From OmniFocus to Reminders

Fri, Nov 5, 2021 4-minute read

My wife's been a Mac user much longer than I have. Years after she'd been happily using an iMac G4, a family friend asked if I'd like a bargain deal on their unused eMac. I was hooked. I'd recently learned about Getting Things Done (aka GTD) and wanted to try that on my new computer. At the time, on that OS, for Serious Users, that meant adopting either Things or OmniFocus. Then, as now, Things was the prettier choice. However, I had come to Mac OS after years on a Linux desktop and I knew that looks weren't everything. I bought OF after a short trial period and I was off to the races.

It's fair to say that OmniFocus changed my life. I'd been a disorganized mess who was constantly forgetting what I was supposed to be doing, and was often paralyzed when faced with too many choices of what I could be working on next. With my new OF/GTD system, I started taming that and getting my life in order. OmniFocus was one of the earliest purchases for my first iPhone. When I later got an iPad, I gulped at the price and then bought OF for it, too. When OmniFocus 2 came out, I bought an upgrade on launch day. When OmniFocus 3 came out, I did the same.

And when the OmniFocus 4 pre-beta became available for iOS, I installed it immediately. This time, though, something was different. Well, not with OF itself. That was the problem. OF 4 looked a lot like OF 3, which was pretty similar to OF 2, which closely resembled OF 1. Sure, The Omni Group had done a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work over the years. It was and is a brilliant product for power users. Yet sometimes even power users want something simple, and although OmniFocus scales up wonderfully, it never scaled down. Its industrial grade user interface would be instantly familiar to a user from 2008, with a hundred available options to tweak every last little detail. I realized that my own needs weren't that incredibly complex and became curious whether maybe another app would be able to tell me to schedule a haircut.

Meanwhile, Apple's own Reminders app had started life as a severely underpowered afterthought compared to OmniFocus, Things, and other powerhouses. In iOS 14, it hit adolescence and sprouted new features that started to hold their own against commercial alternatives. In iOS 15, it went through another growth spurt into something that started to look feasible. I found a blog post from Jon Mitchell about someone in my situation who had made the leap from OmniFocus to Reminders. That sounded implausible and drastic but it gave me the nudge to try the experiment for myself.

It worked. There are a few features from OmniFocus that I miss, like defer dates, perspectives, and "repeat from date of completion", but those turned out not to be that important. And in exchange, I got a lot of nice benefits:

  • Reminders is integrated throughout the OS, and lots of apps are happy to export their contents to one of its lists.
  • I can share lists with my wife and family.
  • Taken together, those two features mean that Paprika can send its grocery list to Reminders so that my wife and I can both check off items while we're at separate stores.
  • The user interface is vastly simpler and friendlier. Looks aren't everything, but they're not nothing.
  • I can ask my HomePod, "Hey Siri, what's my first reminder?", and it will tell me what to do next.
  • A lot of apps can be made to show reminders, like Calendar 366 which integrates them into a daily calendar view.
  • The Apple Watch app is genuinely nice to use.
  • It's free.

Since beginning that test, I found myself moving more actions from OmniFocus to Reminders. One day I noticed that there weren't many actions left in OF anymore, and I sat down to move over the few stragglers. Wow. I'd been at inbox zero many times, but never at actions zero in over a decade of using OmniFocus. And then I did the previously unthinkable: I deleted OF from my iPhone and iPad. I've fully committed to a life managed by what used to look like a toy to me. Over the last couple of months, it's been fine. I still miss the advanced features I mentioned earlier, but not enough to be tempted to go back. Again, my life isn't so complex that I need an extremely powerful tool to organize it. I'm learning that something simple and fun to use is good enough for me.

I still adore OmniFocus and I can imagine a world where I'd switch back. Maybe Apple will grow bored with developing Reminders and never improve it over today's state, which is good but far from perfect. Perhaps OmniFocus 4 will be released as an absolutely stunning app that's a pleasure to use. However, I think I'll stick with Reminders for now. It's helping me Get Things Done, and that's what matters.