I’ve been on the hunt for some time now for a more adequate tasks manager, something that would enable me to combine the benefits of the digital with the clarity of print-on-paper lists. None of the to-do type things I’ve used have really been adequate, for whatever reason: the tasks aspect of something like iCal or Entourage or Palm Desktop is generally much too constrained; on the positive side, it can link particular tasks to particular days, but the notions of categorizing and prioritizing that these packages use don’t really work for me. (For them to work, I’d need something much more multi-dimensional, something that allows you to indicate both the urgency and the importance of any given task. And I’d need a much more fluid set of categories to work with. iCal is the worst offender, in this regard; I still despise the whole “calendars” instead of “categories” model that the program uses, and to have to associate tasks only with particular calendars is just nuts.)

I’ve poked at a number of other organizing-type software packages, such as StickyBrain and Backpack, but all have seemed more unwieldy than helpful. I wanted something clean but flexible, something that wouldn’t demand high levels of input from me but would just shut up and do what I wanted.

(I attempted to try Burnout Menu as well, but the demo insisted, upon first being fired up, that I had been using it for 28 days, and that I had to buy a license to continue. The license is super cheap, but I was much too annoyed about the failed demo to fork over cash sight unseen. Top that off with the fact that an email to their support address has gone unanswered for two days, and I’m just not biting.)

Anyhow, after GZombie’s post about Scott’s recent use of OmniOutliner, I got a bit curious. My new Powerbook came with OO pre-installed, but I’d never fired it up, being completely uncertain what I’d use it for. I started it up, and here’s the first thing I saw:


That little tickbox next to the open text field is, indeed, a tickbox. Meaning that perhaps this software could be good not just for outlining things that need to get written, but also for organizing all the to-do crap littering my head. And here’s the genius part: because you can create nested lists, and because those nested lists are collapsible, you can set your list up such that you can only see the portion of your tasks that you’re willing or able to work on at any given moment. For instance, I’m at home right now, so I can open my list like this:


I’ve only started tinkering with this, so I’m not sure in the long run how I’m going to like it, but at the moment, I’m sold.

4 thoughts on “OmniOutliner

  1. I’m afraid so. It’s a shame; it’s a great tool. The Omni folks also put out OmniGraffle, a diagramming package, and I accidentally figured out today that you can open OmniOutliner documents in OmniGraffle, to get a multi-dimensional, graphical view of the same hierarchical data. Very groovy.

  2. I’m still getting into OO3…. It’s a little bit outliner, little bit spreadsheet, little bit text editor, little bit country. Wait. Scratch that last bit. And you can turn off that checkbox in the preferences.

    FWIW, I use Stickybrain pretty religiously for grabbing web pages and keeping information in one place.

    My problem is that I tend to write in fairly explosive bursts, and so I wind up scratching out some kind of flowchart/outline on a note card or envelope and then just downloading everything onto the page in a word processor. I always just clean up afterwards, which gets confusing when you’re moving big chunks of text around.

    In OO, each paragraph gets a chunk. I can provide temporary headers, move bits around, “hoist” something to the top temporarily to see how everything fits, collapse everything so I can just see the structure. It’s neat.

    I’m still just learning the program, too, but at the moment I have two essays going in OO, and it’s had a remarkably positive effect on my productivity.

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