Rediscovering GTD: the journey

Rediscovering GTD: the journey

My GTD organization has been a moving target for years.
GTD – Getting Things Done is a productivity method created by David Allen and I’ve been more or less applying its principles to my life for almost 6 years now.

7 months ago I wrote about sticking with one productivity system. At that point I had just started using Trello as my main app, applying Kanban principles and leaving Todoist behind.

But why?

Well, about a year ago my lists were overwhelming, I was trying to create filters in Todoist and apply the Eisenhower Matrix and it was a complete mess!

I started reading about Kanban and thought that that would be a good change for my organization system. Kanban is all about process and visualizing the work. It was created by Toyota as a scheduling system for cars lean manufacturing. Over the years it became a project management tool designed to help visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency. Trello is a popular app that applies the Kanban board principles and it’s extremely user friendly.

I started using Trello and I liked it for a while. But I felt it lacked agility. See, I use GTD as a productivity method (which is list based) and Kanban is based on boards with focus of process flow. Using Kanban made me understand my process but adding next actions and processing them in Trello was too cumbersome. I spent more time organizing and making the system look beautiful than actually doing stuff. Trello is an amazing visual tool!

But after a few months with Trello I decided to go minimal. I understood the Kanban’s basic concepts of “backlog”, “doing” and “done” and I wanted a simple straightforward system but that still had some GTD structure.

I remembered testing an app called Nirvana HQ that was strictly based on GTD. So I started using Nirvana HQ again, which is a lovely app! It’s perfect for GTD and it’s the best digital implementation of GTD I’ve ever seen. Elegant, simple, to the point.
But there is not much customization you can make on the app and it’s lots of whites and light greys. Not too exciting. And there is almost none integration to other apps. It’s extremely bare bones.

Nirvana H

So after using Nirvana HQ in a minimal style I understood once more what GTD is all about. I had one of those Ah-Ha! moments just looking at Nirvana’s left menu. This menu is basically:

  • Inbox
  • Next
  • Waiting
  • Scheduled
  • Someday

And that’s GTD in a nutshell. Inbox collects any incoming information, Next is whatever needs to be done as soon as possible, Waiting are for things we are waiting for, Scheduled are things incubated that we will take a look in future date and Someday is for everything not current or not active in our defined time frame.

That’s the basics for GTD and on top of that we can create more granular lists with contexts, like: @home, @work, @errands, @calls, etc.

I discovered I don’t need too many contexts (@home, @work, @errands, @calls is all I need) and that a simple Next Actions list differentiating between Personal and Work areas of focus are enough for me.

Enter Todoist + Evernote (again)

I’ve decided to (ironically) go back to using Evernote and Todoist.

I’ve been an Evernote member since July 31st, 2010!
That’s a lot of time!
And when I decided this year to move to Onenote I exported the most important notes but basically left everything else in Evernote. I told myself I would reorganize, review and gradually move everything to Onenote (which never happened, all the old notes are still there).

The only reason I moved to Onenote was that at my new workplace I couldn’t install Evernote for desktop and Evernote’s web version was horrible. Now, a year later, Evernote Web has become quite similar to the desktop experience and I discovered last month that I could (finally) install Evernote on my work desktop. I don’t know what happened, but I got to the Windows Store and I could install and launch Evernote without any trouble.

So… I’m moving back to Evernote and Todoist!

I think I’ve been a Todoist user since 2016. It has been evolving since I saw it the first time and I was surprised to find out now that it only got better during all this time.
It’s sleek, simple and works well on all platforms. I did move my tasks from Nirvana to Todoist quite quickly because it provides a frictionless way of adding anything to its Inbox.

Todoist in July 2019

And this the list setup I’m now using on Todoist:

What about Nirvana HQ? (which is still awesome!)

So why I left Nirvana HQ?

I still think some Calendar reminders, specially for milestones, are useful to my workflow. The secret to not be overwhelmed using GTD is not going crazy scheduling all the tasks we see and adding them to a Calendar or adding dates in to-do list app. That will make the system extremely cluttered and you’ll discover that you underestimated the amount of tasks you accomplish in a single day. We are not good at estimating how much time a task will take.

