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Category: Mac (page 1 of 22)

OmniFocus vs. Things: Why I Switched

If you’ve visited 40Tech lately you’ve seen several posts on Things, which is now my task management app of choice. My switch to Things surprised me. For a few years, I was an OmniFocus snob. I fancied myself a power user, and thought other task management apps were somehow inferior because they didn’t have the level of power offered by OmniFocus.

So why did I switch? For the TL;DR reason, jump down to my third reason below, which is the main reason. It was a “wow” moment for me when I realized what the key difference is between the apps. It made me realize the main reason that OmniFocus wasn’t working for me.

This article isn’t meant to be a full review, but instead will focus on the friction I had with OmniFocus and the key differences for me between OmniFocus and Things.

There is a chance some of this could be moot soon, as the next version of OmniFocus is currently in a closed beta. There’s also a chance I’m unaware of a feature in OmniFocus to address the main shortcoming I mention below. If so, please let me know.


A few caveats at the outset:

Take this all with a grain of salt

First, productivity and task management is highly personal, subject to each person’s particular foibles. I’m by no means claiming that Things is “better” than OmniFocus. It just works better for me

GTD isn’t my thing

Second, I’m no longer a true GTD devotee. While I use some GTD principles, I found (after a few years of struggling) that it just didn’t work for me. Things doesn’t have as strict an adherence to GTD principles as other apps, but I’m fine with that. Keep that in mind when deciding if Things is right for you.

Death to projects

Third, my line of work really isn’t project based. Yes, I know you can categorize almost any task into a project if you really think hard enough, but my line of work is filled with a million different unrelated tasks. I also found it to be more mental overhead to plot and write out every single next action, than to just jot out a quick task.1 The whole GTD “next action” concept didn’t work for me, and I spent much too much time trying to twist my tasks into “projects.”

My reasons


Let’s get the most obvious reason for switching out of the way. Things is beautiful. That might seem like a superficial reason for using an app, but I’ve discovered a pleasant side-effect of that beauty – I like using the app. And because I like using Things, I’m getting more done. I find myself opening the app regularly to check off my tasks, because there is a certain delight in interacting with Things.


Aesthetically, OmniFocus has its roots as an outliner, and is both indebted and beholden to those roots. Indebted because its soul as an outliner leads to its almost endless ability to slice and dice your data. Beholden because it still feels like an outline. A high-powered outline, but an outline.


If you have a huge number of tasks in many areas of your life, OmniFocus might be the better choice for you. OmniFocus is the power user’s tool.

But with great power comes a great ability to fiddle. I found myself constantly tweaking OmniFocus, and coming up with custom perspectives, to try to harness all my tasks. Things gives me just enough power, but not too much. I find myself managing the app less, and instead getting things done.

Things can be powerful to, but the focus is on simplicity. Because of that simplicity, Things is also better at one-off tasks. OmniFocus almost begs you to add projects and contexts. In Things, I often add quick one-off tasks without bothering to add a project or tag. I add the task, and dump it into either my Today view, or into the Upcoming view on a certain date.


Goodbye to the busy work of deferring tasks

Now for the overriding reason why I switched to Things. I was trying to figure why I was spending so much less time fiddling with Things, when it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s simple – the two apps handle items without start dates (also known as defer dates) in a completely opposite manner.

Philosophically, OmniFocus wants to keep all items without start dates in front of you until you “kick the can down the road” by adding a start/defer date.2 Things, on the other hand, places an emphasis on its Today and Upcoming views, so it only puts items in front of you that you affirmatively choose to see. In other words, OmniFocus wants you to push things out of your view, while Things wants you to pull them into your view.3

Again with a caveat – the foregoing paragraph holds true for me because of the aforementioned nature of my job, with oodles of one-off tasks and a paucity of projects. I certainly understand that those with project based jobs need to be able to go to a project, see all their actions, and choose which ones to do.

That’s not me, though. I would never get anything done if I stared at long lists of single tasks all the time. With Things, I typically stare at those longs lists a few times a week – during my weekly review (hey, some GTD!) when I bring tasks into my Today and Upcoming view, and occasionally in the evening when I’m tweaking my plan for the next day.

You can use the Forecast perspective in OmniFocus to somewhat replicate the Today/Upcoming views in Things, with one major issue. In Things, if you don’t complete an action in your Today view, it remains there the next day. In OmniFocus, items disappear from the Forecast after their start date. Past due items remain in Forecast view, but items past their start date do not.

How OmniFocus could tempt me back

OmniFocus might be able to win me back with two changes:

Keep uncompleted items in the Forecast view when their start dates pass

As mentioned, actions disappear from the Forecast view in OmniFocus when their start date passes, even if you don’t complete them. I want them to stay there, so I can work out of the Forecast view.

