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Zen to Done with RTM

sssimon says:
The goal of this post is to show how I implement the Zen to Done productivity system using RTM (especially since GTD and Monk to Done have already been described).

I use the following Smart Lists:

1. Today (dueBefore:tomorrow) - this is my main action list which I work with throughout the day. It contains all tasks which I plan to do on a given day, organized by priority.

2. Focus (priority:1 and due:today) - every day I have 2-3 tasks which are the daily most important tasks and have a priority of 1. I address these tasks at the beginning of the day to make sure they are done. I use this list so as not to be distracted by other tasks.

3. This Week (dueBefore:Monday) - I use this list to have an overview of the current week, to make sure that I know what's coming up.

4. Unscheduled (due:never) - this list contains tasks which I have not yet planned to carry out. I periodically look through this list to add due dates to tasks which I want to schedule for the current week.

5. Ugh! (postponed:"> 5") - another list for reviewing. If a task has been postponed multiple times it means that a decision should be made: either do it (set higher priority) or drop it.

6. Daily Review (completed:today) - sometimes you look at the work remaining to be done and you feel that you didn't accomplish anything. This list shows how much you've done today to boost your morale.

Here is my general work flow:

* All incoming tasks land in the Inbox. If possible I assign them a priority and deadline. The deadline can be either hard (e.g., call mom on her birthday) or soft (e.g., go for a walk). The deadline is when I plan to do the task. Tasks without deadlines will appear in the Unscheduled list.

* At the beginning of each week I first define 3-4 weekly most important tasks. Personally, I keep this list in a separate text file but you can keep them in a separate RTM list. From this list I generate new tasks with due dates within the upcoming week. I also analyze the review lists (Unscheduled, Ugh!) and finally look at the This Week list to have an overview of the upcoming week and see if I have not overscheduled.

* Throughout the day I complete tasks from the Today list. I begin by looking at the Focus list (a subset of the Today list) to do the daily most important tasks.

* At the end of the day, tasks which are not completed are either postponed to the next day or deleted. Finally, I look at the Daily Review to feel good about how much I've accomplished ;-)

To further prove that ZTD can be done with RTM, I provide general comments to the eight essential principles of ZTD:

1. Collect - RTM is great at supporting ubiquitous capture. You can add tasks through email, Twitter, a mobile interface, phone apps, a bookmarklet, numerous plugins and third-party applications.

2. Process - Leo suggests to "make quick decisions on things in your inbox, do not put them off". You can do this during the task input using the Smart Add syntax: due date, location, priority, tags.

3. Plan - Smart Lists allow for scheduling ahead and prioritization allows for establishing the most important tasks.

4. Focus - Perhaps the cornerstone of ZTD is doing "one task at a time, without distractions". The Focus smart list helps me avoid distractions. You can give priority 1 to a single task to have a view of only one task.

5. Keep it simple - don't add unnecessary tags if you do not use them later for filtering. The only tags I use are #freetime (for things that I want to do just for fun) and #deferred (for tasks which I should check on in several days).

6. Organize - everything goes into the Inbox. From there, it goes into the Smart Lists and the action list (Today).

7. Review - Smart Lists allow for fined-grained reviewing.

8. Simplify - the Ugh! list (and other smart lists you can devise) help prune the unnecessary tasks.

Links for further reading:
* GTD with RTM
* Monk to Done

I hope this post will be helpful to others and inspire their productivity systems :-)
Posted at 2:51pm on September 5, 2011
tgl says:
Great!!! Simple and yet powerful!! I have tried several implementations of gtd in rtm, but none have worked as smooth as this approach!
Posted 7 years ago
(closed account) says:
Hi ssimon,

You posted <4. Focus - Perhaps the cornerstone of ZTD is doing "one task at a time, without distractions". The Focus smart list helps me avoid distractions. You can give priority 1 to a single task to have a view of only one task.> This reminds me of a phrase I learned many years ago from one of the best managers I have worked for. He always used the phrase "focus and finish". Thinking of this phrase always helps me stay focused on a particular task that needs to be complete by a particular date without being distracted by multiple competing priorities.

Thank you for sharing your approach ssimon.

Posted 7 years ago
snazz says:
hey sssimon,

Im new to RTM and a lot newer to ZTD.

I have a question where you put your Incoming Tasks?
You cant tell a task to be in a smartlist. The ystay in the incoming folder :(

How you do that? Do you make more lists like "Private,Work, Home2 and so on?

Sorry for my english but im from germany :)
Hope you know what I mean
Posted 7 years ago
sssimon says:
tgl, amie.harpe: thanks for the warm words :-)

snazz: I keep everything in the Inbox which may seem like overloading it but actually I never look at this list. I only use the smart lists described above to process/plan/focus.
Posted 7 years ago
stenkate says:
Great post! I just discoverd Zen to Done after a critical evaluation of GTD, and your example is great in giving some practical implementations.
Posted 7 years ago
emily (Remember The Milk) says:
Hi sssimon,

I just wanted to let you know that you're this week's Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner. We've upgraded your Remember The Milk account to have a free year of Pro. :)
Posted 7 years ago
sssimon says:
Thanks Emily! This is great news! \o/
Posted 7 years ago
iaind1957 says:
Hi sssimon,

Great write up - in particular I love the Daily Review, even if all it shows for me is either how little I've completed, or how much I am doing which is not being captured in RTM ;-))

You mention "* All incoming tasks land in the Inbox. If possible I assign them a priority and deadline." and in your reply to snazz you say you don't look in the Inbox.

One question for you - and anybody else who keeps lots of task in the Inbox - is how do you differentiate between tasks that you have seen but not processed and new tasks you haven't seen yet. In your method, processed translates to "assign priority and deadline".

The other question is how do you handle projects - i.e. anything with multiple related tasks? I run workshops so I need to handle a lot of related items - curious how you handle them?

Many thanks, Iain
Posted 7 years ago
sssimon says:
Hi iaind1957!

What do you mean by "haven't seen yet"? For me, I "see" the tasks when I add them :-)

If you want to leave the Inbox for unprocessed tasks you can create a new list, e.g. Work, and (more or less) add "and list:Work" to the Smart List definitions which I mentioned in the first post.

Alternateively, I've just written this Smart List for myself to show the unprocessed tasks:
list:inbox and isTagged:false and due:never and priority:none

Regarding projects - I don't perform any special management. I use tags to map tasks to projects but I never have many such tasks. Most of the time, once I perform one task I know what the "next item" should be (so I don't have to define it upfront).
Posted 7 years ago
(closed account) says:
Wow thanks for this suggestion ...... I'm a new user to RTM, but I've long been a ZTD fan. Its so much more uncomplicated than a lot of other widely used productivity systems. And this is like the icing on the cake !!!!
Posted 7 years ago
mzkynd says:
great system!
Posted 5 years ago
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