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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 February 17, 2021

                    50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

                    50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

                    If you feel like you don’t have enough time to do everything you want to do, maybe it’s time to check-in with your time management skills.

                    No one is born to be very good at time management, so that’s okay if you think you’re bad in it. But everyone can learn to boost their productivity and achieve more!

                    Here are 50 ways to increase productivity and add hours to your day.

                    1. Set a Timer

                    Estimate the time you need to tackle different tasks and set a timer for each of your tasks. How you go about this is up to you as there are many different ways. There is the Pomodoro technique where you focus on a task for 25 minutes followed by a five minute break afterwards.

                    In the event that you have a task that will take much longer than that, you can consider one of the many timer-based apps. One that comes to mind is Clockify. It’s used for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike, however it’s a good way to be setting yourself a timer. It provides reports and you can serve as a project manager of sorts too. Best of all, it’s free.

                    2. Eliminate All Distractions

                    Distractions include the phone, email notifications and having multiple web browsers open on the desktop. Just as it’s important to be organized offline, it’s key to have things organized online as well. This free guide End Distractions And Find Your Focus is a good tool to help you. With this guide, you’ll learn how to get rid of distractions and boost productivity. Grab your free guide here.

                    You can also learn more on how to get rid of all distractions in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

                    3. Listen to Music That Boosts Productivity

                    Distractions should be avoided, but sometimes a bit of music in the background can help you focus.

                    Of course, it doesn’t need to be heavy rock music, but a bit of Beethoven may do you some good.

                    Here’s a complete guide to help you pick the right music for better productivity: How To Maximize Your Productivity With Music: A Complete Guide

                    4. Find Meaning in What You Do (And Love What You Do)

                    Enjoying what you do is the ultimate way to increase your productivity.

                    If you aren’t sure what you love doing yet, don’t worry. Leo Babauta has some unique ways to help you: How to Find Your Passion

                    5. Prioritize your tasks ahead of time.

                    By listing your tasks in order of importance, you can make sure that you finish all of your most important tasks during the day.

                    Learn a unique technique to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster.

                    6. Batch Similar Tasks into a Single Batch.

                    Tasks like blog writing, phone calls, email and errands can be grouped into a single batch. You will save time by completing similar tasks in one session. One way to help you with organizing all of those things is through the app Todoist. It’s an easy and simple way for you to plan out your day, set reminders, and group all of your most important tasks in a convenient spot.

                    7. Complete Your Most Dreaded Tasks First Thing in the Morning.

                    Whichever activity you are dreading the most is probably the one you need to complete first thing in the morning.

                    Many people tend to check emails in the morning because after checking a list of emails, they feel fulfilled. But that’s just an illusion of having achieved more.

                    Doing simple tasks like checking emails first in the morning is bad for you. Instead, do the difficult tasks because you have more energy in the morning to tackle them!

                    8. Reward Yourself for Finishing a Big Task

                    To stay motivated for whatever you do, reward yourself every now and then.

                    Keep track of your small wins and milestones and celebrate them. So whenever you struggle about your progress, you see how far you’ve come!

                    Find out more about this 2-Step Approach to Self-Motivation: Track Small Wins and Reward Yourself.

                    9. Don’t Multitask

                    Research has shown that multitasking is not productive. If you think you can multitask, think again.

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                    For optimum productivity, focus on one thing at a time.

                    10. Step Away from the Computer

                    The Internet has become one of the number one distraction. To increase your productivity, try to do as much of your work offline as possible.

                    I do this a lot when I try to brainstom new ideas and have found it to be very beneficial to simply unplug.

                    11. Use Focus Tools

                    Make good use of apps and technology to help you remove distractions.

                    Here’re 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools to help you stay focused. This way, you’re not distracted by the web, e-mail, or IM.

                    Also, join the free Fast-Track Class – Overcoming Distraction, and you’ll learn the one simple method to work even when you’re surrounded by distractions. Join the free session now!

                    12. Just Start

                    Often times, starting is the hardest part. People tend to wait for the perfect time with perfect condition to start. But there’s no perfect condition.

                    Once you get going, you will quickly get into a rhythm that could last for hours.

                    13. Find out Your Productive Hours

                    Everyone has a certain time of the day in which they are more productive than others. For me, it’s the morning.

                    Find out when your prime time is for productivity and optimize your work schedule accordingly.

                    14. Keep a Notebook and Pen on Hand at All Times

                    This way, you can write down your thoughts, to-dos and ideas at any time. The key is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Your subconscious mind won’t be reminding you about it every other second. Another consideration is getting the app Evernote. Not only does this save you on ink and paper, Evernote is a convenient place for you to jot down notes and thoughts and then share them with the team. In certain circumstances, this can prove useful if you’re the type of person that has a lot of ideas that you want to share.

