GTD with Things

Wow, it really took a long time to write this entry. I have now been working at Purple Scout for around two weeks and it has been really good. I have a fantastic team to work with and I have already done some good work (in my own humble opinion). I have also had the chance to really start using GTD in my daily life (it's hard to organize your life when you only play video games, which was what I did during my vacation). So far I am very pleased with it, but the test of time will really show if it reduces my stress and improves my efficiency.

I am using Things from Cultured Code as my organizer software. It's a very clean software that implements the basic lists from GTD (Inbox, Next, Someday, Scheduled, etc). It also have a very flexible tags system that I use for a number of things and most important it has iPhone synchronization.

I use the iPhone application as my on-the-go collector. Most things I have to do pops up in my head when I am taking a walk or sitting in a meeting, in true GTD style my brain is stupid as well, so I just flick up my iPhone and scribble a few words in there. I concentrate to get a reminder mostly in the iPhone because it doesn't take that long to do that way and then expand on it when I sync it to my desktop client.

Collection with the desktop client is also very good, when I identify a task I just press my globally recognized shortcut (meta+ctrl+space) and it brings up a dialog where I can enter my task.

Things has the concept of Areas of Responsibility and Projects. I use the Areas as "larger projects" that can have several sub-projects. For example is 'Home' one of my areas, in there I can have projects like 'Redecorate the room' which in turn can contain specific tasks. Another area is "Work" but I also have a area for one of the bigger customers we are working with, since we are running ~8 projects together with this customer. Important to note is that tasks that are organized into a project can not be scheduled, they can only be 'next' or 'someday' as far as I understand it, but tasks that belong to the area directly can be scheduled. I am not really sure why this is, or if it's a bug.

When I get to my organization phase I first scan items that should be put into projects and put them there and then areas. I don't have item outside any area. Tasks that goes into projects get the tags of the project so usually I don't have to apply any extra tags to these tasks, but since areas doesn't have tags I have to apply them to these posts. The most common tags for me is "work" and "home" because when I head over to the "do stuff" phase I can filter my things based on tags, which removes a lot of distraction "now I am at work and can only see things I should do at work" works great for me.

Things isn't without flaw, the things that annoys me most are:
  • Pressing the icon in the dock doesn't bring up the minimized Things window.
  • Synchronization with iPhone only works over wifi and you have to be on the same network. Also if your firewall/router/switch for some reason filters bonjour (mDNS) it will not work (I had to fight the system administrator at work for this).
I hope these issues will be addressed in future updates of things.

That's it for today, next entry will probably be about SCRUM, since we just implemented this at work.


Introducing GTD - Inbox Zero

As you might or might know I resigned from my position at Procera Networks in the end of 2008. My new position will be at a company called Purple Scout, where I will lead a small team of developers and develop processes and infrastructure for in-house development work. Between my two positions I have managed to scrape together almost a month of spare time. While most of this time has been spent with family for holiday celebrations I have also spent quite some time researching GTD (Getting Things Done). I have decided to decided to try to implement this full out at my new position.

I will spend some posts in the blog about my way to implement this methodology. I will not try to explain all the finer details about GTD, this is explained in numerous sites around the internet. I will just described my attempts on implementing it. So far I haven't really implemented it fully, but this is the steps I have done so far.

I read the book and I don't think there is a short cut around that, just read it. Also listen to the 43 folders podcast with David Allen interviews. They give you a lot of practical tips.

I have been using Things for a long time, both for my Mac and for my iPhone, but I have never really got around to learn how to use it correctly, the pieces was falling in to place when I started to read the Getting things done book, more about that one later.

First thing I really implemented was the Inbox Zero mail handling. I have two mail accounts, one for my work and one personal GMail account.

I read my work email with Mail.app and I started off by changing the settings for getting emails in Mail.app, instead of polling email every 5th minute it's now polling every hour. I also turned of "Badge" notification (i.e. showing in the icon how many new emails you have) and disabled Growl Mail. I think these things are essential, because the whole point with GTD is that you should have specific slots for collecting and processing data, if you get interrupted when you actually do work this could really hurt the process. Secondly I downloaded and configured MailActOn to handle three different keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl-A will move the email to the Mail Archive folder, Ctrl-T will move the email to the To Do mail folder and Ctrl-R will move the email to the Read folder.

This makes it very easy to sort the email when they arrive. If it's a item that I can't do anything about and I don't want to save it: I delete it, if it's a email I can't do anything about but I want to save it for future reference I press Ctrl-A and get it out of my INBOX. If the email contains something I want to read, but is not a direct action I press Ctrl-R and revisit it later when I have some spare time. Now if there is a action in the email, something I need to reply to or do in any other way, then I press Ctrl-T. The emails that ends up in the To Do folder are collected and categorized in the "process" phase. When collected and categorized I will archive it. This is not optimal, my goal would be to get the To Do emails filed in my Things INBOX so that I have just one way to collect actions.

GMail is actually pretty well prepared for GTD. It has the concept of "archive" that just get's things out of my INBOX and into a search able index. It also have the possibility to put a Star on emails with keyboard shortcuts. I use it the following way: press 'e' and archive emails that I can't do anything about, star the email and archive it if it's something I want to read or to do anything about, then collect and categorize the starred messages later in my collection phase.

Instead of writing a monster post for everything I have done so far I will stop here and write another post later in the week about how I use Things and my data collection. I also have a lot of ideas on how to work with GTD in my future team, more about that will also come later.