FoldingText as OmniFocus replacement


#1

I am beginning to entertain the possibility of replacing the ever heavier, clunkier, bloated OmniFocus family of products with a plain-text solution. Naturally, FoldingText emerges as one of the most likely contenders in such an experiment. @complexpoint, a distinguished contributor to the OmniFocus ecosystem in the past, now seems to have created a set of FoldingText extensions that (can be used to) do just that. I wonder whether he or anyone else on this forum has any experiences to share on making such a transition away from OmniFocus.

Many thanks.


#2

I have never used OmniFocus, but I could not imagine doing what I do with FT and my Alfred workflows on another system. I keep bookmarks on all my files and just sort through them so easily with Alfred. Passing notes to tags in my notes file is just a breaze with Alfred and FT!


#3

any experiences to share on making such a transition away from OmniFocus

I’m probably not the best person to comment – I have made that transition, but the scripts and plugins which I’ve drafted clearly happen to fit my own workflows well.

I do know of one other user who is probably better placed to comment, and is planning, I think, to make some video material on the (still evolving) txtQuery tools.
(Which I use to generate custom perspectives (across several files) with sorting and grouping, and with links back to the original lines in FoldingText files).

Broadly, however, every tool has a slightly different profile and niche. OmniFocus seems to be targeted at people who are heavily dependent on synching with a smart-phone, and are happy to fill out and see a fairly limited set of forms and perspectives. As it happens, although I sometimes do a bit of work on a local wifi iPad, I’ve put aside smartphones now ( ‘enough, already …’ was my feeling : - ) so I haven’t done any work on synching. Others seem to be mainly using Dropbox, and one of the scripts here can add links (in Reminders.app notes) to lines in iPad for Editorial files.

Plain text work flows, with links to Reminders.app (and more deeply customisable perspectives) are probably best where notes are central and need to be highly flexible, and where rigid distinctions between scheduling and work can be a bit encumbering or complicating.

It’s a more work-centred and less shepherded approach. For me, the key benefits are speed and integration with document production. FoldingText combines the best of of OmniOutliner and OmniFocus together, drops all their widgets and inflexibilities, is more deeply and reliably scriptable, picks up a lot of speed, and adds a powerful kind of outline-aware filtering which neither of them has.

For me it happens to be a perfect hub for gathering thoughts and shaping them into documents and schedules, at every level of scale.

PS

It works particularly well, of course, in conjunction with Brett Terpstra’s Marked 2.


#4

I am new to FT coming from OF.

Although my needs are not that onerous, I still found Omni far too much (especially the newer v2), I could never see at a glance what I wanted even with the perspectives, far too much work.

I far prefer text and FT is great for that even without the excellent work done by these scripts. The markdown really does look very nice esp with Marked2 app for preview and I have been testing some uploads to wordpress to see what it looks like and it is pretty good. I found Writeup not bad on iOS if you need to preview or update something (I use Dropbox).

As for reminders and alerts, well unless you absolutely need them, the tags and the extensions which give you a timer are really nice for working through activities and it is so good to be able to just use text and know it will be readable on mac, pc, linux, iOS android too!

Hope you can work out the transition, I have removed all the Omni stuff from my iOS devices to see how it goes and so far have no intention of going back :smile:


Mark


#5

I loved OmniFocus and used it religiously for several years. I am devoted to GTD and found OF, for the most part, a good fit. As the years went on I became a little frustrated by the rigidity–I didn’t use contexts as OF seemed to want and I was constantly linking to plain text “project files.” With the release of OF2 I jumped ship b/c the new interface disrupted my use of the software significantly.

As @complexpoint alluded to, I am planning to create a series of video tutorials detailing my use of his txtQuery plugin system. He’s still ironing out some new features with the scripts and I’m still crafting new perspectives/reports, so it may be a while yet before it’s working. However, you can definitely take what is in GitHub now and start replacing your system. I’m using it now to great success, or at least to my great pleasure. I find it very useful to have one file per project, where i can free-form plan things. Then, run the reports and get several files that present my tasks (that are distributed amongst the various project files) according to a few rules (e.g., due this week, starting this week, next actions, etc. etc.). I really can’t say enough how enormously useful this plugin is.

I was initially worried about iOS sync, but these scripts have you set on that on two fronts:

  1. there is a script that can link tasks in FT to tasks in Reminders, so you can get alerts on any iCloud device.
  2. You can write reports that output taskpaper files (instead of FT files), which you can sync to iOS. I have created double reports: each report spits out a FT file and a taskpaper file.

#6

Thank you for these good replies. @derekvan, I will be eagerly looking forward to your videos whenever they are ready. My Mac is a senile machine, in urgent need of replacement, that cannot even run OF2. I did have the opportunity to play with the earliest beta releases of the software—those that the developers retracted before a long hiatus that led to the final, redesigned betas—and my enthusiasm waned: I was unhappy with too many design decisions. At around that time, fortuitously, I started to discover the elegance and sheer power of plain text, which I now use in one way or another for the bulk of my work.