Make Forecast more aesthetically pleasing

Even if Forecast view handled start dates the way I want it to, the Forecast view still isn’t pleasant to look at. Hopefully that will change in the new version of OmniFocus, which is not too far off.


We’ll see if this sticks, but so far my journey with Things has been an eye-opener.

TIL (Things 3) – Filter list by multiple tags →

Bryan Villarin writing for All Narfed Up:

When viewing a list on all platforms (Mac, iPad, or iPhone), you can filter by more than one tag.

Hit the link for details on how to filter on macOS and iOS. Things 3 is beautiful and can be simple, but there’s power for those willing to look for it. iOS itself is similar – it is simple for those who want an easy experience, with power features optional and out of sight unless you want them.

Automatically Save Mail Attachments Using Automator and Keyboard Maestro

I have set up my firm’s case management system to email me three reports every Sunday evening. These reports arrive as attachments to email. For several months, I’ve been coming in on Monday morning and dragging those reports out of Mail and into Unclutter, which I keep in my Mac menu bar so I have easy access to certain files. I recently decided I would automate this process.

Looking around online, I found several AppleScripts purporting to accomplish this, but I wanted to see if I could accomplish this with Keyboard Maestro. I ended up doing it with Keyboard Maestro and Automator.

My Automator workflow, as depicted below, is pretty simple. It finds any email in my inbox that meets two conditions:

  1. The subject of the email must begin with words that are specific to the report emails; and

  2. The emails must have been sent in the last two days.

If those conditions are met, Automator gets the attachments from those messages and saves those attachments into the same Dropbox folder used by Unclutter to hold files. (I don’t know if I actually need the second step in the workflow).

Automator Mail Attachmentn Workflow

Then it was simply a matter of setting up a Keyboard Maestro macro that would launch the Automator workflow every Monday before I arrived at the office.

Keyboard Maestro trigger for Automator

The final step for me was to create a rule in Hazel to monitor Unclutter, and clean out old reports every week.

Hazel rule to clean out reports

Caveat: I just set up this system yesterday, and forced it to run out of its normal schedule. It worked fine. I’ll see this Sunday evening whether it runs on the schedule I designated.

Here are links to the Automator workflow and Keyboard Maestro macro:

Automator workflow

Keyboard Maestro macro

DEVONthink Tuesday Tip: Use Workspaces →

Jim Neumann writing for Devontech’s Devonian Times blog:

Workspaces save the content and positions of all open windows so that you can restore them later. This is ideal if you are working with the same set of windows over and over again. Save these windows as a workspace and recall them whenever you need them again.

DEVONthink is one of those apps where you really could discover a new feature almost every day, if you wanted to. I’ve been using DEVONthink for a few years now, and was completely unaware of the workspaces feature. Although I mostly use the widescreen four pane view (with my PDF or file displayed in the far right pane), workspaces could be handy for different workflows. One that comes to mind is when you need several items on the screen at once.

Using DEVONthink and Things →

Eric Böhnisch-Volkmann writing for Devon Technologies’ Devonian Times blog:

DEVONthink and DEVONthink To Go can be comfortably used with OmniFocus by using item links. Many other applications support URLs, too, and can so link back to documents stored in DEVONthink. For example Things from Cultured Code which works with DEVONthink very similar to OmniFocus:

As a couple of the commenters to the linked story point out, you can use the Things quick entry hotkey on your Mac from within DEVONthink (assuming you’ve set up the Things helper app) to automatically create a task in Things with a link back to the item in DEVONthink. Setting up your task in this manner will create a link that works on both Mac and iOS. On iOS, you can use the share sheet from within DEVONthink To Go, and get a task with a link back to the item in DEVONthink.

This is important, because Things doesn’t support attachments. Since DEVONthink links work cross-platform, DEVONthink is a great candidate to use as your Things file system.

Why go to this trouble, instead of using an app like OmniFocus, which does support attachments? After a few years of using Omnifocus, I’ve been putting Things 3 through its paces. It doesn’t have quite the power and flexibility of OmniFocus, but I’ve been surprised to find it actually might fit my workflow better. I have many, many one-off tasks, as opposed to projects, and Things seems better suited to that. The visual representation of Today and Upcoming, as seen in Things, can be done in OmniFocus with some customization, but the visual representation of this in Things works with my brain a bit better.

As David Sparks, aka MacSparky, has mentioned, there is value to using a tool that gives “delight.” Right now, I’m finding that Things gives me delight in ways that OmniFocus doesn’t. It keeps me working toward getting my tasks done. We’ll see if that lasts after the newness of the app wears off.