Discuss all things Remember The Milk.

My "No Context Necessary" GTD Setup

michael_skiff says:
GTD is a great productivity system, and one which I have practiced for over six years now. Over the years I've tried out multiple task-management systems, as I am sure many of you have as well. However, I seem to always land back on RTM - not based on the "sexy" looks (although the iOS apps are much "sexier" now), but rather based on functionality and flexibility.

That said, David's concept of "contexts" is somewhat outdated given today's near-ubiquitous availability of most tools (contexts) at any given moment (e.g. I can make a call, send an email/text, write a novel, etc. all on my iPhone/iPad). Truly, the only delineation necessary between tasks (in my opinion) involves tasks that must be accomplished at a specific location. Since the tools (contexts) themselves are generally available everywhere, I really only need to specify a location (context) when it is in fact required to accomplish that particular task at a specific physical location.

As such, here is my current setup that seems to be working well and actually allowing me to get things done and not just perpetually manage lists...

• Inbox is just that - an Inbox. Process to zero daily (if possible)
• Lists = Areas of Focus (similar to setup found in Cultured Code's 'Things' app)
• Due Dates = only for tasks which must be completed on/by a certain date (I also use the iCal feed to ensure these tasks show up on my calendar as well, in line with GTD concepts)
• Tags = projects and major initiatives
• Locations = physical locations tied to tasks (only when necessary)
• Priority = used for marking my "Most Important Tasks" (ala ZTD) and my "Next Actions" (ala GTD)

Practical Application (my setup):

1. Lists - I have traditional RTM lists setup for all of my major areas of focus. For example:

1-Personal Growth
Scheduled (Tickler)

As you can see, I've numbered these in a certain order so that match where they sit in terms of my life priorities, and are reflected as such on my RTM lists.

2. Due Dates - for tasks that I absolutely must complete on/by a certain date, I assign a due date. I also use due dates when adding tasks to my Scheduled (Tickler) list so that they show up for review at a date I determined previously. Additionally, as mentioned above, I subscribe to my RTM Events iCal feed so that I can see these events on my "hard landscape" (calendar).

3. Tags - I really only use tags for specific projects/initiatives. I used to use tags like crazy for contexts, but as mentioned earlier, most of these contexts (e.g. "Call" "Email" "Computer" etc.) are available to me nearly everywhere thanks to iOS (and Android I suppose, if you're into that...) I noticed that all of this tagging was overkill and was actually slowing down my workflow by adding an additional thinking step ("What shall I tag this? Is it an email, phone call, online, offline??" etc...) Since I've scrapped the idea of tagging for context and now only tag for projects, my workflow has sped up significantly.

You may be asking yourself - "if I am using tags to assign tasks to a particular project, don't I still have to go through the process of deciding whether or not to tag each task?" The short answer is no - thanks to RTM's Smart Lists, which I will elaborate on further down.

4. Locations - Again, I only use locations for tasks which absolutely must be performed at a precise physical location. I only have a few locations set up, but you could set up as many as you need to fit your workflow. For example, my setup looks like this:

@Home - tasks I can only complete at the house, such as "mow the lawn", "change the smoke alarm batteries", etc.

@Work - tasks I can only complete at work, such as "talk to Bob T. about my RTM setup," or "clear my physical inbox to zero", etc.

Thanks to RTMs iOS apps and the use of built-in GPS, I can simply use the "Nearby" list to see what tasks can only be done while at that physical location. A key distinction here - these tasks are not the only tasks I can do while at that location, but rather the tasks I cannot do at any other location. As one can imagine, I have plenty other "Work" tasks that aren't assigned the @Work location - this simply means I can accomplish those work-related tasks at any physical location (they are not tied to the physical location of @Work).

5. Priorities - I use RTMs priorities to select my non-due-date specific "Most Important Tasks" (ala ZTD) and my "Next Actions" (ala GTD). Tasks with a priority of 1 are my MITs and should be done Today if possible. If I really want them to stand out and they MUST be completed today, I will also assign them a due-date of Today. Tasks with a priority of 2 are all of my Next Actions. I also use RTM Smart Lists to show these in an elegant manner.

6. Scheduled/Later list - I adopted this idea after using Cultured Code's "Things" app off and on. I like having a separate list for items I don't need to see now, but want to be in front of me at a later date (the "Tickler" file in GTD-speak). In addition to using this list as my "Tickler", I also place monotonous recurring tasks here so as not to clutter up my other lists. I also use this list to store my "Someday/Maybe" items in keeping with the GTD concepts. The scheduled tasks have a due date assigned to them, while the someday/maybe tasks do not. I'm still tweaking how I use this list...

