation from me. I think it’s just a matter of understanding the basics, and then it falls into place.

    But you know what they say about Things….”looks good on you though!”

    Pat,
    Good point…the management is pretty dang cool at Q Cafe too!

    Brian,
    Thanks for the pointers. I’ve tried 1 & 2…I’ll take your suggestion for #3.
    Is Q Cafe working out for you as a convenient replacement for Zoka? 🙂

    S Gerard,
    Thanks for the kind words. At this point Quicksilver is still working for me and I’m sticking with it. I know some have been trying LaunchBar among others, and I think that if Quicksilver were to stop working completely, there will be something with similar functionality close behind.

  • Brian

    Re: coffee – we have an espresso machine in-office. I haven’t been in the office when/if it went offline, so I haven’t been forced to check them out yet. 🙂

  • Omnifocus is for me, but maybe it is because I started with it because of this blog. I have enjoyed using it and it has a depth of features that help me with the different hats I currently wear.

    Chad Millers last blog post..What a Great Story

  • Do you use Omnifocus to manage prayer requests? I noted you used Jott to send them? Woudl you mind sharing your workflow. Prayer Requests need a home in my workflow.

  • I love Thing interface, It’s just perfect. And I was using Things since early beta. But I switched to OF to only one reason – Things lack sequential project. Without them all contexts are useless. And working GTD style is simply imposible.

  • Dmitry –

    That’s exactly where I am right now. Things support doesn’t seem very helpful on this either. When I look at a context list, I need to know that I’m looking at next actions. Working on getting OF installed (seems I had an old trial, so I can’t trial it again) so I can take another look and see if it works for me.

  • Brian

    Todd –
    If you contact us at the sales@omnigroup.com or omnifocus@omnigroup.com email addresses, we can help you reset your trial license period.

  • Bruce

    This is a great site.

    I really struggled with deciding between Things and O.F. after testing both. It’s a bit like choosing dessert. Ice Cream or Cake? Both good, but good in different ways. I’ve decided to go with O.F. for several reasons. First, let me say I’m not a GTD fanatic, but I’ve been trying for the last two years to get better and better at using GTD. The more I follow the principles, the happier (and more organized) I am.

    In my search for a GTD app, I tried all the web-based ones, but found them too limited. I tried InBox and gave up when its bugs bit me relentlessly. In truth, the free iGTD met all my needs, and was remarkably intelligently designed – indeed, it had features like tags and contacts that are better than O.F. But development on iGTD stopped. And while I’m not an iPhone user, clearly iGTD was dead in the water in terms of integration/synching.

    I stopped my search with finalists Things and O.F. I can understand the appeal of Things (incredible flexibility) but for me, it’s ironically TOO flexible. What I like about GTD is there is a certain rigor. Indeed, one of the strengths of GTD is it forces me to spend a little time really thinking about an action, which brings it into focus. What do I REALLY want to do? O.F. has the structure that (for me) best supports that rigor. I want my system to remind me that each action needs a context. O.F. does that.

    Unfortunately, what O.F. doesn’t do (as far as I can tell) is allow a “one to many” relationship between an action and contexts, which you can do with Things (multiple tags). This is one thing Things does better: suppose an action could be done at home OR at work OR on the beach. In Things, you can assign more than one context and the action will show up in any of those contexts. Getting around this in O.F. can be done, but it’s more cumbersome.

    On the other hand, the problem with Things is that for every action I have to REMEMBER to add a tag. If an action SHOULD have a context and I forget to add a tag…oh well, so sorry. I have to remember to put in a context tag, a duration tag, etc. I find this means I spend more mental energy trying to remember not to forget!

    Other missing pieces in Things: nested projects, nested actions, the ability to send e-mails and have them automatically processed into the Inbox. (This last one is really easy to do with O.F.)

    Things seems to me a good program, very intuitive, and very flexible. But after playing with it for a couple of weeks, I find myself gravitating toward the more structured Omnifocus, which (except for a serious lack of tags) seems a more fully realized product for supporting my attempts to be more efficient with my overloaded life.

    But again…it was a close call.

  • If you get a chance, I’d still love to hear your thoughts about John’s question above:

    “Do you use Omnifocus to manage prayer requests? I noted you used Jott to send them? Woudl you mind sharing your workflow. Prayer Requests need a home in my workflow.”

  • Charlie

    I just sent an email to John about Omnifocus, but do you guys think it’s worth it for a sophomore homeschooler to spend $80 on it just for quicksilver integration? Sounds pretty pricey to me!

  • (Love this site)

    I choose Things over OmniFocus. I believe either is a solid GTD tool choice, however the tags and repeating task abilities made Things a fairly easy choice for me. I would recommend anyone interested check out the Getting “Things” screen casts series on iTunes, as this really shows off the power of Things (in particular screen casts 3 – 7 if you have alreay been tinkering with Things).

    Lastly, I think it is clear Quick Silver has become abandonware , so I would not place any value on Quicksilver integration.

  • Chris

    I bought Things a while back and have been disappointed. I was pretty psyched when I learned about syncing iCal and Google Calendar, but the to do list generated in iCal by Things totally messed that up.

    Also, I find myself wanting to generate a weekly routine that didn’t create new to-dos every week, like for going to the gym. Unfortunately I’m not disciplined about it so these to-dos pile up (my fault, I know). I guess I’d like more of a calendar interface that meshes with all the other stuff.

    I’m not sure if this makes sense, but I basically think Things is way overrated and I’m sorry I got on the bandwagon. I think G-Cal with tasks is the way to go for now.

  • John

    Chris,
    Thanks for your comments.
    I’ve always avoided syncing tasks into iCal…I like the interface for OmniFocus (in my case) or Things better as a way to sort and see them all.

    Good luck finding what works best for you!

    John

  • I love your website! Really helpful reviews and posts. Keep it up.

    Personally, I stick with the Omnifocus app. It’s just because I am a very structured person.

  • I wavered a lot between Things and OmniFocus until I got round to watching McAlister’s screencasts (where I saw that Perspectives meant “view your data in any/every way”).

    Subsequently, I took a good read of the OF Manual, researched a bit on the OF forums and blogs like yours, then got back to fiddling with OF.

    I really liked Things. My problem was that I never liked tagging, because words can be so fluffy and I’m no walking lexicon; have had the tendency to just about abandon any app that needed me to tag. So it kinda got really irritating after a while.

    And yes, like it is for Bruce, I needed OF’s rigour and structure. Already got what some call a “trippy brain” so the comparative laissez-faire of Things didn’t help.

  • Peter KM

    For those late to this party, There is a plug-in for Things. See here:
    http://qsapp.com/plugins/?order=name&sort=DESC