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Category: Productivity (page 1 of 14)

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.

Things: Cross-Platform Attachments with DEVONthink – Part 1 (40Tech Video)

I’ve made my first ever YouTube video for 40Tech. This short video addresses one of the main shortcomings of Things, my current task management app of choice. Things does not support the syncing of attachments from Mac to iOS, or vice versa. This video takes a look at how to use DEVONthink to add an attachment to Things on the Mac, and have it available in Things on iOS.

I’m sure I’ll work the rough edges off of these videos if I do more in the future, but I hope this one helps some of you out there. The video is embedded below, or you can click here to go to the video on YouTube.

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.

How to Make the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar Useful

All of the good ones are taken.

That’s how I feel when it comes to keyboard shortcuts on my Mac. Between Keyboard Maestro and app shortcuts in System Preferences, I have used up all of the easy to remember shortcuts. Enter the MacBook Pro and the Touch Bar. When used with BetterTouchTool and Keyboard Maestro, some commonly used shortcuts are just a tap away.

BetterTouchTool allows you to configure the TouchBar on a per app basis, and also globally. You can configure TouchBar buttons to execute certain system commands, and also to type keystrokes. That last part – typing keystrokes – is huge. If you trigger a Keyboard Maestro macro with a keystroke combination, you can map that keystroke combination to a Touch Bar button via BetterTouchTool.

For example, check out my “End Call” Touch Bar Action in the screenshot below:

You can see I’ve mapped my “End Call” Touch Bar Action to the Option-Command-H keyboard shortcut. Over in Keyboard Maestro I’ve set up a macro that is triggered by that same keyboard command. The macro hangs up the VOIP software phone on my Mac, so I don’t have to hunt down the VOIP application to end a call.1 With the combination of the BetterTouchTool Action and the Keyboard Maestro macro, I press a nice red phone button on the Touch Bar, and the call ends. I have a similar Touch Bar button set up for answering calls.

In future posts, I’ll break down some more Touch Bar layouts to show what I’ve done with the Touch Bar, such as adding Markdown bold and italics buttons for use in my firm’s case management system, and more.

BetterTouchTool currently is sold under a “Pay What You Want” model, with a minimum price of $4.99 and a suggested price of $8.99. It’s sold directly from the developer’s website.


  1. Even on my iMac, I typically keep apps spread between several Spaces. I didn’t want to have to hunt down the VOIP app, or tab between open apps, to go to the app and end a call.

10 Ways I’m Using the iPad Pro

I’ve been using an iPad Pro for more than three months, and while my MacBook Pro is my workhouse, the iPad Pro has found an essential place in my workflow. Since I’m a couple of years overdue on posting a numbered list, here are a ten examples of how I use it.

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