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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

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                    Published on January 16, 2019

                    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                    We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

                    You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

                    You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

                    That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

                    Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

                    1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

                    Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

                    We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

                    To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

                    At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

                    The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

                    2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

                    Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

                    The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

                    In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

                    It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

                    It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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                    So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

                    • Are you a great strategist?
                    • Are you an effective planner?
                    • Is Project Management your strength?
                    • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
                    • Are you the ideas person?
                    • Is Implementation your strength?

                    Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

                    3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

                    One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

                    Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

                    Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

                    Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

                    4. Take Time for Planning

                    “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

                    One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

                    You can take the time to think about:

                    • What’s the purpose of the project?
                    • How Important is it?
                    • When does it need to be delivered by?
                    • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
                    • What are the KPIs?
                    • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
                    • Who is working on this project?
                    • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
                    • What tolerances can I add in?
                    • What are the review stages?
                    • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

                    Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

                    5. Focus on Priorities

                    Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

                    Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

                    One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

                    1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
                    2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
                    3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
                    4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

                    James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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                      The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

                      If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

                      If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

                      6. Take Time Out

                      To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

                      If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

                      Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

                      In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

                      Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

                      7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

                      Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

                      I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

                      Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

                      If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

                      8. Stop Multitasking

                      Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

                      So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

                      When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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                      If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

                      9. Work in Blocks of Time

                      To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

                      I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

                      Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

                      Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

                      Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

                      Then take another 10-minute break.

                      Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

                      By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

                      10. Get Rid of Distractions

                      Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

                      “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

                      Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

                      If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

                      11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

                      You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

                      Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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                      Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

                      12. Take a Time Audit

                      Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

                      Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

                      You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

                      Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

                      Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

                      At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

                      If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

                      13. Protect Your Confidence

                      It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

                      When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

                      Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

                      When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

                      Final Words

                      A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

                      The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

                      If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

                      Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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