Why I’ve gone back to OmniFocus

In common with half the Mac universe, I moved from OmniFocus to 2Do for my task management a couple of months ago. But now, I’ve decided to move back. Here’s why.

Contexts > Tags

Contexts are one of the features of time management which you either live in or try for a while and ignore, and I’ve veered from the latter to the former. At first, I “got” contexts, but didn’t really use them.

The principle of contexts is simple enough. A context is a place or tool that you need to be in or using in order to be able to complete a task. Some people extend this to people, for example, having lists of work colleagues who they need to in front of (real or virtual) to get something do.

I once used contexts in a fairly simple way. My typical contexts were things like “home”, “office”, “computer” and “phone” — and, unsurprisingly, using contexts like that just didn’t “stick” with me. They’re too broad, and all you end up with is a huge long list of stuff under each context.

What did eventually “stick” was getting granular about contexts. Here’s my current list of contexts:

You can see that most of my contexts are now split out in a much more detailed way. Houses are split into rooms. Computer is split into categories like Online, Email, and Slack (and could be split into applications if I wanted to get that specific). Groups of people including the individuals in those groups.

In your weekly review (if you’re a GTD nerd), both projects and contexts are memory prompts: looking at a project will prompt things associated with that project, and likewise mentally considering a context should prompt tasks (or even new projects) associated with that context. Looking at a context like “Email” acts as a good reminder about emails I have sloshing around in my brain. Checking my list of family members prompts me about unrecorded tasks involving them.

OmniFocus is built around projects and contexts, so it’s no surprise that for this kind of system it works really well. I spend around half my time in the projects view, half in contexts. 2Do doesn’t have this same weighting. It has a powerful system of tags, which you can create a contexts system with. In fact, you can create a multi-layered context system — for example, assigning two tags like “email” and “Vaughn” when you need to email Vaughn. You can create tag groups, which is useful to make distinctions between people, teams and other kinds of contexts.

However, what 2Do doesn’t do is nudge you towards doing any of this. Not tagging anything is easy, in fact too easy. In OmniFocus, adding something without a context is hard, as the “Context” field stares at you in the entry box like a guilt trip-inducing parent. And one of the contexts you can’t avoid having in the list is called “No context” — a clear reminder that nothing ought not to have a context.

A better Apple Watch app

Lots of people don’t use apps on their Apple Watches, and given the sluggishness of anything build with the first version of WatchKit, I don’t blame them. To put it mildly, WatchKit-based apps suck. They’re slow, often horrifically so — and the 2Do app is a good example of this. It would be decent if it was quick, but it’s not, and I never use it.

The OmniFocus app is different. Here’s the main screen:

What’s great about this app is that the designers have clearly thought about the hierarchy of information on the watch, and how to maximise what you see on screen without making it cluttered. There’s no project or context views, because that would make things too complicated for a small screen, but if you’re in a location which is associated with a context (something you can add in the iOS version of OmniFocus, but weirdly not the Mac) it will show you a link to everything in that context at the bottom of the screen.

It restricts you to the basics: viewing your tasks, and checking them off. That’s ideal for the watch, because that’s exactly the kind of thing you’re most-likely to want to do on the watch — quickly triage your tasks. You’re not going to set up nested projects, manage things in detail. All you want to do is view, add and mark off tasks, all of which OmniFocus lets you do easily.

And it’s fast. In fact, it’s one of the quickest Apple Watch apps I’ve used, with very little of the spinning dots which bedevil other apps. It’s actually usable, and it does everything you want from a task management app on your wrist.

These two things don’t make 2Do a bad app. In fact, it’s a really good application, possibly the best task management app available across Apple’s platforms. However, it’s just not right for me. The Apple Watch app is a big thing, as is the lack of a more rigorous and strict system of contexts. Hence, OmniFocus is back.