Omnifocus – The GTD Tickler Files

Omnifocus – The GTD Tickler Files

I have been meaning to post this for a while, but it’s the reason I keep coming back to Omnifocus.

I am perpetually torn with Omnifocus being over complex, yet feeling like home to me for tracking my tasks.  When things go into Omnifocus, I have always felt like they get done.  I have also never felt like I am flooded with the entire list of tasks.

They key to Omnifocus and this balanced feeling is two-fold:  Perspectives and Defer Until.


The key thing here is you are on a “need to know” basis.   You can set up perspectives to let you see what you want, when you want based on needs.  The great thing is, if you have tasks that need to be done serially, you can let Omnifocus only show you the NEXT ACTION you can take to make progress on your project.  This saves you from having to look at all of the remaining items when you can’t actually do anything with them.   This is such a time saver.

You can customize your perspectives and name them what you want with the pro version  Trust me, your time is worth getting the pro version.   Here is a sample of the details of my TODAY perspective.  You can see how you can edit and tweak this to your hearts content.

Today Perspective
Today Perspective

Defer Until

This is the real magic here for me.  When I am adding tasks into my task list, often they are things I need to do soon.  Sometimes they are tasks that I don’t need to worry about for a long time.  For instance, if I know I need to follow up on a task to talk to someone in 4 months about a potential project, why do I want that task staring at me every day?  I don’t!  That is just wasted thinking every time I see it.

By creating a task with a Defer Date, you can essentially hide that task away from view until you are ready to see it.  (when combined with the above perspectives).   This is amazing.  I have a lot of tasks I want recurring as well that I defer.  Changing the oil in my car, clean the gutters, etc.  I defer all of these tasks so they go away until I am ready to do them.

Defer Until

I really think this is what draws me back in to Omnifocus when I contemplate trying other software.  Start Date, Defer Until, or whatever you want to call it.. just get it out of my face until I need it.

Wunderlist Vs. Omnifocus – How I struggle with the choice

Wunderlist Vs. Omnifocus – How I struggle with the choice

I may be a bit of a productivity junky.  I am that person who spends more time learning about being productive than being productive sometimes.  I have definitely forced myself to stick to my guns when it comes to making progress on tasks for work however I am perpetually tweaking my tools.

My previous solution of using Evernote had so many advantages I loved but at the end of the day, finding a simple view of what I needed to be focused on for the day provide challenging.  (without a lot of adding/removing tags, moving notes, etc)

I went all in on Omnifocus for quite some time.  The thing I realize I liked most out of Omnifocus was the flexibility to create perspectives.  The planning and defer options were key.   I could really start to focus on what mattered and not feel overwhelmed by ALL of my tasks.   The hard part was, I never felt I was a master of Perspectives.  I even bought David Sparks great Omnifocus Video Field Guide.  I watched it on my plane trip to London.  It really helped me learn some new techniques.

I was forever feeling like I was missing tasks in the view I cared about.  That worried me.  I also felt that quickly adding tasks became a challenge.  To really be good I had to assign to a project AND context for every task.  Context became a bit of a struggle because sometimes I wanted to use it more like a tag.  I want to mark something as @read and @commute so when I am in the mood to read, or on my commute, I could get things done.  This was not possible.

I switched over to Wunderlist AGAIN!  I really like the look and simplicity of Wunderlist.  A couple of my favorite features are Attachments and Comments.   A bonus now is the fact they have folders and #tags.  The attachments piece makes it easy for me to attach a document to my tag and get to it quickly.  Arguably, this is a bad habit.  I really should not bloat my task list with attachments, but I do it.

The Comments make it super easy to track progress if I am TRYING to get a task done but it’s not completed.  Maybe the task is “Verify requirements for NEW FEATURE with Alex”.  If I reach out to Alex on email, I add a comment.  I then set a follow up reminder on this for a day or two and hope Alex responds.   If he does not, I go find Alex.. or call him, or some other method.. smoke signal maybe.  I annotate my task and keep track.  This helps me understand why my task is not done.  In Omnifocus, I used the notes field for this and had a keyboard shortcut of .dd to insert DATE/TIME stamp for each entry I made.  Wunderlist just does this better.

I REALLY struggle with OmniFocus vs. Wunderlist.  Here is where I see some key gaps that would make Wunderlist the perfect app for me.

Smart Folders or Saved Searches

I really want to look at things I have flagged AND due today.  Currently this is two different lists.   If I could create a smart list and set some criteria (similar to a saved search), then I could fix this issue.  It also would make it infinitely more powerful by searching for things like #read and #commute to fill gaps in time when I need to pick off a task.

Defer Dates

There are a lot of tasks that recur, or are not needed until a certain time.  Think of them as START DATES.   If I know I need to test run my generator in June, and It’s April right now, I don’t want to see that task until June.  It just clutters up my list.  I could REALLY use Start or Defer dates to help.  Follow up items are an other great use for this.   Follow up with Bob on Friday.. and that task disappears until Friday.

Folder View

Wunderlist gave us the ability to organize by folders finally.  The one thing they missed.. they don’t let you view a folder all at once.   I have a bunch of projects going on at work.  When I am planning my day I want to skim all of my projects for tasks I need to complete.  Currently, in Wunderlist, I have to go project by project and look at each list to see if I want to accomplish something today.  Just let me click the WORK folder and see all tasks grouped by project.  This would be so much easier.


For now I am stuck.  I keep bouncing back and forth between Omnifocus and Wunderlist.  Omnifocus is a bit too powerful and cumbersome at times, but has the power I need when I want to be a GTD Ninja.  Oh.. but it looks like crap IMHO.  Wunderlist looks amazing, and is super quick and simple to use.. but lacks the ability for me to be a power user.

UGH.. what to do.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Just please don’t tell me to use ToDoist.  The Mac app is a wrapper on the webpage and NOT a good experience.  It is just not for me.  I want a good thick-client experience.