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This is the personal blog of Don McAllister, the host and producer of ScreenCastsOnline.

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Things vs OmniFocus...

As you're probably aware, I've done screencasts on both OmniFocus and Things, the two "front runners" for task management on the Mac.

I started using OmniFocus initially, following on from using the GTD scripts developed for use with OmniOutliner, the original inspiration for OmniFocus. I was aware of Things when it was launched after OmniFocus, but I held off until certain features were made available. Once those features were there, I started using Things and have been more than happy to use it ever since.

So now the two questions I get asked more than anything are, which do I recommend and which do I use.

The answer, I recommend both but I currently use Things!

Each has it's own advantages and disadvantages, but for me, Things has the right combination of power and flexibility and allows me to task manage without getting in the way.

OmniFocus is a GTD powerhouse and in the right hands, with some investment of time and effort, it can become an incredibly powerful  tool.

If your serious about task management and want to get a good feel of the differences between OmniFocus and Things from a users point of view, I'd recommend having a listen to two of my podcasting buddies from the MacRoundtable (David Sparks and Katie Floyd) on the most recent edition of their podcast - Mac Power Users.  

In Episode MPU 013 - Task Management Smackdown - they compare notes on both applications. 

Just one caveat though, David is a GTD ninja and has lovingly melded OmniFocus to integrate fully with business and personal needs. He's obviously an OmniFocus power user and you really need to listen to the podcast in the context of his vast experience of OmniFocus, it will certainly give you some things to think about but don't expect to reach Davids level of expertise overnght. Katie is probably more like the rest of us (no offence David!) and uses Things on a daily basis to manage tasks. 

The level to which David has been able to use OmniFocus probably says a lot about its depth and power, but you do need to put the effort and discipline in to get the most out of it. Things is much simpler and easier to get a rapid return on your efforts. That's not to say Things is not powerful. I use it for organising my daily tasks, my scheduled tasks and my projects. I also use it to capture tasks directly from my email system. 

One correction in the podcast is that there is a way of grouping tasks and projects together in Things to give you the 10,000 foot view, and thats "Areas of Responsibility". Check out my screencasts for more information.

I should say though that you need to read the comments on the show notes too, there is some useful info contained within the notes too.


Reader Comments (8)

Things is a great app made more powerful by your screencast.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Allum

I've used Omnifocus since its beta days (and the OmniOutliner scripts before that). Recently moved to Things on both iPod and Mac.
My first impressions are that Omnifocus follows the GTD "rules" better than things and I noticed in your screencast, Don, that you use labels in a way that isn't what is meant by GTD's "contexts" which isn't a criticism (although I bet there are many Things users out there doing the same thing now ;)
OmniFocus is a true GTD app, Things is more flexible but that in a way is its problem - it encourages you to mix different approaches to task management and they're not really that interchangeable. Either you use labels as labels, or you use them as contexts. "Areas of responsibility" are useful but what if something is in an area of responsibility and in a project? OF allows for that, Things doesn't seem to.
I'm sticking with Things for now (although its iPhone syncing isn't as good as OF's as you pointed out in the screencasts). I prefer it's look and the promise of co-worker syncing and project management is enticing.
But I'll keep my eye on OF just in case!

One thing I'd say is, if you use any "GTD" app, you have to read Getting Things Done - a great book and it will make these apps 100 times more useful.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I have used both for quite some time. When Things came out I used it for quite awhile until life got really crazy this summer. Then I found that even though OmniFocus took more work, it helped me actually get more done (which is the point right?). The big downers for me on Things were:

1. No over the air sync
2. No support of recurring tasks on the iPhone (if you don't sync every day with your Mac then your recurring tasks just don't appear.
3. No support for nested projects. Things seems to have a philosophical opposition to this feature but I really found it cumbersome to work around.

Once I switched to OmniFocus I really missed the "Today" feature in Things. I have tried various workarounds but none have really been satisfactory.

For now, I use OmniFocus and wait patiently for Things to get the sync thing worked out (which they have been promising for months) or OmniFocus to get a "today" feature which probably won't happen until version 2.0.

They are both great applications though.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg DeVore


Thanks for the kind words. I completely agree they are both great options and, in some cases, can be spectacular overkill. Thankfully, they both have free trial periods so prospective users can kick the tires on both.

David Sparks

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Sparks

Don, you've hit it exactly! I wish I had the time to become the power user David is now! I'm geeky enough to envy that since I love learning the ins and outs of this kind of software. Sadly, it is just not possible right now.

However, the best part of your post - I shall now take the time to listen to your podcasts. Even "Things" has a learning curve - albeit smaller than Omnifocus. I've got a good start on my system and I'm very happy to have found one that works for me. However, I am still working on a small database of to-dos, projects, and areas. I've deleted and added and moved items like mad to get a handle on the basics. I think I'm half way there.

Now off to listen to your take on Things.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa

Thanks for sharing your comments Don, and I very much enjoyed both your OmniFocus and Things Podcasts as well as the MacPowerUsers podcast you referenced. I chose Things for the same reasons you did...but will continue to keep an eye on OmniFocus and agree that it's a great app.

One correction - in GTD speak 10,000 feet is the Project level. Areas of Focus is at a higher level...20,000 feet.


November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim Stringer

When I watched you screencast on Omnifocus I was impressed with its power, but slightly daunted with the idea of learning it well and implementing it into my daily life -- which really doesn't have that many tasks to track on a given day. Things seemed more approachable. It was also less expensive than Omnifocus.

I appreciate the screencasts you've done on these apps (your Things screencast finally sold me on it) as well as Katie and David's podcast on the topic.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I have been using OmniFocus for quite a while. Just tried out Things (in case it turned out better). Generally I'm really disappointed (with Things). It has a slightly cleaner interface but when it comes to functionality and flexibility, it's miles behind OmniFocus.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave Acland

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