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I wanted to love Omnifocus, I REALLY did... Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Ok, so I wanted to love Omnifocus, I REALLY did ...

It's about the 7th or 8th iPhone app I've tried for managing my GTD system.

As a little background, I am a small business owner with 3 separate (and very different) businesses, as well as a 4th one on my Someday/Maybe list when I can clear the time and finances to launch it. I'm also a musician, and I'd like to think I have a personal life as well. So one of my requirements right off the bat was a system that can help me stay on top of all these different things, while still keeping them separate and delineated in a way that allows me to maintain a sense of control and balance. Realistically that boils down to either a great nesting folder setup WITH ARBITRARY DEPTH, or an EXTREMELY robust tag system with multiple orders of sorting from every view, and/or subtags (the way OF does subcontexts).

Right there 90% of the apps fail because they assume that a single level of folders and maybe one level of subtasks with a few tags thrown in for good measure will suffice for me. But that just doesn't cut it, and it's not that I'm trying to over-complicate things. It's just that when I have to track 30-50 client accounts across several businesses, manage rehearsals and shows and practice for several different bands, and make sure I never miss a bill and don't drop the ball on a relationship rapidly heading towards marriage, I really need a great deal of organizational flexibility to manage everything in a way that makes sense.

Now OF does have a great folder structure, but where they lose me is the unfriendliness of the UI. First of all, the fact that there is no way to sort a folder of projects by any predefined criteria is AMAZINGLY poor design. The only thing I can do is manually reorder them, or let them sit in the order they are entered. If I have a folder with 30 active client accounts, each one it's own separate projects with several discrete actions to be done, it is ridiculous to me that I would have to manually sort them alphabetically just to easily find a particular project if I need to check where I am on an account. Same thing with contexts; I live and work in NYC, and I divide my errand and client visit contexts into geographical zones. There are about 20 in the tri-state area that I use so I know what's nearby whenever I'm in a particular area for any reason. I loved the fact that I could subdivide my travel context into states and then into regions, but again sorting that all into alphabetical order so that I could quickly find the right context when picking from the list to assign to a task was needlessly complex and time-wasting.

Which also brings me to the point that folders and context should use a menu-style selection system, instead of all being listed as one big inline list with : delimiters. Once you get past 2 or 3 sublevels in either one, you start truncating text on the small iPhone screen and you end up having to memorize the middle levels of folders or contexts in order to actually locate the one you're looking for - not to mention that scrolling one big long list also takes significantly longer than going through 2 or 3 levels of menus. And the more folders/projects/contexts I need to organize my stuff, the longer it takes to pick one when creating a new task. This should not be the case, at least not at this stage of the game. Imagine if I had 100 active accounts to manage, and based on all that I do, that's very realistic in the next 12-24 months.

And the decision to go with the silly calendar wheel was ... maddening, to put it mildly. Not only is it a pain and MUCH more time-consuming to use than a normal monthly calendar view, but it also forces you to assign a due TIME when you have a due date, which is totally counter-intuitive to GTD philosophy and can result in unexpected behavior with due/overdue status depending on what due time is selected. I thought the point was that if a due TIME is required, it's probably something that belongs on your calendar and not on your task list. Given that OF lacks a proper calendar, that makes the choice all the more curious.

I realize I may sound like I'm nitpicking, but a critical criteria (at least to me) for a smartphone-based app to manage the collection, processing, and organizing phases of my work is that it be QUICK, EASY, and INTUITIVE to use. Every time I have to fight the device to make it do what I need it to do only makes me less likely to use it on a consistent basis, and the resulting failure to capture 100% of my open loops makes the system far less effective in the long run.

Oh, and it would be nice to have better access to my calendar from inside the app; even if it didn't add any extra functionality onto the native calendar app, at least it cuts down on the number of different places I have to look to see and deal with all of my stuff.

