The choice between Omnifocus and Things has been a matter of discussion in the mac community for a number of years now. Each of these two task management apps has its proponents and detractors. For some, Things embodies elegance and Omnifocus complexity. However, users who have used both often keep shuttling back and forth, seemingly unable to choose between the two. When using Things they miss the hierarchy of subtasks and subfolders available in Omnifocus. After switching back to Omnifocus, they miss the simplicity of Things and the ability to attach multiple tags to a task. They find being restricted to using a single context in Omnifocus frustrating as it means, for example, that allocating a ‘waiting for’ context to a task means that the original context has to be removed first and possibly reinstated later. In Things you just add a ‘waiting for’ tag alongside your original tag(s). But what a pity tasks cannot be indented…
The recent release of Things 2 for Mac, iPad and iPhone makes it worth revisiting this discussion. Things 2 introduces a number of significant improvements, including cloud synching, a daily review system, improved date picking on the iPad and integration with Reminders and Siri. These new features are described clearly on the Things website; my aim in this post is to compare the current functionality and the respective strengths of Omnifocus and Things 2.
What both apps offer:
- Mac desktop version
- compatibility with David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®) approach
- sophisticated task management functionality (inbox, areas, projects, flags/tags, next actions, repeat schedules, someday, due dates)
- quick entry option with keyboard command
- drag and drop
- search function
- capacity to hide inactive tasks and projects from view
- capacity to attach notes to tasks, including hyperlinks to Evernote
- email integration (includes mail-to-app in OF)
- capacity to log completed tasks
- iPad and iPhone versions
- no ongoing subscription fees
- free and automatic cloud synching (OF via iCloud, Things 2 via Things Cloud)
- free trial version available
What neither app offers:
- Windows desktop version
- browser version
- full calendar integration (Omnifocus iCal Sync was discontinued in Mountain Lion but OF still has a feature for publishing due dates to a calendar)
- team collaboration
Where Omnifocus excels:
- indented tasks
- capacity to define whether tasks in a project are parallel or sequential
- sophisticated built-in review process (though Things 2 has introduced a basic daily review process that gives you an option to defer tasks)
- high level of customisability, including the capacity to define your own views, called ‘perspectives’
- capacity to attach complete files to tasks (rather than links)
- capacity to create project templates
- never crashes
- location services (‘geo-tagged’ tasks show up in Google Maps on mobile apps)
- ‘forecast’ view on the iPad version
Where Things 2 excels:
- clear ‘today’ view
- attractive, colourful user interface
- easier to use
- capacity to prioritise tasks by tagging
- capacity to assign multiple tags to a task
- two-way integration with ‘Reminders’ app and Siri
- faster cloud synching
So what is the verdict? The Things 2 upgrade has introduced useful features, narrowing the gap. In my view you cannot go wrong with either app and choosing becomes largely a matter of personal preference. If you need a heavy-duty app that supports professional project management, you may require the multi-level task indentation offered by Omnifocus and the app’s ability to create project templates. If you are after a versatile yet powerful app to manage your to-dos, including projects, you may prefer the ease of use of Things, with its multiple tags.
If neither app ticks all the boxes for you, or if you are a Windows user, you may wish to check out other app reviews on this blog, or visit Priacta’s interactive GTD software comparison table, which covers more than 160 task management apps.
What is your take on the Omnifocus vs Things debate? Are you firmly in one camp or a waverer? And if you have tried Things 2, do you think the new features make a difference? Let us know what you think!
Another amazing feature that OmniFocus has (not sure if Things 2 does) is very intelligent and flexible recurring tasks. This is my favorite feature of OmniFocus.
I can set the “start date” of haircut to always be three weeks after I complete the “haircut” task, and set the “due date” to be four weeks out. No matter which day I get a haircut within that time frame, OmniFocus will set up a new task three weeks out, with a due date four weeks out.
Thanks for your comment; and you are quite right: Omnifocus does a fantastic job at letting you set up recurring tasks. The desktop version of Things 2 supports standard repeating tasks but the iPad version does not.
The latest version on iPad and iPhone with IOS 6 supports simple repeating tasks. Use the schedule section create the task and set up the due date and frequency, and all other aspects that you can use on other tastes.
Great comparison article.
As a side note, the word is spelled syncing, not synching.
Thank you for the feedback. As to the spelling, I believe both are acceptable – probably a matter of preference.
My personal preference is Omnifocus, I make a lot of use of Action Groups (The creation of a ask hierarchy by simply dropping one on action on top of another) and have found the custom Perspectives very useful.