My working style resembles @complexpoint’s, I believe, in several key ways. I use a GTD-like representation of my projects to organize my academic research but often feel limited by the schematic, mechanistic approach encouraged by OF, whereby the project plan and the project itself (as content) are severed. Also, my growing penchant for plain text has coincided with a diminishing interest in specialized applications like OmniFocus and DevonThink, both of which I still use on a daily basis, and both of which I want to eventually replace with more bare-bones, lean, general purpose tools (in this case: an outliner and the OS X Finder, respectively).

Ironically, it is a rather inconspicuous feature of OF that has made me reluctant to abandon it so far: its distinction between sequential and parallel projects. @complexpoint, have you been able to/interested in replicating it in your own FT-based toolkit? Or is this an irrelevant distinction in the first place (I guess such questions will be self-evident once I begin to play with the scripts).

Once again, thanks.


#7

Mainly in the sense of perspectives which (do or don’t) identify next actions ?

Planning some more work on the txtQuery.sh engine tomorrow, and am only using a fairly basic set of perspectives myself, but the nature of these scripts is that it should be possible to design any kind of @tag scheme and custom perspective that you want. There are certainly various ways of defining a Next perspective, and of specifying which projects it should or shouldn’t scan.


#8

Sounds terrific, @complexpoint. Meanwhile I am starting to play around with your repo this weekend. Perhaps a naive question—how do you keep the “executable” instances of the scripts/plugins (i.e. the scripts in their expected per-application paths) up-to-date with the latest revisions in local git repository? Using symlinks or by manually replacing the older files with newer ones? I vaguely recall that symlinks to files outside the FT scripts folder do not work in the Appstore version of FT, due to sandboxing restrictions.


#9

I think that’s right - symlinks might bring difficulties – I tend to do it by hand, in practice


#10

Thanks, @complexpoint. And, running the risk of becoming tiresome, one more question if I may: how do you manage repeating tasks (which OmniFocus handles not too ungracefully)?


#11

Personally I’m finding the basic Reminders.app options enough for that.

(with links in the Reminder note back to lines in FT, if I need them)

( For something more fine-grained or subtle, one could certainly write a script to batch generate future events on some other cyclic pattern, adding them to FT project files and/or Reminders.app )

(and, of course, there are the custom options in Calendar.app)


#12

Using @complexpoint’s idea of reminders for regular tasks, I reneged and reloaded OmniFocus back onto my phone, purely for the reminders so no sync setup at all. That way, and using FoldingText to create reminders, the tasks appear rather nicely back in OF and I don’t have to enter anything into it.


#13

Due.app is also great at this and supports x-callbacks, so is easy to get data in and out.


#14

@derekvan @complexpoint may I gently bump this thread, in case there has been progress with the videos and/or the scripts? Thanks.


#15

Those scripts use a toy search language (based on xQuery) which I sketched experimentally in .js.

Now that JavaScript for Applications can directly call the version of xQuery which is embedded in OS X, I’m personally using an hoc set of scripts which apply xQuery directly to FTML-formatted files for most purposes. (Other text outline formats like .ft, .taskpaper, .opml etc can all be parsed and written out to FTML on the fly, to feed them into xQuery reports/calendars)

When I get some time (possibly not till the summer now), I will try to generalise and package this approach enough for others to use without needing to absorb too much xQuery (though it is a rather useful and omnipresent resource …) and does, I think, reward a bit of experimentation.


#16

(deleted accidental duplicate)


#17

While I’m still using these scripts, I have decided not to make videos or posts about my use of them. As @complexpoint notes, development on the scripts moved on to more robust techniques/technologies. My use of the scripts is idiosyncratic and may not translate well to what other people want to do. I’m not knowledgeable enough about how they work to instruct others on how to customize them for their needs.

At any rate, I’ve found 2do to be a capable task manager (link is to Macstories review of the app), used in conjunction with FoldingText (which mainly serves as project notebooks, more so than task management).


#18

Thanks, @complexpoint & @derekvan. It seems to me that I need to do some catching up with the twists and turns of FoldingText development in recent months (I am not even aware of the FTML format mentioned above). Is the current FoldingText beta forward-looking enough for me to begin developing a custom workflow, or are there significant architectural changes coming up?


#19

I don’t think there are significant changes coming up, but you’d have to ask @mutahhir.

FTA is FoldingText for Atom, which is similar, but different :smile:


#20

Hi!

I don’t think there are any architectural changes in the near future, and if there will be something, I’ll post about them in the forum for sure.

The current released version is the latest at the moment and there’s an upcoming beta, but that will be focused on bug fixes mainly.

Regards,
Mutahhir