                    15. Write a Blog to Chronicle Your Own Personal Development and Achievements

                    The blog keeps you accountable and always working towards self improvement and personal growth.

                    When you write down all the small achievements you’ve been having, you’re also more motivated to move forward.

                    And you know what, this is how I started Lifehack too! What also helped me in starting Lifehack is WordPress, which allows people to set up a website for free. WordPress has simplified a lot of the process of building a site to the point that virtually anyone can build a website now.

                    16. Write out a To-Do-List Each Day

                    I like to plan my day the night before. This way, I can get started on my most important tasks as soon as I wake up. The Full Life Planner is a nice tool to help you organize your days and get things that matter done. Check out the planner here and start to plan your day ahead easily!

                    Make sure you don’t make any of these common to-do-list mistakes!

                    17. Write Your Most Important Tasks and To-Dos on a Calendar.

                    The key to good time management is knowing where to be and what to be doing there at any given time. Effective calendar management goes hand in hand with good task list management.

                    Learn here How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space.

                    18. Reflect on Your Productivity Constantly

                    As you go throughout your day, repeatedly ask yourself:

                    “Am I currently making the best possible use of my time?”

                    This one simple question can be an excellent boost to your productivity.

                    19. Get up Early Before Anyone Else

                    I know it could be difficult for some to wake up early in the morning but nothing beats a quiet house!

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                    Here’s How to Start Your Day at 5:00 AM and some Simple Things Early Risers Do to make waking up early easier.

                    20. Get Plenty of Sleep

                    When you work online, sleep can become a long lost memory. However, it’s important to get plenty of sleep so that your working hours can be as productive as possible.

                    Try out this night routine which I highly recommend for productivity: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

                    21. Exercise

                    Research has shown that midday exercise boosts productivity and morale in the workplace.

                    Take a short walk at lunch or do some simple stretches during your break to maximize your productivity.

                    Here I have some exercises recommendations for you:

                    22. Outsource as Much as Possible

                    If you want to achieve more in less time, learn to delegate or outsource work. Here are just a few of the companies that will help you outsource your everyday tasks:

                    Also, read this guide to learn how to delegate effectively: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

                    23. Set Some Exciting Goals

                    Without worthy goals, you will never be motivated to get things done.

                    Set goals that are challenging and achievable. The best goal setting framework is a SMART goal. That said, there are other tools that can help you out as well. For example, The Dreamers’ Guide To Reaching Your Goal is a great guide to help you set and reach goals effectively. Grab your free guide and learn how to make your goals happen this year!

                    24. Tell Other People About Your Goals

                    When you tell others about your goals, you will instantly be held accountable.

                    25. Listen to Podcasts

                    Listen to educational podcasts or audio books while you’re driving to work, cleaning the house, exercising, or cooking dinner.

                    Audio learning has the power to add hours to your day. Not to mention, your cranium is sure to thank you for it.

                    Some recommendations for you: 11 Podcasts To Inspire Yourself

                    26. Read David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done

                    This is one of the most important productivity books you will ever read. Read it, apply the tips in your daily lives and get more things done.

                    Here’re more great books about productivity too: 35 Books on Productivity and Organizational Skills for an Effective Life

                    27. Learn to Speed Read

                    When you can read faster, you will read and learn more! Check out these 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed.

                    You can also make use of the app OutRead to help speed up your reading speed!

                    28. Learn to Skip When You Read

                    When you’re reading a book, just read the parts that you need and skip the rest. But you have to read with a purpose.

                    Learn how to make it work here: How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

                    29. Focus on Result-Oriented Activities

                    Pareto’s law (also known as the 80 20 rule) states that 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. This means that 20% of our actions result in 80% of the results.

                    We must find the 20% that is creating the 80% of our desired outcomes and focus solely on those activities.

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                    30. Take a Break

                    You can’t always be working at optimum productivity. Instead, you should shoot for working in short bursts at your most productive times.

                    31. Start a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

                    What is polyphasic sleep?

                    Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern specification intended to compress sleep time to 2-5 hours daily.[1] This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short (around 20-45 minute) naps throughout the day. This allows for more waking hours with relatively high alertness.

                    While you can learn more about it here, you’re recommended to take some naps during the day to recharge your energy too.

                    32. Learn to Say “No”.

                    We can’t do everything and therefore we must learn when to say no in order to save our sanity.

                    Learn the Gentle Art of Saying No from Leo Babauta.

                    33. Go on an Information Diet

                    Most of the world lives on information overload. We must eliminate mindless Internet surfing.

                    Stop reading three different newspapers a day and checking your RSS feeds multiple times a day. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything done.

