GTD: OmniFocus vs. Remember the Milk on Mac and iPhone

In Tech and Internet by Daniel M. Clark11 Comments

I'm a busy guy – working at home with two small kids means I need to be organized. I work on a Mac and I just bought an iPhone. Are there tools to help me stay organized? You bet. These are the two that made the final cut, and I'll tell you which one I ultimately went with.

Here's the setup. I have been an OmniFocus user for about ten months. I paid the $79.99 after trying it out and comparing it to similar programs. Last week, I bought a new 3g iPhone, the Apple iPhone 3G S. I knew that OmniFocus was available for the iPhone, but it's $19.99 in the App Store. I knew that there are alternatives. I tried out many free GTD tools and listing/notes programs (booo to the App Store for not having trials of the software). I had just about settled on paying for OmniFocus for the iPhone when I remembered one called Remember the Milk.

Two days ago, I fired up my Twitter client du jour, Nambu, and prepared to send a message to my friend Sam Harrelson. Sam is a big proponant of GTD – Getting Things Done – programs, and I wanted his opinion about OmniFocus vs. Remember the Milk. Coincidentally, Sam had just posted to Twitter that he was switching from OmniFocus to Remember the Milk on his iPhone. Ooooh, drama! Would Remember the Milk change my mind about buying OmniFocus?

Round One

Remember the Milk – RTM – is free to use on the web, and the iPhone app is free… sort of. The app is free to download and install, but you must be a Remember the Milk Pro user in order to login and actually use it. Pretty sneaky. RTM Pro users pay $25.00 annually, and the list of perks is pretty slim.

OmniFocus for the Mac is $79.99, a price I was happy to pay 10 months ago. OmniFocus for the iPhone is $19.99. Point updates are free for both versions, but major updates are not… I think. Neither the Mac nor the iPhone version has had a major upgrade yet, so it's unknown what will happen. The good news is that there have been many, many updates and improvements so far – the Mac version is up to 1.6.1 without an upgrade fee.

Winner: OmniFocus. My Mac version is already paid for, and I'd rather pay $19.99 once for the iPhone version than $25 annually for RTM Pro.

Round Two

Looking at the two products, there's a lot of similarity in function, but not form. When it comes to GTD products, ease-of-use is paramount. If the product is too difficult to use, it'll be abandoned and defeat the whole purpose – I won't be Getting Things Done anymore.

When I bought the Mac version of OmniFocus, it took me about ten minutes to have the entire program figured out and working the way I liked. I found it very intuitive and needed no help from anyone to get things going. The interface is clean and organized, and being a desktop app, right clicking has meaning.

Right clicking in the Remember the Milk web interface simply brings up the default browser right-click menu. Not intuitive. This is, to me, symptomatic of the entire RTM experience. I found myself wrestling with the interface for 20 minutes and even though I could get a few tasks set up, I never felt like I was using the program correctly. Could I learn to use it effectively? Of course. Do I want to take the time (and then learn the iPhone counterpart)? Not really.

Winner: OmniFocus. It's easier to use, plain and simple.

Round Three

How well do the products sync between the Mac/Online version and the iPhone app version? OmniFocus syncs via a variety of methods: iDisk/MobileMe, Bonjour, networked volumes and WebDAV. Setting up OmniFocus to sync locally, via Bonjour, is quite easy, but it would limit me to syncing only when I'm home. I decided to see about a WebDAV sync, and it was quite easy to understand once I got some handy advice from the OmniGroup forums. I signed up for a free SwissDisk account and I stored the Mac's OmniFocus sync file there. Should I decide to buy the OmniFocus iPhone app, I'd simply point to that password-protected file.

The Remember the Milk sync is more straightforward because RTM is based online, not in a desktop application. All of your tasks and notes are stored on the RTM servers, and when you launch the iPhone app, it syncs.

Winner: Remember the Milk. There's nothing to set up for syncing. You just plug in your login info, either on the web or in the iPhone app and you're good to go. OmniFocus isn't difficult to set up; there's just a little more to it.

While on the subject of syncing, I should mention access. One of Sam's points to me was that he needs to be able to access his tasks from any machine at any time, and if that's the ultimate goal, then Remember the Milk wins overall. To use OmniFocus, you need either your Mac or your iPhone – you can't just login to a central website from any browser on any computer. I always have either my Mac or my iPhone with me, so for me, it's a toss-up – neither product has an advantage over the other.


I bought, and am happily using now, OmniFocus for the iPhone. Although OmniFocus won the contest for me, I am not saying that Remember the Milk is a bad product – far from it. RTM has some great features going for it. This isn't a Heavy Metal vs. Polka comparison, it's more like Beatles vs. Elvis – both of these GTD tools are very similar in many ways, but different enough that people will generally like one more than another. I'd love to hear what you think.


  1. Great post, Daniel.

    I woke up this morning and thought “maybe I should give Google Tasks another shot.” Ha! Clearly, I'm a little obsessed with GTD apps.

