One of the core tenets of GTD methodology is to stop wasting mental energy thinking about unnecessary tasks and Capture anything on your mind into a trusted system. While David Allen doesn’t prescribe any specific tool (he values pen and paper, just as much as an iPhone) it being 2019, most of us are going to be looking for an App. Therefore it’s impossible for me to talk about productivity without also writing about software. And those of us in Apple’s ecosystem have a bounty of excellent options. I’m going to talk about three: OmniFocus, Things 3, and Todoist.
Wait, but what about paper?
I’m glad you asked, because everyone who’s worked with me knows that my number one totally immutable rule is:
My primary requirement for my team is that they carry a notebook and pen at all times in the office. Too much gets thrown at us too quickly to rely solely on electronics. More often than not, on my way to the water cooler, I’ll be confronted by an editor who experienced a payroll problem, a producer who needs a multi-group looked into, and the E.P. telling me that a cut delivery is going to push. All of these items get written down in the notebook immediately, or otherwise they’d be forgotten.
What about Apple’s built in Reminders app?
Reminders is hugely popular because its free, works across all of your devices, and it’s fast. It’s also very popular with our group:
The problem with Apple’s built in app is that Reminders can’t create Projects. It lacks basic task management features like putting things on hold, creating or deferring dates, and has no ability to create contexts (We’ll dig into the contexts monster in a later post). Unfortunately, it’s not up to the task of a serious workflow.
#SpoilerAlert OmniFocus, Things 3, and Todoist.
Since this series isn’t meant to be primarily about software let’s just cut to the TL;DR chase and tell you what I think about these apps, so we can focus on the process.
- OmniFocus is the most powerful app.
- Things 3 is the most beautiful app.
- Todoist is the triumph of function over form.
The Feel of the Speed of Thought
When a task that you might have to do comes to mind capturing it quickly is paramount. OmniFocus‘s power is its hindrance in this area. Yes, OmniFocus enables you to create defer dates or set an estimated duration, but look at all of those options:
I found myself spending way too much time thinking about the tasks, instead of getting it out of my mind.
Things 3 has a nifty “Magic Plus” button on its iOS app that looks and feels beautiful:
But its Todoist‘s natural language parsing that wins me over in regards to Capture. What that means is that if you type “Update the family budget Every Wednesday at 8 pm” Todoist is smart enough to create a new task titled “Update the family budget” with a deadline of 8 pm every Wednesday.
As a producer I find myself living and dying by the date of things. So being about type “Follow up with legal by Thursday morning” and having an event created with a 10 am deadline is just so fast. It makes working with OmniFocus and Things 3 feel primitive by comparison.
But wait you don’t use the ‘calendar‘ the GTD way!?
Yes, this is true. While not prescriptive in his recommendation of tools, David Allen takes a hard line approach to the calendar:
No More “Daily To-Do” Lists on the Calendar! … This might be heresy to past-century time-management training, which almost universally taught that the daily to-do list is key. But such lists embedded on a calendar don’t work, for two reasons. … Trying to keep a list on the calendar, which must then be reentered on another day if items don’t get done, is demoralizing and a waste of time. … Second, if there’s something on a daily to-do list that doesn’t absolutely have to get done that day, it will dilute the emphasis on the things that truly do. … The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all.
This makes sense logically, but as I mentioned in my last post, I’m having difficulties structuring my tasks around contexts other than due date. And I’d wager that most of you producers will feel the same way. The idea that certain apps are more oriented around your “day” was most full expressed on the r/productivity subreddit here:
I think OmniFocus is more useful than Things 3 if you’re set on doing GTD: … the way the app is structured you aren’t so much focused on your “day” but what items you have available to you to do. The custom “perspectives” you can use with the pro account is extremely useful for this: at work I use a perspective that narrows down to a work folder containing all work projects and that also only shows me items that I can do while literally at work.
Things 3 is more centered around what your “day” looks like, more like a traditional to do list app. You can star tasks or add dates for it to show up on your “today” list. It has tags that can be used like contexts, but using tags as contexts is a little difficult because it takes a few taps to narrow down to what you want. And since the focus of Things is working down a “Today” list you sort of end up not using Things [tags] the way it feels like its designed, going the GTD route.
Todoist is similar to Things 3 in this way. You create and work down a date based task list because it’s so easy to organize them on the calendar.
There is much more to productivity than efficient capture. Contexts and regular reviews are pretty critical too. But this exercise of working through the strengths and weaknesses of these different apps has made me realize my own over reliance on the calendar. Can I start to think about my work in non-time based ways? In the next post I’ll dig into my roles and responsibilities as a producer and consider how that might be affecting my workflow.