I’m a long time user of organizational systems. I used to lug a heavy Franklin planner system with me in my audit bag and was an early adopter of the Palm PDA. Once I left public accounting, I primarily used my Palm or Blackberry for keeping track of personal appointments or to do lists and turned to my office desktop for work. I used Lotus Notes for my calendar, contact, to do list and references/notes (by developing databases within Lotus Notes). For years, I used the original Franklin method of scheduling tasks on specific days, assigning a priority and moving uncompleted tasks forward to a future date. I maintained my team’s deadlines; projects and tasks on stand alone excel lists. This process worked great for me while working at Prada as I was there for ten years, had a great team and had gotten to the point where we were humming right along. We were on time and our workflow order/processes had been fine-tuned. Outside of work, I didn’t have much to track except event dates, volunteer projects and tennis matches so a short simple to do list on my phone sufficed.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve had several job changes and moved to a different island. I also started to focus on writing and blogging in my spare time. It became clear that my old method of organizing tasks, deadlines and projects was no longer working for me. Things were falling through the cracks. I felt frustrated, unmotivated and demoralized. When faced with new information, requirements and actions in the workplace, the to do list can quickly become overwhelming as timely urgent requests and troubleshooting take precedence or tasks take much longer than you expected due to a learning curve. Moving to another island meant a huge shift in routines and habits. I had to find new doctors, places to shop/dine/exercise and I had to get used to not living in an urban city environment. Although a city has more traffic and people, in Honolulu I lived and worked in areas where everything I ever needed was close by. I could walk and do errands on my lunch break downtown and get to a grocery store or excellent take out place within a few blocks of my home. It was easy to decide on a moment’s notice to go to the post office, grab a coffee/takeout or pick up dry cleaning. Writing, especially blogging opened up the creative floodgates. I’m inspired daily by the beauty around me, the articles I read, the food I eat and the people I meet. Blog post ideas come a hundred times quicker than I can research, take photos, conduct interviews and write.
I needed an organization system and method that could categorize not only tasks but also ideas into several different layers of categories while still remaining flexible enough to accommodate shifts in priorities on a daily basis. I needed a system where I could keep track of timely actions to be done but didn’t require me to nail down an exact date that task needed to be done. I also needed a method that could track errands not by date but by proximity and location.
That system is the process set forth in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen and the iPhone/Mac app, Things…
I had the book Getting Things Done for years but never read it and it ended up in the donation pile during the whole move/divorce period. A few months ago I signed up for Audible and got a free audio book download with my membership. I chose Getting Things Done and each day during my commute I have been listening to the author’s calm voice explain his GTD method for not only becoming organized at face value but for freeing one’s mind and desk of all the noise and clutter so we can truly concentrate and focus. The GTD approach is to manage all ideas, projects and actions to be done in a system that is flexible, complete and accessible whenever you need it. Take the constant chatter and anxiety out of your mind by placing it in a paper, electronic or hybrid system you can rely on so your psyche can relax and focus. No numbering tasks or moving a growing undone task list forward at the end of each day. As I listened, I realized I already had purchased the perfect app for my Mac and phone to apply the system, Things.
Things is not cheap, it’s $9.99 for the iPhone app and $49.99 for the desktop version (which syncs wirelessly with your iPhone) but it is definitely worth it. Although the developers of Things don’t mention GTD anywhere, I wouldn’t be surprised to find they were inspired by the GTD system as some of the terms used in the book are also used in the app like Next and Someday (more on that below).
The first thing I did was set up areas in Things for the slices of my life pie.
Each idea or action I set up on things can be scheduled on an exact date or put into “today”, “next” or “someday”. I try to avoid scheduling an exact date unless the type of task makes it necessary or if the task can’t be done for some time, then I’ll schedule it as a reminder. Instead I put my most timely actions in the next list. Each morning, I check my email at work and then decide which items it makes sense to tackle on the next list once I’ve had a chance to evaluate any requests per my email. I move those from next to today (note that any scheduled tasks for that day will show up in today automatically). For tasks I’d like to do but there is no pressing need in the near future, I put on the someday list. I also put ideas for blog posts, book ideas, products I’m interested in, books I’d like to read and places I’d like to dine on the someday list. If I have a project, I will set up that list (you can also assign tasks under that project to next, today, someday or scheduled). Inbox is for those tasks which you have set up but aren’t quite sure yet of which list to assign it to.
Here is an example of what my next list looked like today. One of the great things about Things is you can view tasks by any area or list. If I wanted to see all my tasks related to home for example I could see the entire list broken down by scheduled, today, next and someday. If I wanted to view the tasks for a project I could do that. Or I could view tasks by timing/priority as I’ve done here with the next view.
In addition to areas and priority/timing, you can also assign tags to tasks. You can see above I have tags set up for my blog area for blog posts ideas, content (tasks for posts I’m working on i.e. schedule interview, research buy local fashion, email designer) and backoffice (add a new plugin, find a consultant to move site, etc.). Each task can have no tags, one tag or multiple tags; it is entirely up to you. You can use tags in several different ways, as a sub-category, to notate a status or to organize tasks by locale. So for my task to find a consultant to move site, I could add the tag Mauishopgirl backoffice and add the tag Waiting. Say I had emailed a potential consultant for a fee estimate; I can then move that task into Waiting while his/her response to my email is pending. I can also add a note to remind myself what I’m waiting on. Once I receive the response, I can just remove the waiting tag and move on to my next step or check off the task as completed. Another example is tags for my errands area. There are some errands I run in central Maui which is a 20 mile drive from my home, I have a tag for errands while I’m on the road which could be used for tasks like go to the bank, fill gas or buy a gift from Macy’s. For those who have a lot of phone calls to make, you could set up a tag for phone calls and view all tasks under that tag when you’ve got a block of time to do those calls.
Here is an example of a task I’ve set up in my blog area under someday and have tagged as Mauishopgirl blog posts. This post is still an idea. I know someday I would like to write a feature on Maui Country Farm Tours and the owners. This post is not in progress yet; it is still just a thought and an idea. I have added notes as reminders when I do decide to proceed and move this into my next category to also talk to one of the owners Marilyn (she owns Tours with her husband) about her other endeavors as she is also an artist and an author.
I’ve been using Things for personal tasks and my blog for some time but have only added day job tasks recently. There is a part of me who likes to keep “my worlds” separate so I was fumbling along with outlook, excel lists and handwritten today to lists at the office. After adopting the GTD methodology I realized I was wasting a good app and that I really needed a cohesive method for my entire life.
GTD didn’t just discuss list management; he also goes into great detail on the following (I’m not quite finished too, I’m sure there is even more helpful concepts):
- physical and email in box management
- using email software effectively
- using tickler files
- getting the paper off your desk and put into action, project or reference files
- reviewing your lists, calendar and goals on a weekly basis
- connecting the micro level of lists to a higher level of long term goals, objectives and needs