My GTD System
Date : April 17, 2014 By
Update: I have been using this system since writing this post back in April and it is working really well. The “!Do” label in Gmail functions excellently across all devices, and despite trying a few other apps in the meantime which have promised “email bliss”, nothing has beaten this system for me. I have however augmented this system with another “system” for my analog notes – that is the Bullet Journal method. I am not using it in its fullest sense, but simply using a ‘code’ of squares to mean tasks, circles to mean meetings and events, and a hyphen to mean a note. The trick with using three systems is to make sure I check them all. I considered trying to sync them, but soon realised this was a bit of busy work that wasn’t needed. I do go through my notebook and transfer tasks from there into ToDoist, but I don’t make it an ‘essential’ step. The trick is to Get Things Done, not make great lists. 😉
I recently implemented a new system for “Getting Things Done” which is a variant on the real “GTD” popularised by David Allen.
My situation was this – I use Gmail for all my email. Work, personal, side-projects. I was getting a bunch of emails that contained things I needed to do, but these often ended up getting lost in the sea of emails. I was using a system of just toggling these emails as “read/unread” to remind me to come back to them – but once they went “below the fold” (so to speak) they often never returned. One of the central tenets of David Allens GTD system was the fact that the effort involved in trying to remember if you have remembered everything is mentally taxing (hence his concept of an “inbox”).
The other issue was tasks that didn’t come through email – meetings, things I just remembered I need to do around the house, long term things I want to do someday, ideas, etc. After experimenting a few years ago with Remember the Milk (and finding it not that helpful), I had reverted to a notebook and a pen and using iOS’s reminders app (which wasn’t that powerful).
The Apps I Tried
My first plan was to try and find an email client that could allow me to mark emails as tasks. I was really interested in Mailpilots concept, but there were issues. For one, the only way for this to work was to either sift through the masses of bulk emails (noise) I receive every day looking for the important ones from actual people (signal), or forward these emails to a new email address and use some complex system of forwarding rules. Both of these solutions are mentally taxing and just annoying. I really liked Gmail’s auto-categorise function in their web client and didn’t want to lose this. Another issue with Mailpilot was it’s buggy nature and its cost – I couldn’t try it out without spending $15 which I wasn’t keen to do.
Another consideration was Dropbox’s Mailbox, but again, the lack of auto-categorisation and the lack of a desktop client (back then) were roadblocks.
I also tried Postbox, but this struggled with the vast amounts of emails in my account (I don’t waste time deleting emails) and also lacked any auto-categorisation or mobile app.
I tried a few other apps, but they all suffered from similar problems – they either had no desktop or mobile companion, couldn’t handle the volume of email without freezing, and all of them couldn’t auto-categorise.
My solution is two-fold, and at the moment this creates a small amount of redundancy (which perhaps could become needless duplication, but currently works well). The first part is a combination of Gmail labels and Priority inbox, in the Gmail web client (gmail.com).
In this setup, I use 2 labels to help me maintain an overview of emails I need to come back to or that involve some kind of task. The first, !Do, is tasks that need some response immediately, require a task to be done, etc. The second, !Defer, are emails that are coming up, or have been deferred for some reason. I then use Priority inbox to show these two labels at the top of my web inbox.
The third and fourth panels of my inbox are “Important” and “Everything else”. This differentiation allows the noise to be filtered from the signal (so to speak) and so far is functioning well.
Thus, if an email comes in that contains a task of some form, I label it “!Do” – regardless of whether I am on mobile, web, or elsewhere. This then shows up in my top panel. When I have completed the task, I remove the !Do label. If the task has been held up or deferred, I remove the !Do label and add a !Defer label.
The second half of my solution is using Todoist – I love their clean, Gmail like interface and the way it works in so many places, as well as integrating with Zapier. In the screenshots above you will notice the small Todoist bar at the bottom right of the screen, which allows me quick access to my tasks. I also use the Mac desktop app and the Android app (with some awesome widgets).
In this setup, I use the ‘inbox’ to collect tasks that pop into my head during the day (or in meetings) and then regularly during the day make sure I sort this inbox – mostly just assigning the tasks to different projects. I have chosen the following structure for my projects:
The view I love most in Todoist is the “Next 7 Days” view, with a focus on “Today”. This allows me to drag and drop tasks around – allowing me to plan out my week, and create a “what I will accomplish today” list. The drag and drop functionality is awesome and feels great to use.
Todoist also works with Zapier so I may in the future decide to automate some tasks or send things to my inbox from other places. I also have installed the gmail extension, which adds a “create a task” button to Gmail. This auto-populates the task name with the subject of the email and attaches the email to the task as a note. (this is the redundancy factor, mentioned earlier).
How is this better?
Using this setup, I feel much more “on top” of my tasks and I can get a good overview of what I need to do. Using the web client for email not only gives me a noise/signal filter but also prevents memory issues and is free. I use the native Gmail client for Android and this functions the same way, allowing no differentiation in workflow whether on desktop or mobile.
Using Todoist is also fantastic. As mentioned, the “7 Days” and “Today” features are super helpful, and the ability to set sub tasks, sub projects, etc is a really handy feature.