I had a guest appearance on the Omni Show

I was invited to be on the Omni Show to discuss my OmniFocus usage. Transcript and podcast is available here.

I just shared a small slice of my own OmniFocus workflow and realized how much of it has changed since I last wrote about it in the ERW Discourse Community.

Now, I realize that OmniFocus is not for everyone. We are all unique individuals with our own situations that requires different tools. OmniFocus happens to be mine. I’ve always downloaded the shiniest new app in the market just to see what’s going on. But I keep figuring out ways to fairly mimic some of the workflows I find in other apps. It won’t quite be the same but I do find new ways to get the end results.

Master the app you choose

I am an advocate of mastering whatever app you choose. Get the most out of it. Complement the app with other apps to create a toolbox that can take care of your needs. If an app can satisfy 80% of your needs, find other apps that will satisfy the rest. No app will fulfill 100% of your needs. We can get close but it won’t be perfect. I’ve seen some apps like Things 3 that gives you their workflow as a guide to task management.

Folks who want a proven workflow to start with will enjoy Things 3. Its strength is that the user doesn’t have to design their own workflow. Other folks might prefer to have a free flowing app that allows you to build a workflow that can flex with you. OmniFocus provides that foundation. However, its danger is that you can make an overly complex workflow that just bogs you down. But what’s simple enough to use for one person might be too basic for someone else.

It doesn’t matter which app you choose. Just master it. Now, if you’re comfortable with your current app and workflow, don’t jump on the bandwagon and switch. Download a demo and tinker with a new app. See if you can extract a workflow from the app. OmniFocus has had a brilliant review perspective. Todoist doesn’t have a dedicated review perspective. But you can create your own review workflow that can imitate the OmniFocus review workflow.

Competition is healthy. There are advantages that each developer can learn from the others.

Rebooting

I’ve seen stories of people doing a complete reboot as they jump from app to app. They force themselves to do a complete review of their projects and tasks. Meanwhile, they have the overhead of trying to learn the features of a new app. I’ve found that if I don’t do a consistent review of my projects and tasks on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, I get the sense of dread that my task manager doesn’t reflect reality. Switching to a new app that promises new workflows won’t often solve it.

Don’t jump on to the OmniFocus 4 TestFlight and expect magical rainbows and unicorns to come and it will revamp your productivity workflow. It’s a chance to bring an app that was introduced in 2008 into a new decade.

Reflections on OmniFocus 4

This is a TestFlight app. Nothing is quite polished. New TestFlight releases are sent out every few days, often 2-3 times a week. Patience is key here. The developers are introducing small tweaks every week to see what works and what doesn’t work. If the developers introduce too many features at one time, there will be a mess of confusion as the developers try to patch holes in many areas. They’re focusing one specific areas and letting people know what to look for in this week’s TestFlight. There will be a week where the focus is on the inline editor. There will be another week where development is done on the inspector panel. Yet another week, work will focus on syncing speeds.

Early on in the OmniFocus TestFlight, there was discussion about trying to eliminate the inspector panel in favor or an inline editor. But user feedback told the developers that the inspector is still useful and should stay. That’s reassuring to know that the developers are responding to user feedback.

Don’t expect to see a fully polished app. I’ve seen the uproar in the Omni Group Slack channel about how they’re disappointed that it’s not as shiny as they thought it would be. :man_shrugging:

It is still in beta. The app is still a work-in-progress and the final feature set hasn’t been finished.

It’s a challenge to update an app. Messing with the familiar and comfortable to create a new app can upset some users as they search their way around the app. Where is feature X? It worked this way in the old version. Where is it in the new version? I’ve seen some users prefer the old button icons. Some people prefer the new button icons as they become familiar with it.

A lot of my challenges in trying out new versions of any app is muscle memory. I’m used to doing things in a certain way. Introducing new workflows can be a challenge.

One large challenge is trying to update OmniFocus for small screens. Some users are complaining that there are too many icons cluttering up the screen. But where would be put those commands? In a menu button that will overflow? Some apps have successfully met that challenge for the small screens. We’re in the TestFlight period where the developers are slowly iterating and showing small improvements to the OmniFocus 4 workflow for smaller devices. I can flow pretty easily with OmniFocus 4 on my iPad because there’s a lot more room. I’m using the TestFlight period to get my muscle memory adjusted to a new app. The developers have publicly stated that they are introducing new workflows and listening to user feedback about what they think works or needs more tinkering. I’m grateful for the responsiveness on the part of the developers.

Where are the new features?

Well, OmniFocus 4 Test Flight was meant to bring a lot of the Mac-only features to the iPad and iPhone. I’m grateful for that. Quick Open, Focus, and the perspective sidebar(showing projects or tags) have been a Godsend for me. I’ve been using OmniFocus 4 on my iPhone more now that these features are here.

Some OmniFocus veterans will be disappointed because they were expecting a complete rewrite and shiny new interface. Others will be disappointed that the familiar workflow they’ve grown accustomed to has been removed in favor of flashy and new.

