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Brian 2009-04-30 08:11 AM

Minimizing OmniFocus for iPhone's startup & sync time
Combining a couple of pieces of information from previous posts into (hopefully) one easy-to-find location.

We occasionally hear from folks that are patiently (or not-so-patiently) waiting through startup or sync times on the iPhone app that are way longer than they need to be. Please accept our apologies for that; our intent is absolutely not to have that be the case.

At the time of this writing, I have just under 900 actions in my database; the phone app takes about five seconds to start up, and 20-30 seconds to sync with Apple's iDisk server. (I have a 1st generation iPhone, so I'm using EDGE.)

If you're regularly seeing substantially longer start/sync times, please try the tips below, and/or contact us so we can help. We're available at [email][/email] or by calling 1-800-315-6664. The tips here have helped a lot of customers; when they don't help, we're pretty successful at getting people back up and running via phone or email.

Again, we're really sorry for any frustration this has caused. Every time we can narrow down a problem that makes sync slow, we fix any problem in the code and ship it as soon as we can. We also try to post here on the forums to explain the best ways for everyone to make their syncs as fast as possible, if it's not something that a code fix will address.

In the cases where the ninjas are truly stumped, it means that we're working on a problem we haven't seen before. Gathering information about the problem means the dev team can work on fixing it so everyone can benefit from that fix in our next release.

We really wish folks didn't need to take the time to contact the support ninjas to accomplish that, but it really is the quickest and best way to get this taken care of. Thanks for the help.

Brian 2009-04-30 08:11 AM

Pick one of your Macs, then use the "Archive Old Data..." command (it's under the File menu) on that machine once a month or so. I use a repeating action in OF to remind me to do this.

Archiving old data will move actions you completed before a date you specify into a separate non-syncing database on that Mac. This shrinks the database on your phone, which can in turn make for faster syncs.

If you've never used this command, every action you've [I]ever[/I] completed is still in your database and being synced to your phone.

Brian 2009-04-30 08:20 AM

The single biggest thing that folks can do to speed up their syncs is make sure that all of their devices are syncing regularly - like once a week or so.

On one of your Macs, open up OmniFocus's sync preferences and press the "Show Clients" button. OmniFocus has kept all the individual changes you've made to your database since the oldest date you see in the "Latest Sync" column.

If the oldest date is very far in the past, you've likely got hundreds of transaction files built up, which can slow things down, especially on the phone. The iPhone is an amazing device, but even the faster phones Apple released recently are about 1/1000th as fast as a low-end desktop machine.

(Note: there should be exactly 1 entry for each Mac, iPhone, or iPod you're syncing - if you see duplicate entries for any of your devices, delete the least-recently-synced entry.)

In any case, if you unregister any machines you're not actually syncing any more, then make sure the remaining devices have all synced, you should start seeing faster syncs about an hour later. (For technical reasons, we keep the transactions around for an hour, then compact during a subsequent sync.)

I hear some folks saying "But I have a machine I only use once a month, but I need that machine! I don't want to un-register it!" You're welcome to do what works best for you, of course; just understand that all the other devices are going to sync more slowly when that device is that far out of sync.

What's worked well for us is to unregister the machines that are used occasionally when they drop out of sync, but make sure that a copy of the email that the "Send Settings" button in OmniFocus for Mac's Sync preferences generates is saved there. When you switch to that machine, click the link in that email; OmniFocus will sync back up and you're good to go.

This gives you fast syncs and the smallest possible database on your phone with a minimum of disruption to your workflow.

Brian 2009-04-30 08:29 AM

If you're syncing OmniFocus frequently on your various machines, but the Settings screen in your iPhone app is still telling you you have lots of zip files, you'll want to do the following.

On one of your Macs, open the Sync pane of OmniFocus' Preferences. Press the "Show Clients" button. You'll see a sheet slide out, listing the devices that your sync server knows about, as well as the most recent sync date for each of the devices.

Each device you're syncing should have exactly 1 entry in the list; if you see any duplicates, you'll want to delete the entry with the earlier "Last Synced" date. Additionally, you'll want to remove any entries for any Macs, iPhones, or iPod Touches that you're no longer syncing. (A device you've given away or sold, for example, may still have an entry in the list.)

Once you've removed any duplicates or stale entries, close the sheet and sync your Mac. Wait an hour, and sync the Mac again. If you sync your iPhone at this point, the database should have fewer zip files. (The one-hour wait is required to force OmniFocus to compact your database during the second sync.)

