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Battle of the Mac and iOS Productivity Apps: OmniFocus vs. Things 2.0

Battle of the Mac and iOS Productivity Apps: OmniFocus vs. Things 2.0

    If you are someone that likes to Get Things Done on a Mac, (and I do mean that in a GTD type of way) there have been two Mac apps that have been prevalent for most users in the past few years; OmniFocus by The Omni Group and Things by Cultured Code.

    Things sat on the sidelines for the last couple of years because of a lack of good cloud sync, that is, sync that didn’t require you to be by your Mac or on the same network, happened throughout the day as you were checking things off, and kept the Mac, iPad, and iPhone apps in sync. OmniFocus has had reliable sync for sometime through WebDAV and then with the new Omni Sync Server. But, with the release of Things Cloud and then Things 2.0, Cultured Code has proven that Things isn’t dead. But, how does Things 2.0 fair against one of the best, most powerful productivity apps on the Mac even after all its new features? Let’s take a look.

    Structure

    We are going to take a look at each app separately. There is no scoring or anything corny like that. This comes from my experience of using both apps for an extended period of time.

    OmniFocus

    OmniFocus for Mac by the Omni Group is now only $39.99 and can be had through the Mac App Store or the Omni Store. The iPhone app is $19.99 and the iPad app is $19.99.

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    Ease of use

    OmniFocus is not necessarily the easiest app to use, especially at first crack. This is mostly due to its many features and ways that you can customize it. The thing is that once you get over a tiny learning curve (there are a lot of great resources for this) you can create new tasks, outline projects, create powerful perspectives, and slice-and-dice your data easily. It’s worth diving into to get this added functionality.

    The iPad app may be the most straightforward of all of the apps on first use, but don’t let that fool you. You can basically do everything that the Mac app can offer, except create perspectives. In fact, many things on the app iPad especially reviewing your projects are super easy because of Omni’s infamous Review and Forecast modes.

    Features

    If you need a “professional grade” personal productivity app, OmniFocus has the features to cover you. Here are just a few of the features that you get with OmniFocus:

    • Quick add to your “inbox” with just a single tap on the iPad or iPhone and with a nifty user changeable keyboard shortcut on the Mac.
    • Actions can have names, project, context, due and start dates, time estimation, flagged (on or off), and even a note field where you can store links and many other pieces of media like documents, sounds, etc.
    • A free Omni Sync Server that you can use to sync several Macs, iPhones, and iPads (currently syncing three Macs, and iPhone, and an iPad.
    • Intelligent backup features so you don’t lose your data or so you can make a backup of your task and project “library” so you can start over.
    • The iPhone has integration with Siri by adding to your default Reminder list or to an OmniFocus list.
    • Ability to outline hierarchy of Folders, Projects and then groups of tasks (you can even have groups of groups if you want to get really crazy).
    • Powerful Perspective feature allows you to create different “views” of your data based on focus of a specific groups of projects or contexts. You can’t create perspectives on iOS and only context-based perspectives are available as of this writing.
      • An extensive AppleScript API that allows you to basically do everything that you can do via the app.
      • Location-based context creation via the iPad or iPhone apps allow you to lock a GPS location, search parameter, contact address, as well as a notification when you arrive or when you leave.
        Location based contexts
        • Review mode to keep you on top of your projects and deadlines. You can make your project set to review any timespan that you want like every week, month, year, etc.
          OmniFocus Review Mode on Mac
          • Project status of Active, On Hold, Complete, or Canceled.
          • In depth repeat functions of Repeat every day, week, month, etc., start again after a certain time, or even make something due again after a certain time.
          • A extremely geeky and fan-boyish community of people that love them some OmniFocus (that’s a feature, right?).
          • Excellent communication and support from developers and “Support Ninjas.”

          OmniFocus is a powerhouse when it comes to features. It sports pretty much every feature you may want in a productivity app for Mac and iOS.

          Cons

          I love OmniFocus but there are a few issues:

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          • Sync is entirely too slow, especially when you have a large database and attachments. You can rebuild your database, but the sync is still slow.
          • Not easy to use and could have “feature-overload”. OF is a great tool, but it can be extremely overwhelming for a new user.
          • The design needs some work. You can customize the Mac app to your liking, but there is a general blandness and boringness to the design.
          • Only context-based perspectives on the iPad. Also, you have to have a Mac to create perspectives.

          OmniFocus is definitely a staple of Mac productivity applications and is favorited by many, but with let’s see what Things 2.0 has to offer the user and if it can beat out OmniFocus.

          Things

          Things for Mac by Cultured Code is available for $49.99 through the Mac App Store. You can also purchase the iPad version for $19.99 or the iPhone version for $9.99.

          Things 2.0 was released and Things Cloud availability started on August 9th, 2012.

          Ease of use

          Things is a delightfully easy and beautiful app to use. The layout and design invites you to start adding tasks, adding tags, due dates, and assigning those to-dos to projects. Adding tasks is simple on all versions of the app by simply clicking or tapping the new todo button. Assigning due dates and tags to a task is just as simple. After you have added a new task you can fill out the information and the to-do is ready to go.

          Things also has an easy way to add project by clicking or tapping the new project button. Projects can have one flat list of to-dos with separate due dates or an overall due date for the project. Tags in Things makes it easy to assign different categories and “contexts” to your tasks. You can also assign more than one per task which is a nice and powerful touch.

