I embark on the dangerous mission of changing task management software

For to-do-list software, I’ve been using Things 3 by Cultured Code for most of the past 14 years, but when I started the new job, at first I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue to use Things, so i switched to Todoist, because it’s a pretty good app and it integrates well with Microsoft Outlook.

Two weeks into the new job, I learned I could use Things after all, and I was getting a little frustrated with Todoist in the Mac. It’s not a native Mac app, and it shows. Working with Todoist seems to require more taps and keystrokes than it should, and sometimes menus scroll off the top or bottom of the screen, requiring scrolling to see everything. And Todoist doesn’t support start dates for tasks, which I find important to my workflow.

This gave me an opportunity to start fresh and reevaluate task management software. Going back to Things would be about the same amount of work as just starting with something new. And Things is rigid—it works great if your brain works like Things wants it to, but I was finding it a bit difficult to work with.

Switching to-do apps is dangerous for me! I have wasted a lot of time fiddling with productivity apps. While I usually come back to Things, I’ve also tried OmniFocus, Todoist, the Tasks plugin for Obsidian, TickTick, Workflowy, Remember the Milk, Microsoft To Do, Taskpaper, todo.txt, bullet journaling and probably others I’m forgetting about.

I realized that what I want is something like Todoist but with a nicer Mac app, and with support for start dates.

So I went to Omnifocus. Here are some first impressions:

Pluses:

  • It’s a nice-looking app on the Mac and iPhone.
  • Has start dates, just like I want it
  • Seems surprisingly flexible. In the early days of the app, 15+ years ago, Omnifocus rigidly conformed to David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, but now It seems pretty loose.

Also added to the plus column: Omnifocus is, as far as I can determine, unique among task managers in that it’s very easy to import and export task lists in human-readable format. So if I want to do housecleaning on the task manager—get rid of projects I’m not going to get to anytime soon—without outright deleting the projects, Omnifocus will let me easily do that.

Minuses:

  • Expensive. Mitigated by my already having paid for earlier versions so being eligible for a discount.

Could go either way—maybe a plus, maybe a minus, maybe no big deal:

  • Really wants everything to be a Project. I like using single-actions. Yes, “write article” is technically a dozen or so steps, from thinking about how to start research to proofreading and submitting. But I don’t need to list those steps—at least, not in my to-do app. (Though maybe I should—and there certainly are things I do need to write down for every article, like lists of people I want to email for interviews).
  • Extremely flexible and customizable, leading to a moral hazard to fiddle with Omnifocus when I should be doing other things.
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I posted about it here before, but I too went from Things to OF sometime last year. I am very happy I did.

I have my major groups, finances, home, etc, and the first “Project” in each group is a project labeled Actions. All single actions go there, and it works well for me.

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The best (i.e., my favorite) task management app I’ve ever used by far was Logseq. I’m hoping the database version they’re working on fixes its severe syncing problems so I can go back to it eventually.

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Happy to hear your success with OF. I’ve used OF since its existence and never looked back.

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Similarly, I liked the Tasks plugin for Obsidian, but Obsidian isn’t a great app on the iPhone. I think they’re working on a better mobile version.

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I avoid a dozen or so. I like to limit myself to five steps for a problem that must be solved: define (the problem), collect (the information), propose (an approach), evaluate (the approach), and report (the answer). So … write article becomes

  • define the target (audience + topic)
  • assemble the reference content
  • create a first draft
  • proofread / tidy up the draft
  • submit the article

I find that breaking projects down consistently in this way avoids me getting lost (for a dozen or so reasons) and allows me to celebrate small steps along the way, eg. before becoming disheartened by the immensity of it all.

As a newbie, estimate three years. Knock off perhaps two years from having experience in other task management apps. Let’s say then … you should report back to us in about a year on your tuned workflow improvements using OF. As a motivation … I just put a flagged task to this effect in my OF @Admin-> Social single action list (with a defer date for one year). :wink:


JJW

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For me basic note apps like Apple Notes and even text files are able to do that. I currently use Apple Notes just because it supports attachments and images easier for me for reference only.

Because what matters is how I plan.

I prefer Obsidian for most things (it’s what I’m using now for tasks), but there’s something about Logseq’s block-based approach that works really well for tasks and short-term notes associated with tasks and projects. It’s also excellent for annotating and excerpting PDFs.

I really like the Obsidian mobile app and always have (it’s much better than Logseq’s), but they’re currently working on speeding up the loading time and have a mobile quick capture mode on their roadmap.

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+1 on this method. I have Omnifocus “Work Single Tasks” and “Personal Single Tasks” projects. (wst and pst motor memory)

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That is precisely the kind of project that I don’t need to create. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation just now, I have written and published about 5,000 articles over the course of my career. I know those steps by heart! For me, it would be like making an OF Project when I need to wash dishes:

  • Rinse dishes
  • Heat up water
  • Apply soap to sponge

Now, a project list might be helpful for making a list of specific sources to contact. I had been doing that in my notes app, but perhaps OF would be nicer?

@Synchronicity I have played with Logseq and it is a nice app. I do know many people use it and Obsidian side-by-side.

I do not currently care for the Obsidian mobile app, but I expect that will change. And I do use it sometimes.

Over the past six months or so I’ve been doing more and more on my MacBooks and focusing my mobile use on what mobile is good at. Following the lead of our podcast hosts on that, particularly David.