So, only things that are taking place in space and time should go to the Calendar. Hard due dates can go to the Calendar or can be added a date in a To-Do. And that’s about it!
All the remaining tasks are simply: Next Actions. No hard due dates.

So Nirvana HQ made me understand this. Made me believe I don’t need to add a date to everything. If you’ve ever used Todoist or any other To-Do list app you know they are basically built on dates. They encourage you to put a date on every single task.

So Nirvana HQ is great if you just want neatly well organized GTD lists.
But if you’re like me who likes to have an integrated system with options to go to the Calendar, set reminders, link projects to notes… well, then Nirvana HQ might be a little bit disappointing. Also, I need this whole system to work in sync on at least 2 computers and my phone.

It’s all about being comfortable with the tools

Going back and forth using all these tools made me understand a little bit more about myself. It’s a process and whatever organization system is being used, some trial and error will always happen.

Some people will live happily without any need to organize ideas and actions in a board or to-do list. I’m not one of them. Lists and writing down ideas is essential to my well being.

One of the positive aspects of GTD is that it can be applied in any tool, it can be paper based and it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You just have to understand the principles.

#productivity #GTD #trello #kanban #Todoist #NirvanaHQ

Sticking with one productivity system

This year I tested lots of task list managers, project managers and to-do list apps. I was not happy with my current system which consisted of Evernote + Todoist + Google Calendar and Google Drive to store files.

You see, I’ve been using the GTD method for 5 years now. It all started in a moment in my life when I was feeling extremely overwhelmed. I had a full time job and taking courses for a masters degree in Civil Engineering. I felt disorganized. I didn’t have a clear view of my life. And so I started looking for ways to get in control.

Phase 01: Evernote

I started having everything inside Evernote: contexts, references, projects lists, checklists, areas of focus and all the higher horizons of GTD. That worked for a while but soon I felt that I needed a dedicated app for task management. Evernote didn’t give me the satisfaction to cross off a task, per se. It was all done with tagging, so not very practical. I spent a lot of time tagging and untagging notes.

Phase 02: Todoist+Evernote

Then I started using Todoist. I kept my projects in Evernote and created the tasks in Todoist. In GTD actions are the most important part of the system: we only complete project by executing actions. So the “contexts” idea of GTD is kinda the central pillar of the system. Actions are always inside a context. And so I had a huge list of actions inside contexts, as we all do. And even though GTD tells us to prioritize actions based on context, time available and resources, I could never do it without getting overwhelmed.

The other issue I had was having the actions separate from its projects. There is a recommendation in GTD that it is better to keep actions separated from projects so that you keep focused and engaged on doing, rather than planning. Since I had all my projects in Evernote and tasks in Todoist I felt like this always created a duplicated effort: list the next actions inside the Evernote’s Master Project Note (MPN) and then copying them to Todoist. I’ve never thought this was a practical approach to project management.

So then I tried to use Todoist as a project management tool, with the tasks associated with each project. BUT, since the notes section in Todoist is quite simple, I still had the MPN’s inside Evernote. And it was not working well. The final straw for me was the inability to install Evernote on my computer at work when I got a new job. Long story short, 2018 was the year I started to desperately search for other solutions for my productivity system.

Testing Tools and Apps

Todoist-Filters-08-2018.jpg

First of all I tried to customize Todoist to my system. I read dozens of articles on how to create queries for filters in Todoist. I tried the Eisenhower Matrix method, I tried creating custom filters, combination of tags, minimal tags, priority flags and nothing seemed to work right for me.

I then went out on a frenzied testing sprint:

