Thoughts on OmniFocus

There are plenty of applications out there claiming to end the chaos and make sense of everything. One of the schools is GTD, which focuses on next-actions and context. This makes a lot of sense in my opinion, and I have been trying to incorporate the practices into my daily life. One of the strongest questions you can ask yourself at the end of a meeting for instance, is

What is the next action to move this project forward?

Such as simple question, but the answer may not always be readily available after a meeting if you have been focusing on the wrong things. A project is by definition done when there are no next-actions, so why do we have such trouble defining and following a set course?

Another thing that has made it into my mindset is the notion of inboxes. I will not get into details on the different steps of the GTD process, but step one is “capture”. This means that any new idea or action is thrown into an inbox, until such time comes as to review this inbox and process each item in the list. In GTD, the outcomes for an action in the inbox is “do”, “defer” or “delegate”, which probably reminds many people of the Inbox Zero principle of Merlin Mann.

I have been a long time user of Things, a task management application for the Mac, iPhone and now also for iPad. While it has been working fine and does most things I need, further development of key features have been terribly slow. I decided to take another look around, and I have since long ago given up on The Hit List, even though it showed much potential. This time I gave OmniFocus a real shot. I even bought the iPhone application just to give it a proper chance.

Contexts and tags

There are some key differences in how both software work. While OmniFocus brings forward contexts, Things uses tags to achieve the same thing. While tags are a lot more flexible, there is a downside too. Contexts in OmniFocus are easy to use in the sense that they are always present and visible, whereas Things uses a bar at the top for tags, which makes it harder to get an overview of contexts. This has also lead me to not use contexts properly, but always work in the project/planning mode, which is not the GTD way.

Since Things is using tags however, other GTD principles, such as time available, energy level and priority are easy to implement. OmniFocus currently does not support all the principles, and there is no way to implement them by yourself.

Separating work and play

One of the best features in OmniFocus is the support for different perspectives. I have for instance a Work and a Personal perspective, which means that when I am working, just clicking on the Work icon in the toolbar hides everything else from view and lets me focus on what I should be doing right now. There is for instance no need to see actions regarding blog articles to write when I am at work.

Things on the other hand, has something similar in areas. You can assign a tag for different areas, which will then be inherited by projects and actions within that particular area. This makes it possible to differentiate personal and work related items in the next view. There is however no way of filtering the visible projects in the sidebar, which means that there is still lots of distraction and you might have to spend energy sifting though actions that are not applicable in your current context.

Making it work like your mind

While Things has a flexible and easy to use tagging feature, OmniFocus lets you organize your projects into folders, and projects can even have sub-projects and you guessed right, actions can even have sub-actions (which would make them sub-projects, but that’s another story).

In Things however, there is only one fixed hierarchy. At the top there are areas of focus, which can contain both projects and single-step actions. Projects contain actions as usual, but there is no way of creating sub-projects or actions.

Cutting out distraction

Another way the two contenders differentiate in philosophy is the way actions are linked. Things currently does not have any type of dependency support, meaning that it will always show you all actions in a project, regardless of whether they are available or not. Say you want to sell something on Ebay, and among other, there are two tasks. One says “Create the auction on”, whereas the other one says “Take a picture of the item”. Since you can not create the auction before having the picture, the first task should only appear once you have completed the second action of taking the picture.

Doing this in OmniFocus is quite easy. A project can behave in three different ways:

  • Single-actions
  • Parallell
  • Sequential

This is true even for sub-projects, meaning that the main project itself can be parallel, meaning that all actions within can be done in any order. Sequential projects however, must be done in a particular order. After using OmniFocus for a while, I use parallel projects in most cases, while sub-projects within are usually sequential.

There is of course a downside to all this dependency behavior, and that is when actions are mistakably hidden, because of a project in error has been defined as sequential instead of parallel for instance. In a perfect world, doing the weekly review should help mitigate against these problems, but in the real world, things might fall though the cracks.

In summary

My move to OmniFocus has been a productive one by far, and only seeing relevant information when needing it makes all the difference in the world. OmniFocus may seem too advanced and hard to learn at first, but once you get over that initial threshold and set up your perspectives, you never have to fiddle with the software again – you can just focus on your lists and actions and everything else will be taken care of.

The thing I miss most from Things is the way it handles recurring actions. You set a schedule for the action, and when it becomes available, a copy is created. This means that while the action is still scheduled, you can still affect the copy, for instance by delaying it, setting another due date, without affecting the original scheduled action.

I now use OmniFocus for the iPad as well, and it will be interesting to see whether it can be used in new ways and for new things. I already love the new view for the weekly review, as well as the new forecast view, which is supposed to be included in an upcoming release of OmniFocus for the Mac as well.

