Noisy Deadlines

GTD

After several false starts the company I work for is finally migrating to Microsoft 🥳. No more sync issues between Google Calendar and Outlook for me (yay!).

I remember taking a quick look at Microsoft To Do last year and liked its simplicity, but because I only had one account I thought it was cumbersome to deal with personal and work stuff all together in one app. One of the reasons I liked Nirvana was the global area filter, so I could switch from personal to work mode, and keep a minimal number of context tags that were shared between personal/work .

Now I have 2 Microsoft accounts so things can be organized separatedly. I can switch from one to the other using the Microsoft To Do desktop app, both on my personal and work computers. I also have 2 mobile phones, one linked to my personal account and the other linked to my work account.

The 2 setups are similar, I’ll get into more detail about my personal one.

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So I use the GTD (Getting Things Done) method to organize my brain. It has allowed me to manage anxiety and stress over the years. From time to time I look at my system and reflect: is it getting messy? is it too complicated? is it really working for me now?

One of the things I’ve always thought was fundamental to me was having a system in which Projects and Next Actions are explicitly and solidly linked. I tend to spend more time organizing rather than executing projects. The truth is that we don’t execute projects, we execute actions that will eventually attain the project goal. And that idea is the basis of why GTD recommends having the next actions sorted by Contexts.

A context can be a place, a tool, a mindset, or the people required to complete a given task. If I want to make a phone call, I need my phone (@calls). If I want to pick up something at the grocery store, I need to go there (@errands). So the idea is to assign contexts to next actions so that it’s easier to decide what I should be doing at any given time because I have a limiting factor (context). It’s about focusing on execution.

I don’t think I paid too much attention to contexts in my system, I was more worried about setting up projects right. Hence, my preference has always been to use Nirvana to manage my projects and actions. But I want to do an experiment: use a simpler tool in which contexts are more upfront, forcing me to work by contexts.

Experiment with Microsoft To Do

I chose the app MS To Do for my experiment. I’ve tested it before and I think it provides a clean and beautiful interface, syncs on all my devices, and provides an easy setup.

I’m using two different accounts: one for personal and one for work. The company I work for is switching everything from Google to Microsoft so I will take advantage of that. I already have an Office365 subscription for my personal file storage and calendar.

I followed the official GTD guide to set up my system. I have a “Projects” list with hashtags to identify them. So I still have some way to “link” projects to next actions, but I would say it’s a weak link. The hashtags are more like temporary keywords to remind me what that action is related to. I don’t have a proper “project folder” anymore, containing all actions related to a project and that’s a big mind shift for me.

Right now I’m happy with my setup. I like the option to use emojis, it makes my lists more enjoyable. One of the few things I disliked about Nirvana was that it was visually uninteresting to me. I like some colors and visuals to attract my attention.

One thing I’m using consistently on MS To Do is the “My Day” feature. In the morning I open up the “My Day” tab and it really helps me plan my day. It’s a smart list that resets every night, so it forces me to think about what I want to accomplish every day and focus on them. In Nirvana I used to have the “Starred” items to focus but since this list didn’t reset, I used to have stale items in there and I constantly skipped the daily planning.

So I’ll see how this experiment goes. I’m already seeing benefits in having a quicker way to process my next actions: I just move or drag/drop the item to its context. Done. No filters, no clicking and choosing through various drop-down menus. Also, personal and work are 2 separate accounts, but on the desktop app I can easily move between the two. So it creates a nice work-personal boundary in my brain and still allows for some integration. Let’s say I remember something about work that is bothering me: I can easily capture that capture in my work inbox if I’m on my personal computer. Same thing if I’m on my work computer and want to see my personal lists.

#GTD #MSTodo #Productivity

Thoughts? Discuss... if you have an account or email me


By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I started using Standard Notes by the end of 2020. I loved the simplicity, the privacy focus, and the syncing between devices. I subscribed to the 5-year extended plan at a discounted price then.

I had thousands of notes in Evernote that were accumulated during 7+ years of use. When I realized that all that information was trapped in one proprietary application, I asked myself: “What if I wanted to move these notes around?”. Also, Evernote got increasingly slower and bulkier. After learning about Markdown and Standard Notes, I exported all my notes from Evernote to the markdown format.

