GTD and Task Management on my Mac
As most of you may be aware, I have become a huge fan of the GTD system of task management. And on the Mac, managing my tasks is pretty much a dream come true! (The apps are so pretty!)
You can search across the Internet for more details about GTD – there are literally thousands of nice sites out there, which will give you a lot of information about the GTD System.
What I am going to do over here, is to show you how I have adapted this GTD process to suit my needs and on my Mac.
This essentially means that if there is anything on my computer that I want to remember and later on turn into a task or maybe file away for reference for later, has to be collected somewhere.
According to GTD, you can set up as many collection buckets as you want / need / require. These collection buckets can be your e-mails, your voice mails and web pages and what nots which you want to remember. These in-boxes have to be emptied and processed regularly, otherwise you will just end up with a whole bunch of stuff and no tasks done.
So what do I use for this stage?
As someone who has to save web pages for the articles and blog posts on those web pages, Evernote is a nifty tool to have. Sitting there on my browser toolbar, this little thingamajig captures those pages into my Evernote account. I can have ‘notebooks’ within Evernote that are devoted to several different subjects – and these notebooks can be stored either online or locally on my computer. Another great feature is that I can tag each of these notes as I ‘clip’ them, so that I can search them easily later on. Evernote also has a lot of other nifty features which you can read about on the Evernote Website.
Next up is Mail.app – the e-mail program on my Mac. You can have your to-dos and events synced directly into iCal from Mail itself. You can also select some text and create Notes which you can save for each of your Projects. Mail can also be set up with a bunch of rules, so that you can filter down e-mails from different senders into different folders, for example, and thus have the app organize your folders automatically for you. But since I use e-mail as one of the main means of communication and information gathering from my customers, it becomes a great collection basket. I put the e-mails into folders named for my clients, so that the e-mails just get organized.
Of course, one can’t forget Safari – the browser that came with the Mac. With its superior capabilities, and sleek interface, I somehow find myself returning to Safari time and again for browsing. There’s just something about this browser that I can’t put my finger on! Either way, doing the things mentioned above is a snap with Safari too…
I have also started to use Gmail and its multitude of Gadgets and Features to check my e-mails. I spent some time last month transferring all my e-mails from POP to IMAP – thus making it easier for me to manage my work simply from within my browser – it began as an experiment, and I am loving it. I like how I can do stuff within Gmail itself.. by integrating it with my Google Calendar and Google Wave accounts. Makes my life very simple. Also I use the menubar notifiers for Gmail and Wave, which make checking e-mails a snap – I do it only when I have to see an important mail when it comes in. Otherwise, I clean up my Inbox twice a day!
Another place from where I get a lot of my information is my Blog / RSS Reader. Net News Wire makes it a lot easy for me to store and e-mail blog posts that strike my interest – I can either flag them, or clip them to my clippings folder or even e-mail them to someone else who I think may enjoy that blog post.
Next up in the Collect Process are my trio of powerful Task Managers:
There are a lot many websites out there which will tell you how great these softwares are… and I would tend to agree with most of them. OF, THL and iCal – together make my task management collection process very easy. Both OF and THL have a quick-input panel, so as soon as I remember something, all I have to do is hit the keyboard shortcut key and put it into either my inbox, or a project or a context. I have set up both these task managers to sync with my iCal.
Now, some of you may be wondering – What’s with the iCal?
Well, my iCal also syncs with publishes some of my shared and un-shared calendars to Google Calendar via a nifty little preference pane called BusySync.
And the best part ever – I get to see a cool list of all my Tasks and Events on my Desktop via iCalBuddy and GeekTool. iCalBuddy is a nifty little shell script which I can run via GeekTool to display my Tasks and Events on my Desktop. And since I have spent some time playing around with the icalBuddy Localization PList files and the iCalBuddy Config PList files, I can also get a nice, multi-colored display on the Desktop too!
Thus iCal sync becomes quite central to the process. Because I don’t have to go searching for my tasks here and there – I just have to look on my desktop!
There are also the other things that need to go into my Collect in baskets – these include papers and leaflets and mail that I get. I haven’t gone all out and purchased 43 folders, but I do have some of the folders set up in a filing system.
See, I usually don’t get much paper mail, because I prefer to get these things via e-mail and hence my computer becomes an effective and efficient filing system. And within that system, my folders are usually titled as ‘Active Projects’, ‘Waiting’, and ‘Someday / Maybe’.
Right, but I am getting a lot ahead of myself over here, aren’t I?
In this step, I now get to process some of the information that I have accumulated in the Collect stage. In fact, most of the information automatically gets through this stage and the next stage (Organize) when it goes through OF and THL.
What is more important to note at this stage is to classify these tasks by either Projects or Contexts or both.
Any task which requires more than 1 step to complete becomes a project. So, say for example, I have to write this blog post. In GTD, this becomes a Project. Because the writing of the blog post involves first researching for information and experimenting with task management systems and software, then identifying the stuff that I would like to include, and then outlining the blog post and then, finally writing it out. So, there are many steps to get to this place. Hence, this is a project.
Projects can be small or large. It doesn’t matter.
And then the most important part to consider is Contexts. Context is literally a definition of where you are when a task comes up. For example, @ Home is a context – and contains a list of tasks you can do at home, but since I work from home, this context, for me, strictly has to define tasks that relate to house work. For me @ Computer is a nice context for me to put in tasks related to e-mails, for example. Other example contexts could be @ Phone, @ Traveling and @ Shopping.
Organizing to me, is more or less, an extension of the previous two processes. And so, I often end up doing all these 3 processes at once for many of my tasks.