There are two features where Things outscores Omnifocus though;
Reminders integration (Although Omni Group say that they are reviewing this they can give no firm commitment on it’s reinstatement)
Multi-Contexts – Seems obvious to me that you would want to do this, but in Omnifocus… you can’t
One huge plus in Omnifocus’s favour is Support, their responses to my questions have been both prompt and helpful (I am not qualified to comment on the quality of support offered by Things)
Thanks for leaving a comment, Garry. The lack of multiple contexts in Omnifocus and the absence of tags are the issues that periodically lead me to explore alternative apps. The user-defined perspectives are indeed crucial, but it may take new users some time to figure out how to set them up. That certainly was the case for me. I learned a lot from Dr Kourosh Dini’s e-book about Creating flow with Omnifocus. I know a lot of people will baulk at the idea of reading a manual about managing your to-do list but if you have already invested time and money in Omnifocus then this e-book can certainly take your mastery of the app to the next level.
Fantastic tip, thanks Ozengo
I will take a look at the Preview this evening
As a longtime Omnifocus user, to me one of the strengths of the app is its “Clipping” functionality. A lot of my tasks come at me from emails or websites. Using Omnifocus, if I get an email I need to reply to, but I don’t want to reply to it right now, I can hit a hotkey, create a task for it, assign it a context and a due date if desired, hit enter and it’s done. All of that takes about 5-7 seconds, so it helps me achieve ‘inbox zero’. How does Things 2 compare to Omnifocus’ clipping functionality? Is it equivalent in terms of power and speed?
Thank you for leaving a comment, Rick.
Like Omnifocus, Things is very good at clipping and adding tasks on the fly. A keystroke shortcut brings up the quick entry box, which lets you enter the task description and any additional details (destination folder, project, tags, due date, notes) you care to add. Very well designed and laid out.
You can also drag an email or a file onto the Things icon on your desktop and Things will open the quick entry box and create a task with a hyperlink to the email message or document embedded in the task notes field. There is also an ‘autofill’ option that will insert any text from the email that you have selected underneath its hyperlink. For more detail see http://support.culturedcode.com/customer/portal/articles/174723-faq—quick-entry-and-autofill
I ended up downloading a trial and taking it for a spin. They’ve addressed this ‘clipping’ functionality wonderfully. That is no longer an issue with this app.
But it has other aspects of its functionality that just don’t fit my workflow. For example, there is no contexts view. A positive to Things is the ability to assign multiple tags to a given task, and utilize tags as a flexible ‘do all’ kind of data element. It can represent contexts (and indeed must since contexts don’t exist as an independent data element in the app), and also other things. But if you want to get a clean view by context, you can’t do it. That mystifies me. Frankly, it just can’t be a GTD app if you can’t see your tasks by context. To do it here, you have to type in the tag name in the search field and just look at what comes up.
I also don’t like that I can use quick entry to create a new item, assign it a project and/or context, finish creating it and now it’s in the Inbox? Again, that differs from core GTD methodology. Nothing assigned a project or context is an inbox item any longer, whether utilizing software or pieces of paper. You’ve now dispositioned that item, but Things makes me now go touch it twice, which I find inexplicably inefficient.
There is much to like about this app, but for someone who wants to implement a strict GTD-based system with a software app, they better realize that Things has made sacrifices to GTD functionality and process in order to “simplify” the app. I’m NOT saying that’s a bad thing. they recognized a need and filled it, and obviously a lot of people have applauded them for it and use their product. And it’s a great app in its own right. If it fits your workflow, use it. It’s beautifully done and well supported. But for my GTD-based processes, it demands too many compromises.
So for now, I’ll stick with Omnifocus.
Have you tried using the ‘areas’ in Things, Rick? You could use them to set up context views. I just use the tags for mine. As for your second point, I am not able to recreate your problem with the quick entry box. The desktop version has dropdown boxes that let you save a new task straight into the appropriate project and view. The iPad version also lets you save a new task to the appropriate destination folder. Cheers – Ozengo.
I like the new version of Things, but the core functionality they are missing is the inability to email something into the system. Omnifocus lets me send an email from my iphone and have it appear in my inbox. Also creating a recurring task in Things is very awkward.
Too bad-with faster development time, Things could be awesome
Nice Comparison. Re Windows equivalent of Omnifocus, “My Life Organized”, is very close, having most of the functionality of OF. It also has Android, and Ipad versions.