Starting over (almost) from scratch

So I had all my notes backed up in markdown, now what?

I didn’t actually re-imported all of them to Standard Notes. I archived my old notes because I noticed that most of those notes were assorted clippings from the internet. I realized I was a hoarder of information created by other people.

So I started over, copying only a dozen notes that had information I wanted to continue having access to.

As of today, this is how I’m organizing my notes:

(Note: I use nested tags, a feature only available on paid plans in Standard Notes)

Read more...

After spending more time on changing apps than I'd care to admit, I finally realized that it was turning into something of a hobby, and I'd be better off picking something, accepting its limitations, and trying to make it work.

Over the past few years, I've been plagued by the “Feature chasing” virus.

I promised myself to stick with one productivity system after testing out several tools in 2018, then I rediscovered GTD with the Nirvana app in 2018, I jumped between Nirvana and Todoist, I kept using Nirvana for a while in 2020 only to get back to Todoist at the end of 2020, used it for a while throughout 2021 and got a little annoyed with the number of new features and updates the app was getting.

After 7+ months of tweaking Todoist tags, flags, and filters to conform with GTD I concluded that the hassle was not worth it. While Todoist offers some cool things like the perfect calendar integration and the natural language input, the way it manages projects and sub-tasks is still clunky (to me).

I am project-oriented so I usually have 10 to 20 active projects at one time. And their status can change on a weekly basis. That means if a project becomes “inactive” or “on-hold” I want to easily change its status and not have any next actions related to it showing up on my daily lists. I solved that in Todoist by creating separate folders for “someday/maybe” projects and used filters to exclude those from my active lists. It worked for the most part, but the process of moving projects/folders in Todoist has not been smooth for me.

I just think Todoist is cumbersome for projects. Maybe if I stopped using projects and not linking next actions to projects I would like Todoist better.

But I use projects. A lot! I quickly tried Microsoft To-Do using hashtags to filter next actions by projects but at some time point, the hashtags became pretty messy. And they weren’t good placeholders for my next actions. I totally lost control.

I still prefer the way Nirvana handles projects: it's built in the system.

So I'm settling back down with the Nirvana app. I think it conforms with how my brain works. It covers the GTD method elegantly with simplicity.

Reasons why I prefer Nirvana:

  • Nirvana has that .txt simplicity. I think having an extremely colorful to-do list manager was distracting to me. I like some colors, so I added a few emojis to Nirvana’s tags and I’m happy with it. (Note: not all emojis work in Nirvana, I’m not sure why, but some do).
  • In Nirvana, I can actually add a due date to a project and mark it as complete. I love this!
  • The projects list is way more organized. It's clear to see what is active and what isn't.
  • Someday-Maybe is managed in a much better way with its native functionality.
  • To read more: I talk a little about how Nirvana works here.

A snapshot of some tags I keep in Nirvana

So I’ve experimented a lot this past year…

… and I’ve read a lot about GTD and productivity. I used to receive weekly news and articles about productivity tools and I decided to let go of all that. Consuming productivity content was making me anxious.

I was induced to keep trying new tools...

…Experimenting with different methods…

…Spending whole weekends tweaking an app…

…And it wasn’t working. The perfect tool was never there.

There was a book that helped me a lot last year: The Getting Things Done Workbook by David Allen and Brandon Hall. It’s an action-oriented guide based on the GTD principles and it made me realize I was overcomplicating everything!

2021 was a year I learned a lot about myself. I developed a better sense of how my brain works and its preferences. And I concluded that the GTD workflow still aligns with me. I rediscovered Nirvana, a simple tool that I always enjoyed.

I also set up an Excel spreadsheet to help me organize what GTD describes as “Higher Horizons”:

  • Horizon 02: Areas of Focus
  • Horizon 03: Goals
  • Horizon 04: Vision

And in this same spreadsheet, I have a tab for my quarterly/monthly Planning.

I will write a future post about this spreadsheet. It’s working beautifully! 😍

#GTD #Nirvana #Productivity

Thoughts? Discuss... if you have an account or email me


By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I have never asked that question before. But suddenly I felt like I was overwhelmed and that I was spending too much time and energy to manage my lists. So this year I decided to sit down and write a description of my GTD system to understand what was going on.