16 Essential iPad Applications

I have been using my iPad for a couple of months now and have grown accustom to certain applications and ways of using them. This is basically a list with my most used and loved applications for the iPad, and what better day to write this article than today, the day the iPad is officially released in Sweden. A lot of people interested in Apple and the iPad have already imported their own ages ago, and Swedish media have been writing about the device for months now. This is however the first day when everyone in Sweden easily can get ahold of one.

The built-in applications will not be mentioned in this article, even though some of them are used extensively by me. Let’s start with the fun stuff.

Media and Entertainment

Cover Art

Air Video

Forget about converting your video library for some movie viewing. If you get Air Video and install the server on your Windows or Mac, you can enjoy super crisp high-definition video on the go without having to convert and copy the media to your iPad. The server can transcode just about anything to fit your current bandwidth. This is a universal application, so you can install it on your iPhone too!

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If you enjoy movies and want to view plot information, reviews or even watch a trailer, be sure to pick up the excellent IMDb application for the de-facto movie source on the internet.


Cover ArtOmnifocus

The best tool for Getting Things Done is definitely Omnifocus. There are applications for the Mac and iPhone as well, and they can all be easily synced together. While having a premium price tag, it makes up for it for being the best task manager available. Some features are even better implemented and more usable than the desktop version.

Cover ArtSimplenote

If you want simple and fast note taking on the iPad, Simplenote is the way to go. It synchronizes with their web service, which means that you can access your notes anywhere. Simplenote only supports standard text, which means no rich text, images or any type of attachments.

Cover ArtEvernote

If Simplenote sounds too simple, Evernote may just be the thing for you. In addition to writing standard text notes, you can upload images and just about any type of file. There are clients for Windows, Mac and the iPhone too, and together with their free web service, you can access your notes everywhere.

Adobe IdeasAdobe Ideas

This excellent and free application is perfect when you need to be creative and create mockups, or just to doodle on while listening to a boring presentation. It has a rather basic tool set, but I find that it works great for anything I want to create. If you need more control and functionality, have a look at Sketchbook Pro instead.


Cover ArtReeder

If you get your news and website updates in Google Reader, Reeder is for you. With its beautiful, clean and legible interface, going through your daily feeds is a breeze. There is a client for the iPhone available too, and a Mac version is on the way.

Cover ArtRead it Later

You know when you find a very interesting article to read but just don’t have the time to finish it at the moment, Read it Later handles it for you. Adding a site done just by clicking a bookmarklet, and reading the articles on the iPad works exceptionally well.

Cover ArtiBooks

iBooks is the official application from Apple to read books with, and has support for epub and PDF files as well. Being in Sweden however, the store only contains free books, which makes it hard to buy books at the moment.


Cover ArtKindle

Kindle in contrast to iBooks makes it possible to buy ebooks directly on your device from the Amazon Kindle store. It even has an iPhone client and syncs notes and reading position between the devices.


Cover ArtZinio

If you are into international magazines, you can get PDF versions of most magazines for a great price using Zinio.


Cover ArtQiozk

Qiozk is like Zinio, but targeted to the Swedish market, which offer many of the most popular magazines.

Cover ArtThe New York Times

The New York Times application covers a wide range of areas, and will be free until early 2011.



Cover ArtHuffington Post

If the New York Times is not for you, then perhaps Huffington Post can be the bringer of news and interesting articles. It is a free application which has a lot of sections for viewing.


Cover ArtTwitter

If you are into Twitter, the official application is excellent and provides everything most people need in a Twitter client.


Cover ArtiTap RDP

If you need to use Remote Desktop, iTap RDP is the best I have used. Even though it is somewhat pricey, it is rock solid and has innovative features for quick and easy navigation and usage of the remote system.


Rethinking Email

I have been a long-time Gmail user and prefer using their web interface for my personal email, which I love for a number of reasons. For instance, when receiving a new reply to an archived email, the entire conversation is always shown, regardless of where the individual emails are located.

On the professional side of things, I use Apple Mail, which I am sorry to say is starting to get fairly outdated. It does not have the above mentioned feature where email replies are automatically shown together regardless of location. It doesn’t even support using SSL client certificates for connecting to the email server. The latter can fortunately be remedied by using stunnel as a proxy.


I have used Thunderbird ages ago, so I decided to install the new version and add both my personal and professional email account and see what has happened these last major versions. To my surprise, Thunderbird has been cleaned up considerably and has lots of new features like tabs, smart folders and a unified inbox.

The coolest new feature in Thunderbird 3 has to be the new search interface. It is just a beauty to see the data mining ability and the ease of refining the search terms as you go. There is for instance the possibility to visually drill down on the year, month and day to find just the thing you are looking for.

