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My Trusted RTM/Gmail Life Management system using GTD and MYN principles (very long post)

(closed account) says:
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;
• Personal
• Business
• Garden
(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;
• Do@Home
• Do@Work
• Do@Shopping
• Do@All

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;
• @home
• @work
• @shopping
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.

MYN refinement

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
• Personal
• Business
• Projects (as appropriate)
• Hobbies (as appropriate)

Add the following three Tags (and Tags for any other Contexts you require);
• @home
• @work
• @shopping

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.

In Gmail
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

Managing emails

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

In conclusion

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
coololdguy says:
Great Job. Easy to read.

It would be nice to see screen shots of your lists and projects.

Posted 9 years ago
growingkidsmom says:
I am still trying to wrap my head around what you said. I am new here so please bear with me a moment. I was trying to figure out if there is a way to create a "master list" of sort. Part of my job requires doing a set of tasks that are repeated over the course of 2-3 months...the problem being that those tasks also apply to several projects at once that are all at different points on the time line. So what I need is a way to have each "project" have their own list but have the list be the same and repeat without having to manually input it across sometimes 10 + projects. Is there a way to do that? It almost sounded as if you had figured this out but I may just be misunderstanding.
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
Thanks very much for your comments.
I will try and post some screen shots later in the week.

Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
My interpretation of your question is that you need to create several "Project" lists all containing the same tasks.
Your idea is to have a "Master" list of tasks that can be used to create your Project lists.

If this is the case then create your Master list and add all the tasks to it.
Create all your Project lists but do not add any tasks to them.
Then, with the Master list displayed, click on "Select: All" - this will select all the tasks on your Master list
Click on the "More Actions" drop down and select "Duplicate Task" - this will make a duplicate of all the tasks on your Master list, adding the duplicates to your Master list, all the original tasks that were on the Master list will remain selected (but the duplicates will not be selected).
Click on "More Actions" again and in the list displayed, under "Move to..." select the Project list you want the tasks to be on.
This will move all the original tasks from the Master list to the Project list, leaving the duplicated tasks on the Master list (because they were not selected).
Just repeat this sequence, "Select: All", "Duplicate" then "Move to..." for any additional Projects you need.

Hope this is the correct interpretation of what you are trying to do and that it helps, if not post again and I will have another look.

Posted 9 years ago
larrydhunt says:
Thanks for the post! I am new to RTM but familiar with GTD. Your system has really helped me get into RTM!
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
Thanks for the feedback, makes the effort of writing the post worthwhile.

Glad you liked it - Martin.
Posted 9 years ago
jburgmannlainc says:
Please help me figure out what you mean by:
Do@Home - (due:never OR dueBefore:now OR dueWithin:"2 weeks of today") AND tag:@home AND status:incomplete.
Am I to create one search with all these characteristics or multiple Do@Home search strings to create multiple smart lists? Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,
Posted 9 years ago
ahumphries says:
I am new to RTM and trying to wrap my mind around this great tool. I was about ready to claim RTM too robust for me, but your post has kept me from jumping off the wagon in search of a different tool. Your system is very simple and your depth of explanation is extremely useful. I am so glad you posted! Thanks!
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
You create one smart list containing the complete search string for each "Context" in which you will work on tasks.
A "Context" is the place best suited to "do" the task, for example working on work emails would be Do@Work, clean the lounge carpet would be Do@Home, mow the lawn would be Do@Garden etc.

You decide how many "Contexts" you need and then create one Smart List and a corresponding tag for each one.

The Do@Work smart list references the tag called @work, the Do@Home smart list references the tag called @home etc.
Within each search string modify the "tag:@......" parameter to match the "Context" name and also use this for the smart list name, all the other search parameters are the same for all the smart lists (except the Do@All which is slightly different as described below).

To make a task a next action simply add the relevant "Context" tag to it, so the task "Mow the Lawn" would have the tag @garden added, this will make it appear on the smart list Do@Garden etc (of course because it has a tag it will also appear on the Do@All smart list which includes all tagged tasks).

So to be clear;
I have the following smart lists with the following search parameters set;
• 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.
The only difference between the first three smart list is the "tag:@....." parameter, which matches the name of the smart list and is the "Context" in which the task can be done.

Of course, you do not have to use my smart lists, you can have more or less, what ever suites the way you work.

Hope this makes it clear, if not post again and I will have another try.
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
Thanks for the feedback, much appreciated.
When I first started with RTM I found it a bit overwhelming, the program is very flexible and the documentation comprehensive, but it only tells you the "what" it can do, there is very little about the "how" best to use it and, like yourself I almost gave up.
I spent a long time going through various scenarios, trying out different methods of working until I came up with this version, so I decided to document it in the hope it would save others from going through the same process.

Glad you found it useful and thanks again for the comments.
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:

Here are links to a couple of screenshots, one from Gmail the other from RTM.

Posted 9 years ago
karmayogin says:
Wow! Wonderful post, and easy to comprehend. I've been playing around with organising my tasks, and I love the simplicity of your system!
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
Thank you very much for your comments, glad you like it.

Posted 9 years ago
fieldgreens says:
Thank you so much for creating such a comprehensive "How" for RTM. I was so lost with where to start. You've given me an understanding of the structure. Very much appreciated.
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
You are welcome, glad to be off help.

Posted 9 years ago
alistair.wilson says:
martingchapman, thanks so much for this stunning post. Having read 50+ GTD related posts in the last month, this is my favourite. I was wondering how you handle interfaces between project actions and project reference material...I suppose I'm keen to learn your 'How To' approach to evernote.

Thanks again for putting such a lot of effort into helping us all!
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
Hi Alistair,
Thanks for the kind words, glad you liked it.

