Why I prefer Things instead of OmniFocus

A faithful Omnifocus user …

For years I was a faithful Omnifocus user. I read the collected works of many bloggers and productivity specialists who would not talk of any other tool but Omnifocus. I followed the video courses which the OmniGroup so kindly provided. I worked with contexts, and projects, and did all I had to do.

For large periods of time, I was okay. I was especially okay if my system did not come under too much pressure. However, whenever quick capture and qualification of the relevance of a task was of the essence, Omnifocus was too wieldy. It lacked flexibility, or perhaps it offered just way too much of it.

A change in my use case inspired a tool switch

Now, I must admit my use case changed considerably. As the head of internal audit for the Belgian Technical Cooperation, my tasks and my workload were quite predictable. As a professor teaching at two management schools, I still have some predictability I had before, but … the biggest change in my use case was moving to the staff of our vice prime minister and minister responsible for development aid, digital agenda, telecommunications and postal services in Belgium. Working for the cabinet responsible for development aid has resulted in a wonderfully satisfying work life with a task list that changes regularly, with new tasks and challenges coming in.

The reality is that what appears to be priority now may not be that priority a couple of hours later. Things change, and Omnifocus as I had set it up was not capable of dealing with that reality. It took too much time to manage, so my tool became a burden.

Two important aspects of Things I cannot find back in Omnifocus

Now, a while back I had purchased the entire Things application suite (Mac, iPad and iPhone) because they had a sale and I was curious. So I migrated my extensive task and project list over to Things … and I have not looked back.

While there are quite a few reasons why I prefer Things over Omnifocus, two stand out as ultra-important:

  • Multiple tags/contexts: I tended to overcomplicate my contexts in Omnifocus, because I could only have one. Thinking about defining the appropriate contexts turned out to be a time sink. Witness of that time sink are some of the posts I wrote here on contexts. The point is, contexts matter, but they should not matter in such a way that they impede your work. In Things, I can use overlapping contexts. I have no issue marking two or even more contexts … as long as I feel safe I will see the task when I need it, I am comfortable. Out of my head and in the system.
  • Today is a choice, not an obligation: The Today list offers me a choice of which tasks I want to commit to putting on there. Omnifocus always confronted me with a list of to do’s for the day, which was of course my doing, but it may have been my doing yesterday, or even a week or a month ago. The situation may have changed from the start date. With Things, I plan ahead and I move tasks to the propriate day, but in the morning, when they crop up on my Today screen, they are nicely in yellow, and I cannot act on them unless I explicitly accept them as tasks of this day. Each day, when I plan my tasks, I choose whether I want to work on that specific task or not. I don’t need to decide then and there about all of these tasks, no, I can actually select a couple and feel good about having done them. If I have time left, I go and select a few more … but contrary to Omnifocus, I never feel like a loser … because I do not defer tasks in my Today screen unless I explicitly want to.

Of course, it’s not all wine and roses with Things. A couple of important functionalities remain missing, such as the lauded start date/due date system in Omnifocus.

However, for now, Things gives me peace of mind, while Omnifocus gave me stress and headaches.