Okay, it was about a month ago that I got back on the GTD train. I’m not exactly sure what caused it, but I think was really starting to feel overwhelmed and I had a number of personal projects that were driving me crazy. Strangely I was being pretty productive with my coding projects, but stunningly ineffective with everything else and the stress was getting to me.
Now this is probably my third trip to the GTD dance. I first learned about it 6 years ago, and I thought it was the bees knees. But the incredible attention to detail usually overwhelmed me and I’d give up. But then life would completely overwhelm me and I would come back to it. So this time, instead of being completely doe-eyed that I’d convert everything I started small.
So I started in my personal life. And I started to go through all the todo apps I’d started to collect. I realized that perhaps some software had advanced since I’d last taken a tour through the world of todo apps.
What I needed (or wanted) was something that would let me enter tasks on my Mac, then take them with me on my iPhone. If there was an iPad version that was a bonus. But the goal was to be able to quickly capture information with a full sized keyboard, access to online resources, and then be able to take those lists of tasks with me where ever I went.
I knew the one important thing about Getting Things Done, was that I needed contexts. The ability to look at my tasks from a different point of view. In fact from a very specific point of view, the environment or context by which they would be executed. Having two points of view was critical to effective GTD for me.
The other thing I really wanted was the ability to set a start date for my tasks. One of the best, but hardest to implement ideas I found in GTD was the idea of the tickler file. You stick tasks you can’t act on yet into a future folder. That way you don’t have to think about it until the task comes into a time frame when you can actually do something about it.
For example, every two weeks I have to open the flood valve in our back yard to irrigate our lawn. I want to be reminded the day before but I don’t want to see that reminder in my to-do list every day. Or perhaps there a BluRay movie I want to buy. It won’t go on sale for a few weeks, and it doesn’t really matter which day I buy it, but I don’t want it to show up on my BestBuy shopping list until I can actually buy it. I love start dates. Very few systems seem to support them.
I think it’s important to point out that a start date is not a due date. A due date is something that REALLY has to be done by a certain day. Things like this probably really belong on a calendar, but if you have to complete a task by a certain date (like turn in a homework assignment) having it in your daily tasks is better than sticking it on a calendar in the future where you may forget about it.
The key difference is that a start date constrains WHEN you can act on a task (and when it takes up precious room in your brain) and a due date constrains when a task MUST be completed. After watching an excellent video series by David Sparks of Macsparky.com, I now rarely use due dates. I employ start dates religiously to help manage my mental load of what I’m going to get done and when.
So, where to start?
To Do Apps
I’m looking for todo apps with a Mac client, and an iPhone app. A web based client is okay, as long as it’s easy to use and quick. The apps I looked at were:
Remember The Milk
Get It Done
Initially, I completely discounted OmniFocus as being way too complex and expensive. Ironic, as in the end that is the tool I use daily. But I’ll get to that.
What worked what didn’t
Things – I love the look of things, it’s simplicity, and the power of tagging. What absolutely kills things is the lack of syncing. While I can sync between home and work – oh yeah, another critical requirement. Their syncing between iPhone and mac is atrocious. They really need a syncing solution and they don’t appear to be working on one. Plus it’s expensive. Boo Things.
Toodledo – Was absolutely one of the best solutions I looked at. While they don’t have a desktop client, their website in general is excellent and they supported all the features I wanted. Except, their syncing with the iPhone just didn’t work. If you created a project on the web, it didn’t show up on the iPhone and changes on the iPhone didn’t sync back to the web. It was crazy. What’s more, they had SO MANY options for each task, entering tasks on the web felt clumsy. Despite Toodledo’s great features, I can’t use something if it doesn’t work and the sync killed it for me. Rats Toodledo
ToDo and GetItDone Looked promising. I didn’t like GetItDone’s $40 a year subscription fee. I’ve had OmniFocus for 5 years. At $40 a year, would be like spending $200 for an app. Heck, I don’t like paying that for Office. I’m not paying that for a task manager. ToDo looked promising but was slow.
Remember The Milk The winner for me was Remember the Milk. Bar none it had absolutely the fastest mechanism for entering tasks (capture is important) and it was simple. There was an outstanding blog post by a user who explained how he used RTM for GTD and that gave me the handle I needed to start using it. The iPhone syncing worked flawlessly and once I got the idea down I could begin using it.
Next… How I started with RTM.