Looking at 2Do as an OmniFocus Replacement

While we all need to be careful about succumbing to shiny object syndrome when it comes to applications and workflows, but there is often something to learn from them.

Case in point is my experience with 2Do as I was trying out SetApp. By default, 2Do filters out tasks that are set to start at a time in the future. So when I planned the night before I could set calls for 8 am, emails for 9 am…Then if it was 7 am, I wouldn’t see either of those tasks. My list of things to do was clear until those tasks became available.

This is not the default function of OmniFocus. In fact, I quite regularly found that the ‘Forecast’ view was cluttered with things I really shouldn’t be doing yet. That often led me to jump around between tasks, which is not effective in any fashion.

Armed with the knowledge from 2Do I found that I can set a custom perspective in OmniFocus to do almost the same thing.

So there was value in my three weeks with 2Do operating as my task manager. The changes I’ve made to my OmniFocus workflow will benefit me for years.

This is not a complete review of 2Do; you can find lots of those out there. Here you’ll find some of the things that I liked about 2Do and some things that I did not like about 2Do. There are enough of the latter that OmniFocus has stayed my task manager of choice.

Things to like about 2Do

First off, the general design of 2Do is beautiful. While the design doesn’t matter in many ways all things being equal, a pretty interface to work with is going to help you use a task manager.

Yes the 2do interface is very nice looking.

2Do also has a vast range of keyboard shortcuts. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a single page where you can find them all. In fact, the official manual recommends looking through the menu or downloading CheatSheet to find all the keyboard commands. I’d love to see a single list on the developer’s site with all the keyboard commands.

Tags, oh when will OmniFocus get tags? Or maybe multiple contexts per task? Well, 2Do has these things. That means if I’m shopping and I could get Milk at Costco or the grocery store I can tag Milk with both and then look at the tag. In theory, it’s coming to OmniFocus, or there are some work arounds but…meh to that. It feels like this has been ‘coming’ for years.

Another place that 2Do has one over on OmniFocus is the reminders and notifications. They’re simply way more robust. With 2Do you can even have nagging reminders which means until you resolve the task you’ll get a nag. You can also set multiple reminders per task.

The reminders also work when new tasks become available. OmniFocus and many task managers could learn from the reminders in 2Do.

The final big thing is how the Smart Lists work by default. I’ve already talked about this in the introduction. If I schedule a task for 8 am, and it’s 7:50 am, then I don’t see the 8 am task yet. I could click ‘Show Scheduled’ or the clock in the upper right side to see things that aren’t yet available if I’m ready to move on to the next items.

With a custom OmniFocus perspective you can achieve this, but you still see things ‘Within the next week’, ‘Within the next month’…and other stuff. Sure you can hide those lists, so the tasks inside aren’t cluttering up your view, but I haven’t been able to find a way to remove them.

My NOW perspective in OmniFocus

While I’m sure that many others will say I’ve missed awesome parts of 2Do, like it’s ability to sync with Reminders all the time, these are the things that stood out to me.

Now on to the things that were less than stellar.

Things to not love about 2Do

First up is sync. I know that OmniGroup took forever to get their sync going, but it was worth the wait. When I make changes in MacOS, they’re on my iOS devices in a few seconds. 2Do does not have sync like this. It’s not slow, but it’s not fast either. If I make a change on any of my devices, I need to make sure I’ve initiated a sync on the other devices to see the changes.

Sometimes that means a few seconds wait, sometimes it’s much longer. Whatever the interval is, there is no wait with OmniFocus. Things just sync fast, and that’s not the case with 2Do.

Now there are many ways to sync 2Do but Dropbox is what they recommend. It works, but it could be faster.

I said above that the design was beautiful, but then there is the quick entry box. It’s not terrible, but it reminds me of the OmniFocus quick entry box from before their big redesign. It’s got brushed metal. Is it functional, yes, but it just feels older.

2Do quick entry, brushed metal and all

Next, the way you put tasks into projects from their Quick Entry box is slow. At least the obvious way is slow. Sure if you use the ‘M’ key you get a popup that allows you to type and it will filter the projects out down to the one you want. If you press enter while the project is selected, you get a dropdown set of projects that you need to navigate with the arrow key.

I’d love to see 2Do implement the type/filter in every place that you can place a task inside a project.

Get ready to find the arrow keys or your mouse to put tasks inside projects from the 2Do quick entry

Let’s say I have a client project. That lives inside my ‘Clients’ list. Now for a single task inside that project I need to have a list of things, say headings I need to add to a custom CSV file exporter. With OmniFocus, this is no issue. I add the sub-tasks and go. With 2Do, I can’t nest tasks. That means I have to create a whole project for around 20 minutes of work.

Is this a show stopper? Nope, but it’s a bit annoying.

File attachments in 2Do are lacking as well. You can attach an image and an audio file and that’s it. So that PDF you want to read next Friday, you’ll need to write the title down and maybe add a link to the PDF in Dropbox. You can’t attach it to the task on reading it. This is less than ideal.

Project templates are crucial. You have blog posts to write and you need to do the same tasks with each one. In OmniFocus, you can tackle this in a few ways. First, you can use this script to generate a project from a template. Possibly a better way is to use OmniFocus’ Taskpaper paste/import feature since using TaskPaper templates means you can use them on iOS as well.

The final, and maybe the biggest issue with 2Do is that it doesn’t do project reviews like OmniFocus does. Let’s be honest, nothing does reviews like OmniFocus. It’s certainly possible to manually review every project, but not every project needs a weekly review. Some need monthly; some need even less than that. With OmniFocus, you can set the review interval and then leave it. The review perspective will show the projects that need attention and the ones that don’t won’t require a weekly decision.

Interesting Ideas in 2Do

There are a few interesting items in 2Do as well. First up is Checklists. Checklists are useful for stuff like packing up the kids to go to a birthday party. Create the checklist and then all the items inside the list are tasks. All tasks in a checklist inherit the due date of the Checklist. Tasks cannot have individual due dates. I used it a few times and it’s interesting, but it’s not a feature that makes me stay with 2Do.

The second interesting idea/choice is the lack of task nesting. In some instances, it’s a pain, like I cited above. It also helped me realise that I relied on nested tasks for things that should be projects. I still feel like it’s more pain than a benefit, but the constraint improved my workflow overall.

Should you use 2Do?

Now the question, should you use 2Do? I always say that the first question is, what problems do I have with my current task management workflow? Write those problems down.

Then with the problems in hand, look at the options out there. If 2Do solves some of the problems you have (like maybe it’s available on Android and OmniFocus isn’t), then go for it. 2Do is a great task manager.

I didn’t stick with it, mainly because of the sync. Most of the other things I could live with. Far too many times I would open 2Do in stores, not have a signal for my phone and then have to walk back to the front of the store to get a signal to wait and sync my list. This never happened with OmniFocus.

photo credit: clement127 cc