OmniFocus for iPhone: The GTD Powerhouse

It’s Productivity Week here at iPhone.AppStorm, and all week we’re going to have app reviews and how-tos, all based on getting things done. Plus, we’ll even pull some classic reviews out of the archives. Stay tuned all week!

By far, the standard by which most GTD systems are measured against is the original book, Getting Things Done by David Allen. Not only did Allen outline how exactly to get your life on track, but he also sparked a revolution, and many of the apps mentioned this week follow that very system. OmniFocus for iPhone is one of those apps.

There are varying levels of GTD apps, from the very basic to the hardcore, and OmniFocus for iPhone falls into the latter category. Sure, you could buy another GTD app, but if you want one that really goes above and beyond, you should look at OmniFocus. In fact, why don’t you read more about it after the break.

Intro to GTD

Although we could dedicate a series of posts to the GTD system in itself, that would take a bit too long to cover, so let’s gloss over the basics. The David Allen GTD system uses a flowchart to determine how your particular task should be broken down and completed. Once you know that you need to perform the task yourself (as opposed to delegating it or doing it right away using the 2-minute rule), then you assign a project and a context to the task.

Now this sounds complex, but once you start using it, the system flows into your life pretty easily. In fact, OmniFocus has provided a handy flowchart on their website to show how it works (PDF link). If you’ve ever considered buying OmniFocus, then you should go read that pamphlet now.

How OmniFocus Uses GTD

OmniFocus is a pretty literal translation of the GTD system. There’s your Inbox, where all of your thoughts go before you have time to process them. There are folders for Projects and Contexts too, and of course you can assign times to the various items on your list as well. And that’s all standard fare for many GTD apps, but where OmniFocus shines is in its ability to go above and beyond the basics.

View your tasks as well as a weekly forecast.

View your tasks as well as a weekly forecast.

First, there’s the Forecast feature which is at the top of your daily task list. This gives you a view of how many tasks you have setup for the future, so you can plan accordingly. The result is always being one step ahead, which makes you more productive in the process. Say you know your Thursday is going to be a disaster — just plan ahead and knock off some of those other jobs early. No sweat.

Forecast view and calendar in one.

Forecast view and calendar in one.

The next feature I found completely by accident. At the bottom of your daily task list is a listing of calendar events, as well as a bar to show how long each appointment is scheduled to last. If you’re the type of person who uses a task list in conjunction with a calendar (like I do), then this will absolutely change your world. Now you can perform tasks around your other scheduled chores, and the visual representation of each appointment even shows you what blocks of time you have available or not.

Deep Functionality

There are lots of other functions involved with OmniFocus, such as the usual GTD features: Contexts, Projects, etc. But other nice options with the iPhone version include Maps and Locations.

Contexts, Projects, it's all there.

Contexts, Projects, it's all there.

If you’re out an about and you want to add a location to a task, you can do so with the built-in GPS in the iPhone. Once you hit the Map button on the home screen, you can drop a purple pin on either your current location, or another spot on the map if you prefer. Then you assign that pin to a specific context, and voila, you’ve got location-based tasks. Now you can flip through the map and see what tasks you have based on location, which is handy if you need to plan a trip or just want to know what you have to do when you arrive.

Tag a location with a specific context.

Tag a location with a specific context.

The OmniFocus System

The best part about OmniFocus for me though, is the ecosystem that The Omni Group has developed for the product. Along with OmniFocus for iPhone, there’s also an iPad and Mac version. Now none of that would mean anything if the apps couldn’t talk to each other, and fortunately, they can.

Multiple syncing options make operating between devices easy.

Multiple syncing options make operating between devices easy.

Syncing is usually a pain to do, but there are four options with OmniFocus: via MobileMe, with your Mac via Wi-Fi, on the Omni Sync Server (which is in Beta) or with a custom WebDAV server. Even better, you can have OmniFocus email its settings to your Mac or iPad, or have your Mac transmit its settings to the iPhone. In either case, making sure your devices are on the same page is a snap, and very easy to use.

Summary

On a personal note, I tried many different GTD apps before I finally settled on OmniFocus, and even though everyone told me that OmniFocus was the best way to go, the price scared me off. $20 is a lot of money for a gamble, and if you decide to completely get into the system and purchase the iPad and Mac versions, you’re going to spend a pretty penny.

But now that the money is spent, there’s no turning back. OmniFocus has everything I’m looking for and more in an app, and they keep improving on the ecosystem. For example, Forecast view was previously only available on the iPad version, and now it’s on the iPhone and coming soon to the Mac. For me, it’s become one of the apps that I just don’t want to live without.

So would I recommend it to you, the reader? Definitely. Just know that this is a GTD app on steroids, so there is a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never been introduced to the system. But if you are familiar with how things work, then don’t be scared to spend that $20. Trust me, it’s well worth it.

 


Summary

The ultimate task manager and GTD tool for your iPhone.

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