I have a very full personal and business life and need a “Trusted” Life Management System to help me manage my Tasks (things I have/want to do).
I have studied David Allens “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system and Michael Linenbergers “Manage Your Now” (MYN) system, both of which have many excellent ideas about Life Management, however when fully implemented they overcomplicate things (in my opinion), so I have extracted the bits that I like from GTD and MYN and built my own system around them (acknowledgements to both GTD and MYN throughout this post).
I use Google Chrome as my browser, Remember The Milk (RTM) to manage my tasks, Google Mail (Gmail) for email, Google Calendar (GCal) for appointments and birthdays, Evernote to manage my notes and eWallet for all my Secure information, together these applications form my Trusted (GTD/MYN) system.
(Disclaimer: I have no connection to any of the above companies, other than as a satisfied customer).
What is a “Trusted” system?
A “Trusted” system is one that contains everything I have/want to do, it is “Trusted” because I know it contains everything, nothing is forgotten.
I don’t need to remember to do anything because it is all in the system, so I can use my brain for what it is best designed to do – thinking (GTD/MYN).
This means that I have to add everything I have/want to do to the system, be it Personal or Business.
Overview of my “Trusted” system:
I use Gcal for appointments and birthdays, but not for tasks, although tasks can have start/due dates I do not like to see them on my calendar.
I manage Tasks either from Gmail using the RTM browser add on, from the RTM web interface or on my iPhone using the RTM iPhone App.
I have “Static” lists of Tasks where my Tasks live, and “do” them using “Smart” lists which are “Context” based (GTD) and automatically populated with relevant “Next Action” tasks (GTD).
A Next Action task is one that can be done next, there are no other related tasks that have to be done before this one can be done. When to do a Next Action task is a decision that is made independently of when a Task becomes a Next Action (more on how tasks become Next Actions and appear on the Smart lists later)
Projects are collections of related Tasks (GTD), for each Project I create a Static list of Tasks, the name of the list is the name of the Project. This keeps all the individual Project Tasks together and allows me to archive the Project (list) in RTM when the Project is complete.
How do I add tasks;
I have three permanent Static task lists;
(I am a keen gardener so the garden gets its own list; you could have several “hobby” lists to suite your interests if you want)
I also have one or more transient individual “Project” task lists as necessary; these are archived or deleted (as appropriate) when a Project is completed.
As a task pops into my head I add it to the relevant list in RTM web or on the iPhone.
If it is from an email then I “Star” the email in Gmail which automatically creates a task linked to the email (my inbox is just that, a container for mail to be delivered into, I try and empty it as often as possible so there has to be an easy way to turn emails into tasks).
I can also manually add a Task from within Gmail using the RTM browser add on.
I set the Task Priority, Due Date, Repeat and Tag parameters as appropriate (more detail on how I use these later).
In this way the adding of Tasks and Projects is quick and simple.
How do I manage what Tasks to do next (Next Actions);
To manage my Next Action tasks I have four “Smart” lists, the first three of which (listed below) are Context specific, the last one shows all Next Action tasks irrespective of Context;
These Smart lists are set up to automatically show Next Action Tasks which are Overdue, Due Today, Due within the next Two Weeks or which have a Due Date of None (more about why they are set up this way and how this works later). They are set to group Tasks by date and sort by priority.
Most of my time at work is spent on a PC in Gmail so I use the RTM browser add on to view my tasks and emails together on the same screen. I set the Browser add on to show the Do@All list, which means I can see all my Next Action tasks, irrespective of context, grouped by date and sorted by priority.
The reason for this is that, ideally, I like to see all Next Action tasks together so I can keep an eye on what I have to do not only at work but at home, in the garden or for any Projects.
This works because on the PC I have the screen real estate to see all these tasks.
When I am not at a PC I use the RTM iPhone App, but as the screen is smaller I view the Smart list relevant to the Context of where I am, Do@Home, Do@Work or Do@Shopping, which reduces the number of tasks on show.
In addition, I can use the RTM default “Today”, “Tomorrow” and “Overdue” smart lists to see the relevant Date related Tasks, although not all my Next Action tasks have a date set so I won’t see these on the iPhone (more about this later).
Once a Task is marked as Complete it will disappear from the relevant Smart list, but it will be in the completed section of the Static list it was originally added to, so I can always find it and refer back to it if needs be.
How does a Task become a Next Action and get on the relevant Contextual Smart list;
When a Task is first added to the system it will be added to the relevant Static list, it can have a Priority, Due Date, and Repeat setting, but it will not initially be a Next Action.
I use RTM Tags to mark Tasks as Next Actions and define the Context in which the Task should be done, so when I add a Tag (Context) the Task is automatically added to the relevant Contextual Smart list, this is what makes it a Next Action.
To make a Task a Next Action, add one or more of the following Tags;
The smart lists are set up to show all Tasks with the corresponding Tag so a Task tagged as @home will show up on the Do@Home smart list etc (and also on the Do@All smart list as this shows all Tagged Tasks).
The power of using Tags for the context is that Tasks can have more than one Tag so if you have a Task that can just as easily be done @work as @home, add both Tags and it will show up as a Next Action on both Smart lists.
You can define as many Tags and associated Smart lists as you want to expand the Contexts available (GTD suggests more Contexts) but the above three are all I need.
Summary of the System – so far
So up to this point I have described a way to easily and quickly add tasks manually or from emails, add and manage Projects, make any task a Next Action and in the same action, put it onto a Context related list so that you can “do” it.
When you complete any Next Action Task it will automatically be removed from the Contextual Smart list and go into the Completed section of the Static list or Project list it was originally added to, so it can be referred to later if necessary.