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            Easily add to-dos or projects

            Things also stores your finished to-dos in the Logbook, a chronological list of what you have completed.

            Features

            Things isn’t as featured-laden as OmniFocus, but the features it was are well thought out and useful.

            • Quick add of to-dos via tap of new To-do button on Mac and iOS, or the quick add keyboard combo on Mac.
            • Tasks can be added with a name, due date, tags, notes, and can be made repeating.
            • Projects can be added with a name, due date, tags, and notes.
            • Tags allow you to tag your to-dos and projects in multiple ways so you can view your data in different perspectives. Allows for multiple tag selection on Mac but only one tag on iOS.
              Multiple tag selection
              • Projects can have multiple to-dos associated with them and can have their own due dates.
              • Focus views give you a Today view, Next actions, Scheduled, Someday, and Projects. You can view your tasks that are due or scheduled for a certain day as well as tasks that you may want to do sometime later via Someday.
              • Things Areas are a way to segregate projects and tasks by Areas of your life, or simply by subject. It’s basically another organizational unit outside of projects.
              • Daily Review on Mac and iOS gives you a handy list of tasks that were scheduled to start on the current day. You can then assign them to do today or dismiss them until tomorrow.
                Daily Review on iPhone
                • Extremely fast and reliable sync through Things Cloud. It’s free too.
                • Ability to only see a certain number of tasks for a project in your Next list to help keep you focused.
                See only the to-dos you want
                  • In depth schedule and repeat functions. Can set repeats to almost any daily, weekly, monthly, bi-weekly, yearly, combo that you can think of.
                  • Excellent new scrolling calendar view for adding a due date.
                    Scrolling Calendar

                    Cons

                    Things is so gorgeous that I don’t want to say anything bad about it, but there are some glaring issues.

                    • Inconsistent experience across platforms. Sorting by multiple tags can be done on Mac but not iOS. Adding a Contact to a task can be done on Mac but not iOS. You can’t add repeating to-dos to a project on iOS nor can you convert a to-do to project easily.
                    • Adding projects to a new to-do can be tough when you have a lot of projects because of the lack of smart autocomplete on the project field. You have to choose from a list.
                    • Can only see single to-dos or projects in an Area, not the to-dos that are assigned to a project.
                    • When having multiple projects (25 or more) Things starts to get cluttered under Active Projects. Areas help, but Folders would be more appropriate.
                    • Lack of communication amongst Cultured Code and their customers.

                    Conclusion

                    First things first. Things 2.0 and OmniFocus are both terrific apps that are out there helping people get things done every day, even as you read this. Things has been behind in the last couple of years and with the addition of its stellar Cloud Sync and new Daily Review it has started to bridge the gap in features, but is still behind OmniFocus.

                    Sure, OmniFocus is a very complicated and sometimes difficult app to use, but it has all the features that Things has (aside from some implementation details) and is constantly and consistently being updated which is a killer feature in and of itself. Things 2.0 is good now, but The Omni Group is working on OmniFocus 2.0 and it will assuredly add new features that Culture Code will be behind in once again.

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                    So, the winner?

                    While I would say that I recommend Things for the “novice” GTD and productivity user out there, it wouldn’t make sense to recommend a product on shear ease of use and attractiveness. Things is definitely nice looking and feels light and bubbly to use, but after a new user gets passed the initial phase of getting used to OmniFocus they will find those extra features extremely useful and eventually require them in their workflow.

                    I highly recommend taking the time and energy to learn something a little more complicated that will be useful in more situations and for a longer time. Despite the great improvements to Things 2.0, OmniFocus is still the pick if you want to be king of your productivity.

                    More by this author

                    CM Smith

                    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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                    Last Updated on March 21, 2019

                    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                    Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

                    You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

                    But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

                    To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

                    It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

                    “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

                    The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

                    In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

                    Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

                    1. Start Small

                    The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

                    Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

                    Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

                    Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

                    Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

                    Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

                    It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

                    Do less today to do more in a year.

                    2. Stay Small

                    There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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                    But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

                    If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

                    When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

                    I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

                    Why?

                    Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

                    The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

                    Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

                    3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

                    No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

                    There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

                    What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

                    Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

                    This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

                    This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

                    4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

                    When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

                    There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

                    Peter Drucker said,

                    “What you track is what you do.”

                    So track it to do it — it really helps.

                    But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

                    5. Measure Once, Do Twice

                    Peter Drucker also said,

                    “What you measure is what you improve.”

                    So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

                    For reading, it’s 20 pages.
                    For writing, it’s 500 words.
                    For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
                    For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

                    Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

                    6. All Days Make a Difference

                    Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

                    Will two? They won’t.

                    Will three? They won’t.

                    Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

                    What happened? Which one made you fit?

                    The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

                    No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

                    7. They Are Never Fully Automated

                    Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

                    But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

                    What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

                    It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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                    The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

                    It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

                    It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

                    8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

                    Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

                    Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

                    When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

                    The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

                    Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

                    9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

                    The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

                    Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

                    You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

                    But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

                    So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

                    If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

                    This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

                    The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

                    Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

                    10. Punish Yourself

                    Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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                    I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

                    It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

                    You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

                    No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

                    The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

                    But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

                    11. Reward Yourself

                    When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

                    Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

                    The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

                    After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

                    If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

                    Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

                    If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

                    In the End, It Matters

                    What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

                    When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

                    And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

                    “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

                    Keep going.

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                    More Resources to Help You Build Habits

                    Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

                    Reference

                    [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
                    [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
                    [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
                    [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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