Archive for the ‘Getting Things Done’ Category

A Review of OmniFocus

August 6, 2008

For years, I’ve struggled with finding a decent set of tools to practice Getting Things Done. I started with the Hipster PDA and moved on to some notepads and Zen To Done. I’ve tried just about every permutation of Web-based application. Heck, I liked GTD-PHP that I bought the domain and host the project for free.

But none of them have worked for me. The Hipster PDA was good but it suffers from all of the problems of paper-based systems: there’s no indexing or searching and you always have to carry around a pen. The notebooks were even more inconvenient; the desktop applications didn’t help if I wasn’t carrying my MacBook which I almost never do; and the Web applications had monthly fees and required a computer with Internet access to function. So I bided my time and kept on the lookout for the Holy Grail.

I can confidently tell you that I have found it! It’s OmniFocus by OmniGroup. It’s Mac-only and $79.95 but it suits me perfectly. Its power stems from the fact that the desktop application at home can sync with the desktop application at work which can sync with the iPhone application in my pocket. $79.95 (plus $19.99 for the iPhone version) is certainly expensive, but I found it invaluable after using it fully for its 14-day trial.

It has a bunch of nice touches: parallel or sequential task lists, quick entry that really is, the focus modes. It’s a competent implementation of GTD—the incidentals of the UI aren’t important. But the syncing is worth every penny of the cost. When you’re away from a computer, you have access to your projects and contexts. Check something off and it’s synced to your home and work computers. It just works—you never have the problem of managing database files and shuttling them between the computers in your life.

And that makes getting things done the focus rather than maintaing your system.

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The Ultimate in Keyboard Shortcuts

March 14, 2007

I’ve been using Quicksilver since it came out. I was once an avid LaunchBar user but it just couldn’t compare to Quicksilver’s slick user interface and incredible power. It’s the first app I install on any Mac I touch. But whenever I go to Merlin Mann’s site I invariably find some completely unexpected trick that makes me realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface.

This entry about Quicksilver proxy objects and menu items brings the Quicksilver power to bear on an application’s menus. So. You. Can. Use. Quicksilver. To. Run. Menu. Items. That. Might. Be. Buried. In. Submenus. O. M. F. G.

If you’re constrained to the Windows world, now’s the time to switch. Yes, a free app is worth the switch.

What’s the Best Use of My Time Right Now?

June 2, 2005

Webolodeon: delightful Greasemonkey user script for Firefox that asks what you’re doing every five minutes. It’s a helpful reminder that you need to be aware of why you’re doing things. {via}

[UPDATE (6/3/05): Ugh, it really doesn’t do well with frames.]

The Virtues of Paper

February 7, 2005

Why do I use index cards instead of my Palm? It’s not the sensual experience of curling up with them, I can tell you that. Index cards ≠ Moleskines.

I use index cards because they’re always handy. I can slip a stack of perhaps 20 index cards into my pants pocket and it’s ready to go as soon as I pull it out. My laptop, though slim and light, is a pain in the butt to get out if I need to find a number. Everything gets worse when I’m trying to drive: I can keep one hand on the wheel while I—literally—thumb through the index cards but a Palm requires two hands. Don’t even get me started about finding a phone number on my laptop while driving. I’ve done it and it is scarier than hell.

They’re always ready. I don’t have to worry about batteries or proper lighting conditions. I don’t have to translate to Graffiti™. I don’t particularly have to worry about running out of memory. In short, low tech is reliable in a way that high tech equipment can never be.

There are downsides to index cards: they can get wet; there’s no effective backup; there’s a finite amount of space per card; you have to write small to fit things on them; you have to copy stuff from digital to analog and vice versa if you have information stored in more than one place; mistakes can make it look not so pretty; and it’s slightly bulkier than a PDA because you have to carry a pen (or risk being somewhere without one).

Until I can afford a Tungsten T3, I’ll stick with the index cards. And maybe not even then since it’s a battery hog.

Getting Things Done Update

January 28, 2005

So I’ve been using the Getting Things Done system for a few months now to a varying extent. I think it’s time for an update on my progress. Am I getting things done?

Overall, it’s helped me to be much more focused on what I need to be doing at any given time. The system is pretty unobtrusive and it’s really easy to keep up with it. Previous attempts at getting organized have always degenerated into time spent maintaining the records whatever system required.

That being said, I’ve still got a long way to go. I mentioned earlier that I was using the Hipster PDA described by Merlin Mann. I’ve developed quite an assortment of 3″x5″ index cards. In a comment left on Merlin’s update on the Hipster PDA, I described my system thusly:

Next Actions (one card per context)
Divider (orange, labelled Projects)
Projects (cards for Personal and Work)
Divider (pink, labelled Calendar)
Calendar (one card per day, with times indicating appts)
Divider (green, labelled Waiting For)
Waiting For (list of people and what I’m waiting on)
Divider (bright yellow, labelled Someday/Maybe)
Someday/Maybe (one card per list)
Divider (muted yellow, scaled version of Advanced Workflow diagram)
Blank cards (five or so cards)

The labels for each of these cards (@Home, Jan. 15th, Personal, etc.) are at the bottom of the card with a horizontal rule separating them from the content. Thus, I can flip through the PDA quickly and open up the clip only when necessary.