Once you have defined a Project and Context, organizing involves defining a set time for the completion of the task or tasks within that project or context. This means, I finally have to set a date for the conclusion of that task. And here is where my task management apps and iCal syncing comes totally into play as well. Because I can set up deadlines for these tasks and even set up alarms. Usually, I use the Google Calendar’s SMS alarm system to have my calendar send me a SMS a few minutes before a task or an event becomes due.
This way, I know what I am supposed to do even if I am away from my computer.
And if I have put any tasks into a ‘Waiting’ box, I make sure I put in a Start Date and a Due Date and make those tasks repeat ever so often – this makes for a very interesting Tickler file system that alerts me ever so often, by putting that task on my Due list. This way, if I have to, say, e-mail someone to remind that person, I get to see that task on my Due list for that day.
Here is one of the best parts of the GTD System. The Review.
Often, we end up putting tasks on the ‘back-burner’ – which means they get shoved into a ‘Waiting’ or ‘Someday / Maybe’ box and then we never look at them again. As a result, many of these tasks don’t ever get done.
The Review part ensures that you go through all of your task lists periodically and regularly so that you don’t miss out on these things.
OF has a dedicated Review system built into it. I take advantage of that system to go over my task list ever so often. It is an event I have plugged into my calendar itself.. so I don’t miss out on the best part.
And here it is.. the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This is the part where you actually do the tasks that you set out to do.
The beauty of going through the entire process here is that you have emptied out your mind of all the stuff that’s floating around in there. And so when you actually end up ‘do’-ing the task, you are fresh, and have a clear mind. This enables you to do your task well and properly and of course, infuse your creativity into each and every word that you type out.
As a writer, I have quite a few tools I use for this purpose.
First on my list is Pages – the wonderful Word Processing app that comes within the iWork suite of tools. Native to the Mac, it is smooth, elegant and beautiful – perhaps even more that MS Word any day. And yes, it works with all those formats too. I can open Word documents from Pages and export my Pages documents as PDFs and Word docs. I can even upload them to the iWork.Com site and share them with people.
Next up, is Ecto. Since I blog a lot and work with WordPress as a platform for creating my websites and stuff, I prefer using Ecto. None of the other desktop blogging software for the Mac support the pages part of the WordPress platform – only Ecto does. Which, for me, was something very important. Plus, Ecto is flexible. It has these cool add-ons. For example, every time I post a new blog, it automatically sends out a tweet about it.
Now, I also write short stories and poems. And am trying my hand at a full length novel too. There are dedicated apps on the Mac just for that. And I do end up using a few of them ever so often.
OmniOutliner helps me with writing my outlines in a sleek and functional manner – both of which are qualities that are the epitome of ‘Mac’-ness in my books! And these outlines can easily be exported to various formats, including Keynote – the presentation software from iWork. So yeah, I love this one! All I do is start writing my outline and just go with the flow. And once that is done, I can just as easily nest my outlines and move them around and tweak my stuff.
Next on my list is Scrivener. An amazing app that lets me write my stories in full-screen view. Wow! That, for me is heaven! No distractions. Just write. Go with the flow. I can export my stories to Word documents. And I can import text, images and word documents into Scrivener.Scrivener also has these really cool Index cards, which help me organize my story structure so that I get the best out of my plot.
Another one of the apps I use to write is Storyist. It comes built in with an Outliner too! Plus, its got these real cool formats for Plot Points, Settings, Scenes and Characters. This makes it so much easier for me to plan my story out.
See, I write in two different ways – one is with planning and structure and definition and the other is just going with the flow. And each of these apps suits each of my methodologies. So no matter what style I end up working in, I have an app which helps me to work in that style.
And then of course, I have some real nifty things that help me get the ‘Do’ phase going in style…
Launchbar gets me through many of my regular tasks with just a press of a key. Moving folders and files, controlling my iTunes and generally locating documents and even doing Google Searches for me.
My menubar also tells me a lot of stuff.. from the left to the right, we have OmniFocus reminding me of the 1 task that is Due Today, then we have my Clipboard, DragThing, Wave notifier for Google Wave, Tags for tagging anything on my MBP so I can find it easily later on, Gmail Notifier for Gmail, my Temperature, BusySync, My Computer’s temperature, my RAM, my Processor use, my Disk Space usage, the Day and Date, my Wi-Fi and finally Spotlight.
Yeah, yeah! I know, I love to know all these things…
Now, I usually keep my Dock minimised or hidden so I get to use my entire Desktop space. And I use Sidenotes and Drag Thing to jot down random notes, and to easily access the apps in my GTD process easily, respectively. Both of these slide out from the side of my desktop when I mouse over to that side. Otherwise, they just slide unobtrusively away.
Of course, I use Tunes Art to display my latest iTunes song. This is the unrelated to GTD fun part that I did just for the heck of it.
And many of these apps have Growl integration – for example my Weather notification thingy – so every once in a while, I get my Growl alerts telling me if its going to rain, or what song is playing or whether any of my OF tasks have become Due and if I have an e-mail on my Gmail or Wave.. you know.. just so nice!
And finally, here is my desktop telling me what is Due. I spent a lot of time with iCalBuddy’s localization and config files to get this result.. so am just showing off here…
Here I have also configured the script of iCalBuddy to show me these tasks and events in this fashion – because when OF and THL sync to iCal, they put in the Context and Project name into the task. So here is the script I used in GeekTool to get my Tasks output…
echo TASKS/usr/local/bin/icalBuddy -sd -stda -nc -ss – -li 7 -df ‘Due %a, %e %b’ -ps ‘ , ‘ -etp url,priority,notes uncompletedTasks
And for my Events, here is the script:
echo EVENTS/usr/local/bin/icalBuddy -sd -nc -ss – -df ‘%a, %e %b’ -eep notes,url,datetime,location eventsToday+1
That is pretty much how I manage my work and stuff on my Mac using the GTD system.