Getting Things Done


Yes, yes, I have 43 Folders in my blogroll. And since I have long embarked on a Quest for easier information management, I have a few unconventional tricks for Getting Things Done that I'd like to share with the world, since I loathe those fancy little task lists:

Since I use Windows and Linux at work and mostly my Mac at home, I tend to have different sets of GTD lists. And I mostly store them in the best place possible - my own memory (which is pretty good in that regard) and my Blackberry. Still, I do use a few extra tools to GTD:

  • The first is, obviously, this Wiki. Lots of collateral stuff (that which gets past the Disclaimer) and meta data ends up here, and (this is the important bit) written with enough context to ease later search and retrieval, i.e., human language fluff. I use the search so much that my Mozilla search plugins are the first thing I drop into a fresh Firefox install. When I don't have Firefox, I rely on a hack that shows me the closest match to whatever I input beyond /space/ in the URL.
  • On my Windows laptop, I make extensive use of the new Outlook 2003 "colored" follow-up flags (one color for each priority, yellow to red, plus green and blue for internal/external stuff) and have a Flagged Items search folder that shows me every single message I need to act upon. Higher-level stuff gets jotted down in task note fields using plain RTF (hey, it's Windows, and Markdown isn't natively supported), including dates, names of contacts, and action points - which means I keep one task per project unless I need a new reminder, and use the notes field as a running to-do list. Disadvantages: my Blackberry doesn't let me flag e-mail, keep track of flags or sync tasks wirelessly, so I have to jot down some tasks in the Calendar (which has the collateral benefit of forcing me to schedule stuff in advance).
  • Lookout has made it irrelevant to file my e-mail. I just dump everything in folders by quarter and trust it to find anything I need in under 15 seconds.
  • Public references and stuff to write about later goes to del.icio.us. Corporate stuff and quick reference stuff gets kept in mail and Stickies. It works, and they're unobtrusive.
  • On my Mac, I use Quicksilver and Exposé to launch and switch between applications and Stickies plus VoodooPad Lite to write - nothing I post to this site goes online without being drafted there. As far as e-mail is concerned, even though I make do with what's available, I would kill for multi-colored flags and search folders in Mail.app. Zoë is nice, but it implies duplicating my whole mail store (which is rather big) and I find the interface lacking.
  • On Linux, I'm still trying to find a decent stickies-analog (Goats looks very nice, but relies on obsolete libraries and is a right pain to compile). I make do with gedit and, of course, vim.
  • Whenever I need to keep track of development stuff, I create a new CVStrac instance - I also use it whenever I need a small Wiki on my Linux boxes. The markup is hideous and limited, but it's simple enough (Markdown/Textile parser contributions are welcome, I think).
  • Across all platforms, I use Office "track changes" and manual versioning (plus CVS, at one point) to keep track of documents - we also have internal CSCW tools, but everything is under my /home/Projects/Name folder. It's archaic, but always works. Ideally, I'd like a "pure" WebDAV store with both a standard file store (that hides the complexity of older versions by default) and a decent version tracking interface (that lets me retrieve them if needed).

As a fallback, I've set myself up so that I can keep track of everything using only web-based tools (including Outlook Web Access). There are no master lists, and the golden rule is to take the time to write enough about what should be done that it can easily be picked up by searching.

The other golden rule (which fits traditional GTD better) is do not rely on any special tools being present. Everything above can be done with plain text files if I have to.

But to me, searches are the new to-do lists - there is nothing better than your own memory and the way you associate things, so even if you can't remember exactly what it is, you'll find it by association.


See Also: