OmniFocus 3

OmniFocus has even more focus: a review

What sets OmniFocus out as a great task manager is right there in its name: focus.

Through a magic soup of metadata (status and times) and categorisation of tags, projects and actions (tasks), it is possible to build crystal clear viewports onto your tasks, tightly focused on only what’s relevant, hiding away fluff. It’s exceptional.

This review is primarily about the general concepts behind OmniFocus 3, but later gets into specifics of OmniFocus 3.0 for iOS, released today (30 May 2018). At the time of writing the macOS version is still in the proving drawer with a beta expected in summer 2018.

Custom Perspectives

The in-built views, perspectives, of your actions provide simple ways to slice into your task lists to get your work done with what’s happening now.

However sometimes you may find you want more clarity or you find yourself preparing the same views over and over. For this case, you can create a custom perspective.

OmniFocus 3 takes the custom perspectives of the past and boosts them to new levels with rules. These rules are based on the same (and some new) criteria used in the old perspective builder. The power comes from boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT) rules. (Think smart playlists in iTunes.)

Say you often want to make a quick loaf for friends (some of whom have nut allergies or despise currants) as you work your way through all the enriched bread recipes you could find. You can build this custom perspective:

All of the following:
    Availability: Available
    Is contained within project or folder: Enriched Breads
    Has an estimated duration less than: 30 minutes
    None of the following:
        Is tagged with any of: nuts, currants

This will show only the actions from your Enriched Breads folder which are available (incomplete, not deferred or held back), quick to prepare (less than 30 minutes) and aren’t tagged with nuts or currants.

These recipes may require slight alterations to the laws of physics, but that’s another app.


Another way that OmniFocus 3 extends its power is by using tags. At first thought the idea of tags could seem overwhelming, but only if you think of them as you might in any other app, as categories. Instead, it’s more important to think of them as avenues that will provide ways to view your action lists. Some tags may be analogous to contexts in prior versions of OmniFocus like tools/equipment or places. You could also use tags for people, a time of day, energy level, priority or steps in a planning process (researching, planning, doing, delivering).

For what tags to use, my advice remains steadfast: think about how you work or want to work, try out tags and adjust as necessary. I’d recommend adding a repeating action to review your tags, especially whilst in flux, to think about how they’re working. I might also suggest using as few as you can get by with.

Tags combined with the power of custom perspectives can give you an always-ready set of lists of the baking that will: get you a licensure, make your friends happy, push you forward innovating at your fledgling patisserie.

Forecast Tag

In a few months of use, my tags are almost identical to my old contexts, but with one very important addition. The Forecast tag.

Items tagged with this are granted a special status: they will appear in the Forecast perspective alongside due and deferred items. For anyone who always wanted to use Forecast as a working/‘Today’ perspective, this may be your answer. You can even reorder the actions as you wish.

In my previous OmniFocus systems I used flags to denote those things that were my current priorities (not just for today, but the next few). The Forecast tag has replaced this practise.

I now have four priority levels without any extra faff:

  1. Overdue: drop everything
  2. Due soon: Do it! Don’t let it go red!
  3. Flagged: I really ought to do this today; I’ll be happier for it
  4. Forecast-tagged: I promise myself I’ll do this soon

I really appreciate that the flag can now hold more importance as its orange highlight really stands out now. One nice touch on iOS: swiping from left to right on a project or action gives a quick way to anoint it with the Forecast tag or flag it.


For me this release is almost as much about making the app more powerful and useful. This is most noticeable on iPad where the 2016 pledge to bring more desktop power to iPad continues to bear fruit.

First off, OmniFocus for iOS features multiple selections and batch editing of actions. On iPad, there’s also a three-column layout allowing for a persistent inspector column. These three things have completely changed how I use OmniFocus when interacting with my database.

The info panel/inspector is now customisable, too. If you never use defer dates and estimated duration, for example, you can hide those fields. The option to ‘Mark complete… (Manually/With Last Action)’ for projects was previously only shown on Mac, but is now available on iOS. Following this pattern, I expect the ‘Completed’ time and date field will also make its way here eventually.

The outline view, which shows your projects and actions in context is also much improved. Between iPhone and iPad the views are the same and I find it easier to scan my lists. In custom perspectives there are also new grouping options and project information can be optionally shown. Additionally, a feature I love from the Mac has made its way to iOS: Clean Up. If an item changes so that it doesn’t fit in the current perspective, it is greyed-out but not immediately removed (cleaned up) in case you’ve made a mistake or want to make further edits before it disappears. On iPhone you can pull down to refresh and clean up at the same time, whilst on iPad there’s a dedicated button. (You can also customise the behaviour if you don’t like this.)

Lastly, whilst it may only seem superficial, custom perspectives can be much more personalised in OmniFocus 3. Each perspective can have its own colour, reflected in the iconography as well as on the home screen and any image can also serve as its icon. On iPad, you can just drag in an image from Photos or the web. (If you’re looking for custom icons, you needn’t look further than these icons produced by Josh Hughes, which have been refreshed to match the app’s new visual style and colours. There are lots of new icons, too.)

n actions remaining

It’s impossible for a piece of software to be perfect. Whether that’s because of bugs or because of outstanding features, every revision, major or minor, is another step toward an unreachable goal.

There are still features on the OmniFocus roadmap for this year that aren’t present in 3.0: JavaScript automation, sharing/collaboration and ‘nagging’ notifications. We’ll likely be seeing 3.1 and 3.2 before the end of 2018 with these features.

Aside from those though, I reckon there’s still plenty to do. My short list for iOS:

There are plenty of other features that many users want (natural language input springs to mind), but some features must be weighed against the ability of OmniFocus to be a general-purpose tool. I’d be appalled to see features added that are highly-specialised (like a grocery shopping manager, for example). Fortunately, it may be possible to build your own niche features using JavaScript once Omni Automation is integrated.

Yes, there’s more

If that wasn’t enough to justify a point release to your mind, there are more things in there. I would be remiss to not mention these features, even if I don’t use them a lot:

OmniFocus has been with us for ten years. Even longer if you take into account its roots as a set of scripts for OmniOutliner.

In that time, huge changes have been made to the app. This version, with rule-based perspectives, tags and batch editing, has trebled my productivity. OmniFocus has even more focus.

30 May 2018