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Smartlists & GTD - why shouldn't I skip static lists?

dave.reeck says:
Hey All,

I've been using RTM to manage tasks ala GTD, and I'm thinking about changing my setup. I'm currently using the methods here (, and looking at some other implementations. Almost all make some use of static lists. Having a static list means having to manually move something from 1 list to another, something that seems like a waste of time to me.

Is there a reason I'm not seeing for using static lists?

I can imagine setting up all the lists I have to day using SmartLists and Tags (or other properties). I'm trying to figure out why this isn't a reasonable approch...

Thanks in advance,

Posted at 5:05pm on October 16, 2012
dave.reeck says:
Answered my own question by finding this good post:

Basically - some static lists can't be removed, but you can do almost everything else in smart lists.

Posted 6 years ago
raymond.bergmark Power Poster says:
It's more difficult to share tasks from a smart list (but still possible according to a recent post).

Apart from that, I also have a hard time understanding why each project would need a static list when there are tags? Using tags, it's also easier to have tasks appear in several lists (ProjectXxx, Call, Jim, Urgent etc) - making RTM much more flexible.
Posted 6 years ago
aforementionedthoughts says:
I was JUST thinking this through myself before coming to the forums to make sure there wasn't something I was missing. I agree, I don't see any reason not to lump every non-shared task together and sort with smartlists. Especially since smartlists can inherit properties.
Posted 6 years ago
josh.job says:
I have tried both the smart list and static list approaches and here's what I have discovered: If you want to use only smarlists then you have to be committed to managing either a complicated text string or tag-based system, not to mention the upkeep on the smartlists themselves. Is it really that much harder to add a static list and move tasks than to add tags and text strings every time you want to jot down a to-do? I think that many of the efficiencies expected by using a "smart" system can be easily lost for very practical reasons. Personally, the harder it is to enter a task the less likely I am to record it. Also, as a visual person, writing tasks as I look at other tasks in the same focus area helps generate additional ideas. Conversely, it is difficult for me to focus on recording tasks for one particular project when the whole unsorted inbox is staring me in the face.
Posted 6 years ago
raymond.bergmark Power Poster says:
If you add tasks to a smart list with un-ambigouos criteria (avoid dueBefore, < and > for instance) the task will inherit all the smart list criteria. That way, you can avoid adding tasks while watching an unsorted inbox.

The same goes for regular list I suppose, but with one list for every project one might end up with very many lists.

Smart lists and tags instead of regular lists makes a clean (YMMV) layout:

Posted 6 years ago
techlifeweb says:
I agree. Smart lists are the key. Let RTM work for you not against you. I have 2 static lists. 1 called Central that most everything goes into. I never look at it as it is just a holding area for the smart lists to pull from. You could use inbox bot I don't like things in there. If there is something in In Box it is because I haven't tagged it. My other static list is Recurring which holds all my recurring tasks that get pulled into smartlists using the lazy tagging method (thats what I call it anyway. It's the zzz method rajjan wrote about long ago in a comment here I could put them in Central but sometimes I need to find them and it's just easier then looking through the long list in central.
Posted 6 years ago
andrewski (Remember The Milk) says:
Hi techlifeweb,
(What follows is my personal opinion, by the way. Just consider this me geeking out myself. :)

I too use rajjan's zzz sleeper tag method with a similar overall setup as you, but I just put those tasks in my main list. When I need to refer to my recurring tasks, I just search for isRepeating:true (which could be saved as a Smart List, but I don't really refer to them too often). Not sure if that's what you mean by your recurring tasks, but that could be an option.

I don't know about you but like others here my goal is to have as few main lists as possible, and I only have two that I've created based on sharing (one for unshared tasks, one for shared tasks), and then it's Smart Lists all the way down. :)
Posted 6 years ago
(closed account) says:
I agree that Smart list are the best way to organise tasks into dynamic lists based on specific criteria.
For me static lists are handy for reflecting different areas of focus like Personal, Blogging or Development etc.
When adding new task I would put it in one of the static list and add relevant tags. This way when doing my reviews I can clearly see where is energy and focus goes.
Posted 6 years ago
milkiglo says:
My setup is static lists for actions.

I like static lists and have listed mine based on David Allen's Horizons of Focus. I wrote a post on Tips and Tricks here:

Worked with tags and smartlists for my contexts when I got started with rtm/gtd but always seemed to fancy and finicky for me. An additional plus for stactic lists is that you can still use tags and priorities to make useful smartlists.

I'd say if you haven't tried static lists give it a few months then decide what you like best.
Posted 6 years ago
mikejd30 says:
Interesting thread. I don't think it would be necessary to try static lists. I mean, I am new to RTM, but static lists are clear and the way most systems (including pen and paper) work. I think sometimes David Allen turns tried and tested principals into GTD concepts, which I am not keen on.

Having played with smart lists, I think this is the way to use RTM for anything other than a very simple setup. Not only does it allow dynamic list creation, but forces a sense of organisation when entering a task that doesn't take a long time.

Personally, I think the only GTD concept that was innovative was the idea of entering tasks with a greater details that was practical with pen and paper, that would allow for different sorting.
Posted 6 years ago
milkiglo says:
Okay. I have switched to using tags for my GTD action contexts. My current action tags incluced:


It came down to living in a small town and having an 0errands list and a 0errandscentre list for when I was in a city. I was duplicating some tasks to get both contexts when I thought - I could just be tagging these. :)
Posted 6 years ago
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