Brian 2009-04-30 08:31 AM

A couple of releases back, we made the "new inbox item" button active even while we're loading the database. You don't need for that process to finish to enter something into OmniFocus.

I often use that to jot down something quickly. Bring app up, tap button, enter item. Since we haven't loaded the database, I can't assign a project or context, but if I capture the task title, I won't forget the action; that's the most important part.

Brian 2009-04-30 08:41 AM

If none of the above tips get your database loading time down, the next thing to look at is how heavily you've been making use of the Clippings and Attachments features.

The database on your phone is the same as the database on your Mac, but the device you're using to process that data is much slower and has a lot less memory.

Any attached images, documents, or files included in the database on the Mac probably won't cause any delay there, but may very well do so on the phone. The file attachments may be a few big files (PDFs, pictures, or documents) or it could be a large number of small files (a couple hundred clipped emails with a graphic attachment that duplicates someone's signature).

Note: OmniFocus for Mac 1.7 added a new "Attachment List" item under the Window menu which can be useful here. It'll show you all the attachments in your database, when they were added, and how large they are. It'll also let you delete attachments you don't really need from the database. This reduces the size of the database being synced to the phone.

If the previous steps don't help enough, there's one more thing that can help.

[B]Note: to avoid the possibility of losing data, you want to fully sync your devices before trying this![/B]
[LIST=1][*]Open OmniFocus' Sync Preferences on one of your Macs. (All your devices are up to date, right?)[*]Press the "Show Clients" button. A new sheet appears.[*]You'll see a list in the middle of the new sheet: select each item, then press the Unregister button. Keep doing so until the list is completely empty; you even want to unregister the Mac you're doing this from.[*]Once the clients list is empty, close the sheet.[*]Finally, press the Sync Now button.[/LIST]
When you press the button, OmniFocus will compact your database as much as possible, then send the smallest possible database up to your server.

The next time you sync your other devices, they may ask if you want to use the Server database or their own. You want to say "Server" in all cases - this is why it's important to fully sync your devices before starting this process. [B]You're setting aside the larger database on the device and using the smaller one on the server instead.[/B]

If at this point you still suspect that this issue is hurting performance on the iPhone, send an email to the [EMAIL=""]support ninjas[/EMAIL] and we can help.

chriswitt 2009-04-30 10:28 AM

Great tips!

Quick question: I never realized Clipping would affect synchronization time. Is it not just a link (like, text)?

Just curious - thanks!

Brian 2009-04-30 10:43 AM

If you select specific text and clip it, we only clip that text. If you use the clip-o-tron, everything in the message, including any attachments, is embedded into the database.

So, if you clip a database with a half-meg of attachments or something, that's going to be a relatively hefty sync operation. If you clip an email with a 20 MB PDF and sync over EDGE... :-)

Brian 2009-05-04 12:55 PM

Moved subsequent posts to [URL=""]another thread[/URL] in order to keep this one as focused as possible.

JKT 2009-05-12 02:45 AM

Shouldn't this thread be a sticky?

Brian 2009-05-12 03:52 PM

You know, I thought I had done that! Thanks - fixed.

scandar 2009-06-22 07:35 AM

I regularly sync my mac and archive old action items in the database and I get the following statistics for my database:

- 29 projects
- 281 actions
- stored in 3,695 zip files

Is 3,695 zip files normal or really high? My guess is really high.

If the number of zip files is abnormal, then what do I do on the mac or iphone end to resolve this and speed up my load times?

whpalmer4 2009-06-22 08:36 AM

3,695 zip files is [b]very[/b] high! I rarely go over 100 zip files unless one of my machines is off the net for a few days or I do some massive reorganization. Take a look at the Show Clients display in OmniFocus' Sync preferences pane. Are there any entries that show clients that haven't been synced in the last day or two?

Assuming you don't have any spurious client entries (which should generate the occasional warning message from OmniFocus on the desktop after they haven't synced for a week), the database should compact automatically in normal use. It might not, however, if you tend not to leave OmniFocus running when you aren't actively using it. If you start up OmniFocus on the desktop, click the Sync button, then do the same on your iPhone, wait 61 minutes and do it again (syncing both machines) you should see a compaction. The sync process won't consider compacting anything less than an hour old, and will only compact changes that have been incorporated by all of the clients. This compaction seems to happen more readily when the desktop client can do its hourly syncs.

