Turn Everything Into Something With OmniFocus

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

Over the years I’ve had far too many email accounts; all doubled as to-do lists. I had an inbox on my desk (that acted as a to-do list too). I had the blinking red light on my office phone, which, yep you guessed it, that served as a to-do list. I had my desk itself, which grew more and more cluttered with papers and projects. I had the desktop of my computer which was littered with files and folders. All of it added a tremendous amount of stress and disorganization to my already disorganized and stressful world. Just about every last one of these spaces was a dead end: the email accounts were overloaded, the inbox overflowing, the red light ever blinking, the desk piled high and the desktop a mess. It was driving me crazy and it had to stop.

About a year ago, I decided to seek out a task list that could begin to pull all of these disparate threads of my life together. At the time, there were two applications that stuck out above the rest; there was Things, a focused app with a great UI and what turned out to be a terrible data syncing solution and OmniFocus, a powerhouse application that is the clear favorite of most web geeks. I tried both out and couldn’t quite get my head around OmniFocus. It was too much and the learning curve was too steep for my needs, or so I thought.

I set out with Things and quickly fell in love with the ease of adding items into it. Things allows you to create tasks using one of two pop-up boxes that can be triggered at any time the application is open by a keyboard shortcut. One that offers up an empty box and another that automatically adds highlighted text, selected files or a link back to a specific email into tasks the notes field. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, Things did not have a great syncing solution1 and I would often lose data between my work and home computers. This caused me to trust the system less. It also bit me in the ass a few times. I decided to give OmniFocus another look.

Thankfully, right around this time the ever-amazing David Sparks came out with a series of three videos that I now consider to be standard for starting to use OmniFocus. This series goes from the basics to the geeky and shows you from a user’s perspective how to make the most out of the app. I made the switch and I never looked back. Their cloud sync is flawless, their apps are far more powerful (especially for when you want to review all of your upcoming work) and the clipper offered some sanity-inducing options like the ability to add several tasks at once. I just didn’t get that from Things.

Now, rather than jotting things down on paper, calls, reminders, and minor tasks all go into the app. Emails that require follow up at a later date go into OmniFocus with a link that takes me directly back into the email for reply. I scan documents that require follow up into Evernote and create a task along with a link back to that note in OmniFocus2. I put files in their proper place and create a task with a link to the required files.There was instantly less crap all over my desk, less email in my inbox, no perpetual blinking lights, a less cluttered desk and an organized desktop on both of my computers. Everything in my life that requires further action has became a checkbox inside a single, well organized, home inside of OmniFocus.

Come back tomorrow or subscribe for free by RSS or email as I walk you through some of the best ways that I’ve found for quickly creating tasks from various type of media in OmniFocus.

To learn more, subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future Techie Scheky posts from A Better Mess.


  1. They now offer one, but it’s been in perpetual beta.  

  2. Although to be honest, this isn’t as seamless as I’d like it to be.  

15 Responses to Turn Everything Into Something With OmniFocus

  1. Sounds right up my alley. Right now I’m at a cross between Reminders in ipad and Evernote. Not quite doing it for me, as I still have tabs that get pinned and emails that stay in the inbox as reminders, as well as multiple to-do lists in the Reminders app.

    • I like reminders for little things (although I prefer Due), but I couldn’t imagine running my life with it. I’m sure there are things less powerful than OmniFocus that would work, but overall my life is far more organized and my desk cleaner because of it.

  2. Almost exactly my trajectory. I had the OmniFocus beta, but never quite got my head around it. I liked the Things UI, and used that for a while, but never as a trusted repository. There’s something about David Sparks’ videos that makes OmniFocus seem so doable. Light bulb! Eureka! Now I’m going on three months using OF on Mac, iPhone and iPad. With the iPad app, I am no longer daunted by the words “weekly review”–it’s more like a game. 

    • It scared me away until I saw those videos. He has a way with making the terrifying seem easy, that David Sparks. Buying him drinks a few drinks for those videos is up there on my Someday list, right there with buying the Smile team a few for making my life easy/possible. 41.4 hours saved and counting!

      As for the iPad, you’re so right. I’m still not great at the review, but I’m doing it far more often because of that app. Capture on the iPhone is pretty darn impressive as well, especially when you add this one-click-to-capture trick: http://simplicityisbliss.com/post/16304645544/quick-entry-for-omnifocus-on-ipad-iphone

  3. […] of comparison (read: bickering) between Mike’s task manager of choice Asana and my beloved OmniFocus. We also talk a fair amount about how to get started and why we believe that any level of task […]

Leave a reply