The video version of this review. Note: I’ve changed my opinion a bit since I shot the video. Scroll to the end of this article for my latest recommendation.
“How come you never forget to do stuff?”
“I wish I were as organized as you!”
“Why are you always so on top of things?”
I never used to think of myself as an especially organized person, until people started telling me these things. And I noticed that a key difference between those people and myself was that I consistently used a task manager while they didn’t.
Do you also want people to compliment you on how organized you are?
Do you want people to perceive you as “always so on top of things”?
And do you want to use OmniFocus or Things 3 to make this happen—but you can’t choose between the two? Then this is the article for you.
Table of contents
- Who am I?
- Review criteria
- Capturing tasks
- Organizing your projects
- Planning your day and week
- Usability and design
Who am I?
I’m Peter Akkies and I’ve created successful video courses on both OmniFocus and Things. In these courses and in my videos on YouTube, I teach workflows to be more productive and to get more organized. You may have also seen me on the YouTube channel Keep Productive, on OmniFocus.com, or on The Sweet Setup.
In this article, we’ll be comparing OmniFocus 3 with Things 3. Each of these apps is a great project-based task manager. And each lets you use a workflow such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
I started using OmniFocus in 2011 and used it for many years. But every now and then, a new app came along that caught my interest. And recently, Things 3 was one such app.
After testing both apps extensively—to the point where I’m teaching video courses on both apps—I’ve come to understand each app’s strengths and weaknesses. And I’ve learned which app is right for what sort of person.
There are substantial differences between OmniFocus and Things. Depending on your circumstances and your preferences, one of these apps will be a better fit for you than the other. We’ll review the differences so that you can decide which task manager is right for you.
why task managers are important to me
First, a personal note: Why are these apps so important to me?
Well, for one thing, as I tried to convey at the start, other people are always commenting on how organized and how on top of things I am. Being organized helps me be more productive and helps me make progress towards my goals—I would absolutely be less productive if it weren’t for my task manager.
But my task manager became even more important to me in early 2016, when I started to deal with a pretty serious case of burnout. At the time, I was stressed every single day, my memory had suddenly deteriorated, and I had a lot of trouble focusing. Doubling down on my use of my task manager helped me navigate my burnout to the point where I am now: healthy, productive, and happy.
Even though I’m better now, each morning after I finish my breakfast I still open my task manager and look at what’s due today and what I’ve marked as wanting to work on next. My task manager is the core of my daily workflow.
Long story short: OmniFocus and Things are important to me. And they can become tremendously important to you too. So let’s see how they stack up.
I encourage you to read until the end, because I’ll be sharing some free resources to help you make better use of whichever of these two apps you end up choosing.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Which devices do you need to run OmniFocus or Things?
Both OmniFocus and Things only run on Apple devices. If you have at least an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac, you can use Things, and you can use OmniFocus.
Things is virtually the same between these devices. You can use it on just one device or on some combination of devices—you’ll have a great experience either way.
It’s a little different for OmniFocus. The iOS and iPadOS versions of OmniFocus look different from OmniFocus for macOS and function slightly differently too. They do all work together, of course. But while I could see someone using Things exclusively on their iPhone, I think OmniFocus is not suitable for iPhone-only use.
You could run OmniFocus just on your phone, but it’s not a great experience because it’s cumbersome to navigate through your projects. If you’re going with OmniFocus, I suggest at least using the iPadOS or the macOS version too.
There is also OmniFocus for the Web, a browser-based version of OmniFocus. OmniFocus for the Web is useful in a pinch, but I do not recommend using it as your main task manager.
How well do OmniFocus and Things help you organize your life and get stuff done?
To answer that question, we will compare OmniFocus with Things on various parts of a project-based workflow:
- Capturing tasks
- Organizing your projects
- Planning your day and week
- Reviewing your projects
We will also take a separate look at each app’s design and usability.
I won’t consider the price of the apps. I find both OmniFocus and Things so massively useful that their purchase prices are negligible. Most people will be able to earn back the price of the app they choose many times over because they’ll get a lot more done.
I also will not cover the automation features and Siri integration that you’ll find in OmniFocus and Things. There are some useful things you can do with automation and with Siri, but I consider these power user features that for the vast majority of users are somewhere between irrelevant and “nice to have”—but not critical.
