Omnifocus for iPad: The Ultimate GTD Tool

My search is finally over. After many years of jumping back and forth between various task management tools, I think I’ve finally found the one that I’m going to stick with. I’ve tried many apps. On the desktop, Things led the pack for a long time, though its lack of over-the-air syncing between iPhone and desktop was a real problem for me, and there were aspects of its design that I never really liked. I also used Remember the Milk for a year or two, but eventually decided I wanted a desktop application.

For the past six months or so I’ve come back to OmniFocus, which I first started using in its original beta period. Though it’s got quite a steep learning curve, I’ve found a lot to love about it. The iPhone app is extremely powerful, syncs in several ways, is location-aware, and does a great job all round. And now the Omni Group has finished the set, recently releasing OmniFocus for iPad. Join us after the jump for a walkthrough of this latest addition to the OmniFocus family.

An Aside on Training and Money

Before we start, I want to let you know about a really great resource. Lynda.com publishes excellent tutorials on a wide range of hardware and software. Their OmniFocus Essential Training is a fantastic introduction to OmniFocus, a carefully guided exploration of its features, starting with basic operations and extending to its most powerful aspects.

Lynda operates on a monthly subscription basis, so you can’t buy individual courses, which is a pity, but signing up for a single month gives you access to their entire library for that time, and if you’ve already paid for OmniFocus, then $25 to learn to use it well is a worthwhile investment.

And while we’re on the subject of money, let’s just say that, yes, buying the entire OmniFocus suite is going to set you back a quite a lot of money: you’re looking at $79.95 for the desktop app, $19.99 for the iPhone, and $39.99 for the iPad, so that’s a total of $139.93.

Search Twitter, and you’ll find quite a few people saying that this cost has convinced them to give up on OmniFocus. I feel exactly the opposite way: now that I’ve paid all this money, I’m sticking around. That’s one reason I feel my search is over.

Now let’s turn to looking at OmniFocus for iPad…

First Things

The first time you run OmniFocus for iPad, you will be asked to choose whether you want to sync or to use the application only on your iPad.

Launching OmniFocus

Launching OmniFocus

If you choose not to sync, you’ll then be presented with a demo project that includes several tasks demonstrating the basic gestures for using the app.

Basic Information

Basic Information

If you have been using the other versions of OmniFocus, then you will want to set up syncing. I have previously synced via Wi-Fi (which presents the same limitations that hamper Things), and via a WebDAV server – both worked quite straightforwardly, especially if you choose to have the desktop app share its settings.

Setting up Syncing

Setting up Syncing

This time around, I’ve chosen to use MobileMe syncing, and this was extremely simple to set up – as ever, for all its issues, MobileMe does tend to be the simplest solution in a wide range of situations. Within a few seconds, everything was downloaded and synced, and I was ready to go.

Interface

OmniFocus for iPad’s window is split into two sections: the left-hand sidebar lets you navigate through various ways of viewing or interacting with your tasks, while the bulk of the display is taken up with the tasks themselves.

All the following screenshots are in Landscape orientation, but it’s worth saying that Portrait mode is useful for focusing more single-pointedly on your lists, without the distraction of the sidebar.

Landscape Orientation

Landscape Orientation

Entering tasks is quick and easy – just tap that nice big ‘pen and paper’ icon and up pops a ‘New Item’ entry box. You’ll notice from the screenshot that this box has four tabs, which let you enter the basic information for the task – its Context and Project – and then further information, such as a due date, any notes, and attachments.

Due and starting dates are nicely handled, so that it’s easy to set something as due the next day, week, or month with a single tap, and for more granular control you can use iOS’s familiar date and time scrolling interface.

Adding a New Task

Adding a New Task

Following established GTD methodology, OmniFocus helps you to see what you need to do in terms of Projects – so in the screenshot above, you’ll see I’ve focused on my current writing commitments. Changing to Context view, my list is filtered in terms of where I need to be in order to do specific things:

Contexts

Contexts

Closely linked to this is the Map section, which is handy if you’re in the habit of associating tasks with specific locations.

