Noisy Deadlines

gtd

After I re-read the book “Making it all Work” by David Allen last year I started to think more about the Higher Horizons.

Basically, in the GTD framework, we can have different levels of control over what we are doing. They are called Horizons of Focus.

In summary, they are:

  • Ground: Calendar/actions
  • Horizon 1: Projects
  • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
  • Horizon 3: One to two-year goals and objectives
  • Horizon 4: Three-to five-year vision
  • Horizon 5: Purpose and principles

You can read the full definitions here.

The Ground level is what is going on right now, right in front of us: meetings and appointments we have on our calendar and our next actions.

Horizon 1 represents our Projects, the things we want to accomplish that will require more than one action. A project requires various next actions until it can be completed. It can be short: completing 3 next actions renders the project complete in a week, or long: multiple next actions that complete the project within a year or so.

So usually a Task Manager and a Calendar app will cover the Ground and Horizon 1 Levels.

Horizons 2 to 5 are what I'm calling the Higher Horizons here. It works as a framework to align all of our actions and projects with our larger goals.

There are many ways to build this framework and the choices are highly personal. Some people like to have mind maps, connected notes, bullet point lists, outliner apps, or a combination of those.

I decided to create a spreadsheet where I could organize this information in one place. And also, I wanted it to be useful for my planning routines. So what I did was a blend of planning and higher horizons perspectives.

I'll try to explain how I set it up below.


My GTD Dashboard 🚩

I set up an Excel spreadsheet to help me organize the “Higher Horizons”. But I also added some planning tabs that help me link the higher horizons with my planning process. I keep one file per year.

I have the following tabs:

In summary, the tabs contain:

  • My GTD System: an overview of my tools and routines with some links.

  • YEAR PLANNING: high-level planning I do every December to think about the incoming year.
  • MONTHLY PLANNING: Divided into quarters, it's an overview of my plans for the incoming month/quarter.
  • HORIZON 01 – PROJECTS: A projects log list.
  • HORIZON 02 – AREAS OF FOCUS: a summary of my areas of focus and the distribution of projects. The detailed information about each of the areas is kept in a separate mind map file.
  • HORIZONS 03-04 : Goals and Vision: I fill this out at the beginning of the year when I reflect on each area of focus and decide what I want to focus on next.
  • END OF YEAR REVIEW: a checklist for a reflection exercise and ideas for the next year.

For Horizon 05: Purpose and principles, I actually have a text document, that can be accessed from a link I added to the spreadsheet in the “My GTD System” tab.

I also have a link to another text document called “Big Picture”. As part of my end-of-the-month review, I do a write-up with the highlights of the month. This is a Word document and is not part of the spreadsheet.

Read more...

Yes, I have a confession to make: I went back to Nirvana. Again. After spending time customizing MS To Do, being excited about colorful emojis, backgrounds and all sorts of integrations with Outlook… I went back to the good old Nirvana.

I probably said it before, but Nirvana is still the best GTD implementation for me. It's simple and elegant. I like it because it allows me to have neatly well organized GTD lists. It is the only app that gives me a clear and straightforward view of all my commitments. And you might wonder why is that important?

Well, I worry a lot about things. My mind is constantly thinking, re-thinking and planning. One of the things that attracted me to GTD was the idea of “unloading” my thoughts, stepping back and making sense of them. But all those unloaded things need to be processed, and for my mind to be at ease, they need to be in an organized trusted place. So, Nirvana is the best digital tool to take care of all that stuff.

“You can only feel comfortable about what you're not doing when you know what you're not doing.” — David Allen, Brandon Hall. The Getting Things Done Workbook: 10 Moves to Stress-Free Productivity, 2019.

Maybe it’s because Nirvana has a more fixed structure, things are either in:

  • Inbox
  • Next
  • Later
  • Waiting
  • Scheduled
  • Someday
  • Reference

And that’s it. My brain enjoys having these well-defined buckets. And also because Nirvana allows a bird’s eye view of everything, distributed in all those buckets, or views filtered by Personal or Work areas because of the global filters. I have better control of projects states, so if a project becomes inactive, it’s easy to drag and drop it to the “Later” or “Someday” folder and all its next actions will be inactivated as well. No need to go back to the contexts list and move inactivated actions individually (something I would have to go through in MS To Do).

I liked my setup on MS To Do. I think it might work for a lot of people. But there were some details that bothered me:

  • NOT having ONE Inbox to rule them all. I was using two accounts, one for personal and one for work, so I ended up with 2 inboxes (that is not an issue if you use one account for everything). The process of having a thought, recognizing it as something to be captured and then having to decide in which instance I was going to capture it created some friction to my capturing. I tend to capture a lot while I’m on my computer, and I would pause to switch accounts and get distracted. I kept remembering how ubiquitous and easy it was to add something to the unified Nirvana Inbox with a keyboard shortcut. And also, how Nirvana syncs between my personal and phone mobiles, so no friction at all.
  • Not having the Projects linked to Next Actions. Yeah, I tried to let go of it linking next actions to projects”). And it turns out my preference is to have everything linked. I’ve heard it is a cognitive preference, some people are okay with having things separated, and some people don’t. I’ve tested it for real, so now I know. Linking actions to projects is a must for me.
  • The hashtags drop-down selection only appears when adding a new task. So, I was using hashtags to identify projects keywords. When creating a new task in MS To Do I could type “#” and a list of hashtags terms already used would appear. But if I have already captured something and I was processing it to add a hashtag later, the drop-down menu wouldn’t show up and I ended up creating variations of the existing hashtag because I didn’t remember exactly the word I used. It’s a minor detail, but when you start having too many projects, this can be an encumbrance. Of course, this problem is avoidable if you’re not worried about linking next actions to projects, which is NOT my case (see the previous item).

It’s a journey…

I feel comfortable now with my decision. I was triggered to experiment MS To Do because of a change in my work (which recently shifted everything to Microsoft). So I used MS To Do for about a month and realized it was not exactly all that I expected. I still think it’s a great app.

And that’s okay. I know I will change my system based on my experience level, current needs, and changes in the available tools. And Nirvana still works for me, so I’ll stick with it a little bit more!

#GTD #productivity #Nirvana #apps

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.

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.

Read more...

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?
Read more...

🎈 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?

Read more...

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.

Read more...