OmniFocus to Reminders

Why I moved from OmniFocus to Reminders

I was a massive OmniFocus user and advocate for the better part of a decade. I’m now keeping minimal to-do items in Apple’s Reminders app, here is why.

Before I get into the detail, here is some history! I love to-do lists. It all started when I saw a notebook used by someone at the first company I worked for out of university. He used boxes and symbols to represent tasks in their various states.

I couldn’t get enough of that method of tracking tasks; something was compelling in the simplicity of pen and paper and, even though simple, kept me miles ahead of plenty of folks when it came to staying on top of things.

I quickly saw the limitation of a paper-based system; there is too much work transferring old items into new pages. Unless you want to keep separate pages or books for different parts of your life, you end up with some items stored there, some somewhere else.

Getting Things Done

Shortly around this time, and I’m sure because of someone else at the same company, I started getting into the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. Everything the book talked about clicked with me (except for the references around early 90’s corporate America!). Thank goodness there was a tool that accurately mapped the methods espoused by Getting Things Done and worked on the Mac - enter OmniFocus.

OmniFocus was and still is a fantastic tool for tracking tasks across a range of projects and splitting them by contexts as fine-grained as you would like.

You could get a list of things you could do whilst in town when it was a weekend, and the same app would seamlessly show you tasks you could do only when you are sitting in front of a specific person within a particular context.

I felt like I could map my entire life into a series of projects with OmniFocus, I had a project for everything, and I mean everything.

I bought books and courses all about OmniFocus; I learned how to use the tool in some fairly impressive ways.

If someone happened to see me putting something into OmniFocus and asked more about it, they’d have to clear a schedule to hear my rant. If you needed someone to fill an hour-long speaking slot without time to prepare, I could have talked about my productivity tool, OmniFocus!

Something had to change

I am tired just thinking about the amount of effort I put into tasks. Not completing the task, mind you, but thinking about the task itself.

I had burnt out on OmniFocus, which is a real problem because once you know the feeling of having every known open-loop managed somewhere and that somewhere isn’t somewhere you want to be, a lot of plates start spinning in your head.

I realised I was burning myself out around the same time I half-joked/half-meant how I should write a blog post about using OmniFocus to track my progress in Animal Crossing.

I had managed to shoehorn productivity into a game designed entirely around calmly pottering about; what was I thinking?

I realised two important things

  • Getting Things Done was no longer serving me
  • OmniFocus was dangerously powerful

Getting Things Done is an excellent book, and the practices it suggests undoubtedly help you get on top of and, importantly, stay on top of open external and internal obligations.

However, the Toby of 10 years ago is not the Toby of now; he has different priorities and different ways he likes to think about things.

Young Toby wanted to be productive. Old Toby wants the most leisurely life possible. I’ve learned over time that productivity for the sake of productivity is incredibly counter to pretty much the entire point of “being productive”.

Most of the stuff I was being productive for wasn’t serving me. I was an excellent employee (by which I mean I made someone else lots of money), and I was good at fulfilling what other people asked of me. These aren’t things I’m excited by anymore!

When the things I was obsessing over weren’t serving me, and the tool enabled over-the-top productivity behaviour, it was time for a change.

But what to move to

Okay, so I should move away from Omnifocus, but what to? The productivity app space is enormous, with plenty of well-supported applications.

I wanted something with fewer features than Omnifocus, but that doesn’t narrow things down given how great Omnifocus is for productivity nerds.

Luckily, there is a principle I try and use in my tech life, running stock.

I use the default Mail app on my phone and computer. I use default browsers and rarely look for third-party solutions for things.

I know they often aren’t the best apps, but they are usually the most well supported and easiest to upgrade.

For this reason, Apple’s Reminders app seemed worth checking out. It is very basic. You can add due dates, assignees, and lists, which is kind of it.

I would say it is refreshingly basic, when compared to Omnifocus.

I decided I would give it a go; I could try it for a few months and see how things felt.

Migrating tasks

Once I had settled on moving, and what I was moving to, the next task was getting my old tasks into my new task manager.

I decided to move my tasks over manually. I wanted to force myself to get good at entering tasks through repetition and wanted a way to review the tasks I was putting in.

Whilst I was doing this, another realisation came.

Lots of tasks don’t deserve to get done. I was recording tasks for things that would have almost zero adverse side effects if I didn’t do them.

For example, I had a recurring reminder to pay a bill. Never once I have needed to be reminded; I would always see the reminder and immediately cross it off as complete. Also, the only thing that would have happened if I didn’t pay the bill would be an email from the company politely reminding me.

I ditched almost all of these.

My new setup

I’ve been using Reminders for a good few months, and I don’t think I’m likely to move away from it any time soon.

I have three lists and one main view that I use.

The lists are;

  • Inbox - for capturing things I need to do. Tasks are descriptive and include the project name if necessary
  • Recurring Tasks - a list for repeating tasks; I wanted to keep this out of the Inbox
  • Family - for tasks I share with Elaine

The reason I’ve split my Inbox and Recurring Tasks into two lists is purely cosmetic. You can’t hide specific tasks in the Reminders app, and I didn’t want the list I would be adding to regularly to be too large.

Also, having my recurring reminders in one place means it is easy to look and see what commitments I could change that would have a long-lasting impact on the amount of stuff I have to do. The goal is to reduce my recurring obligations as much as possible.

The main view I use day-to-day is the built-in “Today” view, which shows me all things due today.

I try and add due dates to most tasks; sometimes, these are based on actual deadlines; others are arbitrary and based on “I think this is important and would rather get to it sooner.”

You can do both

Reminders is such a lightweight system that you could certainly test it whilst keeping Omnifocus for your main list. I know having two places to store action items goes against a lot of Getting Things Done, but honestly, if you’re super tied to that, you’ll have been scoffing the entire way through this article!

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