OmniFocus 3 for iOS ships May 30th. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the beta, and I’ve had some time to kick the tires.
In brief, OmniFocus is a task manager. It helps you to organize and arrange your work so that you can think less about what to do next and just get started with whatever you feel is best to do. You want to have your priorities and decisions easily thought through.
At its most basic, it can take the projects and tasks you write and then list them in many ways. Some lists may relate to due dates, defer dates, places, people, among other possibilities.
OmniFocus began as “Kinkless GTD” as a modification to The Omni Group’s OmniOutliner app. Check out the video if you want to see where it all started. It was created an developed by Ethan Schoonover. kGTD came around just in time for me as I was just learning Getting Things Done (GTD) and its intricacies. I was excited to be able to separate tasks into projects and contexts all in in outline. That may seem simple, and it was. But, at the time, it was the game in town.
Fast forward more than 10 years, and here we are with OmniFocus 3. There’s a ton of neat features and refinements, big and small:
Contexts to Tags
The biggest change for most will be moving from Contexts to Tags. It used to be that you could only have a single context. You could choose, for example, to add the context “Office” to a number of tasks throughout your projects. OmniFocus would then offer you a list of only those tasks that had the Office context. This was an excellent boon, straight out of the GTD methodology.
However, many users wanted other ways to divide their work. Wouldn’t it be nice to add “Morning” to that? With contexts, you could not simply add another as you were only able to assign a single context to any task. You might make a “Office-Morning” context, but in the midst of other possibilities, you could easily create a very large and unwieldy list of contexts.
With tags, you can now add both “Office” and “Morning” to a task. That task will now show up in either list.
Another addition is the enhancement to custom perspectives. The perspectives that are standard with OmniFocus are already quite useful – Projects, Tags, Forecast, Review, Inbox, etc.
But what if you wanted a list of Office and Morning tasks together? You could create a perspective dedicated to separating and listing these items.
In general, the custom perspectives settings are much more granular than ever before. You can do quite a lot with them, and I sense that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible.
The Forecast view enhanced
The Forecast view shows your tasks by their Due dates and/or Defer dates. The view has received several enhancements.
OmniFocus now allows you to have a specific Forecast tag. This is a tag that you choose to stick around in the Forecast view. Many users seem to create a “Today” tag specifically for this purpose. They like to see their Today tagged items stick around even if they are not due.
Another neat thing is that you can now manually reorder these tasks despite their having other orders in the project library. I really hope that this feature makes it into custom perspectives.
Omnifocus 3 is only available on iOS at the moment. The Omni Group plans to update the OS X version soon. In the meantime, one of the issues I had with iOS has been resolved with batch editing. It used to be that you’d have to edit each task. Now you can do many at a time. For example, let’s say that I had a group of tasks that had the agenda of @Mark. I later found out that I need to ask Lucy these questions, instead. Before, I would need to go through each one, changing them one by one to @Lucy. Now, I can tap edit, select each task I want to edit, and make the changes for all of them at once.
Visual and UI changes
Visual changes are subtle but significant. The Omni Group’s interest in creating an “unfolding” experience really shines. When you’re introduced to the program, many of its power features are hidden. Only when you start really wanting to get into the details of something do details start to come out. For example, with repeats, you now go through a process of turning on the repeat, which then gives you options of interval and days of the week. Depending on whether you set defer or due dates, it will prompt you with relevant options.
Other subtleties are things such as the pull down to clean up. Before, tasks would be whisked away to assigned locations once completed. Now, they stick around until I tell them to go. It’s a small but quite thoughtful change.
I don’t remember if this were in OmniFocus 2, but I’ve discovered that there are now arrows to move between tasks in a list. This is particularly helpful at the Inbox. Rather than complete the processing of one task, then select the next one to enter its inspector, I can now move directly between the inspector of each task.
One area that is makes a significant difference on iOS for me is disclosure triangles. I can now have multiple projects in a single perspective, open and close their disclosure triangles, and drag and drop tasks between them. Before, I’d need to go into a task and manually reassign each task to another project.
Similarly, I can now drag tasks on top of another task to quickly create a group. Before, the steps involved where rather prohibitive. I’d often find myself just waiting until I could get back to the laptop to do that work, but no longer.
Another feature that had been missing from the iOS version was the “Complete when completing last item” ability. This means that when you complete a list of items, you can have the entire group or project complete itself automatically. It’s a subtle feature, but quite useful, especially when doing work sequentially.
Notifications, too, have received some love. Now, you don’t only have the option of seeing a notification when something is due. This had always been problematic to me as I’d rather know to start something well before it’s due. Now you can have:
- Custom notifications – you can set any time to be reminded of a task,
- Defer date notifications – an alert appears at the deferred time
- Latest start – an alert appears at the estimated time for the work minus the due date
Altogether, the impact is more a sum of its parts than anything else. Personally, I am still quite in the experimental stages, making small changes here and there and seeing their effects. I’ll likely have much greater changes in effect once the OS X version lands as, until then, I’m straddling two systems. But already, I’ve noticed significant changes in my iOS use.