OmniFocus: Simply the Best

A long time ago (nearly two years, to be precise), when iPad.AppStorm wasn’t even born, we looked at OmniFocus for the iPad over at iPhone.AppStorm and we liked it very much – giving it a prestigious 8 out of 10 rating. Since then, however, lots has changed with OmniFocus (including, unfortunately, the price) so let’s take a look at the latest version and see how it stacks up.


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First Thoughts

OmniFocus is developed by The Omni Group, who are well-known for making some pretty top-notch productivity applications such as OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and my personal favourite, OmniGraphSketcher (which has made my Economics degree a whole lot easier). OmniFocus is their GTD (Getting Things Done) program and helps you organise all your goals in life, whether they are big or small.

If you’re working on a project, school report, or just stuff around the house, then OmniFocus can help you keep track of all these quickly and easily.

Features

Seeing as OmniFocus costs $39.99 off the App Store (and yes, that’s not a joke), you’ll be expecting some pretty hardcore features lurking under that interface. Let’s take a look.

Sync Services

If you use OmniFocus on any other devices (such as your Mac or iPhone) then you can sync all of your data directly to the iPad version with hardly any effort at all.

OmniFocus Sync

The sync services on OmniFocus.

You can sync with Omni Sync Server, MobileMe (no word on iCloud support as of yet) and directly over Wi-Fi with your Mac (as long as they are connected to the same wireless network). If you’ve got your own server setup (and it’s WebDAV-compatible), then this works as well. Of course if you’ve just got the iPad version then you can use it just fine as well – it won’t diminish your experience with the app in any way.

Your Inbox

The inbox in OmniFocus is the central place for all your ideas. When you start adding projects and individual tasks (we’ll have a look at these in a bit), they are all collected together in your inbox, giving you an easy overview on what exactly needs doing and which deadlines you need to adhere to. From the inbox, you can manage tasks directly, such as deleting them, marking them as complete or marking them for review – this is known as processing in OmniFocus.

OmniFocus Inbox

The inbox view in OmniFocus with the list of tasks at hand.

Tapping on a item in the inbox brings up a more detailed view of the task in hand and here you can customise various aspects of it, such as the start and end date, whether or not the task should be repeated, and so on. The note feature is extremely useful (and one of my favourites) – especially in the full-screen view – avoiding the need for having bits of paper with notes scribbled on them floating around all over the place.

You can also attach pictures and short voice memos to individual tasks.

Due Date

Setting a due date on a task.

Working With Projects

A project is just as the name suggests – a multitude of ideas grouped together for easy reference. However, in OmniFocus they’ve been given some added sparkle and finesse to make them really easy to work with. When you add a new project, you can choose its name, start date, and end date. OmniFocus has three types of project:

  • Sequential: where the steps of the project have to be performed in the order set out.
  • Parallel: where the steps of the project can be completed in any order.
  • Single Actions: usually a project with one step to complete or an assortment of tasks related to each other.

You can also set the status for each project in OmniFocus depending on where you are with it:

  • Active: the project is in progress.
  • On Hold: the project has been put on hold temporarily.
  • Completed: the project and all its related tasks have been finished.
  • Dropped: the project is not being worked on for the foreseeable future.

If you’ve got multiple projects on the go at any one time, then the status symbols really are useful to help you keep track of where you are on each one and the project type ensures that every single task in the project is completed (or even in the correct order).

Project View

Viewing a project.

An individual step in a project in OmniFocus is called an action. You can add a new action to a particular project (giving it a corresponding due date) or you can add a quick entry to the inbox which isn’t assigned to any project (this is good for individual ideas). You can of course assign quick notes to projects after you’ve created them and individual actions can be organised into groups within projects.

Contexts

Contexts are like tags for either projects or individual tasks within a project and help you find a particular task quickly and easily without having to search through all your projects. You can add a context to any particular task and project and OmniFocus groups tasks and projects by their context, giving you a much better overview. When you install the app, it will suggest to you some default contexts, however you can always edit (or delete) these as you feel is necessary.

Context

Assigning a context to a particular task in OmniFocus.

Like projects, contexts can also be assigned individual statuses: Active, On Hold and Dropped and you can also add location information (mentioned in the next section) to them so you can see them when you are nearby.

This feature is obviously extremely useful if you travel a lot with your iPad!

Map View

As mentioned above, you can provide location information for each context item and, if you’ve got Location Services enabled on your iPad, OmniFocus will alert you when you’re in that particular location (for example a business meeting). You can provide exact addresses, Google business searches (as long as this feature is supported) or you can drop a pin manually.

Map View

If you've added location information to your contexts, then you can view them all on a map.

Once you’ve assigned location information to your contexts then you can view your actions based on their location. Bear in mind, though, that the location services are not 100% accurate due to limitations with iOS and you’ll need either a second or third-generation iPad to use them as well.

Forecasting With OmniFocus

The forecast view in OmniFocus gives you an overview of all upcoming and overdue tasks and project deadlines in an easy-to-use timeline view. You can mark tasks and projects as completed straight from the Forecast view and it also syncs your iCal events as well, giving you a complete overview and helping you to manage your time better.

Forecast Mode

The forecast mode in OmniFocus, where you can see any upcoming or overdue tasks and projects.

Reviewing Your Tasks

OmniFocus gives you the ability to review each and every task that you’ve created to ensure that you don’t miss out on a particular one or to guarantee that you complete a project in its entirety. When you enter the Review mode on the sidebar, a list of tasks which need reviewing pops up, with the oldest ones appearing towards the top. You can bulk mark tasks as completed, on hold, active or dropped straight from the Review menu.

Review

OmniFocus displays any tasks that need reviewing on a regular basis (which can be customised).

Once you’ve reviewed a particular project, then you simply tap on Mark Reviewed and the next project for review appears. This is incredibly useful if you are a project leader and you need to review several projects after one another. You can also set the review interval (the default period is weekly) by tapping on the Review interval section and changing it to your preference.

Final Thoughts

OmniFocus is just how iPad productivity apps should be, it blows all others clean out of the water. I have worked with several ones, including Firetask, and I find the sheer range of features in OmniFocus pushes it way ahead of all the other GTD apps out there on the App Store.

The app is optimised for retina-display iPads and although the price does bring tears to your eyes (especially for an iPad app), it’s a small price to pay for having such a useful organisational tool in your life – I really don’t know where I would be without it!


Summary

Simply the best all-round GTD and productivity app for your iPad.

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