The inspiration came from a post from Cal Newport in which he describes his Rooted Productivity document. For him, it's a one page document that he keeps in a plastic sleeve on his desk. The idea is to have a “root commitment” that includes all your productivity habits.

GTD is based on 5 steps, which are: 1) CAPTURE: Collect (Inbox) 2) CLARIFY: What is it? 3) ORGANIZE: Put it where it belongs 4) REFLECT: Review and Update 5) ENGAGE: What is the next action? Do it!

Based on Cal Newport's idea, I came up with a description of my system based on the following questions:

  • Which tools do I use for each of the 5 GTD Phases?
    • What are my Inboxes? Where are they?
    • What are my list managers? (including tasks and project lists)
    • How do I organize the stuff that comes into my inbox?
    • What is on my Calendar?
    • What is my reference system? How do I file non-actionable things?
  • Core habits and routines: what are the habits that are important to me?
  • Periodic Reviews: what are the reviews I have scheduled to keep the system up-to-date?
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🎈 Things I write about :

Sections:

🎨 #NoisyMusings: a little bit of everything 📂 #Productivity: organization, methods, apps, GTD 📚 #Books: everything book related

Some Topics:

#apps | #Nirvana (the app, not the band) | #Todoist | #GTD | #MSTodo | #notes | #journal | #journaling #BookReview | #ReadingList | #Reading | #ReaderGoals | #BookWyrm

#internet | #socialmedia | #attentionresistance #minimalism | #digitalminimalism #outdoors | #Hiking | #winter #iceskating

#music | #heavymetal

For summary list of my blog posts in a lightweight reading interface, click here.

I was excited about the Nirvana app as you can read here. I still think it’s the best out-of-the-box implementation of GTD on a multi-platform web-based app. A few things discouraged me to continue relying on the app. Nirvana’s development is slow and I got a little bit upset about an update released back in July with a few bugs. Those bugs were addressed in a later update, but that week dealing with the app’s hiccups got me thinking about other apps for my GTD tasks system.

So, as any good-old productivity nerd, I looked back at some apps.

My initial thoughts were:

  • Facile Things: it’s strictly GTD-based, but for me it has a clunky interface and too little flexibility.
  • Nozbe: it’s good, but expensive. I like the way it organizes and filters by context, but the interface was not my favorite.
  • Todoist: I’m already used to it. One of my all-time favourites for task management. Latest updates changed the project's behavior, but Calendar integration and total flexibility is its highlight.

After a week testing these apps I tried to understand why Nirvana was not cutting it for me anymore. It all has to do with friction. How easy it is to add something to my Inbox? Am I getting a trusted list of my next actions? Are there things falling through the cracks? How can I track them? Is it easy to coordinate my next actions and my calendar events? Do I like to see my lists? Am I avoiding my lists out of fear?

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I've been following the GTD (Getting Things Done) method to organize my life since 2013. GTD is a method of organization and personal productivity created by David Allen (this is the book). The main objective is to “empty our minds” and have a trusted system to store and manage our actions, projects, events, goals, objectives and even life purpose.

I've just spent about a year in the following cycle: trying Nirvana, loving it, using it for a while, then looking at other productivity apps, switching to Trello then Todoist, moving back and forth, then deciding I would stick with Nirvana.

Nirvana is a cloud-based task manager that can be accessed online on any platform and has Windows, iOS and Android apps as well. There is a basic version with some limitations (like the number of projects), a complete Pro version or a Lifetime subscription (you can check their pricing here). Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with the company in any way. It's just an app that I love!

Nirvana is made by a small independent team in Canada. So don't expect constant updates. The team is very deliberate on improvements and that makes the app extremely reliable. It brings together he GTD concepts beautifully. The developers attended the GTD Summit in 2019.

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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

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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

    • Simple.
    • Has a nice feature to filter by time or area of focus.
    • But it doesn't have sub-tasks.

Phase 03: Nirvana HQ

I really liked this app! I used it 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 a thing. So I decided to test Trello. And I read articles and the book about it 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, Meistertask and Zenkit 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!

#productivity #GTD #trello #kanban

Thoughts? Discuss... if you have an account or email me


By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.