  • Nirvana HQ
    • Full GTD.
    • I like the minimalist look, simple and only focused on next action.
    • I like both the mobile app the web version.
    • I like that I can set up “Areas” and filter all tasks according to these areas. So I can have “PERSONAL” and “WORK” and “BLOG” or whatever. Seems nice! The advantage is that the filtering is already built into the software, so I don’t need to create specific filters.
    • Doesn’t have integration with Evernote or Google Drive. But I can add links to a task.
    • I like the schedule function (it’s the implementation of the “INCUBATE” in GTD.
    • Parallel vs Sequential tasks in a project: love this! It’s something I’ve always wanted to implement specially for sequential tasks. That way I don’t have unwanted tasks out of order showing up on my lists (I know I could solve this with tagging and weekly reviews, buy sometimes I had these tasks coming up during the week). It’s a very handy feature!
    • I like the “Zen” aspect of Nirvana. Really, I don’t feel overwhelmed with it (like I always did with Todoist).
    • Features:
    • Filter by area (it hides the rest)
    • Easy to tag and filter for context (I really hate Doit.im’s Context vision.)
    • project template
    • sequential/parallel options for projects
    • Reference Lists that can be turned into a project (eg. grocery list)
    • easy recurring task
    • the focus tab for actions with a deadline, or things you tag with a star (= things you will do today)
    • the Later tab, for things between Next and Someday
  • Doit.im
    • Full GTD.
    • The mobile app is okay.
    • Says it has integration with Evernote. I tried and it didn’t work.
    • Keeps saying I have to confirm my e-mail address but I never get their confirmation message.
    • Can’t export data.
    • The company is hosted in China.
    • Seems like they are not very active in developing the app.
  • Toodledo
    • List based.
    • Seems more complicated than it needs to be.
    • Lots of manual configuration/filters to be done to be a GTD system.
  • TickTick
    • Looks like a simplified version of Todoist. Very similar, with date based tasks.
  • Remember the Milk
    • So ugly!
    • I still had my account that I set up to try in 2012!
    • I hated the side bar menu.
  • GTDNext
    • GTD focused.
    • It seems it doesn’t have any mobile app yet.
    • Seems old fashioned.
    • Kinda ugly.
    • No new Twitter activity since April/2018
    • Lots of “problems” in the community forums.
  • Amazing Marvin
    • It’s more like a daily planner that you can customize.
    • It’s a different concept but I think that after years trying to get GTD right, I am going to go full GTD with the simplest and straightforward configuration possible.
  • Any.do
    • Too Simple.
    • Has a nice feature to filter by time or area of focus
    • But doesn’t have sub-tasks

Phase 03: Nirvana HQ

I really liked this app! I used for about 2 weeks but then the lack of a good notes field and no integration with Google Drive or Evernote let me down.

Phase 04: Enter Kanban and Trello

My-Work-Trello-Board.jpg

I have never used Kanban but I knew it was thing. So I decided to test Trello. And I read articles and the book about Personal Kanban.

I loved the approach!

Trello is easy to use and the visual aspect of it is great. I transferred my work and personal related projects to Trello. And I decided to stick with it.

Until today, when somehow I was curious to know how Asana and Meistertask worked. Just in case they were awesome and I was missing out. So I spent about 1 hour today testing those apps and reading articles about them. They aren’t for me. They are more business/teams oriented. But I had to see!

And so that made me wonder why am I always searching for a new productivity app? Why can’t I just be happy with the tools I have?

So I decided: I will stick with my latest Trello installment, which combines GTD principles with Kanban and be happy. I think 6 months is a reasonable amount of time to test my system and make it work for me.

We will see!

GTD helping me get to inbox Zero on GMail

GTD helping me get to inbox Zero on GMail

For the first time in years I have a true inbox Zero on GMail. I’ve been reorganizing my GTD (Getting Things Done) system and decided I should attack my email habits. I used to keep some important or waiting-for messages using the priority boxes of Gmail. And they were always visible.

Today I set up two new labels to use them as an action list and clear the clutter:

  • @To-answer calmly: For e-mails I have to answer that will take longer than 5 minutes.
  • @Waiting-reply: For those messages I am waiting for a reply so I can track them later.

All the rest gets deleted, clipped to Evernote (if it is something that will require starting a project or some action outside Gmail) or archived under one of my reference labels on Gmail. I sometimes clip to Evernote messages that I want to keep as References and that can be linked to any of my ongoing projects (support for projects).

I was inspired by the GTD Evernote for Windows setup guide by David Allen Company, 2017 edition. The guide gives two options:

  1. Use the e-mail as the reminder: This is my choice, meaning that the e-mail is also an action bucket that has to be checked regularly and acted upon.
  2. Use next action notebooks in Evernote or the calendar as the action reminder: This option only keeps the e-mail as a reference folder, and all the required action are registered into your next action folders.