Once all the Next Action Tasks on a Project list are completed the List can be manually archived for future reference or deleted if no longer required.
My system relies, as a minimum, on the following;
• Three permanent Static Task lists
• X number of transient Project lists (one per Project)
• Four Smart lists
• Three Tags
It fully integrates with Gmail and my iPhone.
This makes the system universally accessible and really simple and easy to use.
I trust that the above description, if not useful, has been of interest and thanks for reading this far.
If you want to adopt any of my ideas then please feel free to do so (acknowledgements again to GTD and MYN from where a lot of the above ideas originate).
However, if you like the way I work and how I have set up RTM and want to know more then please read on for a refinement to more closely align the system with MYN and more detailed instructions on the system configuration.
My interpretation of MYN is that you focus your Task activity on what needs to be done in the next two weeks, this is the time span that most people can focus on when thinking about what they have to do.
Consequently, my current Next Action Tasks have a “Due” date or “Start” date within the next two weeks (RTM only has “Due” dates but in my system these can be used to represent both “Due” and “Start” dates).
I have Next Action Tasks with dates that are beyond the next two weeks but my set up automatically hides these until the calendar catches up with them, and they then become visible.
I have Tasks that are in my mind to do, but it’s not important when they are done, these are still Next Action Tasks (because currently I intend to do them) but they don’t have a date.
Finally, I have tasks that are not Next Actions and/or I have no intention of doing them any time soon, but I want them recorded so I know they are there and I can promote them to Next Actions when appropriate.
I map the above tasks into four categories (MYN);
• “Critical Now” Tasks - must be done on a certain “Due” date. I highlight them by making them Priority 1. They then sit at the top of my Priority sorted Do@X lists and have a red dot beside them.
• “Target Now” Tasks - have a “start” date in the next two weeks, these are the Tasks I will start to do on the assigned date once I have completed my “Critical Now” tasks for that date. If I don’t get them done on the date I will move them on to another date in the next two weeks. I try and restrict these Tasks to a small number so that I am not constantly moving Tasks I have not had time to do.
• “Opportunity Now” Tasks - do not have a date but they are the ones I would like to start after I have completed my “Critical Now” and “Target Now” Tasks. As they don’t have a date I do not have to keep moving them if I don’t get them done, but because they are Next Action Tasks they appear on my Do@X lists.
• “Over the Horizon” Tasks - all the things I know I should or want to do, but currently don’t have a “start” date in mind for them. These Tasks are not Next Action Tasks so do not appear on any of my Do@X lists
The top three categories above are Next Action Tasks so are the ones I will be working on in any given two week period.
The last category is tasks that are kept out of sight until I have run out of Next Action Tasks and then I will promote some of these “Over the Horizon” tasks to one of the other three categories (I generally manage this through my weekly review of my Tasks).
My system is set up so the Do@X lists show all my “…..Now” Tasks that are Overdue, Due Today, Due in the next two weeks or have a date of None.
This allows me to focus on the next two weeks Next Action Tasks (Critical Now and Target Now) but also see my Opportunity Now Tasks so I can do them if the opportunity arises.
How to set up RTM to make my system work
Set up the following Static Lists
• Projects (as appropriate)
• Hobbies (as appropriate)
Add the following three Tags (and Tags for any other Contexts you require);
Set up four Smart lists as follows;
• Do@Home - (due:never OR dueBefore:now OR dueWithin:"2 weeks of today") AND tag:@home AND status:incomplete
• Do@Work - (due:never OR dueBefore:now OR dueWithin:"2 weeks of today") AND tag:@work AND status:incomplete
• Do@Shopping - (due:never OR dueBefore:now OR dueWithin:"2 weeks of today") AND tag:@shopping AND status:incomplete
• Do@All - (due:never OR dueBefore:now OR dueWithin:"2 weeks of today") AND isTagged:true AND status:incomplete OR (due:today AND list:Inbox)
Note: the Do@All list is set up to include ”due today and list Inbox” so that it will show Tasks added in Gmail using the “Star an Email” feature which defaults to today and Inbox.
If you have added any additional Tags for extra Contexts add an additional Smart list for each one, changing the name of the list and the “Do@” Tag name in the list as appropriate.
The above Static and Smart lists should be sorted by Date.
Set up the Browser add on as follows:
• List: – Smart list “Do@All” (select from the drop down at the top of the add on)
• Sort by – Priority (set in the options at the bottom left of the add on)
• Group by: Due Date (set in the options at the bottom left of the add on)
• Show in list: - All tasks (set in the options at the bottom left of the add on)
Set up the Mail settings as follows:
• Language – English(US)
• Tasks – Create a task when I star an email
• Tasks - Set tasks to be due Today by default
I action emails using the following decision process;
• Is it junk – yes, bin it
• Should someone else do it – yes, forward it on but if necessary “Star” it to make it into a task to follow it up, then archive the email
• Will it take less than five minutes to complete – yes, do it there and then
• Is it something I need to action later on – “Star” it to make it a task and archive the email (the task will have a link back to the email)
• Is it for reference – yes, archive it
Using the above process I usually empty my inbox on a daily basis
For anyone that has made it all the way through this post well done and thanks for reading.
I apologise for the length of the post but I wanted to make it as comprehensive as possible.
I must say it has taken far longer to describe and write down the way I use RTM and Gmail than it takes to actually do it.
Again, acknowledgements to the work of David Allen (GTD) and Michael Linenberger (MYN).
Good luck with your Life Management and if any of this post has struck a chord with you, or proves useful then it has been worthwhile writing.
Posted at 4:46pm on May 27, 2011