Review: OmniFocus 2 for Mac 

Background

I’ve used OmniFocus on and off over the years, but I’ve never used it to its full potential. I don’t use Contexts or Start Dates. I use one custom Perspective that has been replaced entirely by the app’s excellent Forecast mode.

All of that aside, I’ve been keenly interested in OmniFocus 2 for Mac’s development. When the initial beta phase ended, I was discouraged. OmniFocus 1 for Mac was aging, but once the betas fired back up, I jumped back in head-first.

Today, The Omni Group is at the end the long winding road and OmniFocus 2 for Mac is here.

Design

With OmniFocus for iOS 7, the app received a major visual overhaul. While I wasn’t a fan of it at first, I eventually came around to the new look once I got used to the revised organizational structure.

OmniFocus 2 for Mac follows its iPhone-sized cousin’s footsteps. It’s traded checkboxes for large colorful circles and uses white space for structure.

One downside to the new design is a decrease in data density. While this improved during the beta process, OmniFocus 2 shows less tasks on the screen at once than its predecessor. Text size can be adjusted app-wide which can help, however.

This tweak can be implemented to really increase data density, but it comes with some trade-offs I’m not a fan of.

With an OS X redesign rumored to be just weeks away from being announced, I do wonder how close The Omni Group managed to get their puck to where Apple is skating. My guess is the app will be just fine — it looks and feels like the new iWork, complete with the integrated Inspector window.

In short, OmniFocus 2 brings the Mac app into the modern age. Gone is theme support from OmniFocus 1, but I’m okay with it.

A Sidebar on the Sidebar

The new design introduces a sidebar that controls the view, changing it between the following sets of information:

  • Inbox
  • Projects
  • Contexts
  • Forecast
  • Flagged
  • Review

The sidebar — if you have the Pro version of OmniFocus 2 — can be edited via the Perspectives menu:

Starring will add a view to the sidebar, while unstaring will remove it. Perspectives can be re-ordered.

Creating a Perspective is fiddly, but that’s always been a good adjective for OmniFocus. All sorts of parameters can be changed, including grouping, filtering and focus.

While the sidebar demotes the Projects view (which itself is a little hard to read at times) from the main view, I like the change on the whole.

Features

Feature-wise, OmniFocus 2 isn’t a huge leap over OmniFocus 1. In fact, the database structure is identical, meaning bouncing back and forth between versions isn’t a problem.

All of the old favorites are here — repeating tasks, quick entry, great sync options and more. The new features are mostly borrowed from the iOS apps.

My favorite is Forecast. This organizes tasks by Start and Due date, which fits how my brain works really well. First introduced with the iPad version of OmniFocus, the calendar UI is great. Upcoming tasks are yellow; due and overdue are red:

(Sorry about all the Drang-esque data hiding.)

Review is a tool that allows you to work your way through all projects in the app to ensure they are updated. While I like to do this on the couch in my office on Fridays with my iPad, bringing this to the Mac is a great move. It could be done before, but OmniFocus 2 makes it a lot nicer.

Lastly, Quick Open is a new way to navigate the interface with just a keyboard. Typing CMD+O opens a new window, which acts like Spotlight, but just within OmniFocus:

Moving to the correct view in the app is as simple as selecting the correct option with the arrow keys and hitting Enter.

Pricing, Homework

OmniFocus 2 comes in two flavors.

Standard is $39.99 and comes with the basic set of features that form the core of the OmniFocus experience.

Pro is $79.99 and comes with the following additional features:

  • Custom perspectives and the ability to edit the sidebar
  • Focus mode, which will show individual projects, actions, and item groups
  • AppleScript support for automating common tasks, or extend the inter-app functionality of OmniFocus

Here’s how The Omni Group’s handling upgrade pricing:

Customers who purchased OmniFocus 1 from the Omni Store can purchase an OmniFocus 2 Standard license for $19.99 or a Pro license for $39.99. If you bought OmniFocus 1 from the Mac App Store, you can buy OmniFocus 2 and get the Pro feature set for free. To make these options as easy as possible to take advantage of, we’ve created a separate page with step-by-step instructions.