Thunderbird Search

Thunderbird Search

Then I recalled trying out Postbox a while ago when it was in beta. It is a commercial fork of Thunderbird, with its own unique set of features and looks, and although many Thunderbird plugins work with Postbox, not all do. I ended up giving this some thought.

What can a commercial company do with Thunderbird that the Mozilla foundation can not do themselves?

I decided to yet again give it a go. The installation is as easy as it can be on the Mac — just drag the application to the applications folder and you are done. The account set-up was super easy, with most things detected automatically, and that even includes the work account. Being a Thunderbird derivate, I knew that it would support SSL client certificates, so I just added mine and it worked instantly.



The interface of Postbox looks a lot like Thunderbird, but there are some not-so-subtle differences too. First of all is the polish — Postbox looks and feels more like a commercial product with its clean interface and modern color palette. The only interface section I liked better in Thunderbird is the main toolbar, which is a lot cleaner. It mostly has to do with Thunderbird having support for showing button labels beside the icons instead of below. That small setting makes all the difference in the world, esthectially speaking.

The first technical thing I noticed was that there is only one folder view — you have your accounts on the top, and the folders (including the inbox), changes below depending on the account you select at the top.

I am not a big fan of unified inboxes, and I had a hard time finding a view I like in Thunderbird (not to mention Apple Mail). Postbox, while only having this single view, get how people work with email. Having personal and professional mail in the same unified inbox just adds to the clutter and distractions we try so hard to get rid of.

Making the accounts completely separate is the perfect recipe for me, and lets me focus on one thing at a time, while not being distracted by Facebook alerts or Twitter messages and other things that may pop up in my personal inbox.

Thunderbird Single message

Thunderbird Single message

The conversation view in Postbox is excellent too. It works exactly like in Gmail, with collapsible replies and a beautiful interface. There is also this thread and message summary to the right of the message which collects all links, photos, files and other types of attachments for easy access.

Postbox for some reason, even has integrated support for posting to Twitter and Facebook. While I would use a dedicated application for this like Tweetdeck or Echofon, I will definitely try it out and see what they have done with it.

A last thing to mention about Postbox is the built-in tagging support. If you would like to tag email with certain action tied to them like “Follow Up”, “Waiting For” or other tags, it is possible to do so without having to resort to putting these emails in separate folders.

Postbox Single message

Postbox Single message

If you are not into sorting incoming email to different project folders, you will definitely enjoy the archive feature, which is available in Thunderbird as well. Pressing “a” will move the selected messages into the archive, which is a regular email folder. The thinking behind this is that since Postbox and Thunderbird index all email, you could just search for what you want.

I am personally fond of having separate folders for different projects and mailing lists. Everything else is put into the generic “archives” folder.

The latest version also features support for Things and Omnifocus, which means that it now is as easy as using Apple Mail to get emails into your GTD in-basket of choice!

If you want to purchase Postbox, please consider using my Postbox referral link. This will save you $10, and you will support this site too!

FogBugz 7.3 Now Available

FogBugz 7.3 Now Available. Highlights include:

  • New Plugin: Case Event Edit
  • New Feature: Bulk Reply
  • Upgraded Feature: Bulk Editing
  • Upgraded Plugin: Project Backlog
  • IMAP Support
  • Resizable Case View

… and lots of smaller features and fixes. See the site for details.

Going from Things to Omnifocus

I have been a heavy Things users since the beginning, but there have always been certain features that I have found lacking, such as sub-projects and a distinction between areas of focus.

Omnifocus has had all necessary features since I can remember, so I finally decided to give it a go for real. All active projects and areas from Things have been migrated to Omnifocus, leaving the someday/maybe list for if/when I commit to using Omnifocus for a foreseeable future.

The one thing I will have to live without for a couple of days until I can commit, is buying the iPhone app. That means I will be using Evernote on the iPhone to capture actions and projects on the go.

I am really looking forward to be able to use sub-projects and see if that increases my productivity and peace of mind about large projects. Perspectives are also something I look forward too, since that means being able to focus on just work or personal, even though there are deadlines arising in both places. In Things, everything is meshed together and it is practically impossible to completely separate all focus areas. There is an option to disable an area of focus, but that is a too inconvenient workaround.

Modern source control using Mercurial

Version control has historically always used the traditional client/server model. This means that the server is always the “master”, and clients may commit updates to this central repository. The information available on the client is generally minimal, with the base revision for easy diff and status checks.

The two main contenders are CVS and later Subversion, which has taken over most of the market. While Subversion is using the exact same model as CVS, it is more reliable, has atomic commits and is generally easier to work with.

Something new has been brewing these last couple of years though — distributed version control.

The main idea behind distributed version control is to use a decentralized versioning model (duh). This means that there is no centralized server in a normal fashion, but the repository is instead distributed among everyone who are working on that very project.

