Getting Things Done on a Mac

Things, OmniFocus, Dejumble and Daylite all somehow embrace the GTD philosophy, but the way they do it differs enormously. Besides, do we need GTD?If you happen to be in the market for a GTD application, you are certainly pampered when you’re running Mac OS X. Under Leopard, GTD applications have even seen an explosive boost as some of the synchronisation functionality offered in some of these programs heavily depend on Leopard technologies.

With the Mac increasingly becoming an all-round tool of productivity for organising anything from your personal life to your enterprise-class creative or publishing work, GTD and mind mapping are becoming essential concepts and technologies. Started under Tiger, most of the GTD applications currently available for Mac OS X are only now finding a large market of eager users.
The reason is a mysterious sales driver that is not so mysterious when you come to think of it. It’s the iPhone and especially the fact that the iPhone is increasingly being used as a professional tool (so much for Gartner’s original assessment of the iPhone when it was announced: “this is only going to be important for personal use”—yes, right.). Having an iPhone running a GTD tool that synchronises with the same GTD tool on your Mac at home or in the office, is a natural, effortless boost of productivity.

In most cases, it can even be a fun boost of productivity, because an application like Things is fun to use, as well as useful. Of the four programs I’ve tested for this article, only () Daylite is not really dedicated to GTD. Daylite is one of the more powerful solutions, though. One reason is that it is completely and seamlessly integrated with Mail.
Of business applications and perfectionist developersAnother reason is that it’s expandable with “Connectors”; there is a FileMaker Connector and a Delivery Connector. The latter allows you to automatically deliver reports to your e-mail address. But Daylite is more than GTD, of course.

As I said before about Daylite, it’s a complete business production application and it is on par with enterprise-class applications for the Windows world. So, I haven’t explicitly tested Daylite for GTD purposes again. It can be used for the purpose, it does that job very well, but I think buying Daylite only for GTD would be folly.

Things is the GTD application that I was eagerly awaiting the most. However, after some eight months of development, it’s still in its preview phase. You could call that a very long time. I call it a natural side-effect of a perfectionist developer. Cultured Code, the developer of Things, is also the developer of Xylescope, the excellent web page analysis tool that will show you how a CSS stylesheet affects a page. It will enable you to alter that CSS as well.
Xylescope’s interface and feature set were so well thought out that I sort of anticipated Things would take a good deal of time to come into existence. And yes, with Things the developer is constantly improving and adding on the program’s feature set. He’s now also doubling his efforts, as Things is also in Preview phase for the iPhone.

There remain two contenders: Dejumble and OmniFocus. Dejumble is a nifty menu item that has a lot of potential, but it’s a bit too limited in my opinion to call it a full-scale GTD application. For example, you can’t create contextual views of your task lists. Nevertheless, and even without the all the GTD stuff in there, Dejumble is a great task list.
GTD a must-do, but does it work?Which brings me to the question whether you really need GTD. I am more specifically raising the question if GTD works at all. The “inventor” Dave Allen will tell you it does, and he will even quote a scientific paper you can download from the University of Brussels.

Now, Allen is an American and to me it seems strange he would refer only to a paper being published in Belgium (the PDF can be downloaded here—the University’s link to it seems broken). IT Enquirer having been called “an obscure web site” by one of Allen’s co-citizens solely because its About page states it aims at pan-European users mainly, I am wary of Americans quoting a European source. Does it mean there is no American research in this domain?
Whatever the case, Allen claims the paper to prove that GTD works, but on closer scrutiny, the paper is less valuable for this claim than Allen wants you to think. It has been written by people who are not specialised in behavioural psychology but in AI, and it doesn’t directly say GTD works; it only says it seems to work.

I am literally quoting: “While it would be interesting to test GTD empirically, e.g. by comparing the productivity of people using GTD with the one of people using different methods, this is intrinsically difficult. The reason is that because GTD does not embrace explicit priorities or optimization criteria, there is no obvious standard by which to measure expected productivity enhancements. A simpler approach may be subjective evaluation: how satisfied with their work are GTD users compared to users of other methods? However, this will still teach us little about precisely how and why GTD is supposed to work. The present approach has chosen to address this last issue from a theoretical angle, starting from recent insights in cognitive science and cybernetics.”
The real GTD application on the Mac: OmniFocusAllen himself was described by Wired author Gary Wolf as an ex-mental patient who has some affinity with New Age.

Given this information, you could argue that GTD is just one of these hypes that in a couple of years will settle into “just another way of organising things”. It certainly makes me wonder if a product like Dejumble isn’t powerful enough to be comfortable, and whether a product like Daylite isn’t what you really need if you want to apply the GTD concept right?
The only alternative seems to be OmniFocus. It’s now also available for the iPhone, and it’s the most powerful GTD application available for the Mac. That has its pros and its contras. Pros are that you can pretty much create lists the GTD way or any other way you want and that you can look at them from many different angles and in different saved window settings (perspectives). The contra: its power also makes it the most difficult to use from the products we have discussed (except for Daylite).

OmniFocus is the only true GTD application for the Mac of the four that I tested for this review, though. It stays close to the original concepts, even has direct links to the GTD web sites, and it comes with a proper manual, which the others don’t have (except for Daylite, but see my remarks earlier).


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