📚Noisy Deadlines

GTD

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 | #notes | #journaling #BookReview | #ReadingList | #Reading #music | #heavymetal #internet | #socialmedia | #attentionresistance #minimalism | #digitalminimalism #outdoors | #Hiking | #winter #iceskating

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


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

My first Inbox Zero (2017)

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!

#GTD #productivity


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