The current developer focus appears to be “let’s rewrite the whole app in SwiftUI to make future development easier.”

Rewriting an app in a new environment is daunting. Previous incarnations of OmniFocus were written in Carbon, Cocoa, and Objective-C. With that foundation comes baggage. Previous versions are saddled with bug fixes or workarounds to address shortcomings in the programming environment. By switching to SwiftUI, it gave Omni Group the chance to start with a new foundation. Things like cloud sync weren’t thought of in 2010 when OmniFocus 1.0 (or Kinkless GTD in OmniOutliner) was around. The TestFlight is slowly adding previous features into the current build now. Some workflows that may have worked ten years ago may be replaced by something completely different. This is our chance to give user feedback and inform the final product.

When OmniFocus 4 for iPad/iPhone is finally released, work will focus on the Mac version. The developers will have the core foundation of the code that was developed in SwiftUI. One of SwiftUI’s advantage is that it should make coding for the Mac platform and the iOS platform more seamless. Previous OmniFocus incarnations had parallel development of the Mac and iOS apps. Development should be smoother now that the SwiftUI tools makes life easier for the developers.

Developing in SwiftUI allows the developers to take advantage of new APIs and use built-in operating system features more easily. There is less reliance on hand rolling a feature when an API can easily provide it. Need to insert a photo from the Photos library as an attachment to task? There’s an API for that. There’s no need to hand-code anything. Just call an API and be done with it.

One thing that has appeared to cause some uproar in the TestFlight channel is the requirement that OmniFocus 4 will need MacOS Monterey, iPadOS 15, or iOS 15. This leaves a lot of legacy users outside. Many of the new APIs that OmniFocus 4 will use are only found in the newest OS. Apple will definitely not update an older OS with the new APIs. I guess it’s time to update to the newest OS or buy a new Mac. I won’t always like it. But I can understand. This will mean I’m gonna update my Mac Mini to Monterey when OmniFocus 4 for Mac comes out.

So far, iOS 15 beta and iPadOS 15 beta has been pretty stable. There are a minor annoyances that will get worked out later in the beta program but it’s been working smoothly. There are no showstoppers that have mangled documents or data. I jumped in rather late in the beta program when iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 hit the 4th release. So far so good.

Introducing new OmniFocus 4 features into the iOS platform would be premature if there isn’t a corresponding OmniFocus 4 for Mac app also available. Compatibility is maintained between OmniFocus 4 for iOS and OmniFocus 3 for Mac by not introducing new features that will require your database to be upgraded.

I’m guessing that new features will be introduced when OmniFocus 4 for Mac is released. Hopefully features such as collaboration or new views can be introduced? I’m personally hoping for a way to group perspectives as well as assigning custom keyboard shortcuts to go to different perspectives on my iPad.

Yeah, yeah, I know… A lot of features have been promised for the past few years. But we can’t travel back in time to change that. All we can do is just send in our feature requests to the “Contact Omni” command inside the Settings screen.

Starting back up again…

Many of my OmniFocus workflows that I introduced in the ERW Discourse has evolved over time. Workflows that worked a year ago will need to change to accommodate new responsibilities. Some responsibilities were dropped and new responsibilities were added. I’m hopeful that everyone here has been able to flex to the new challenges. Maybe you need to change to a new task management app as you encounter new challenges? Maybe you were able to flex your app to handle new situations? OmniFocus 4 is just one of many apps that provides an alternative for us. Having choices is always a good thing.


Afterthoughts

I’ve been busy since the pandemic has up-ended life as we know it. I had to step back from writing in the community as I acquired new responsibilities and also had a health scare that has been remedied now. I was contacted by Andrew J. Mason from the Omni Show to talk about my OmniFocus workflow. That gave me that small kick in the butt to start writing once again and contributing to the community. I had lost my interest in writing as I focused on my health issues that started before the pandemic and the many ways the pandemic has upended my work life. I had to pivot from writing to take care of my personal life and work life but I’m looking forward to putting my writing hat back on and start contributing once again to the community. I’m gonna go have my morning coffee now.

Anyways, that’s my stream of thought. :coffee:

I’m supporting @justindirose as he takes a breather from the community. I’ve suggested doing “seasons” for the YouTube channel and the podcast. I’ve seen some podcasts take breaks between seasons of their podcast. It gives them a chance to take a breather and refocus. We all need to step back from our duties. Recharging is an important (but often neglected) part of being an Effective Remote Worker.

I hope you all are focusing on effectiveness and instead of efficiency. The pandemic gave us a chance to look at Life through a new lens. Effective Work (remote and otherwise) is an elusive target. There will be many answers and opportunities for all of us. Enjoy Life. Enjoy the Process…

Wilson

2 Likes

Super fun! Glad you were able to do this!

Yeah OmniFocus I’m sure has a lot of “technical debt” to repay since they’re such an old application. Gotta do a ground-up rewrite at some point and glad they’re able to do it.

I appreciate this, @wilsonng :smiley: I am starting to reframe what all this looks like. It’ll be a fun journey :sweat_smile:

2 Likes