Just some thoughts about how this could really come to be the ultimate GTD app which, so far as I have been able to see, has yet to come into existence. I would love for someone to come and tell me that all my gripes are totally fixable just by changing some option or setting that I overlooked, but somehow I suspect otherwise ... :(
 
As a user of all three versions of OF I agree that the iPhone version can be relatively cumbersome, especially when managing complex folder structures, the ease of use obviously scales with the screen size. I think it's safe to say the design of the iPad (the most recent) is regarded as the best of the three by many - except for the outline editing, but:

From what I've read on these forums, Omni are in the midst of revamping their underlying outline engine and if the new OmniOutliner (iPad) is anything to go by then it's going to get much much more intuitive.

I also wish that the calendaring support was better but the more I've thought about it the less sure I am what want. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and there are several lively threads on these forums on the topic. But as an Omni employee pointed out in one of them, everyone wants something different, and many of the suggestions are contradictory :-)

The forecast view and calendar export features are probably something that most people agree are worthwhile, even if they can't agree on much else. They're also relatively recent features, which if nothing else demonstrate that Omni are thinking about the problem.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rockin982 View Post
Now OF does have a great folder structure, but where they lose me is the unfriendliness of the UI. First of all, the fact that there is no way to sort a folder of projects by any predefined criteria is AMAZINGLY poor design. The only thing I can do is manually reorder them, or let them sit in the order they are entered. If I have a folder with 30 active client accounts, each one it's own separate projects with several discrete actions to be done, it is ridiculous to me that I would have to manually sort them alphabetically just to easily find a particular project if I need to check where I am on an account. Same thing with contexts; I live and work in NYC, and I divide my errand and client visit contexts into geographical zones. There are about 20 in the tri-state area that I use so I know what's nearby whenever I'm in a particular area for any reason. I loved the fact that I could subdivide my travel context into states and then into regions, but again sorting that all into alphabetical order so that I could quickly find the right context when picking from the list to assign to a task was needlessly complex and time-wasting.
Okay, it helps to have a bit of perspective here. OmniFocus for Mac came first, and has the tools to sort your folder full of projects by name, status, due date, start date, date added or date completed. It also has tools to sort the display, so you can organize your client projects by alphabetical order, but view the projects in order of which one is due first, for example. It being a Mac application, there's plentiful screen space, cpu horsepower, memory and numerous interaction methods, all things that aren't really true on the iPhone/iPod touch. Also, they spent a long time building it, and had the luxury of putting in such features before shipping it. The iOS apps are more minimalist (even an iPad doesn't offer the flexibility that the smallest laptop does) somewhat due to interaction constraints and in part because they didn't get the years of uninterrupted development work that the Mac app did. The intent is that they are fully-featured enough to be standalone products, but the more demands you make upon them, the more useful it is going to be to have a Mac and the Mac app as part of your solution, because there are still many features which can only be done practically on the Mac, or the iOS app does not yet have the UI needed to control or fully utilize the feature. Examples of the former would be the tools for sorting actions, projects, and contexts, and the latter would include things like building perspectives or controlling whether a project completes itself when all of the actions are checked off. I understand this isn't a satisfying answer if you've only got an iPhone and a Windows PC, but they've concentrated on areas of the iOS apps which "everyone" needs and less on making them the ultimate power user applications (because the ultimate power user of OmniFocus is very likely to be running the Mac application, too). In the final analysis, they've got a lot of features they would like to implement for a bunch of different platforms, and there are only so many hours in the day...
Quote:
Which also brings me to the point that folders and context should use a menu-style selection system, instead of all being listed as one big inline list with : delimiters. Once you get past 2 or 3 sublevels in either one, you start truncating text on the small iPhone screen and you end up having to memorize the middle levels of folders or contexts in order to actually locate the one you're looking for - not to mention that scrolling one big long list also takes significantly longer than going through 2 or 3 levels of menus. And the more folders/projects/contexts I need to organize my stuff, the longer it takes to pick one when creating a new task. This should not be the case, at least not at this stage of the game. Imagine if I had 100 active accounts to manage, and based on all that I do, that's very realistic in the next 12-24 months.
It sounds like you aren't making full use of some of OmniFocus' most powerful features. The Project/Context picker can easily handle 4 or 5 levels of nesting, even on the small iPhone screen. It should be obvious that turning it to landscape orientation gets you quite a bit more breathing room. My 4 levels of nesting in some of my contexts only go about 60% of the way across the screen in landscape orientation, and still have some breathing room in portrait. If you do come up with a name that is too long to all be seen in your chosen orientation, OmniFocus snips out part of the middle which usually allows you to make the correct choice.