This part might be a bit hard to grasp at first, especially if you are a traditional Subversion user, but with the decentralized model the whole repository is right there at your fingertips and not somewhere remote. That does however not mean that there can not be a central place for the project, on the contrary, the central server servers as mere member of the entire mesh of clients. The server essentially becomes a client, but usually with special permissions allowing others to fetch and modify the contents.


This article focuses on Mercurial, which is surprisingly easy to use, but there are of course other version control software that works in a decentralized fashion. The most notable are Git and Bazaar, who have attracted quite the following.

One reason for using Mercurial instead of one of the others is ease of use. The basic commands are using the de facto CVS style standard, while more advanced commands relies on more knowledge of Mercurial itself. This essentially means that most people who have been using any kind of version control previously will feel right at home without having to relearn from scratch.


The workflow of Subversion where you first do a checkout from a server, then make all the changes you want, to later finish off with a commit is a usual way of using source control. To mirror this in Mercurial, there are certain not-so-subtle differences to consider.

The first task is to create a local copy of a repository from a server, which is similar to checkout in Subversion. The command is called clone, and that is exactly what it does. Clone makes a perfect copy of the repository on the server, with its entire history, including all available branches and tags. This might at first seem like it uses a lot of extra disk space, but it does in fact not take up more disk space than a Subversion checkout.

After the cloning process has finished, you would start working on your changes just like before. When you are finished, you will do a commit, this too just like before. When you do the commit however, you are only committing the changes to your local copy of the repository (remember, you cloned it earlier on), and nothing is sent up to the server.

You may continue to work offline like this, changing and committing as you go along. When you have reached a point when you want to share your changes with the other developers, you will want to push the changes to the server. That is in fact the name of the command. Hg push sends all your commits to the server, but if someone else has made a push before you, you will be notified by a perhaps not so clear message about you creating new remote heads on the server.

This means that there will be multiple heads on the server (essentially a branch) if you were to force the commit. Normally you would do the opposite and to a pull to get the latest changes from the server before you push your own updates. This is were you will have to take care of merging other people’s code into your own. In 99% of the time, Mercurial will solve everything for you. Remember that Mercurial has a complete history of the project, so it knows if blocks of code or entires files have been moved around. This eases merging in whole new level.

When all merges have been completed, you may push your changes to the server and others may pull your changes to their own local repositories.

This has been an introduction to the conceptual differences between classic client/server version control system and the modern distributed kind. If you want to learn more, head over to Hg Init where you can dive into the concept and learn everything your need to know to get started.

Flight Control – revisited

I recently tried out Flight Control, a game for the iPhone which puts you in charge as an air traffic controller. It is your job to route the different planes to their respective runway. With iPhone OS 3.0 came a feature for Bluetooth PAN (Personal Area Network), which means that the iPhone is now capable of creating ad-hoc networks with nearby phones on the fly. The new Flight Control update takes advantage of this new feature to bring multiplayer!

In multiplayer mode, two iPhones share the same air space, but are in charge of landing strips for different kind of aircraft. You then have to work together to route the planes to the correct landing strip without crashing the planes into each other. This brings a whole new dimension to this already highly addictive game, so if you haven’t downloaded it already, buy it from the App Store.

iPhone App: Flight Control

I recently bought Flight Control from the App Store, hoping to find an easy, yet challenging game. I found it.

Flight Control puts you in the air traffic controller spot, and it is your duty to route the various planes and helicopters on a safe landing route. You have to watch out for crossing trajectories, different speed air planes, and other traps which could lead to your demise.

See additional screenshots and videos on the Flight Control website.

Things vs The Hit List vs Omnifocus

I have been using Things for a long time, both on my Mac and iPhone. While being very good at what it does and being visually beautiful, I have lately been having lots of trouble finding a good solution for a “Waiting For” focus, planner, setting a starting date, subtasks and other minor things. Their support forum is full of these requests and many other too.

Both The Hit List and Omnifocus do not suffer from these shortcomings, and have other benefits too. THL has a very nice planner where you can see items due today, the next days, next week, month etc. It makes it very easy to get an overview on what and when things have to be done.

The one thing missing in THL at the moment is iPhone sync, which is where Omnifocus shines! It has a very competent syncing framework and a native iPhone client (a bit pricey though). Omnifocus follows the principles of Getting Things Done almost to the letter, which may be too rigid at times, and it does not have support for tags at the moment.

What to do? I have invested in Things for the Mac and for the iPhone, but I have considered the idea of moving to Omnifocus for the moment, and maybe returning to Things when it has matured somewhat. I like THL quite a lot, but without syncing with an iPhone application, it’s useless for me.