You can buy OmniFocus on the Mac App Store or from The Omni Group directly.

To read more about the app, check out The Omni Group’s free user manual. It’s a quick read with loads of screenshots and is a great place to start, even for OmniFocus veterans.

Conclusion

If you use OmniFocus, upgrading to the new version should be a no-brainer. It’s beautiful, fast and packs the same punch the old version did. It doesn’t bring a long list of new features, but it does its job reliably and easily. It’s hard to ask for much more from a tool I depend on daily.

Revisiting Notes 

A couple of years ago, I shared how I take meeting notes with a standard form I created.[1]

While that post is still one of the most-visited on 512, I thought it was time to revisit the topic after receiving several questions about my notebook of choice:

I know that Field Notes are super popular in our corner of the Internet, but they really are as good as everyone says they are. They aren’t the cheapest notebooks for sale, but they are durable and fit really well in your back pocket. Plus, with special editions — like the new “Night Sky” edition pictured above — there’s an element of fun associated with collecting the notebooks.

Thanks to falling in love with Field Notes notebooks, I’ve given up on the Capture Form itself, but still organize meeting notes in a similar fashion.

The critical thing about the Capture Form was the way information was organized, and I can still do that, but on something I already have in my pocket that’s small and light.

Like with the Capture Form, I scan filled-in pages for reference later, and enter tasks into OmniFocus by hand.[2] It’s repeat work, but it keeps me off my laptop or iOS device when I should be paying attention while in a meeting or on a call.


  1. If you start clicking links back through that post, you’ll come across some dark times in my GTD life. Sigh.  ↩
  2. In fact, once I fill a Field Notes notebook — which takes 3–4 weeks — I scan the whole thing and dump the PDF in Evernote.  ↩

On OmniFocus Contexts →

Michael Schechter:

As you you start toying with contexts or looking at the way others create their own, there’s really no right or wrong way to go about this. It’s more about finding what works best for you and what doesn’t. In my case, I needed to boil everything down as far as I could; others crave a hierarchy that has thought of everything, most will fall somewhere in-between the two. I’ve found tremendous value in determining the contexts that are essential and in naming tasks consistently for recall, but that’s just what works for me.

I think contexts is one of those areas on OmniFocus (and GTD on the whole) that freak people out. Michael’s article is a great place to start if you’re struggling with this.

Burning Down OmniFocus 

Over the last several months, the number of projects I’m overseeing at work has changed more times than I can begin to count. One of the many side effects of this is that my OmniFocus project list — and overall organization — went to hell pretty quickly.

About a month ago, I reverted to using Remember the Milk for critical tasks. I used RTM for years, and really like it as a service. It’s no where near as powerful as OmniFocus is, but it got me by until this weekend.

When I burned my OmniFocus setup to the ground.

Instead of the nearly dozen folders I had before, I now have four:

  • 512: Anything related to this site, my podcast or LLC
  • Home: Any project related to family, myself or the house itself
  • Nerd: Projects include things like my GTD and data management
  • Work: You know, what pays the bills

Aligning my folders this way means OmniFocus more closely mimics my life, and what I do with my time.

(As before, I’m not using Contexts for anything. I don’t use tags in any software, actually. My brain just doesn’t work that way.)

Moving down from the folder level, I re-worked my projects, combining what I could, and re-naming some to make more sense. For example, I had HR-related tasks and my weekly managerial tasks in separate projects. Now, they’re combined in to one, since these repeating tasks are closely related.

While I still have a ways to go, I feel like — at least with my standard set of repeating tasks — I’ve got a much better grip on things.

New projects will continue to be created, while old ones are marked complete, of course. I hope to keep these as streamlined as possible. For example, instead of having one massive project for all the deliverables my department is working on, I now have separate projects for each item. While this seems counterintuitive to my goal of cleaning things out, it means that my OmniFocus data should more closely reflect what I’m actually working on.

Which is the point.