OmniFocus Review

I've written before about my Ultimate To-Do List Application for iPhone. I was pretty happy with what I wound up with, but it still wasn't helping me much. Writing down your desired actions is only one part of Getting Things Done (GTD); you also need to organize and process things, and a simple list of lists wasn't helping me do that.

So, I've decided to give OmniFocus a try. So far, I'm very impressed. It truly is the ultimate to-do list application for iPhone.

I won't go over the basics of what it does or how to use it. Watch these videos if you want a taste of its functionality:

What makes OmniFocus better than a simple to-do list is that it organizes next actions in two dimensions: by project and by context. A project is some list of actions. For example, if I want to take my wife out for dinner and music this weekend, I might create this project:

  • Take Pebble out
  • Find out what bands are playing this weekend
  • Check with Pebble to see which band is her favorite
  • Buy tickets
  • Make dinner reservations
  • Get directions to restaurant
  • Get directions to venue
  • Call babysitter

That's a lot to do, and this is only one of dozens of projects that are active at any time. But what makes all this stuff manageable is assigning the actions to contexts:

  • Online
  • Find out what bands are playing this weekend
  • Buy tickets
  • Get directions to restaurant
  • Get directions to venue
  • Phone
  • Check with Pebble to see which band is her favorite
  • Make dinner reservations
  • Call babysitter

So, the next time I'm at my computer and bring up OmniFocus, I'll see "Find out what bands are playing this weekend" as the next available action for this project, and I'll (I hope) take care of it. Then the next time I open OmniFocus on my phone, I'll see "Check with Pebble..." and take care of that.

You plan using projects, but you execute using contexts. Contexts are the key to actually getting things done, rather than just leaving those actions languishing in dozens of lists you never look at.

The killer feature of OmniFocus is the synchronization between the desktop application and the iPhone application. I like that I can do all my planning at my desktop, then when I get in my car, I can quickly bring up the Errands list on my iPhone to see what I can pick up on the way to wherever I'm going. Or while in a meeting, I can quickly enter items into the phone and then process them later at my desk.

The downside of synchronization is that it is sometimes slow. My iPhone sometimes takes several minutes to complete a synchronization through MobileMe. You can use the app while it is synching, so the synchronization delay is more of a minor annoyance than a major source of frustration.

OmniFocus is designed to support the GTD system, and while it is adaptable to other productivity systems, adherents of other systems may not like it. For example, it does not give a way to prioritize tasks in the way that Franklin-Covey devotees would like.

It is important to understand what OmniFocus does not do. It is not a calendar or scheduling application (use iCal or Entourage for that). It is a personal organization system; it is not suitable for managing teams. It is not a project-tracking system. It is not a communication tool. It is just a tool for keeping track of all the things you want to do, and helping you do them with minimal fuss.

OmniFocus is powerful, but also pretty complicated. You definitely need to watch the tutorial videos and read the Getting Things Done book to figure out what the hell this thing does. The effort pays off.

OmniFocus is a little pricey ($100 to get it for both desktop and iPhone), but I'm very happy with it.

(Note: This review is based upon version 1.6.1 of the OmniFocus desktop app, and version 1.2.3 of the iPhone app.)

© 2003-2017 Kristopher Johnson