Map View

Map View

I’m not going to say much about a few of the other buttons on the sidebar; rather, I want to focus on two great new features. In brief then, ‘Flagged’ lets you focus in on items that you’ve previously flagged – I don’t use flags at the moment, but if you do, this is a nice way of quickly seeing everything you’ve marked in this way.

And Perspectives, as well as giving you access to the built-in ‘Contexts’, ‘Due’, and ‘Flagged’ perspectives, also lets you use any custom ones that you’ve set up in the desktop app, which are synced across to the iPad.

Forecast and Review

These are two of the best new features in OmniFocus for iPad. Forecast lets you quickly see what tasks you have due in the coming week, as well as showing up any that are overdue or coming up beyond the next week.

Forecast

Forecast

This is a basic linear calendar; tapping on any date in the top bar shows tasks due that day. It’s a simple implementation, but very effective, giving a quick overview and forecast, so that you can see in a few moments what you have to get done in the next while.

The Review feature might just get me to do the one part of the GTD methodology that I (and many others) tend to stumble over, even though I know – and David Allen has emphasised – it’s the fundamental step in keeping on top of things.

Review

Review

When a project is up for review – you can set the interval by tapping in the bottom row, or you can choose to review any project at any time by tapping and holding its title bar – you get to be realistic about what’s going on. Are you really going to be able to finish that task by Wednesday? Did James get back to you on collecting those figures you delegated to him?

And in my case, is there much point in leaving several undone items lingering under old deadlines I failed to meet – isn’t it better just to review and set a new, more realistic deadline? When you’re done, you just tap on ‘Mark Reviewed’, and a tick will appear alongside the Project title in the sidebar, and you’re done.

In Conclusion

There is so much more to say about OmniFocus for iPad. This is a great app – it raises the bar for iOS applications, in terms of power and in interface design. Where OmniFocus for iPhone was a good satellite and adjunct to the desktop app, OmniFocus for iPad feels much more like a full flown application in its own right.

It improves on several aspects of the desktop version, and I’m hoping that some of its new features will find their way back to the desktop. I could quite easily see myself no longer using the Mac application, but instead relying on the combination of iPhone and iPad versions.

Of all the various GTD applications on the market, OmniFocus is the one that David Allen’s company gives the clearest endorsement. Have a read of the Omni Group’s White Paper, OmniFocus, GTD, and You for a good exploration of how the app can help you implement the methodology.

If you’re just setting out on using GTD, OmniFocus might seem a little overwhelming, but if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool GTDer, once you’ve had a good play around and become familiar with the app – whether on iPad or desktop – I think you’ll find it’s pretty hard to beat.


Summary

OmniFocus for iPad combines the in-depth task management functionality of our desktop app with the advanced mobile experience of the iPad. It's got everything you'd expect—easy capture, fast organization, powerful location-aware task display—plus some exciting new features that make OmniFocus even more useful.

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  • Tom

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Iv gone back and forth between countless Apps (including the ones mentioned) over the last couple of years and have to agree Omnifocus truly is the king of GTD apps.

    May not be the cheapest solution but the investment is most definitely worth it.

  • http://Bradendouglass.com Braden

    Does anyone know if you can wifi sync the two mobile versions without the desktop version running? Also, I believe you placed the iPhone pricing instead of the iPad at the need of the review.

  • Rowan

    Yes, you can sync without the desktop version.

  • http://Www.omnigroup.com Brian

    Braden, all three editions of OmniFocus can sync to an iDisk or other similar service (including our Omni Sync Server – omnigroup.com/sync) in any combination – Mac is not required. Giving folks that go iOS-only sync options was important to us.

  • David Anderson

    Seriously guys, I’ve said it before, but you really need to look up the definition of the word “ultimate”.

