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OmniFocus helps you figure out what to do next, when it’s due, and where to do it.
Mark Twain wrote, “The well-organized man can be comfortable anywhere, even in hell.” But getting your life in order is easier said than done, and dozens of systems promise salvation. OmniFocus, which implements techniques from David Allen’s popular book Getting Things Done, is the newest weapon in the Omni Group’s arsenal of organizational apps. OmniFocus, which utilizes the project manager OmniPlan and information repository OmniOutliner, builds on the Omni Group’s impressive understanding of how people work, making it a useful tool once you’ve figured out (and bought into) its underlying system.
Most people are likely to find OmniFocus’s methods unfamiliar, so it’s not enough to judge only whether the software does what it’s supposed to. You also have to determine whether its underlying philosophy works for you. In a nutshell, Getting Things Done (or GTD, as adherents call it) recommends first deconstructing “projects” into discrete “actions,” then determining the “context” for each action—whether it’s done at home or in the office, for example. Then actions are grouped by context so they can be accomplished in an orderly way.
There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, and mastering the GTD way is a project in itself. The Omni Group claims that OmniFocus “can also be used to fit other task-management styles,” but we’re not so sure. The software does not offer a way to prioritize tasks per the ABC method of time management, for example, and you’d have to create workarounds to emulate Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits” systems. You wouldn’t be alone though: The Omni Group’s active online forums are populated by scores of time-management geeks who’ve adapted OmniFocus to diverse approaches, sometimes publishing free AppleScript snippets to implement their workarounds automatically.
OmniFocus follows GTD’s methods thoroughly. That’s great news for people who already know GTD inside and out, but it can be bewildering for GTD neophytes. Fortunately, the Omni Group provides a 10-minute video on its website that covers the basics, and the company has promised to produce more. The downloadable manual is somewhat helpful, although sloppy: It features too few screenshots, refers to a menu that doesn’t exist, and lacks a table of contents.
Still, OmniFocus sports some very nice interface tricks. Navigation is easy, featuring intelligently auto-filling text fields, an inherent understanding of such common scheduling phrases as “a week from Friday,” and copious Command-key shortcuts. A Quick Entry feature lets you jot down actions at any time by pressing a key combo (no matter what other app you’re working in), and a simple yet adaptable markup language lets you enter tasks remotely by sending yourself an email message. Finally, interface design is intelligent, straightforward, and customizable.
The bottom line. New management systems seem to come and go as fast as fashion trends. But if you’re an adherent of GTD, OmniFocus can likely boost your productivity and help you get and stay organized.
COMPANY: The Omni Group
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4 or later
Imports and exports data in a variety of formats. Integrates with Mail and iCal. Flexible interface. Universal binary
Difficult to learn. Sloppy documentation. Limited work style.