I use RTM for all tasks and Evernote for all reference material.
This keeps things simple because Tasks link to Notes (not the other way round)

A recent update by Evernote means all Notes have a unique url, so all I do is paste this Note url into the url field of the associated Task - simples!

You can have multiple urls in the Task url field (separated by a comma followed by a space) so one Task can reference multiple Notes.

To access the Note from a Task just click on the url, Evernote does not have to be running on the PC, the note will just open.

To get the Note url (in Evernote), with a note selected either click "Note" in the tool bar, or right click on the note in the note list (not the actual note itself) and select "Copy Note Link".
This will copy the unique note url onto the clipboard and you can then paste it into the Task.

Although this adds an extra step to adding a Task, if you have Evernote open at the same time as RTM (as I usually do) it is easy to flip between them to set up the association between the Task and Note.

Hope this is of interest - Martin.

Posted 9 years ago says:
This is great, thanks! So the way I understand it, you handle the "Someday/Maybe" tasks (GTD) by keeping them on the static list(s) but not yet tagged with a context. Do you have a method for capturing "Waiting For" (GTD) tasks? Seems like these could be captured with a separate non-context tag?
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
Yes you are correct, Someday/Maybe tasks (MYN - Over the Horizon) live on the relevant static list but do not have a date or a Do@ context.

These are reviewed at the weekly review and if I decide to "do" one I add the relevant Do@ context which makes it a "Next Action".

It is then an "Opportunity Now" task (do when I have done the "Critical Now" and "Target Now" tasks)
Or, if I also add a date (within the next two weeks) it becomes a "Target Now" task (do in the next two weeks)
Or if I also add a date and make it Priority One it becomes a "Critical Now" task (must do on the assigned date)

Regards "Waiting For" this is one of the areas of GTD that I manage differently to David Allen.
I interpret "Waiting For" as applying to tasks I have delegated to someone else and am waiting for a response from them.
In this case I change the description of the task to include something like "check with (name) progress on ......." or "call (name) for a progress report" etc and then set a date on the task for when I could realistically expect a response.
The task then pops up at the appointed time with all the related details (notes, Evernote link) and I can follow it up.

I don't feel the need for another "context" containing "Waiting For" tasks" ( in the same way as I don't have an "Agenda" context). These tasks are just something else to do and having more contexts just makes things more complex, as you will have seen I subscribe to the KISS principle.

Hope this helps and thanks for the comments.- Martin.

Posted 9 years ago
rakesh.ahuja says:
Very helpful indeed...
Thanks a bunch :-)
Posted 8 years ago
(closed account) says:
pragmatic way to organize, Thanks very much
Posted 8 years ago
emily (Remember The Milk) says:
Hi martingchapman,

Thanks for sharing your system! You're this week's Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner, so we've upgraded your Remember The Milk account with a free year of Pro. :)
Posted 7 years ago
lemayp says:
Hi Martin,

Really like your description of how you are working, looks like I am at mid-way from you since I already use several technics that you are describing. And I am using several of the products you are using too: RTM, gmail, evernote...

You are using the RTM app for gmail in an interesting way and I remember having abandoned using it a long time ago. I am revisiting it to see if I would like to convert actionable emails as task inside of RTM. But there is something that doesn't work the way you are describing it in my environment. Once I have starred an email (or assigned a pre-configured tag) I can see the task created in RTM based on the email title, but you seem to pretend that the task will also have the link to the original email. I don't get such link in any of the attributes of the newly created task. Is there a special settings that I might have overlooked? Where should I expect to see this, in the URL field?

Maybe it is because I am using a chromebook and something in the behaviour differs from it?

Let me know if you remember a special setting to have the URL of the original email inside of the RTM task.
Posted 7 years ago
lemayp says:
Oh! I just found what you referred to. The information about the original email is only available from the gmail RTM Apps, not from RTM web site, and is represented by a little email icon.

Nice trick. I will try it for few days and see if I like it.

Thanks for sharing.
Posted 7 years ago
shekala says:
Linking to Evernote is wonderful. Unfortunately, it doesn't work from the Gmail addon. I have asked RTM to fix this for the last couple of years, but they have yet to do so. It's a shame since I rely exclusively on the Gmail add on.
Posted 7 years ago
biolaburman says:
I'm not experiencing a link back to gmail from RTM as per: : "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)" I do not have a link back to the email within RTM. lemayp says :its in the gmail RTM Apps". Does this mean the Task list that appears to the right of the gmail browser superimposed OVER the browser (and therefore useless)? This is why I stopped using RTM tasks. I'd hoped this set-up addressed that, but it does not I guess. Any direction appreciated.

Posted 7 years ago
coachdan007 says:
****If it is from an email then I “Star” the email in Gmail which automatically creates a task linked to the email****

Can you please explain how to set up this type of rule?
Posted 7 years ago
andrewski (Remember The Milk) says:
Hi coachdan007,
You can do that with our Gmail add-on. It's one of the options in the Settings to create tasks from email. Hope this helps!
Posted 7 years ago
coachdan007 says:
Andrew, just wanted to say Thanks for the response...and to "publicly" Thank you for the customer support I received in troubleshooting the set up!!
Posted 7 years ago
andrewski (Remember The Milk) says:
Happy to help! Glad we were able to get the add-on working for you. :)
Posted 7 years ago
sun.rawat says:
martingchapman, very useful - just like a reading a manual, only much simpler to understand. Thnx.
Posted 6 years ago
stefanhoevenaar says:
Thank you Martin for sharing your setup! This greatly helped me understand RTM for GTD and the use of lists vs tags and smartlists. Had a great clean-up!

I found the Do@... smartlists for contexts a bit confusing vis-à-vis 'locations' in RTM, because of the @ sign. I changed that to Do#....

I also included tags+smartlists for Do#Delegate and Check#Delegated.

Posted 3 years ago
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