Maybe my aversion to being “List-less” accounts for my love of to-do list apps, but honestly, I could not live without such a thing! Here I will explain how I use iOmnifocus. But I actually also use 2 additional apps that are in this cateogory -apps dedicated to very specific kinds of tasks – a grocery shopping app called “grocery gadget” and a packing list app called “Packing Pro.” These kinds of task-dedicated apps come pre-configured for the designated task, are customizable for your own needs, and in the case of a task you share with someone else (like grocery shopping) everyone involved can share the same list. For example, Karen and I share the same grocery list and can add items to the list even while the other one is doing the shopping, or add items any time either of us thinks of something we need. In the case of the packing list, I set up specific list for each trip based on a template of the typical things I always need to pack, then as I think of things specific to a trip (like a jump drive with my presentation file), I can add it to the list for that particular trip. Doing this kind of “list” in an all-purpose app is too cumbersome, and it clutters up the stuff you need to manage aside from these kinds of “personal maintenance” tasks.
But a fully customizable “to-do” app is also invaluable. I have tried most of the to-do list apps out there, and have finally settled on one that is based on the “Getting Things Done” philosophy, and is one of the highest-rated apps of its kind – Omnifocus. I will admit that a couple of times over the past several years I have abandoned Omnifocus in an attempt to find one that did some of the same things, costs less, and simpler and less “cluttered” with features I never use. But I have come back to Omnifocus twice after trying out some of the others. One thing about this app that I have grown to really appreciate is that it has been quickly and regularly improved over the years. With another app I tried, the developers kept promising to add a feature that was missing, but after a year the feature was still not there … so I abandoned it altogether. There are indeed many good apps “out there” – apps that cost less and are much simpler, so you might prefer something different, but the fundamental concepts are the same .. the ability to keep a running list of things you need to do, adjust the due dates as circumstance change, and get reminders when something is due or past due.
The main reason I prefer Omnifocus is because of several features that many of the simpler apps do not accomplish nearly as well .. the ability to set up large projects, with all the of the specific tasks required to complete that project, the ability to see your tasks from more than one point of view, coordination with your calendar, and reliable syncing of information across your devices using a “cloud” backup/storage, and I can email my Omnifocus account with items to add to a list! Here are some details on these features I find indispensable:
- I have about 50 “projects” (don’t laugh – you probably have about this many as well but have never seen them laid out all at once!!). Some of my projects are dormant for now … but when the time comes I have a template to pick it up again (for example, a book that will eventually need to be revised). I share projects for several “financial” matters … one of which is coming up soon – preparation of tax returns! I have a “Project,” for example, for each issue of the journal I edit. Each of these “project” lists starts out with the standard tasks that are required to complete the issue, with the due date assigned for that particular issue. Once I know what articles will be included in the issue, I add the details for each article along with a date for the article to be featured on the journal blog. At any one time there are 6 issues in the works, so there is a project for each of the 6, and I can quickly see what is coming due for each issue.
- Omnifocus provides several “perspectives” that you can use – I constantly use the “forecast” that shows any task related to any project that is due today, and for the next week or month. At the same time, if I need to see just the tasks for a particular project, I can easily click over to see just that project and review all the tasks involved, along with their due dates.
- There are easy-to-use versions of the app for all of my devices — computer, smart phone and tablet, and all of my information syncs instantly with the database stored in a “cloud” location that I selected. With Omnifocus I have never had a problem with this essential (for me) feature – this is one reason I have abandoned a couple of the other apps I tried – inconsistent or failed syncing.
- All versions of Omnifocus give a bird’s eye view of my calendar, so when I see the forecast of the tasks that I hope to accomplish today, I also see a graph showing how much of my day is consumed with activities where I have to show up — meaning those portions of my day are not available to do my tasks! When I see that I will not be able to even come close to completing all the tasks for the day, I know it is time to adjust my expectations! There are days when I decide early on that I am going to tackle what I can, hope to get done as much as possible, and then re-assign the tasks I cannot complete at the end of the day. On other days, I decide to just chill .. to clear the to-do list for today, be fully engaged with the people and places where I have to show up, and alleviate the angst and frustration looming with a to-do list that is not happening! This is the part I need to get better at doing .. but when I am successful, I feel great!
- Omnifocus provides what for me is essential .. then I get an email with information I need for a task, or to add a task, I forward the email to Omnifocus and it shows up in my “inbox!” Then I can easily refine the task to fit where it needs to fit – due date, project, etc. The email shows up in the notes for the task, and I am ready to go!
One of the Omnifocus features I do not use is the “context” perspective – but it might be useful to someone who is reading this blog. Everytime you set up a project or a task, you can link it to a context – where you need to be when this task needs to be done. So if you have a regular meeting with colleagues where you need to pay attention to several tasks, and you have several projects that are in varying stages of completion, you can view the tasks for this context when you need to see this perspective.
Bottom line – even though I am a great fan of Omnifocus, if you have not used an app for your to-do list before, I would suggest starting with something simple. You can use Omnifocus as a very basic to-do list and not worry about the features you don’t use. But consider some of the other apps – read the reviews, consider the price, and get started!
Up next time .. Evernote!! How do I know this? I just checked my Omnifocus project for this blog!