Further, my next actions are immediately accessible. I generally pull out the context card for wherever I am and move it to the top for more efficiency.

Another gentleman has taken the Hipster PDA and crafted PDF templates for the various index cards you might need. You print them on card stock as necessary and then you get a nice, standardized look. I may have to create some of my own since he doesn’t have the same types of cards that I do.

I’m currently on a GTD hiatus because my work has lately consisted of putting out fires. It has largely been reacting to bugs as they come in and solving larger problems; this has temporarily reduced my need for a time management system. Things have finally calmed down and it’s time to get back on the wagon. I need to start scheduling the weekly review since it currently happens rarely. I also need to work on applying the system to my personal life, where I’ve recorded the projects though I haven’t really focused my energies on them.

Oh, and Merlin Mann has posted a three-part series updating his progress. He does an admirable job at analysis and it is worth scrutiny (as is most of his site).

Self-Organized

September 15, 2004

I’ve owned a copy of Getting Things Done for at least a year or more and I’ve read it several times. Soon after getting the book, I had a fitful start struggling with Palm software. Then I thought that I’d try it using OmniOutliner—great tool, use it all the time, but couldn’t seem to carry the laptop everywhere and sometimes it didn’t seem worth the effort of getting it out, waking it up, and starting OO just to write “Mail letter on way to work tomorrow.” So I just meandered through my days, all disorganized-like.

Oh sure, I had a little sketch pad that I carried around and would jot down things ad-hoc but I endured tremendous stress because I always felt like I was forgetting something or like I wasn’t using my time effectively. And I was and wasn’t, respectively.

So I decided to get serious about GTD. It was mainly inspired by Merlin Mann’s recent post about getting started. I printed out the excellent advanced workflow diagram (PDF) to replace the less sophisticated one from the book (no longer available online, hmm) and I read through some of the links he provided for further inspiration.

It wasn’t until I chanced upon his Hipster PDA post. That was the linchpin I had been missing earlier. Rather than wrestling with software and computers, I should use index cards and my favorite pen. That freed me from thinking about the form of my getting things done and to concentrate on using it. Plus, I can carry it in my pocket and it never runs out of batteries.

Well, a few days later and I’ve got it pretty good. My work inbox is at 1 message (a reference to an action item that I need to start) and my whole work email is down to 1724kb of my 75MB allotment! My home email (in Mail.app) is down to two messages: one action item and one receipt for an online purchase that I’ll discard once I receive the item.

More importantly, I feel less stress. I know exactly what I need to work on and I write stuff down as soon as I perceive a need to act. I’ll probably give an update after I do my first weekly review.

[UPDATE: At Merlin Mann’s request, I’m going to address some of the customizations I’ve done to the main GTD system.

1. I haven’t had to do anything of the sort. I use the stock buckets and most of my nerdery goes into work, home, or computer buckets depending on the context. For example, I’ve got some features that I’m working on for our new online banking system. Those are obviously work. My computer action items tend to be things that could be done at work or home, like starting a list of tasks to do for my daughters’ birthday party.

2. I’ve only been doing this for a week now, but I’ve been reading about the system and cogitating on it for over a year now. I see myself creating a lot of lists in the “someday/maybe” category and have already started one called “websites to build” that will be ongoing. Ad-hoc lists will exist for as long as they’re needed and no longer.

3. I’ve got my “next actions” category divided up into contexts. Features and work projects get their next actions on there. Bugs and quick fixes get tracked in FogBUGZ because they need to be tracked across the team. If I were doing it myself—the bug tracking—then I would still maintain a separate bug tracking application. It’s my feeling that it’s fine to have separate repositories for certain things as long as they’re limited and you close those loops thoroughly. If you need to work on a bug, you know where to look. It might be appropriate, if the bug is big enough, to put a next action in your “work” category about it.

4. The only cool hack I’ve done is integrating my calendar into my Hipster PDA, which consists of “next action,” “projects,” “waiting for,” “someday/maybe,” and “calendar” index cards separated by brightly-colored index cards. The calendar has one card per day and perhaps 10 extra cards. The day cards exist only as needed, so I don’t have a card until September 22nd. On the day cards, I list appointments or time-sensitive events in chronological order. If I have to add a 4 o’clock appointment, I would put it nearly 3/4s of the way down. All told, I’ve probably got 15-20 cards total so it easily fits in a binder clip. (All of my phone numbers are stored in my cell phone and Address Book.app, in case you’re wondering.)]