OmniFocus 2 and seeking an alternative

Things have been pretty quiet on Rubénerd of late. I’ve got a wonderful new job, this semseter has just started to wrap up, and I’ve been battling a persistent head cold. Seems like an appropriate time to talk about task managers!

Firstly, to the exciting news that shook the Apple world. A swift, Yosemite Sam change? Heavens no, after years of waiting, the next iteration of everyone’s favourite Swiss Army Chainsaw of GTD task managers has arrived. And from the screenshots, it looks gorgeous. To be fair, it wouldn’t have been hard to improve on the UI of v1, but it looks as though they took all our feedback and made something so much better.

Okay then, so why are you moving?

As much as I feel ashamed to admit, OmniFocus and I have had a strained relationship for the last few months. After using it to successfully manage university assignments and self employment, I recently caught myself “capturing” tasks in my memory or text files. In GTD parlance, I then lost trust in the system, which is toxic.

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to realise the system wasn’t working for me, largely because of the time and money I’d sunk into it. In other words, I refer to my beloved RationalWiki:

This sunk cost fallacy occurs when a person or company continues to pump resources into a failed project in hopes of rescuing it, or because they feel that the expended cost would otherwise be wasted.

With OmniFocus 2 for the Mac, I faced the prospect of upgrading, or using that money to try something new. I’ve elected to do the latter.

Challenges

I bought an OmniFocus licence a couple of years ago. I’d heard Merlin Mann discuss Getting Things Done on his Back To Work programme with Dan Benjamin; Daniel Jalkut had also discussed moving back to it on Core Intuition with Manton Reece. I adore all these guys, and decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t as intimidated by the UI as I thought I would be, given its reputation as being powerful but complex. Where I started having issues were in task capture, synching and contexts.

Task capture is a core component of the GTD system, but even with the extra iPhone app I found the barrier to entry too high. More often than not, I’d whip out Byword and add a line to a text file, rather than wait for OmniFocus to load, “optimise its database”, traverse its screens, press the right buttons, fill in the pertinent details and create the task. The desktop application was similarly convoluted; if you wanted to change something as simple as a due date, you’d need to launch a sidebar window with more controls than a space shuttle.

(Version 2 of the iPhone version was prettier and resembled iOS 7 visually, but didn’t address my concerns).

Once I’d created a task, I wanted it on my Mac and phone. Unfortunately, Omni’s Cloud Server would often time out, take glacically long to work or would often lose tasks to the ether. This may be a function of hitting a remote US server from Australia and Singapore, but it didn’t instill confidence. Local WiFi sync worked better, but that seems to have been removed in version 2 unless you want to roll your own unsupported server. This is par for the course for open source, but I expect more from paid software.

And finally, I found contexts a little inflexible. Despite strict GTD principles, I’d often want to assign several, particularly for larger projects. When I caught myself creating a complicated tree of contexts with dependencies that could act as complimentary contexts, I knew I was trying to use the program in the way it wasn’t intended.

It wasn’t mostly you OmniFocus, it was mostly me

Which gets me to my final point. Aside from synching, OmniFocus is technically excellent and very powerful. In the hands of a wizard, I have no doubt you could do amazing things. Perhaps because I’m not a strict GTD’er though, and because I need to enter tasks in rapidly, the solution was never a glove fit.

So I’ve decided to bid farewell. I do want to thank the Omni Group for their excellent support, and for getting me through some stressful times in my life, but for both of us I think its time to move on.


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