  • http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ultimate Dak Splunder

    @David Anderson

    I’ve seen you post this before, not sure what your problem is. According Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (http://m-w.com), they are using definition 1d:

    Main Entry: ul·ti·mate
    Pronunciation: \ˈəl-tə-mət\
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Medieval Latin ultimatus last, final, from Late Latin, past participle of ultimare to come to an end, be last, from Latin ultimus farthest, last, final, superl. of Latin *ulter situated beyond
    Date: 1640

    1 a : most remote in space or time : farthest b : last in a progression or series : final c : eventual 2 d : the best or most extreme of its kind : utmost
    2 : arrived at as the last result
    3 a : basic, fundamental b : original 1 c : incapable of further analysis, division, or separation
    synonyms see last

    — ul·ti·mate·ness noun

  • AW

    I have to agree with the author on this. I’ve spent a ton on all varieties of task management apps and I have to say, OmniFocus really is the one that I will settle with. It may not be as pretty as some of the others out there, and it is not perfect. But, somehow the way they implemented the system and the “flow” of things makes this a very intuitive app/application suite for iPhone/iPad and Mac. You can even add a web front to it via spootnik.net add-on service to really complete the entire loop if you so desire. With Spootnik, it hooks up with Basecamp even!

    Although Things is prettier, and apparently simpler, I couldn’t do as much with it than with OmniFocus. I am using it more than just a task list – it has become a “data collector” for me. It is so easy to send snippets of info with right-click on the desktop to OmniFocus, and set a reminder for action and it gets synced to my iPhone and iPad for follow up. The same goes with a script to send emails from Entourage to OmniFocus for action. I am also using it to capture snippets of stuff that I need referring to, and it works faster than Evernote for simple captures. And sending pictures, although isn’t a daily thing I do, it helps to know that I can add a visual note.

    The only thing that is lacking for me (but being looked into as claimed by their support ninjas) is sending a task or group of tasks via email to another person. It is supported in the iPad version but you can only send individual task. A laborious affair if you have more than one task to delegate to.

    Otherwise, it has been pretty stable, no nonsense, pretty flexible and friendly do-it almost all app.

  • Dutch

    I really like the app ’2Do’. This app beats all the other apps. At the moment it’s just an iPhone app and they are working on an iPad version that will have a different look. Really looking forward to the release.

  • Mark

    Check out Nubi Do. I recently stumbled upon this iPhone app and in my opinion is better than OmniFocus and Things (both of which I’ve used in the past). The workflow in Nubi Do just seems to suit me better and it has a great look and feel.

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  • http://www.davidmedina.com David Medina

    I just bought Omnibus for iPad based on this review. I must say that not only the review is totally correct but that Omnifocus for iPad rocks!

    First, let me say I am no expert on GTD. I used Things on my MAC for a while and then switched to Taska for the iPhone and ipad. They are both well designed and simple and straightforward to use. I really enjoyed using Taska because its simplicity and straight forward implementation of GTD. If you want a simple and straightforward application of GTD you can go wrong with either one. But, unless you need a desktop implementation I like Taska better.

    And that is why I went looking for an alternative. I need a desktop solution too.

    But because of this review and the recommendation of serious GTD practitioners, I plunged the $49 for Omnifocus. My main concern was: is Omnifocus for iPad worth $44 more than Taska? ARe the difference a big deal?

    After taking the time to learn it and use it, I have to say that it is worth the $4 difference. Omnifocus for iPad it is more powerful and flexible than any GTD iPad app out there. In my opinion, Omnifocus for iPad is better, more powerful and more flexible than Things for the MAC.

    I liked Omnifocus for Ipad and its implementation of GTD so much that I bought the desktop and iPhone app also to complete my GTD ecosystem.

    So, IMHO, if you just need a simple, easy to use GTD, Taska or Things are very good options. But if you are serious or want to be really serious GTD user, I think the best option is Omnifocus. It its powerful and flexible and yet very easy to use.

    It may have a steeper learning curve than either Taska or Thing, but once you watch the tutorial you will ask yourself (I know I did) how I got along without Omnifocus. Like any software, if you want to leverage its power you need to learn it. Once you do, you will really enjoy and maximize your GTD.

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  • susan

    nice one. I’m using ,,Plan” . Great differ from other similar apps is that, it Sync my todos on the go to Cloud.
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/plan/id428005487?mt=8&ls=1

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