    I've been using OmniFocus since I first heard about it on the MacBreak Weekly podcast when it was in beta (episode 46 way back in the summer of '07!…). I instantly fell in love and forked over the cash. When I got my iPhone, I gladly handed over the cash for the app. It's really just a beautiful, intuitive and amazing system.

    But the reason I can't use it is that I find myself on my Windows 7 laptop, my Ubuntu laptop and my Macbook with equal regularity. I've even handed over the Macbook to the wife for her full time usage. My “main” computer has become my iPhone. And while OmniFocus is great on the iPhone, I can't get to the data on my Ubuntu or Win 7 laptop. I could sync it every few days with the Macbook, but that would be a pain since the wife considers it hers now 🙂

    So, I'm back to RTM. It's no OmniFocus, but it is “in the cloud.”

    Let us know how it goes!

  2. Thanks, Sam! When I got the iPhone and was thinking about GTD programs, I knew I'd have to ask you about it – I think you've tweeted about all of them at one time or another!

    You make a great point about your data being in the cloud. If I were using as many OS's as you are, I'd probably do the same thing. My choice works great for me – and I think, for anyone using the same setup as me. I'll definitely follow this post up in a few months with a progress report.

  3. This was a really nice read, thanks for the input from both you and Sam. I've been trying to do a bit of research for my specific situation, and I think I am in between the two of you. I am a faithful user of OmniFocus, both on my Mac and my iPhone. I personally have no need for RTM because these are the only devices I use. However, my partner is looking for a GTD solution and he is on Windows and a Blackberry. Thus, he could use RTM on Blackberry and the web. So how can we add/view a centralized task list? Yes, we could use RTM since I can get that on my iPhone, but now I am using 2 different GTD solutions (Sorry, OmniFocus is far superior than RTM). Have you been able to find anyway to sync OmniFocus to RTM? I have found a couple Applescripts, but it's more of an import more so than a sync option. I appreciate any help you might have.

  4. Thanks, Chad! I'm not aware of any way to sync or port OmniFocus with/to RTM. In fact, if you've found some Applescripts that work a little bit, you know more than I do about it – I wasn't even aware scripts like that were available. Sorry I couldn't be of more help!

  5. Great article, I thought that it was a nice comparison between the two. I bought OmniFocus for my iPhone 3G and love it, and I as much as I like the Mac application, I'd rather not spend that kind of money on it.

    But, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to turn away from it. My demo license expired, and Omni was kind enough to even give me an extra two weeks. I think I've become an OmniFocus junkie, except I don't really have the cash to keep up my habit.

    I started an RTM account a couple of months ago and turned away from it when I purchased The Hit List, but then gave up on that when I got sick of not having an iPhone app to sync with. I tried it again tonight and maybe it's just because I'm so used to OF, but RTM feels clunky, is it just me, does anyone have any suggestions to help me use it.


  6. I've only just come across this post now and it was actually the sort of comparison I was looking for. I bought a license for OmniFocus about 2 years ago for my Mac and that is where I use it. I never got an iPhone and recently upgraded my Nokia N97 to an HT Desire. I just realised there is a RTM app for Android and add-ons for Chrome and Firefox (my two regular browsers) and I am debating shifting across to RTM mainly due to the fact that I will have access to my tasks in more locations given RTM's many access points.

    Have you come across any direct functionality comparisons between OmniFocus and RTM from a GTD perspective? OmniFocus is an excellent app but because it is Mac/iPhone/iPod Touch only and I only have one of those 3 devices, its usefulness to me is relatively limited. I am comfortable to stick with it if that would be better for my productivity but it would be helpful to read what someone who has spent time with both has to say.

  7. I think I have a minor hobby of messing with GTD apps. I have been through them all – I have Omni Focus (for mac and iphone) but I keep ending up back at RTM. It just works really well with gmail and my life is spent there…

  8. Honestly, when I wrote my comparison, I found few noteworthy differences in functionality. Style, learning curve, overall look-and-feel… yes. But from a pure GTD perspective… functionality-wise, I think they're pretty similar. Ultimately? Go with what works best for your set up. Like you said, you have only one of the devices compatible with OmniFocus, so it sounds like you'd see more benefit from RTM.

    Hope that helps!

  9. Things like this tend to be very much a personal, “it works for me” situation. If RTM works great for you – awesome! That's the most important thing, after all.

  10. I'd love to switch over to Omnifocus. However, the syncing issue seems like a pain in the butt. And I'm not seeing notifications. Remember the milk will send me both SMS and email reminders about projects. Am I just overlooking that feature in Omnifocus or does not exist?

  11. That's a good question; I don't use notifications myself, so I don't know if the feature exists or not (looking in the program though, I don't see it, so probably not). They just released an iPad version, so I think they're really focusing on ease-of-use for multiple devices more than ever. There's talk in their forums of a “Omni Sync Server” that the company is working on so we don't have to use third-party hosts, so there's that.

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