I’ve been using OmniFocus on OS X since the betas and have never really enjoyed it. I find the UI quirky and am still in awe of how tracking to-do items can become as complicated and unintuitive as the Omni team have made it. As someone else once said about something else, it’s like I step into a 747 cockpit full of all these daunting controls when all I really wanted was a Cessna. But with time, its concepts have sunk in and I’m able to be productive with the sucker. I don’t enjoy using it, but I appreciate it.
But, don’t get me started on the mobile version. For the longest time, you couldn’t actually interact with the iPhone OmniFocus app until >30 seconds after launching it–sometimes not for minutes after launch. Even in the latest version, after a ~5 second start-up delay, I’m sometimes able to enter new to-do items, but only in a special mode where I can’t categorize them. So then I have to remember to go into this special mode out of my normal workflow in the desktop application where I can see them–otherwise, they are lost forever.
Of course, that’s only sometimes. Most of the time after I launch the iPhone version, the UI just sits there completely non-responsive while I watch a spinning circle. I’ve watched the circle spin for minutes with no indication of what’s happening (just last night, in fact). You can re-launch the app, but it’ll out-smart you and re-spin the circle when you go back in.
So it was with no small amount of enthusiasm that I finally tried out OmniFocus’ much sexier competitor: Things. Much has been said by many about how beautiful Things is, how Mac-like, how clueful the designers behind Things are, how lives are being improved dramatically by it, and so forth. I’ve tracked some of the praise for the past year and frankly, found my expectations were really high. “Finally,” I thought, “a to-do program I can enjoy using.”
To my surprise, that turned out not to be the case. While the UI appeals to me much more than OmniFocus, I found the quirks unpalatable. For example, when entering a new project with the keyboard, there are four fields. The third field is the due date. When this field gets focus, it is instantly populated with today’s date. If you wanted to get to the fourth field on the way and just happened to pass through the third field on the way? Tough. You’ve now got to delete the date with the mouse. Hmm…
Then take the “Areas of Responsibility”, something like what other to-do managers call a “context” (but, don’t they advocate tags for contexts?). There is no way to assign to-do items to an area without using the mouse, and areas don’t sync to the iPhone version of Things.
As I explored deeper, I found other bothersome limitations. For example, OmniFocus has a notion of projects with to-do items that can be completed sequentially, in parallel, or that are just catch-alls for items. In Things, projects just contain to-do items. Oh, and in Things items in projects can’t be set to repeat. (The Things developers promise to rectify both of these limitations.) I use both of these features. Duration of a to-do is implemented as a tag? Really?
I need to stop myself; if I continue to compare features, OmniFocus will win over and over again. I knew that heading into Things, but I expected to catch the zen of Things’ fantastic design and use that to overcome the missing features. But in the end, I find I am an OmniFocus kind of guy after all–maybe not to the surprise of those who know me.
This all ties into a meme that I’ve been pondering for a few years. More on that in another post.