With those qualifications out of the way, let’s dive into the review.
Your task manager should contain most or all of the things you want to do. So it had better be easy and fast to capture tasks.
On macOS, both OmniFocus and Things offer Quick Entry. You press a keyboard shortcuts and a window pops up on top of all other screens, allowing you to set a task name and perhaps assign a date, a project, and some notes, before sending the task to the task manager’s inbox. Quick Entry works great in OmniFocus as well as in Things. Using Quick Entry hardly disrupts your work and is a 10 out of 10 experience in each app.
On iOS and iPadOS, the difference is more pronounced. I consistently need more time to add a task to OmniFocus than I need to add a task to Things. Adding a task to the inbox is fast in either app, but if I want to assign the task to a project right away, or set a date, it’s just faster in Things. Mind you, we’re talking about a second or two here. You can decide how important that is to you.
Adding tasks is faster in Things because of the magic plus button. You can tap it to create a task where you are, you can slide it to the left to add a task to the inbox, or you can drag the button to somewhere else on screen, and Things will create a task or project there depending on the context. I love the magic plus button.
Another way to add tasks to OmniFocus or to Things is to send an email to a special email address that will be processed by the app. This is handy if you receive lots of work assignments by email. In OmniFocus, forwarding your email to create tasks is called Mail Drop, and in Things it’s called Mail to Things. The feature is almost identical between the apps.
Finally, some like to send tasks to their task manager using the “share sheet”, which now exists on iOS and iPadOS as well as on macOS. For example, if you want to learn how to care for an orchid, and you found a YouTube video that explains it that you want to watch later, you can send that video to OmniFocus or to Things. This functionality is there in both apps and works fine.
Overall, Things has a small advantage because it’s a bit faster to capture tasks, particularly on iOS and iPadOS. But really, capturing tasks in fine in either app.
What about organizing those tasks into projects, though?
Organizing your projects
Creating, editing, and completing projects on macOS is easy in both OmniFocus and in Things. But on iOS and iPadOS, Things again has the edge. In fact, the difference between OmniFocus and Things is even greater than when it comes to adding tasks.
In OmniFocus, creating a project requires tapping Home, then Projects, then the relevant folder, and then pressing the “New Project” button. In Things, you only tap the back arrow at the top and then drag the magic plus button to where you want to create the project, or you tap the button and choose “New Project”. Again, we’re talking seconds here, but it can feel frustrating if you normally fly around your phone or your iPad.
So Things is definitely ahead when it comes to creating tasks and projects.
How do OmniFocus and Things do in organizing your projects, though? Can you capture your projects accurately? Can you group them in ways that make sense to you?
This is where OmniFocus has a clear advantage over Things for some people. OmniFocus allows you to capture lots of detail, while Things keeps your organization simpler.
For example, OmniFocus lets you create sequential projects, in which you are meant to complete tasks in a fixed order. For example, for a project “file my income taxes”, that might mean waiting for certain forms to arrive, buying the latest edition of tax software, filling out your information, filing your return, etc. These are all separate tasks in your task manager, but it only makes sense to complete them in one order.
(Of course, if you live in a civilized country such as The Netherlands, the government will take care of most of this for you. Just saying. Haha!)
Anyway, in a sequential project, OmniFocus can hide tasks that are “blocked” by prerequisite tasks, so that you can view only those tasks that you want to work on.
Things cannot hide tasks that you can’t work on right now because Things does not support sequential projects. For some people, that might be a dealbreaker. If you want to keep track of exactly what you could work on right now, that’s just hard to do in Things.
For some people, the simplicity of Things is appealing. If you tend to over-plan, you might be more productive with Things because it encourages you to spend less time planning. But if you have an unusually large number of projects, or if you want to capture your projects very accurately and with a high level of detail, OmniFocus is better for that.
What about organizing your projects into folders or into a hierarchy? Here too, OmniFocus allows for more flexibility while Things is more opinionated.
In OmniFocus, you can create folders and sub-folders, which contain projects. Within a project, you can have tasks, which can have sub-tasks. Things, instead, has Areas, which are like OmniFocus’s folders. Areas contain Projects and within projects, you can set up headings. Headings are just a visual feature; they don’t do anything, but they can help you structure your project. In Things you can also create a checklist within each task. For example, the task “buy groceries” can have a checklist of ingredients.
