of how I GTD
Originally I wanted to write about how I use Things for Mac with Evernote for Getting Things Done. Those were simpler times, possibly better times. Then I realized that since I don’t really use those alone, it might be more useful to see the complete system, from soup to nuts. So as of March 2011, here is what I use to stay organized in all its lengthy glory:
Sections of this Article
topComponents of the System
topNext Actions and Inboxes
All next actions find their way to Things, though they aren’t necessarily created there (see below). When on the Mac, I typically use Quick Entry to connect tasks with emails and other items; when on the go, I create Next Actions in the mobile app inbox. All next action titles must begin with a verb with the exception of Reminders, a special type of repeating task which begins with “Reminder:”. Repeating tasks do not have to be within a project.
I use mind maps for so much these days: brainstorming, problem solving, planning, meeting notes, and more. Each ultimately leads me to something to do, so naturally mind maps have become a big next action generator.
This is where my Yoropen, colored pencils, and paper meet – usually for mind maps and meeting notes. Often, too, my sketchbook and notepad are used for for quick task breakdowns whenever one as written seems too daunting. I save a lot of time by marking next actions, ideas, questions, and other details as I go. Next actions are marked with an arrow, ideas with an exclamation point, questions with a question mark. Items relating to people are marked with their initials followed by a colon (A: for Agenda). I process all my notes daily whenever possible.
topSomeday/Maybe and Other Lists
I’ve got all kinds of lists, too many to name here, and those that fall outside of to-dos are managed in Evernote. My lists include daily/weekly/monthly checklists; shortcuts for blog and emails, things I regularly type (for copying and pasting), filler text for designs, etc; idea for nearly anything; things I’ve borrowed or lent; work holidays; words to learn; and so much more. Someday/Maybe projects? I put those in Reference.
Things has a Focus dedicated to Someday (therefore also Maybe) which I use quite frequently. Anything that isn’t truly active at the moment will go here – projects and tasks. I’ve found that if I’m strict and only keep those projects with immediate needs active, I stay better focused on what’s really important now. As a result, I am thorough by having greater incentive to check the Someday/Maybe lists.
topContexts and Tags
Grouping tasks into context lists makes batch processing a breeze and the fewer lists the better. Stay true to the location and environment. Don’t let the limitlessness of tags lead your to over organize with too many contexts.
Things for Mac
Tags in Things are used primarily for contexts and I keep the list as short as possible at all times. My contexts are in alphabetical order and must begin with @. As mentioned elsewhere in this post, I do have some additional tags for sorting people related tasks (See Agendas, Waiting For, Follow, Delegate). I try to tag things as I go.
Things for iPhone
The small screen of a mobile phone is an excellent test for whether you have too many contexts or not. If I can’t find a context within half a swipe, I have too many. With my teammate workaround (again see Agendas, Waiting For, Follow, Delegate), my list includes tags that extend the list beyond a comfort size, but that’s unfortunately a necessary evil (or will Cultured Code save me soon?).
I use tags in Evernote for the hierarchy of my Areas of Responsibility and that’s about it. Everything I save falls into an Area, directly relating to some higher goal (see Horizons), and is tagged accordingly. Search has replaced my need for anything more – provided, of course, that I have given my notes a title or content that is easily found with search. I do, however, break the rules a bit if it helps to sort (such as with Songs), but they still must have a place in the chain.
topAgendas, Waiting For, Follow, and Delegate
Remembering who we need to speak to, follow-up with, and are waiting for is an important part of Getting Things Done. Since I’ve become conditioned to look regularly through these lists, I miss few opportunities to coordinate with coworkers, family, friends, and so forth.
I break the rules of Things a bit here by using the “teammates” People list as buckets for @agendas (things I need to initiate a conversation about), @delegated (tasks others are meant to do that I need to be informed about), @follow (something to watch), and @waiting for (tasks others are doing whose incompletion is preventing me from moving forward with something). This is done by creating fake people in my address book and creating teammates based on those. I’ve also created a tag called “People” (no @ sign) with sub-tags of actual people names. This allows me to still associate tasks with specific people and to get around a lack of teammates on the iPhone.
I keep all current meeting notes and agenda-specific lists in a notebook in Evernote called “Agendas”. Typically the meeting notes are for those that will happen, while expired meeting notes – if there is reason to keep them – go in Reference. People related notes may appear in notes here if those people can or should be contacted within a particular happening-now situation.
My ticklers are primarily managed in Evernote. I have 13 notes: 12 for months and one for things not related to any date but I want to remember.
BusyCal and gCal
To remind myself of what’s most important today, I use the all-day area of my calendars. I also use recurring items as reminders for many things, including habit breaking (a reliable way to nag oneself).
BusyCal and gCal
Without calendar based alerts, I would undoubtedly get much less done, so that’s my number one use for getting things done with calendars. Many of my calendar applications I’ve written about elsewhere in this post, so I’ll not repeat myself, but one thing yet mentioned is that I block out and schedule time for projects, especially creative tasks. Helps avoid distraction when I have dedicated time to something particular.
Things for Mac
Projects, placed in their appropriate Areas of Responsibility, are managed in Things. If a project can’t fit into an Area, I don’t do it (which helps ensure that everything I do is inline with a higher purpose). Each project title must begin with a verb and the list must be in alphabetical order (for easy scanning). Note options in Things are pretty weak so I don’t typically use them.
I use Evernote to keep track of materials related to projects, help generate next actions, and for flexibility of note space. Projects must match those in Things in title and Area of Responsibility. I try only to create project notes where needed so there is less to maintain. See Example project note
topAreas of Responsibility
These are the “hats you wear” and I take this quite literally. My areas are named after the roles I play in life and who I aspire to be so that every pass through my list is reminder of self and purpose. Anyone should be able to tell who I am with a quick scan.
Things for Mac
The order of placement in Things, from highest level to lowest, is Area > Project > Tasks. Projects must fall into an Areas of Responsibility or they don’t make sense for me to do. Tasks, however, don’t necessarily fall into a project, so they sometimes (though not often) go straight into an Area. I name my Areas starting with one my three super groups (Career, Personal, Work) and followed by something more specific.
Things for iPhone
The Area at the top of my list is technically a rule breaker: “**shopping”. I created this it’s easier to find things I need to buy when I’m running errands. Using the asterisks keeps this Area at the top (less scrolling when mobile).
Everything I put into Evernote needs to fall into an Area of Responsibility. I use a tag hierarchy to keep them ordered.
BusyCal and gCal
The three super groups of my Areas are reflected in my calendars. This assures that my goals/purposes are reflected in how I organize my time. Most of my items are scheduled recurring tasks, so they have a calendar of their own so I can turn them off when I need to scan my schedule. I keep track of holidays, too.
topHorizons of Focus
Everything related to my Horizons of Focus is kept in Evernote. I’ve dedicated one note to each horizon and have additional notes for things I want to do in my life (places to visit, things to try or learn). My horizons are all reflected in my Areas of Responsibility which guide my project choices and therefore keep my day to day activities in line with long term objectives. My Horizons of Focus outline what I want out of life and how and when I will achieve my goals, objectives, vision, and purpose.
topComments and Questions
Hopefully this breakdown of my GTD system will help you and I welcome your feedback. What do you think about this system? Have better ideas? How do you use Things? Evernote? Calendars?
Leave a comment and thanks!