And I even changed my Gmail theme to celebrate! I’ve always used the classic theme with no images. Now I have a reason to keep my inbox zero: I want to see the beautiful landscape with nothing over it!

Immediate outcomes:

  • I no longer re-process and think over the same e-mail message more than once. When I had read messages lying around in my inbox I used to open them again to see what they were about and got a bit lost inside the mess.
  • I no longer let e-mails pile up. I keep it clean and tidy!
  • I check my Inbox less. I am not a person that works all the time with e-mail, so I can have the luxury to check my e-mail only a few times a day. Before this change, I compulsively checked my Inbox waiting for some news, kinda like what we do scrolling down social media. This compulsive behavior disappeared!

So, I encourage everyone to test some kind of Inbox Zero strategy to see it if works for you! I’ve never truly implemented it because I thought I didn’t need it!

What did you think? If you liked this post, please recommend it!

Knowing what to leave undone

“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone”
–Oswald Chambers 1874-1917

That´s a very inspirational quote of the week for me!

I am currently reorganizing my projects and realizing that I will have to make some projects inactive in order to complete others. I apply the GTD (David Allen´s Getting Things Done) method in my life and I am now making some adjustments in my Evernote organization.

And I was completely inspired to make some major changes after I got in contact with Matt’s site After The Book and watched his videos. He uses a tag centered approach of Evernote, which works very well with GTD. If anyone has ever struggled to apply GTD using Evernote, his site is a must see!!

What Vogons, chaos and colored notebooks have to do with my GTD project?

So, I’ve been implementing organizational schemes for my life since last year. I’ve been reading books, blogs and articles  about productivity, minimalism, simplicity, organization, habits and so on. And here are some thoughts about how it all started…

I’ve always been an organized person. I’ve always been sure I was. I enjoy having clean surfaces, with only the necessary things on top of them. I try to apply that on places like: my desk or my bedside table. Since my elementary school days I had labeled notebooks with my name, the teacher’s name, schedule, year. I like grouping things into categories,boxes or some classification. I loved that moment of the year when you had to decide which agenda or notebook to buy for the next one! Oh, what about pen and pencils? My school notebooks always had a color-based hierarchy system in terms of main title, subtitles, notes and dates.
During high school my colleagues would  borrow my notebooks to be photocopied before tests.  The complete and organized notebook of the class. Yes, it was mine. Well, times goes by, and suddenly, I hit into College. How to describe it? College was challenging and fun, like your favorite video game, and oppressive at the same time. You know the basic story: new friends, new and intriguing knowledge, that sensation of freedom, the dream to become a successful professional. My organizational skills helped me get through it with good grades and all.

 And then I started working. Like, a real job. The first job. And it was good, I could happily use my skills, for it involved quality management standards applied to civil construction, quantitative surveys and cost estimates. And then life goes on, I jumped into a (supposedly) better job, and then there was crisis, and I ended up working to a governmental autarchy.  And that’s when things started to get weird, I guess. But it took me some time to realize the change. Governments exist with bureaucracy, lots of it, Like Vogons, you know? The  galactic government’s bureaucrats in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. Same thing in real life.

(Curious fact: illustrations by James Gillray inspired the appearance of the Vogons in the film based on Douglas Adams’ series)

Well, five years working with Vogons is kinda scary. If you attempt to change something in the process, a little thing, some minor detail that could get things a little bit better, there are tons of hindrances and obstacles. The attempts become increasingly tiresome. And that’s sad, because people eventually stop trying. And get used to chaos. Well, inefficient and unproductive kind of chaos, that is. (There are some few productive chaos…)

So I decided I needed to pursue other interests. I wanted to study again. I have that craving need for information and research.  So I reactivated a long forgotten project.  I enrolled in graduate school (what we call here “masters”). Then, after a year working full time on my day job and studying, I became aware I was stressed out. I was feeling anxious and overwhelmed every day.
And that’s when I started my “getting-organized-urgently” project, that later I called “GTD+Evernote“.
I started using the Pomodoro technique, I read David Allen’s book: “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” and chose Evernote as my main tool for implementing the methodology.
I will to share my experience, share how I set up the scheme and share the plus and minuses next time!