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Years ago when I started up with OF, I was elated to see I could be super-granular and make every personal and work area a project. Bad idea. I overstuffed the turkey with so many projects and actions that I felt I could never get out of the woods. A year or so later I had a grand purge and started over.

First rule: “project” just means bucket. No one needs a lot of buckets. Second rule: don’t make an action you don’t fully intend to do. Third rule: when real projects come along, I keep the milestones in OF, and all the fussy details in an outliner or even in Notes.

Nowadays, most of my OF actions live in a “Miscellaneous” bucket, or a “Recurring” bucket", and then buckets for the current projects. I don’t use OF for long term planning. I live in the Forecast perspective for the most part. I make sure I do weekly reviews and clean the OF house regularly of cruft. I use the Inbox as a short-term memory and the quick-capture tools OF offers as a way to send things there. All in all, this has made OF my actions tool for many years, despite occasional infidelity with Things or the other cool baubles that come along.

Katie

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With respect to the underlying bluster in your response … I was not stating what you must create. I was illustrating how I avoid creating projects that become a list of a dozen or so steps. By your response, I fear my illustration seems to have gone over your head. My illustration creates a project with five targeted steps based on a problem-solving method. Your reply creates a dozen or more sequential steps in a grunt-work chore list. They are not the same thing.

I suggest that OF is not really designed just to be “nicer” way to create a glorified shopping list with a dozen or so items. Also, this discussion now seems to be going in circles. You raise an outcry about not wanting to create an OF project with a dozen or more chore-list steps but you are (blissfully) wondering whether it would be nice to create an OF project to hold a dozen or so contact list items. ???

Given what I might now better understand about your situation, I suggest that discussions pertaining to such dangers are better carried out in a different forum, e.g. one on GTD or Approaches to Problem Solving or https://www.outlinersoftware.com.


JJW

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I also recently made a new start with OF. I read @Kourosh Dinis book on it and I am currently adapting his ideas to my workflow. A lot of it is not simply about tasks but about making a commitment to consider something. I really like the approach but I am a procrastinator and I don’t have gazillions of little tasks I have to manage so for me it’s more about organizing my time and priorities than about managing complex projects with lots of tasks.

I was also annoyed by OF forcing you to put a task in some project. It seems so inflexible for an app that is otherwise so customizable. But to be honest it is an obstacle that you can get used to pretty fast.

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@MacSparky seems to be working on a new field guide and I‘m looking forward to refining my workflow once that’s out. I am already using it, but I feel I could get rid of some friction when I understand it better. There are some aspects about the interface I don’t get and new perspectives sometimes just won’t show what I want them to.

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Perhaps not your cup of tea if you like OF, but Reminders is pretty capable these days with the added bonus that there are lots of apps that use it as a backend for tasks (Goodtask, Memento come to mind). And combined with Busycal (or Fantastical) you can time block your tasks.

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You can work out of the inbox just fine with flags/tags/due dates. If you want to keep the inbox clear, change cleanup rules to “either a tag or a project” in settings and anything you tag will automatically move to a Miscellaneous project, which you can then rename.

(You can also just create projects and add no tasks with cmd+shift+n and use them as top-level one-off tasks, but entry’s a bit awkward.)

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Whether you want to participate in this discussion or think it appropriate here or not, the fact of the matter is that this sort of thing has been discussed many times on the MPU forum. I suspect that topics like task and project management, Getting Things Done, problem solving, and related Mac and iOS software, will continue to be recurring topics here.

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I look forward to David’s Field Guide on Omnifocus 4

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I’m glad to see Reminders getting a shoutout here, it’s well deserved. I don’t know when it happened because the initial releases of Reminders were not very exciting, in my opinion, but over time, Reminders has really grown into something quite powerful. Sure it doesn’t have all the customizations and views that OF has, but it’s super native, it’s already installed everywhere across Apple devices, and with tags and lists, you can sort tasks in ways that mimic contexts in other apps. Oh, the other really big thing Reminders has going for it is the ability to easily deep link into other apps (e.g.) “remind me to follow up on this tomorrow” can prompt Siri not only to create a reminder, but the reminder will link to the Email or web page I’m currently reading. I think this is the only thing I actually use Siri for on my Mac these days.
The only drawback for me which is preventing me from using Reminders exclusively is that I sometimes need to use Windows machines and I don’t have an easy way to access tasks from there. Sure I could probably do this via iCloud’s web portal, but that can be a pain to get logged into at times. I tend to bounce around between Reminders and Todoist mainly for that reason.

To anyone who might not have given Reminders a look lately, it may be worth checking out as while everyone was looking away, it matured into quite a powerful task management solution.

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While Todoist doesn’t appear to be a native Mac app, I really enjoy it because of the vast keyboard support it offers. There’s hotkeys that make it possible to quickly switch between different views or areas in the app. In addition, they’ve implemented a cmd+k shortcut which combines navigation and search, this makes it incredibly easy way to navigate to different parts of the app, or to specific projects or tags without memorizing a bunch of keyboard shortcuts. Not only that, but the interface and many of the keyboard shortcuts work cross-platform and in their web version. I know they’re also implementing calendar views, (maybe as a precursor to allowing tasks to be time boxed?) but admitedly, the ability to defer a task or to assign a start date are things I miss about OF.

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