New Year and Getting Things Done

This is the first of probably several posts for, primarily my own benefit, documenting my implementation of the GTD system

Well, a bit late in getting a “New Years” post up, but I’m fighting a heavy does of procrastination and a head cold, so I thought “no time better than the present”. Several months ago, I discovered Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, probably via a link from a Mac site. There I found my first introduction to the concept of “Getting Things Done”, which is a book and much more from David Allen. Like most people, I find myself constantly feeling unorganized, confused, and wrought with anxiety as I’m not “getting shit done.” So I began reading some posts, exploring the multitude of applications discussed, and “lurking”.

The first application that I explored, which isn’t directly a GTD app, but one meant to provide more productivity in using your Mac was Quicksilver. This free application really is something that should be built into the OS, but that’s for another discussion. Suffice to say, once you get a hang of the app, you may never really touch your mouse or use the dock again. (Well, not really, but it is safe to say you will use the mouse much less, and the dock, well, that can be eliminated.)

From there, I began reading more and more about the GTD concept, and decided it was time to get the book. My frugal nature led me to my local library, however, the waiting list for the book was 57 people (I’ve yet to be notified by the library that a copy was available for me). So procrastination took over, I blew off several trips to the book store, and I continued my struggle with knowing what I needed to be doing.

Finally, on New Years Eve, my muse purchased the book for me, and I immediately began reading. It was as if the book had been written for me (I’m sure most people feel that way upon first reading). I’m not going to try and explain the concept, I don’t think I could do it justice, but a brief overview is that it’s intended to get ALL the things that people generally keep in their head, be it work, home, or personal, and put them into a system that allows to track them. It also introduces the idea of breaking “projects”, that is, anything that has more than one step, into “next actions”. So instead of having a to do list with “landscape yard” item, you have a project, and then steps to accomplishing the task. The goal is to remove those from your head, those nagging, “I know I should be doing…” type things, and allow you to concentrate on the “doing”. This should alleviate the stress and anxiety from the daily routine. Sounds perfect.

The next step is to find a system that works for you. David Allen doesn’t necessarily have a specific system, just a concept. Many, many systems exist, some paper based, some electronic, some a mix. As I work completely on the computer now (crossing fingers that sticks), a computer based system seems most logical. So off I went looking for a system.

My first stop was a FireFox extension GTDGmail, which hacks into your gmail account, and provides for project creation, contexts (that is, “where” or “how” you do the task, @phone, @errands, etc). It was a good primer on the concept, and has helped in managing my many emails from clients. However, soon it became clear that wasn’t sufficient enough for me for the entirety of the GTD system.

I’ve looked at ideas for using BackPack, which I like, but ultimately, didn’t seem like the best solution for me. I’ve also looked at several of the wiki hacks, as well as the Kinkless system. Which, seems well done, but as it requires Omni Outliner Pro, I wasn’t ready to invest in more software. Apparently Omni Group is working on OmniFocus, a full fledged app implementing what Kinkless does with Omni Outliner, and worth keeping an eye on.

Which leads me to my final decision. Currently, I’m using Actiontastic, which is still in beta, and will be an app that will have to be purchased at some point. It integrates with quicksilver, so I can easily add items to my inbox without actually moving to the app (for instance, while typing this, if I remember I need to buy TP, I can easily send that to the app with a few keystrokes). I’ve also looked at Tracks, a Ruby on Rails application that can either be installed locally on my Mac, or hosted on my server. Hosting it on my server would give me the ability to access it from any computer, and though I haven’t explored it completely, I’m guessing now that I have internet access on my phone, I could add items from the phone’s browser (or at least via email/SMS). If you are interested in testing Tracks, you can visit a free hosted version at Tracks Train.

No matter which I choose, the bottom line is I need to now actually implement the system, so I can actually start “doing”, which is a caveat of sorts. It really is a matter of dedicating time to do it. It’s really not something that can be done in spurts, or half way. I think that is the real reason for blogging it, a challenge to myself to really get it in gear. I intend on blogging more about the process, as both a way to share, and a means of archiving the process for my own benefit, especially if a new, or better “system” comes along. I’ve all but decided to go with Actiontastic, so the next step will be to nail down the contexts for my system.