Mojombo 2009-07-23 02:15 PM

So what does someone do if they *don't* have OmniFocus on their Mac? Is there any way to optimize start up times just using the phone and MobileMe sync?

curt.clifton 2009-07-23 03:05 PM


Do you have a zip file count in OF settings? Tap the (i) icon for settings.

How many projects and actions do you have?

Mojombo 2009-07-23 03:50 PM

Wow, that's another thing: after I tap the "i", it takes almost as long for the Settings to show up as it takes to open the app! Slooooow.

It says here "26 projects and 198 actions stored in 2685 zip files."

CatOne 2009-07-23 04:00 PM

[QUOTE=Mojombo;63344]Wow, that's another thing: after I tap the "i", it takes almost as long for the Settings to show up as it takes to open the app! Slooooow.

It says here "26 projects and 198 actions stored in 2685 zip files."[/QUOTE]

That's WAY too many zip files. See all the posts about how to reduce the number by synching all your clients frequently. Do you have an old device you're not using that hasn't been synched in a week or two?

whpalmer4 2009-07-23 04:05 PM

Well, that sync file count is why it is so slow! I don't understand why you should have such an enormous count if the only thing you have in the mix is an iPhone. I wonder if there is a bug where it isn't running the compaction?

Mojombo 2009-07-23 04:07 PM

First, there is no "all my clients." There is the iPhone syncing with MobileMe and iTunes. That's it. I have no other devices and no other software.

Second, I don't keep track of the Syncing closely, but I use OmniFocus every day, and it sure seems like at least once a day that spinny sync icon stops spinning while I'm working, which I assume means a sync has completed. Certainly every week.

whpalmer4 2009-07-23 04:11 PM

[QUOTE=Mojombo;63333]So what does someone do if they *don't* have OmniFocus on their Mac? Is their any way to optimize start up times just using the phone and MobileMe sync?[/QUOTE]
You do have a Mac, right? You could download the OF trial, set it up to sync, sync both Mac and iPhone, wait 61 minutes, sync both Mac and iPhone, and that should compact the database for you.

By any chance did you already use the OF trial? If you had it syncing with your iPhone and then stopped without unregistering it from the sync database, that would cause this sort of behavior, and I'm not sure if the iPhone issues warnings about clients that haven't synced lately like the desktop does.

whpalmer4 2009-07-23 04:13 PM

Do you have Auto-sync turned on or off?

Mojombo 2009-07-23 04:18 PM

That is a completely unsatisfactory solution.

Having to download trial software to address an issue in an iPhone app is a hot kludge sundae with kludge nuts and kludge sprinkles top.


whpalmer4 2009-07-23 04:53 PM

I'm not suggesting it as a long-term solution, I'm suggesting it as something that can get your issue cleared away while you wait for a bug fix or other permanent solution. If you'd prefer to enjoy slow syncs for a while longer, be my guest. Otherwise, try emailing the support ninjas at [email][/email] or calling them during West Coast business hours. I promise not to snicker if they make the very same suggestion :)

curt.clifton 2009-07-23 05:49 PM


You should definitely call or email the support ninjas. They are extremely helpful and will work with you to sort this out. The OmniGroup stands behind their software and provides great customer service.

[B]*** WARNING: I haven't test this. ***[/B] I wonder what would happen if you turned off MobileMe syncing. You'd lose MobileMe as a backup destination, though you'd still have the data backed up in iTunes. You'd also lose the new Due Soon notifications from OF for iPhone 1.5.2. On the other hand, I suspect that OF would get rid of all those zip file transactions. If so, then you could re-enable syncing, overwrite the database on the server, and keep an eye on the number of zip files to see if it balloons again over time.

Hang in there. I suspect iPhone-only usage with syncing is a corner case that only a few people are using, but Omni will help you out. Good luck!

Ken Case 2009-07-23 06:39 PM

[QUOTE=Mojombo;63350]First, there is no "all my clients." There is the iPhone syncing with MobileMe and iTunes. That's it. I have no other devices and no other software.[/QUOTE]

It sounds like there's an old client record on your MobileMe account which is locking down all that old sync history and slowing everything down.

We're planning to add client controls to the iPhone app, but they're not there yet. In the meantime, I would recommend the following procedure:
[LIST=1][*]In OmniFocus for iPhone, open the Settings screen.[*]Turn off Sync by setting your Synchronization Method to Nothing. This will enable the Compact Database button in Database Settings.[*]In the Database section of settings, tap the Compact Database button (right above the red Reset Database button). This will compact your database into a single zip file.[*]On your desktop machine, point your web browser at [URL=""][/URL] and drag OmniFocus.ofocus from your Documents folder to your Backup folder. This will move any old client records out of the active sync location (along with all those thousands of old transactions).[*]On the iPhone, turn sync back on.[/LIST]
If you need any help with any of this, please feel free to call our tech support ninjas at +1 800-315-OMNI (or +1 206-523-4152) and they can walk you through the process.

