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OmniFocus: My Breakdown by Version

I’ve been using OmniFocus, and writing about it, for quite a while now. It started with noticing a review of the iPhone version somewhere on the web. A link led me to Omnigroup’s website and it led me down the GTD rabbit hole – a rabbit hole I’m still exploring apparently.

After seeing what the tool could do, I made the decision to move away from Things, a tool which I had grown accustomed to, but had become frustrated by due to its lack off adequate device sync options.

If I was going to go an inch, I was going to go the whole yard, so I bought both the iPhone version as well as the desktop version. Over the next few weeks, a solid workflow followed and I have been using Omnifocus ever since and pretty effectively, I might add.

Since then, the iPad has been added to the toolkit. Interestingly, Omnigroup, more than any company I know of, has crafted unique experiences on each platform with each version of the app functioning differently, based on the strengths of each device. Having device-specific ways to visualize and organize the same data is powerful way to leverage technology and Omnigroup excels in this regard.

This piece, however, is not meant to be a review of each version. Instead, I have been thinking about how I’ve used each version in the last year or so, and evaluating the reasons why the versions of OmniFocus I use most often are OmniFocus for iPhone and OmniFocus for Mac.


Throughout the day, I keep OmniFocus for Mac open to track tasks related to current projects, phone calls and things I need to touch base with co-workers about.

I have set up several Perspectives which are critical to how I organize my day. Keep in mind, Perspectives can only be set up in the Mac version, but context-based Perspectives will sync with other versions of OmniFocus. Having a consistent view, no matter which device you have around, is key to why I feel OmniFocus is such an essential tool.

  1. Work Project view – shows me a list of work projects on the left, organized in folders based on the type of projects they contain (maintenance and infrastructure projects vs revenue-generation and product-focused)
  2. Priority view – show me anything due in the next two days or flagged. I spend a lot of time clearing items from this view during the day. Ideally, these items appear in the list while I’m sleeping and when I wake up in the morning, a quick glance at this list will tell me what kind of day I’ll be facing.
  3. Stalled Projects view – This is a list of projects with no “Next Task” or “Remaining Tasks”. I use it to get a quick glance at projects I should review and make sure there’s nothing I can do to move them towards completion.

Those three views keep me focused throughout the day, but another big key is how I use contexts within OmniFocus.

Being a manager, a lot of the things I do are people-centric. Keeping others on track and focused is as important to completing projects as me doing tasks to push the project forward myself. To that end, I have contexts for most of the people that I have to talk to on a daily basis. I have the contexts grouped by location (since we have multiple offices) and they serve as an evolving agenda for whenever I meet with someone.

Usually the first thing I do when someone comes in my office, or I am in theirs, is pull up their context and make sure I cover the things I have waiting there. As mentioned in my Beginner’s OmniFocus piece, since contexts span projects, I can potentially move multiple projects along with a single visit to someone’s desk.

The upshot of all of this is that the Mac version of OmniFocus is obviously a key to how I use GTD. These projects, contexts and perspectives follow me around all day long, serving as a signpost for what needs to get done and a handy capture device as well, which brings me to why the iPhone version is so critical.

As I travel between offices, between locations, or just sitting around thinking, I am capturing things I don’t want to forget in OmniFocus. Siri integration and shortcuts speed this up and it has become such an automatic thing, I don’t even think about it anymore. That is key to a good process – it gets out of the way and just does it’s thing.

As you can see, the iPhone version of OmniFocus is not only a capture device, but it is also a way to view contexts wherever I happen to be. Generally when it opens, I’m in my High Priority context. From there, I will often go to the Forecast view which does a good job of letting me know how many tasks are lurking in the next week or so. It also serves as a sad notice that I have some red “Past Due” items that need to be tended to (either by re-evaluating a new due date for them, completing them or just de-prioritizing them altogether).

After giving it some thought this morning, I realized that the reason I use OmniFocus for iPad the way I do (which I’ll get to in a second) is because of how I use the iPad itself.

The iPad is a tool that gets use on the sofa in front of the TV or in bed (all of my books are e-books these days, it seems). It’s light weight, has incredible battery life and allows you to work anywhere (as evidenced by my writing this on my front porch on this gorgeous Spring day using Byword for iOS using my new iPad[3]).

OmniFocus for iPad caters to that type of use and it is far and away the best tool for doing things like your weekly GTD reviews and taking a long look at Forecast view. It’s also great for doing a full capture or even clearing things from your Thinking context.

During the day at work, I carry my MacBook Air 13” with me for meeting notes and task capture but in situations where I can’t bring it along, the iPad can serve as a sufficient backup.

If I’m laying in bed reading Instapaper or a book and I think about something I don’t want to forget, I’ll easily swap into Omnifocus and throw it in the Inbox for dealing with in the morning. My morning Omnifocus routine is fairly regimented and will likely be the subject of an upcoming post.

Suffice it to say, having the flexibility to deal with project tasks, quickly handle management of priorities, and always be able to enter a reminder into my “outboard brain” no matter what I am doing has really helped in all aspects of my life. Omnifocus’s ability to help focus on what is important at any given times proves everyday that it’s the best implementation of GTD out there.