Writing

Moving from OmniFocus to Things

While it has been a battle tested companion for many years, I feel like I constantly have to fight the system, trying to mend it into doing what I want it to do. That coupled with the endless tweaking of perspectives made it hard to consider when asked to recommend a GTD tool to a colleague. 1

This is exactly how I felt. I felt like my system was stagnant, and I felt like the whole thing was too heavy, too cumbersome to use effectively. I realized that I was getting the same bare minimum tasks done, but I had managed to build a system where a whole swath of tasks had been shunted into a limbo. Once a week, I “reviewed” them, which meant I glanced over the list, shrugged and moved on.

I decided to start over from scratch. I initially turned to Reminders, but that turned out to be too basic. I played with for a couple of months, but grew frustrated with the lack of flexibility. As a basic list of, well, reminders, it did great. As a task manager, it was way too limiting.

Then I found Things.

Reality Changes

A task system won’t line up with reality. Reality changes while your list doesn’t. And, as much as you may like it to, it won’t make your decisions for you. All it can do is show you what you once thought was important to help you make a decision now. 2

I had to temper my expectations for how I wanted Things to work. I wanted what I wanted from OmniFocus—a scripted list of what I needed to do next. Things stubbornly refused to give this to me. I got so frustrated that I felt like I had made a mistake, and thought maybe I should go back OmniFocus.

The problem was that I liked Things. I wanted Things to work because I wanted to use it. It’s just that nice.

what Things Was Not

I wanted Things to be like OmniFocus, because that’s what I was used to. I wanted Things to hide actions, or more appropriately, I wanted it to show me my next actions based on what time it was. With OmniFocus, I could assign not only a defer date but a defer time, and then the action wouldn’t show up until that time. This was the primary mechanism I was using to filter my list. I would basically program actions according to when I had scheduled them for the day.

This proved to be frustrating because I would then have two data points referring to the same thing, one in OmniFocus and one in Calendar. If I changed one, I would have to manually go and change the other. So then I stopped blocking time on the calendar, and just used OmniFocus to move things around. But that wasn’t really what I wanted.

What I’ve ended up with in Things is a list of everything that I’d like to get accomplished today. Each morning, I sort it into roughly the order I think things will happen. But the actual scheduling occurs on the calendar, a snapshot of which shows in the Today view in Things. Things led me to understand that actions and events are two different data points. I had a lot of redundant actions and events, like “Cook dinner”. Now, “Cook dinner” lives on the calendar, while actions like “prepare lasagna” live in Things.


  1. Getting Things Done with Things 3
  1. An Important Todo List Mistake | Being Productive