Review of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

OmniFocus has been my preferred project management app for years. The Omni Group describes it well:

OmniFocus is designed to quickly capture your thoughts and ideas to store, manage, and help you process them into actionable to-do items. Perfect for many different systems, OmniFocus helps you work smarter by giving you powerful tools to stay on top of all the things you need to do. From ‘Call mom’ to ‘Submit Annual Report to Investors’.

OmniFocus 2

Although Getting Things Done is a great workflow, and much about OmniFocus was built with GTD in mind, the task-management app has taken on a beautiful life of its own. It is a complex yet focus-minded app that, when used skillfully, makes most anyone more productive.

I like OmniFocus because it has been one of the most foundational to-do list systems for Apple’s devices. It’s wowed us on the iPhone and iPad. Each version has been suited to a device’s strengths. Context has always been paramount in OmniFocus.

It’s versatile. It suits my personal life as well as work. It’s no wonder the app has a loyal user base.

Finding Strength Through Weakness

If there is one criticism of this app (in its Mac form) its that it grew very elderly by app standards before OmniFocus 2 made it to public beta. OmniFocus grew out of OmniOutliner about 8 years ago, and since that time OmniFocus has seen one version for Mac. Originally, Ken Case publicly announced we would see OmniFocus 2 in 2011. Federico Vittici on MacStories on January 29, 2011:

Stronger than ever thanks to an incredibly successful launch of OmniFocus for iPad, the constantly increasing OmniFocus user base on all platforms and the hype surrounding all their products, Omni Group’s CEO Ken Case gave some details of the company’s roadmap for 2011 at Macworld Expo. The three key products seem to be OmniFocus 2 for Mac, coming later this year and highly inspired by the iPad app, a brand new OmniPlan with cloud sync and collaboration features, a version of OmniOutliner for iPad.

Since about that time, I’ve been looking forward to the release of OmniFocus 2. Yet I don’t hold the long wait against Ken and the Omni Group because other apps in their suite have seen stellar updates the last few years. These kept me preoccupied—keeping me productive and satisfied apart from improvements to OmniFocus.

Having said that, had OmniFocus 2 taken any longer to reach the public beta than it did, I would have most certainly dropped it from my toolset. There is only so much of the business-as-usual interface the original OmniFocus has that I could enjoy before it was tedious. It wasn’t an especially attractive app. While other task-management apps go overboard to show off dazzling views of your to-do lists, OmniFocus has been just the opposite end of the pendulum swing: straight-laced and plain.

I agree with David Sparks that I want to find balance between efficiency, productivity, and beauty in the apps I use. Mr. Sparks was describing this while [reviewing and comparing the RSS readers Unread and Reeder]( "Check out his article on MacWorld):

This experience has me re-thinking a lot of the apps in my life, both on iOS and the Mac. Picking apps that let you crank 10,000 widgets at a time is great—so long as you need to crank 10,000 widgets. Cranking 10,000 widgets just because you have an app with the capability of doing so, on the other hand, is crazy. If you only need to crank three widgets, maybe widget-cranking shouldn’t be your first consideration. Instead find an app that makes you smile as you crank those three widgets.

If iOS has spoiled me in anything, its that I expect visually attractive user interface from my toolset, for better or worse.

OmniFocus 2 Delivers

OmniFocus 2 delivers 100% of what I want. It’s organized, streamlined, tasteful, and, if an app could be, appetizing. OmniFocus gave you 5 ways to manage your projects: Projects, Contexts, Perspectives, Reviews, Flagged. These were new workflows for Mac power users at the time. OmniFocus and GTD were new things. Since then, the methodologies have come along way.

So, in OmniFocus 2 we have a new way to organize and digest our projects: the original 5 plus the Forecast. And the Forecast alone would be an excellent reason to upgrade.

On the far left of OmniFocus 2, we have the top tier of organization. These essential 6 categories make project management efficient. Start with the Inbox if you like, but I usually jump right to the project folder with the contents I want to add to. Assign action steps a project, context, start and due dates, and the frequency you want to review them.

Manage your schedule in Calendars, then everything in OmniFocus 2 falls into place. You have a clear picture of where you are throughout the work week in every project.

Detailed Improvements

OmniFocus 2 internalizes the Inspector window, much like the iWork apps have. To the right of the window, the panel shows a clean representation of the details and notes for every project and task. It’s so simple a newbie can handle this powerful app, without sacrificing the features power users respect.

The main panel, the view of projects, single action lists, and action steps has a fresh face. The layout makes it more conducive for data entry. For that matter, nothing about OmniFocus 2 looks the same as the first version. I believe that the major overhaul was intended to give the app an all-new fresh face, and in so doing take friction away from using the features. The mission was accomplished.

As a designer, something I appreciate in the details is the consistency Omni Group brought to their own suite as well as parody with Mac OS X. OmniFocus, unlike some of its competitors, made the app pleasing to the eye without departure from Mac-centricity.

And for the keyboard shortcut enthusiast, there is Quick Open. Press Command+O and you will see a pop up. Type out the project, folder, context, or action step you’re interested in, and OmniFocus takes you there in a snap. That is powerful, as it accelerates even the slowest workflow.

Room to Grow

OmniFocus 2 has a ways to go before it will satisfy every user. Something missing is shared projects for collaborative team efforts. That’s too bad, because this is something some of OmniFocus’ competitors excel in. Project managers want the team to share actionable lists, and OF 2 doesn’t deliver. I see how it will work in the future, if Omni Group wants to move the app in this direction.

Another bit that I still wrestle with are Perspectives. Admittedly, I don’t use them. I work well without them, and I don’t know what I’m missing out on. They are out of sight and mind, and if you are a long-time OmniFocus user, like me, that doesn’t see the point, you’re not alone. Perspectives get in my way. I feel that they are largely more technical, and drive my attention away from getting things done.

Main Take-away

If you are happy with OmniFocus 1.0 then I expect you will be more happy with version 2. And this version will attract some that were close to the fence—wondering if now was the time to invest in this app’s suite. OmniFocus for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad make a great team of tools.

It’s not going to win users that are already happy with simpler tools. Reminders works for some. Wunderlist does for others. And there is Nozbe, Things… the list of task-management apps is long. Those people probably won’t find enough incentives to make the move.

And some are unsatisfied with the design scheme of Apple’s pro apps. Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and now the Omni Group’s apps feel native to the Mac. If you don’t enjoy the gray bars and colorful icons then you will dislike the design aesthetic.

OmniFocus 2 is meant for people with lots to track. Like me. My family life, work, and personal hobbies are logged in it. I don’t know what I would do without such a robust tool.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.