Hope this helps!

Mojombo 2009-07-24 10:16 AM

Hot diggity, it works like a charm.

Ken, there is a man, and you are he. Thank you.

whpalmer4 2009-07-24 10:22 AM

[QUOTE=Ken Case;63360][*]Turn off Sync by setting your Synchronization Method to Nothing. This will enable the Compact Database button in Database Settings.[/QUOTE]
I [b]thought[/b] I had heard of a Compact Database button on the iPhone client, but I looked everywhere, couldn't find it, concluded it must have been a hallucination. I see now the problem was I didn't turn off Sync before looking -- so much for those Zork skills, eh? :)

garotasemfio 2009-08-09 09:52 AM

1100 zip files
Well, lately my syncing was so slow it was impossible to use the iPhone app. I tried everything: syncing, purging old events in OF desktop, deleting iPhone device in MobileMe and setting it all over again. Not working was not enough - I got the unbelievable amount of [B]1100 zip files!!![/B]

Then, as suggested here in the forums I simply let Omnifocus open and running overnight both in Mac and iPhone, and - voilá - next morning there were just 2 zip files...

Anyway, the Guinness World Record in OmniFocus' zip files is mine... :D

whpalmer4 2009-08-13 06:04 PM

Anyway, the Guinness World Record in OmniFocus' zip files is mine... :D[/QUOTE]
Sorry, you're not even a contender! One of the fellows at our OmniFocus meetup at the end of July had 2200 or so.


Of course, he'd already fixed his problem, so maybe you did have the highest count [b]at the time[/b], if not the highest ever recorded :)

angben 2009-10-08 02:09 PM

At wits end with OF syncing
Guys, you have a great product here. I've been using it since day 1. But you've never, ever had syncing working for me.

I always end up with tons of zip files. And yes, I do sync my iPhone and desktop computer regularly.

I use MobileME and keep current on all the updates. I've read through all the materials here. Yes, I can [temporarily] fix the problem by one of the hacks as described above.

Is using the Mac sync services not an option? Does the iPhone not have an API you can use to plug into sync services? Can you not just piggyback an existing sync'd dataset, like the addressbook, calendar, or mail?

I just can't take this buggy sync anymore. It's maddening.

Brian 2009-10-09 04:10 PM

If you haven't already, I'd suggest that you contact the [EMAIL=""]support ninjas[/EMAIL]; we'll be happy to look into this with you. (I see some tickets in the support database from the email address your forum account is attached to, but they all appear to be crash reports.)

If there's some other email address I should look for, please send me a private message. That way, we can avoid re-hashing the stuff you've already tried.

wbm 2009-11-11 10:05 AM

sync problems
The iPhone syncing problems for OmniFocus are so pronounced and unique to OmniFocus that Google even has its own suggested search term: "omnifocus iphone sync slow."

I really like the product - OmniFocus is the only true gtd app and platform. But OmniFocus's persistent, unfixed syncing issue is bad for users like myself. It materially negatively impacts the usability of the program and causes me to regularly look for an alternative that doesn't have this syncing problem. And based on search engine results and App Store sales rankings, the still unresolved syncing issue is hurting OmniFocus and sending users to programs like Things and ToDo.

By way of comparison, the MobileMe syncing of Apple's Address Book's contacts has become seamless and very fast.

whpalmer4 2009-11-12 03:00 PM

By way of comparison, the MobileMe syncing of Apple's Address Book's contacts has become seamless and very fast.[/QUOTE]

Comparing rather different scenarios here -- how often do you change 50 or 100 address book cards in a single sync? That's not an uncommon number of changes for OmniFocus. It certainly isn't fast when I turn on MobileMe syncing of calendars or address book cards on a new machine, and I've spent many an hour on the phone with Apple trying to get the various MobileMe sync components working reliably.

This is in no way intended to suggest that Omni should ease up on their efforts to improve the typical sync experience in OF!

