GTD (Getting Things Done) is a methodology on tracking and accomplishing tasks, both at home, and at the office. It was invented by David Allen, who wrote a book about it, and has created a worldwide following. You can find hundreds of articles about GTD on the internet. Implementing the scheme is the trick.
It uses two basic rules:
- Put everything you want to do in one place–either paper or computer, in the form of tasks.
- Organize your task list by context. For example, @home would be the context for things you want to complete at home. Like mowing the lawn, organizing a birthday party, etc. @work would be for filling out your timesheet, making a phone call, etc.
The reason behind rule 1 is that this frees your mind from having to remember things, even the most trivial things.
Number 2 is for simplicity. You can concentrate on those things that are pertinent to where you are.
There other helpful rules, but I find these to be the basis of the concept. Some people actually do use paper to organize their task lists, but I spend most of my time in front of a PC, so I chose the computerized route. I also had another motive–I want to be able to sync to my PDA so I can have my list with me everywhere, and I can enter tasks on my PDA and sync with my PC later.
What software to use?
This also simplified my software approach. I was already a fan of Outlook, and am extremely dependent on it for organizing my life. But in the past, this was pretty much limited to the calendar and address book functions.
I toyed with other approaches–there’s an add on to Outlook for GTD, an add-on to Gmail for GTD, and you can organize tasks by context in Remember the Milk. But, none of these allowed for syncing with Outlook.
Categories and tags
And the frustrating part was that Palm has a built-in sync product for Palm PDA’s, but it can’t sync categories. Here’s why that’s important: the category list was how I differentiated between a task and a context. For instance, a task like getting a haircut would get multiple categories–“me” and “@home.” “Me” is the project, and @home is the context.
The ideal solution would be to use tags instead of categories That way, you can tag a task with multiple tags, and then you have the ability to list tasks multiple ways by tag. But alas,Outlook does not have this capability. Remember the Milk and Gmal have this feature, but they were rejected because of the lack of PDA syncability.
So, in Outlook, if you organize your tasks by category, this task appears in two places. Once under “me”, and once under “@home”. Confusing, you might say, since there’s really only one task, but since “@” appears before any other letter of the alphabet, all our contexts appear first, and that’s all you really care about.
The category sync problem was key, and I finally found a solution from Chapura. It’s called Key Suite. A little expensive ($50), but it did the trick, and that gave me the final solution.
Let me give you an example. I used “me” earlier, but that just to represent personal stuff. Let’s use an example that’s a little more practical, like building a web page for my brother in law. We’ll make a category called “arrowbail,” since that’s the name of the web site. This is also, be default, the name of the project.
Tasks might be:
- Buy the URL
- Select a theme (I’m going to do it in WordPress)
- Collect photos of his office, and a family shot
- Build the prototype
There will be many more tasks, but for right now, this will suffice. Create a task for each of the above, and assign them all a category of @home, arrowbail. For number 3, add an additional category, @workwaiting. So I can see all tasks that I’m waiting for someone else to do.
The importance of Next Action
Setup is done, now you need to figure out what to do next. Number 1 is obvious, so it gets an additional category of @@nextaction.
Now, in Outlook, make sure you fill in the radio button for Current View with the By Category selection.
You’ll see your first task at the top, under @@nextaction. If you had categorized another task in another project the same way, it would also be listed at the top of the page.
This is a fundamental concept of GTD–the assignment of Next Action. You should review all your projects on a regular basis, and assign it the @@next action category. You never want to have too many, as that defeats the purpose of classifying them that way. You want 3-4, so you can concentrate on just those that should be done next, and don’t worry about the rest until your next review.
Once a task is done, you mark it complete, or delete it, and eventually you’ll rotate everything through @@nextaction.
You might also want to designate @workwaiting as @@workwaiting, and you’ll have the tasks you’re waiting for other people to complete directly under @@nextaction. Your top two “important” lists will then be at the top of your task list.
And there you have it–simple, no bells, no whistles, but it meets my requirements. If you try it, please let me know if it works for you.