Bringing it all together - in addition to my traditional RTM lists (see point #1 above), I also setup the following Smart Lists for quick access and quick entry of tasks:

!Next - search: dueBefore:"5 days of today" OR priority:1 OR priority:2

@Home - search: location:@Home AND list:2-Family/Household
@Work - search: location:@Work AND list:3-Work

Rewrite TPS Reporting Process - search: tag:TPS AND list:3-Work

Explanation - the !Next list simply displays all tasks which are either MITs or Next Actions, in addition to any overdue tasks and tasks due within the next 5 days. This list also ensures any tasks I've scheduled (on the "Scheduled/Later" static list) show up at the right time on my !Next list for review. The @Home and @Work lists capture those tasks that can ONLY be accomplished at those physical locations. The "Rewrite TPS Reporting..." list is an example of a project list, which falls under my "Work" area of focus (it's on the 3-Work list).

Here's where you make your money - the beauty of RTM Smart Lists is the ability to add tasks directly to a Smart List and in doing so, those tasks will automatically inherit the attributes of that Smart List (with a few exceptions). For example, if I add a task to my @Home Smart List, that task will automatically be placed on my 2-Family/Household static list and will be assigned the location of @Home. If I add a task to my "Rewrite TPS Reporting..." Smart List, that task will automatically be tagged with that specific project tag (TPS) and placed on my 3-Work static list. This makes adding tasks to specific projects/locations a breeze and automates the additional steps of assigning tags, locations, etc.

The exception to this rule is when you use Smart Lists which include an operator of "OR" in the search criteria. In this case, RTM does not know which attribute you want to assign to the task, so it is placed in the Inbox by default. For example - my !Next list above is for viewing my MITs and Next Actions only, not for quickly adding tasks since I use the "OR" operator in my search criteria. If I were to add a task directly to that Smart List, RTM would dump it in the Inbox by default. However, this is not a problem with my location and project based Smart Lists since the search attributes are separated by the "AND" operator.

Bottom line: This scheme works for me and has allowed me to be more efficient in not only managing my task lists, but in actually getting things done. After all, isn't that the ultimate point of any productivity system? Hopefully my setup will help you tweak your own system to meet your specific needs. Please post any questions if you have them - Enjoy!
Posted at 5:33pm on August 17, 2012
nekodojo says:
This is cool. I like it.

I think with your smart list @Work the way it is, you couldn't add a personal item to be done at the office? Perhaps if you can do "work" from other locations, you could call your "at the office only" list @Office?

Weekly Review is important in GTD land. I'm curious if this strategy has improved your weekly review and if you have any tricks for reviewing?
Posted 5 years ago
mikejd30 says:
@michael_skiff, thanks for a brilliant write up of a working system.

I'm surprised though because in my experience, people that have such a clear view of their own task systems tend to not support the brand 'GTD'. Just an observation, because you mention the one major issue of GTD which is too much time spent managing lists.

@nekodojo, I'm not a follower of GTD, as in the promoted method, but I do know a number of people that consider themselves serious GTD followers, and they have told me the one thing they avoid is daily, weekly reviews. The logic being that if such reviews are necessary, then the task list is inefficient.

Still, I should add that almost every high-productive person I know that has a task management system avoids GTD and @contexts, believing that a todo list should be 'seen and not heard'...... should much much more organic, and not time-consuming.

As a more general point, for me, the problem I see with @contexts is that there can be too many permutations, or as the OP says, now you can cover almost all of them sitting on a train (@work, @email, @calls, @internet, @computer, @personal etc).

What I have heard as being a significant issue with @contexts is this multitude of permutations, because we are human beings. For example, what determines my productivity? The one thing I must do are tasks that must be done today, today. This is not GTD, just priority / due dates and has been around forever. So what's left? Well.... some of these are *where I am, *how much time I have, *how I feel physically, *what I want to do, *what I feel is useful to do now (perhaps something that worries me for no special reason), *who is around me, *what equipment do I have (laptop and phone may be needed, not one or the other).

So, the question is, when you consider the above, is GTD's @context approach actually helpful? It may force someone into doing something that is not appropriate or the most productive task because of the belief in 'following the system'.

Actually, on a slightly different point, the thing I personally like about Remember the Milk is that it is not trying to be a GTD clone, and follows a 'set it up how best works for you' approach.
Posted 5 years ago
rdurdyyew says:
I think one thing your system lacks is the reporting stuff thing. For example I started using lists for my projects. The format is simple: work_pr_companyname_projectname. The advantage of using lists is that you can archive the list when the project is complete. The disadvantage is that you cannot use a search term listcontains. But when using tags as project identifiers the tag cloud can be a little overwhelming and when a tag gets deleted you cannot get a report for yourself .
So I started using lists for specific projects or lists. I am thinking to use tags for general actions and long term goals. But still I don't have a stable system for myself.
Posted 5 years ago
Log in to post a reply.