                    The key is to limit yourself only to information that you can immediately take action on. Here’re some simple tips you can try: 10 Simple Productivity Tricks To Manage Overloaded Information

                    34. Organize Your Office

                    The piles of paper around your desk can be a huge barrier on your productivity. Optimize your time by organizing your office, setting up a system and dumping the junk.

                    Check out these 21 Tips to Organize Your Office and Get More Done and 20 Easy Home Office Organization Ideas to Boost Your Productivity.

                    35. Find a Mentor

                    By modeling after those who have already achieved success, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy.

                    A good mentor is hard to find, so here’s a guide to help you: What to Look for in a Mentor

                    36. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

                    With technology’s help, you can double your work efficiency. Even better, you learn all the shortcuts when using technology, for example keyboard shortcuts.

                    When you use keyboard shortcut, you gain 64 hours every year!

                    Not sure what shortcuts to lear? Check out these 22 Tricks That Can Make Anyone A Keyboard Ninja.

                    Besides learning the shortcuts, you can also create keyboard shortcuts with AutoHotKey.

                    37. Improve Your Typing Speed to Save Time

                    Do you know you can save 21 days per year just by typing fast?

                    You don’t really need to take some serious courses to type faster, try these typing games online:

                    38. Work from Home and Avoid the Daily Commute

                    If your job is a flexible one, consider working from home. This saves you the commute time and you’ll find yourself more energetic throughout the day as you have saved the long ride.

                    Take a look at these tips to help you stay productive while working from home:

                    How to Work from Home and Stay Ultra-Productive

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                    39. Get Rid of Time Wasters

                    Common time wasters include Instant Messenger, video games, Flickr, checking your stats 10 times a day, television and extraneous Internet surfing.

                    Don’t rely on your willpower, make use of some of these useful tools to help you stay focus: 10 Online Apps for Better Focus

                    40. Plan Your Meals in Advance

                    Plan out all of your meals a week ahead and make your grocery list accordingly. This allows you to focus on the necessary – saving you time and money. You can also save yourself even more time through a wide variety of apps. One app that I find helpful is Mealime. It’s an app that provides you with a wide selection of recipes and also a convenient spot for your grocery list as well.

                    Considering the fact that over 4 million users have this app, it goes to show that there is a good selection of meal plans that you can follow and that the app is friendly to use.

                    41. Cook Your Meals in Bulk

                    When you cook your meals in bulk, you will have plenty of leftovers. This can avoid having to cook everyday.

                    Find out more about how to make cooking in bulk works: Once a Month Cooking: Productivity Hack or Overrated Time Suck?

                    42. Protect Yourself from Unnecessary Phone Time with Caller ID

                    The minutes you spend on picking up unnecessary phone calls are time wasted. You can prevent that from happening.

                    Check out this detailed guide how you can deal with those unnecessary phone calls: How To Lose the Useless Items that Weigh Down Your Day – Cellphone Calls

                    43. Take Shorter Showers

                    This one may sound silly but it’s actually something I struggle with. I spend up to 30 minutes in the shower. Think of the time I could save simply by speeding up a bit.

                    44. Save the Trips to Bank by Taking Direct Deposit

                    Many employers now offer direct deposit. If yours does, then be sure and take advantage of it and save yourself from a number of trips to the bank.

                    45. Auto Pay Your Bills

                    How many times have you been worried about whether you missed the bills deadline?

                    Auto paying your bills will save you time and eliminate late fees and increased interest rates.

                    46. Shop Online

                    Whenever possible, avoid going to the store. When you shop online, you can be more focus about what you’re getting.

                    47. Speed up your Internet With a Broadband Connection

                    Many people are aware of the slow speed of internet but aren’t doing anything about it. In fact, this is the number one Internet time-saver!

                    If you must use dial-up, then you can use accelerators like Propel and SlipStream to double or even triple your speed.

                    48. Keep up the Speed of Your Computer

                    If you’re a Windows user, use Windows hibernation feature to avoid the slowdown of exiting and restarting Windows.

                    Or maybe, consider switching to Mac as there’re plenty of Advantages You Probably Don’t Know About Switching To Mac From PC.

                    49. Turn off the TV

                    The average American watches more than 4 hours of television every day. Over a 65-year life, that’s 9 years glued to the tube.

                    For better health and productivity, turn off the TV. Here’re 11 more reasons to tell you to stop watching TV so often.

                    Turn off the TV and you are sure to get more out of life.

                    50. Use a Tivo or DVR

                    This can help you cut an hour-long television show down to just 40 minutes. You can save time while not missing the fun.

                    So, here’s the ultimate list of techniques you should learn to boost productivity. Pick the techniques that work for you and make them your daily habits. As time goes, you’ll find yourself being a lot more productive.

                    More Time Management Tips

                    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

                    Reference

                    [1] Medical News Today: What is biphasic and polyphasic sleep?

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