So the two apps approach hierarchical organization differently, but either way you can go several layers deep. Things is more opinionated. You may like that or you may not, depending on what you’re looking for.
A different way to organize your tasks and projects is using tags. OmniFocus lets you do more with tags. For example, you can create tags with location-based notifications. When you apply such a tag to a task, and you are physically near the associated location, OmniFocus will send you a notification reminding you to do that task. You can’t do this in Things. In Things, tags are pretty much only for filtering your tasks and projects.
One key part of my workflow is using project templates, which you can, blessedly, do in both OmniFocus and Things.
We all have projects that we do every now and then. For example, to create an article such as this one. You can save a lot of time and energy by writing down the steps involved in such projects once and saving the steps for next time. Whenever you want to do the project again, you simply create a fresh instance of it and walk through the steps, or tasks. This ensures you won't forget anything. And if you think of an improvement to your process along the way, you can update the project template.
In OmniFocus, you can create a Project Templates folder and then create the template project, setting the project status to "paused". That way the tasks in this project won't show as available. Then you duplicate the project template when you want to create an active instance, setting the status to "active".
In Things, you can create an Area titled Project Templates and assign a date of “Someday” to the template. That way, the project tasks won't show as available under the Anytime view unless you're working on an active instance of the project.
Whichever app you choose, using project templates is easy, and that's a big plus.
Overall, OmniFocus gives you more flexibility in organizing your projects. I once worked with someone who owns a small construction business: his company installs doors in newly-built houses. At any time, he might be keeping track of 50 houses that need doors installed. For someone like him, OmniFocus is a great choice, because OmniFocus’s flexibility allows him to choose exactly what to show when.
By contrast, Things limits your organization. That could be a plus or a minus for you. I’ve worked with plenty of people who got bogged down on setting up OmniFocus—and found that when the switched to the simpler Things, they stopped tinkering with their task manager and started getting stuff done.
Planning your day and week
We talked about using project templates, which are handy for projects that you do every now and then. But what about working with dates more generally in OmniFocus and in Things?
Here we encounter one of the biggest differences between these apps. They treat the dates associated with your tasks and projects quite differently. If one app’s way of working with dates makes much more sense to you, that could be enough of a reason to pick that app.
Both apps let you assign due dates, although they’re called deadlines in Things. These work as you would expect. The difference lies in the other types of dates available.
In OmniFocus, there are defer dates. When you defer a task until a certain date, you imply that the task is not available to work on until that date, or that you don't intend to work on it until that date. OmniFocus then hides that task from many views.
By contrast, Things has a date that I’ll call—even though it sounds a bit odd—the when date. When you assign the “when” date to a task, that implies that you intend to work on that task on that date.
In OmniFocus, you're saying “I’ll work on that task on Tuesday or later”, while in Things you're saying “I’ll work on that task on Tuesday”. There’s no “or later” bit in Things; once you assign a “when” date, Things will continue to show that task in its Today view until you complete it, delete it, or reschedule it.
You can create the same functionality in OmniFocus that Things gives you with “when” dates by using defer dates in combination with a “next” tag. This means that OmniFocus gives you more options for working with dates than Things does.
But because Things has the “when” date built in, it does a better job of helping you schedule tasks for the future and of showing you what you’ve already scheduled. Things’s Upcoming view shows you tasks you’ve scheduled for the future and lets you reschedule them by dragging and dropping. By contrast, OmniFocus’s Forecast perspective can show you tasks you’ve deferred and applied the “next” tag too—but this gets messy if you also use defer dates without the “next” tag.
If that sounds complicated, trust me on this: for planning ahead, Things is better.
(By the way, check out my video on using the life-changing “next” tag in OmniFocus.)
Earlier, we talked about project templates, which are handy for those projects you do every now and then. But what about projects and tasks that repeat often, perhaps on a fixed schedule?
Both OmniFocus and Things let you repeat tasks and projects in many different ways. I’ve yet to run into a repetition schedule that I could not set up in either app. Setting up repeating tasks and projects is fine in either app. That said, the Things interface for setting up repetition is clearer than OmniFocus’s.
