Getting Things Done is a wonderful method written by David Allen that helped me a lot to organize my tasks and... getting the things done. However, when I talked about that method to my friends, they often thought that I was crazy to use such a complex method, to tidy my tasks to this extent. Well, I know I'm not an expert in explaining things, so I thought to myself: "Once I find a GTD implementation that really suits me, I should talk about it with my words, simplify it to make it understandable and make it last long to prove its efficiency".
That's the point of this article: I've been trying multiple GTD implementations until I adopted only a few weeks ago a method that really, really suits me. All the methods I tried before always had weak points and didn't satisfy me for a long time. I'll talk about how I came to the actual method in order to show how it can be tedious to find the most suitable organization for oneself. If you want to get to the efficient method, jump to the last part of the article.
1st attempt with Evernote
Once I read the GTD book, I said to myself: "I won't use the manual solution proposed in the book, using a calendar book and all that paper stuff, I want to use computer stuff" I realized that I had 2 worlds: the physical world and the computer world. I had to find 2 solutions! Here's what I built:
For the physical world, at work and at home
I bought a 3-tier desk tray where I put the unclassified "stuff" on the 1st tier, the "deferred" papers on the 2nd tier, and the "to read" papers on the 3rd tier.
For the reference material, I used something existing at work: hanging file folders in the drawer of the desk.
For the computer world
I created 2 inbox: "Action Pending" and "Reference". The tasks go in the "Action Pending" inbox, and all reference material in "Reference".
I put context tags (@home, @work, @errands...) to all the notes.
Then I add a priority tag "1-Now" for next actions, "5-Someday" for tasks that were scheduled later or someday/maybe.
I also add in every task a checkbox icon which I had to check if the task was done.
I created the main "Saved Searches":
- "@Home" would list tasks containing a "@home" tag, a priority "1-Now", a tag not containing "@wf" ("Waiting For"), where the checkbox is not checked. Idem for @Work, @Errands (just change the context task)
- "@Waiting For" would list tasks containing a "@wf" tag
- "@Someday" would list all the tasks with priority "5-Someday"
- "@Completed" would list all the tasks with the checkbox checked
When a task is completed, it disappears from the context searches, you can find them again by using the "@Completed" saved search.
This method didn't satisfy me because of the following reasons:
- On my Linux workstation at work and at home, I had to use Nevernote (now NixNote) which was buggy and unstable. This resulted in lots of frustration when synchronisation didn't work properly, when the HTML Copy/paste generated errors because of uncomplete tags...
- On mobile devices, Evernote is awfully slow to run.
- The saved searches are not user-friendly on the web version of Evernote, and they don't work very well in the desktop client.
I used this method for less than a year, then completely abandoned it.
2nd attempt with Evernote
Then, I wanted to get myself again in the GTD flow, I tried to simplify the Evernote organization. I suppressed the use of the Saved Searches and the checkboxes in order to only use the context tags. I created a new inbox called "Completed". When I finish a task, I simply move it in the Completed inbox.
It was a lot better that the Version 1 method, no need to use the Saved Searches that were not easy to use.
However, I still had the same problems in NixNote (even if lots of bugs were corrected, it was so slow) and on the mobile device.
Slowly, I came to use less and less this GTD implementation, replaced by the plain-old task list on a paper...
3rd attempt with todo.txt
Then, I realized that what I needed was something simple. Something simple is something you control, with fast speed. The plain-old task list on the back of an envelope is the most simple task list you can have: I had to find something nearly as simple. I discovered by accident the todo.txt concept, and its CLI tool. I discovered the website Plaintext productivity which is really inspiring.
Here's my new GTD implementation:
- On the Windows platform, I use the software todotxt.net to create/edit my tasks.
- On the Linux platform, I use the todo.txt CLI tool, which is really simple to use, and better than with a GUI.
- On the mobile device, the Simpletask application is free and corresponds to my needs.
- Everything is synchronized in a Dropbox account, so everything I write is on the cloud. Plain text files are very fast to synchronize and to edit, so I no longer have speed problems.
I only put the "next actions" tasks in this system (file todo.txt). All "Someday/maybe" tasks are stored in another file someday.txt. Once completed, the tasks are automatically archived to done.txt.
All files I create, like a draft of this article, are in a folder named "@Drafts" where I put drafts, but also other Reference material. In the Dropbox account, I can create all the folders I want.
I use the Markdown syntax for text files, it's so simple and effective. In Notepad++, add a Markdown plugin_to edit Markdown text files with comfort. In Ubuntu, gedit already knows how to parse Markdown files. Just use the .md extension for the files instead of .txt. I use the Markdown.pl script of the official website in order to convert txt files to HTML.
With this system, I became very productive, I never was as effective as with this implementation. I came to do things I always postponed, I even made a task I had postponed for 2 years!
Simplicity is the key of productivity: you want things done, keep it simple! Because you don't want the trusted system to have bugs, be so slow, and refrain you to do things. This trusted system is effective in multi-platform (Windows, Linux, Android), which is very important if you want to have your tasks with you everywhere.
I hope this system will last longer than the preceding ones. I'm confident in it. Just use the context tags (with @) and the project + sign, use the filters and synchronize all. And get the things done.
PS: Haha, this article is finally finished, I can check this task :)