Brian 2009-11-15 04:04 PM

[QUOTE=whpalmer4;69645]This is in no way intended to suggest that Omni should ease up on their efforts to improve the typical sync experience in OF![/QUOTE]

I think the typical sync experience is actually pretty good - forum posts aren't always a good indicator, since the folks that are happy with their sync times are less motivated to post. If the pool of customers is large enough, you may still get frequent posts about a topic even if 99% of your customers aren't having problems.

Of course, my point here isn't to dismiss the problem reports, or to say that we aren't looking for ways to shorten sync times! We know how important this feature is to our customers. It's just that there isn't a single change that we can suggest to resolve every issue that a customer may be having.

Upshot: Whenever folks are unhappy with their sync times, please [EMAIL=""]contact us[/EMAIL] and we'll be happy to investigate and assist. (Email is preferred because we sometimes need to look at system logs or other information that isn't very forum-friendly.)

connorp 2010-01-18 04:56 PM

Any chance you could set up a setting to allow automatic archiving of old data, perhaps once a month, like you have automatic backup?


whpalmer4 2010-01-18 05:23 PM

Connor, be sure to send in your request with Help->Send Feedback or email [email][/email] so it gets entered in the development database.

pauldauv 2011-09-19 06:12 AM

Too Many Zip Files
I just hit on the solution to having too many zip files. I use the iPhone app standalone, i.e. I do not have a Mac.
Here's what I did:
- Hit "Don't Sync" under Settings/Sync Settings
- Close Omnifocus [U]and[/U] stop it running
- Open Omnifocus again after a while...
- It will then optimize the database, instead of syncing to the server
- Now there is 1 zip file rather than ~800 and I have enabled syncing again.

fire00 2012-11-29 02:48 AM

Sync is really a pain, any chance to improve that?

sure that some will agree on that - syncing Omnifocus using Omnisync not only takes long time, but it's too sluggish and the intervals are too long as well.

Any chance or outlook that this will be improved?
Other apps can do better - with nearly the same amount of data (complexity).

Brian 2012-11-29 12:43 PM

Sorry for the trouble here! If the steps on the first page of [URL=""]this thread[/URL] don't improve your sync times as much as you'd like, contact our support folks via [EMAIL=""]email[/EMAIL] or by calling 800.315.6664 - we'll be happy to help.

spiliog 2013-01-02 06:37 AM

Agree. Sync on iOS is very very slow. Please do something!

whpalmer4 2013-01-02 07:11 AM

You need to do what Brian suggested for the other poster. I just added an action to my database on my elderly iPad 2 and synced. Done in 3 seconds, and I've got 1,196 projects and 15,682 actions in my database. Yes, a sync where the entire database needs to be rewritten back to the server will take an appreciable amount of time over a slow connection. With my use patterns, those syncs rarely happen at obtrusive times.

Mikki-G 2013-01-07 01:24 PM

[QUOTE=whpalmer4;118870]... I've got 1,196 projects and 15,682 actions in my database. ....[/QUOTE]

Whoa what a lot of actions. Are you archiving them when they are complete or are they all really still active?

I currently have 618 Actions in 75 Projects which currently equates to 23 Zip files (waiting for 61 mins to pass ;)

whpalmer4 2013-01-07 04:04 PM

About half of them are complete. Omni's archive feature doesn't meet my needs, which is unfortunate, as most of those completed actions could be archived.

Looks like it's time to drain the Inbox swamp again :-)

Inbox action groups: 4
Inbox actions: 895

Active folders: 66
Dropped folders: 4

Active projects: 747
Current projects: 726
Pending projects: 1
On-hold projects: 161
Completed projects: 158
Dropped projects: 95

Active single action lists: 54
On-hold single action lists: 1
Completed single action lists: 0
Dropped single action lists: 0

Active contexts: 199
On-hold contexts: 3
Dropped contexts: 2

Remaining action groups: 230
Completed action groups: 300

ACTIONS: 15889
Completed actions: 8401
Dropped project actions: 346
Dropped context actions: 1
Remaining actions: 7141
Actions in Projects on hold: 587
Actions in Contexts on hold: 26
Blocked actions: 1275
Blocked by future start date: 38
Sequentially blocked: 1237
Available actions: 5253

deadsunrise 2013-02-12 06:29 AM

wow whpalmer4, that's crazy. Could you write some examples on how detailed is your database? It's hard to imagine what your projects are. 700 active it's A LOT.

Ken Case 2013-07-16 06:44 AM

OmniFocus for iPhone v1.16 adds support for geofenced background syncing. Turning this on will keep your iPhone database from getting behind, which should greatly help with its startup and sync times.

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