After you’ve listed all of your tasks and projects in your task manager, it’s time to decide what to work on. How do OmniFocus and Things help you sort through your tasks and identify which tasks are available for you to work on?
Things has a handy built-in view called the Anytime view. It shows you the tasks and projects that you can work on “any time”—the ones that you haven’t already scheduled for a particular date and are not in the “Someday” bucket.
OmniFocus does not have such a built-in perspective, but you can create your own. For example, in my OmniFocus video course, you’ll learn how to set up an “Available” perspective, which shows all tasks that you can work on right now. This perspective not only takes into account defer dates, but also checks that you don’t need to first complete another task before you can work on this one. Custom perspectives such as thing one are a powerful feature in OmniFocus. There is a learning curve to setting them up, but they are very customizable.
When you’ve figured out what to work on, you’ll also want to decide when to work on those tasks. You’ll want to plan your day and the rest of your week or you might even want to plan a few weeks ahead. What’s this like in the two apps?
Both OmniFocus and Things integrate with your calendar. OmniFocus’s Forecast perspective and Things’s Upcoming view show you not only tasks that are coming due or that you’ve planned to work on, but also calendar events. These views allow you to anticipate what’s coming up, so you can decide what you should work on today.
When it comes to working with dates, too, both apps cover the basics. Things is, again, simpler and more opinionated, while OmniFocus is more flexible yet takes more time to master. A notable exception is OmniFocus’s Forecast perspective, which cannot quite be configured in a way that is ideal for most people.
Doing your weekly review
Reviewing is an essential part of project-based task management. I recommend reviewing your projects weekly. In fact, regardless of which task manager you choose, you’ll want check out my free nine-step weekly review cheat sheet.
A major difference between OmniFocus and Things is that OmniFocus has built-in review functionality, while Things does not. Things’s lack of a built-in review feature doesn’t stop you from reviewing your projects. But it does require you to manually keep track of which of your projects you’ve reviewed and when.
If you tend to review all of your projects in one go, once a week or on some other fixed schedule, this isn’t a big deal. But if you anticipate sometimes getting interrupted mid-review and having to get back to it later, then in Things you’ll have to keep track of where in your review you were. By contrast, OmniFocus keeps track for you as long as you mark each project as reviewed when you’re done with it.
Then again, OmniFocus’s review functionality is essentially limited to keeping track of when you’ve last reviewed each project, and when you next want to review it. It does not offer any features to help you perform the actual steps involved in a review, such as checking that all tasks in the project are still relevant, or making sure that all due dates are still correct. In fact, these are features that I’d love to see in a future iteration of OmniFocus.
Still, even though OmniFocus’s review functionality is limited, I prefer having it to having to keep track of my project review status myself, as I have to in Things. When it comes to reviewing, OmniFocus has the upper hand.
Usability and design
We’ve talked about the usability of the two apps throughout this review. But people feel strongly about this topic so I want to discuss it separately.
There is a trade-off between ease of use and flexibility.
Things looks better and is easier to use. OmniFocus has more options, with a steeper learning curve and a more complex interface.
I’ve heard lots of people say that OmniFocus is more flexible and that its extra customization features necessarily mean that it can’t be as easy to use as Things. Conversely, Things is supposedly only so easy to use because it is deliberately limited in some ways, such as in the lack of support for sequential projects.
I disagree. I believe the OmniFocus interface could be improved substantially while maintaining the same features—this is particularly true on iOS and iPadOS. And I believe that adding some extra flexibility to Things, such as support for sequential projects, would not make the app harder to use.
But for now, the trade-off exists, and you should take it into account when choosing which task manager you’ll use.
So which app is right for you?
Ideally, you would try Things for two weeks, forcing yourself to use it fully. Then, you’d try OmniFocus for two weeks, also forcing yourself to completely rely on it. After trying both apps for a while, you’d go with your gut.
If you don’t want to do that, or if you can’t, then here’s my opinion:
Things 3 is the best task manager for most people.
OmniFocus is a great alternative for people who have an unusually large number of projects, or unusually complex projects.
These days, I use Things 3 because it’s easier to use and because I don’t like to work on too many projects at once. That said, both of these apps are great, so you can’t make a bad choice.
Next, check out my OmniFocus course and/or my Things course!