More important is the smart matching code. You don't want to scroll through a lengthy list which may be in anything but convenient order, but if you start typing part of the name, OmniFocus immediately winnows the list down in real-time to the entries which match the characters you've typed. The matching does not have to be contiguous, only in the right order, so as it turns out, it's only 2 characters of typing to get to my pathological test case ("Errands : Library : San Mateo : Marina : Somewhere over the rainbow") even though I have 169 contexts! It's rare that I need to type more than 4 characters to get the desired project or context into view. I'm closing in on 1,000 projects in part because OmniFocus is able to handle so many that I'm able to create a project for every little collection of tasks that comes to mind and enjoy maximum flexibility in managing them.

Quote:
And the decision to go with the silly calendar wheel was ... maddening, to put it mildly. Not only is it a pain and MUCH more time-consuming to use than a normal monthly calendar view, but it also forces you to assign a due TIME when you have a due date, which is totally counter-intuitive to GTD philosophy and can result in unexpected behavior with due/overdue status depending on what due time is selected. I thought the point was that if a due TIME is required, it's probably something that belongs on your calendar and not on your task list. Given that OF lacks a proper calendar, that makes the choice all the more curious.
You can't have a due date without a due time, any more than you can say a task is due in September without specifying which day in September. You may have a mutual understanding that something due on Friday is due on Friday at 5 PM, and if most of your due dates are of the same sort (stuff is due at the beginning or end of the day) then the default due time handles it well (unfortunately, this is one of the features where the UI only exists in the Mac app, and the setting gets synced to the iOS app).

I agree the calendar wheel is a bit tedious for things more than a few weeks out, but most of my dates come with less notice, and a quick spin or two of the wheel works fine. Many of those due dates have a variety of different times attached, so I get that handled without having to switch to a different widget. Overall, I find entering calendar events on the iPhone to be a bit tedious no matter what UI widgets were used.

The rule of thumb is that if a task must be done by a certain date and time, use GTD/OmniFocus to manage it. If a task must be done at a certain date and time, put it on the calendar. A meeting is something done at a certain date and time, so it goes on the calendar. Preparing for that meeting is something done by a certain date and time, so it goes in OmniFocus.
Quote:
Oh, and it would be nice to have better access to my calendar from inside the app; even if it didn't add any extra functionality onto the native calendar app, at least it cuts down on the number of different places I have to look to see and deal with all of my stuff.
Go to the Forecast view, tap the eyeball icon, check the Days show: Calendar Events option and select the desired calendars in the Calendars section. Now you at least will see your calendar events for the scope of the Forecast view (admittedly limited by the small screen of the iPhone *the iPad Forecast view gets you a full week instead of 5 days). You can't edit the calendar contents, but you can view them.
Quote:
Just some thoughts about how this could really come to be the ultimate GTD app which, so far as I have been able to see, has yet to come into existence. I would love for someone to come and tell me that all my gripes are totally fixable just by changing some option or setting that I overlooked, but somehow I suspect otherwise ... :(
If it really doesn't cut the mustard for you, and you're still within 30 days of purchase, you can contact Omni for a full refund.
 
I second the smart matching feature. There's never a need to scroll through contexts or projects. Just type a letter or two and you're there.
 
Moved posts to new thread, because they weren't really related to the topic of the one they were originally posted in.
 
 


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