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My initial crack at a GTD setup

lwallach says:
I'm very new to both RTM and GTD. Actually I didn't even know about GTD before starting to use RTM and perusing these forums. I picked up a lot of great tips and tried some out and ultimately came to a setup which looks like it might work, but it's still very untested, so I'm sure I'll be tweaking it as time goes on. I thought I'd try to describe it briefly for others looking for ideas. Sorry that it's too late right now to credit everyone right now, just suffice it to say that 95% or more of this is from other people and I've just hobbled together in a form that makes sense to me.

For whatever reason I'm avoiding hard lists and mainly using smartlists. The only hard lists I have are inbox and sent. Mostly things stay in the inbox.

I have what seems to be the very common context tags of @home, @work, etc.

I'm tagging tasks that are part of a project with -projectname, and I'm also creating a task that serves as the project title, and tagging that with -projectname as well. I also use "PROJECT: Project Name" as the title of the project title task. Finally, I make all my project title tasks priority:1 and next actions for a given project priority:3. I then have a smartlist called "Projects" which is "priority:1 or priority:3" and this lists all my projects as well as my next actions for each one. Unfortunately it doesn't order them in a logical way, it just groupes all the project titles at the top, then all the next actions below. I'm sure there's a way to get these ordered better but I haven't figured it out yet. The other thing that just ocurred to me is that for the project title tasks, the notes section would be a good place to include some more detailed information about the project - perhaps some of the "reference" information that DA talks about? When I'm done with editing a project title task I move it out of the way by moving it to the sent list. That way it doesn't appear at the top of my inbox. Finally, in addition to just having a list of all projects and next actions, I have each of my projects listed in my tag cloud as -project1, -project2, etc. This is made much easier by a trick I picked up here:

Now things look very organized.

Similar to projects, I have another such container called goals. The main difference is that the titles begin with "GOAL." Right now, I'm not assiging them with next action, but maybe I will. They also show up in my Projects&NA smartlist, although I'm wondering if they deserve their own list. Right now I only have one goal and a couple of projects. Not that I don't have a lot more to do, but I've been concentrating way more on how to organize things rather than actually processing all my tasks!

As I said, I have context tags, but I don't have lists set up for them. Instead, they are displayed in my tag cloud in the organized way I mention above, so I can just click on any of these and get an immediate list of all of them.

I have been trying to tag things with @@high, @@medium, and @@low to represent energy level required. No smartlist for these either but smartlists can be generated as above with just a click of these in my tag cloud.

A couple of other tags I use are somedaymaybe and waiting. Both of these have their own permanent smartlists. It's not so much that I have many tasks tagged with these, just that it makes more sense to me to include these only 2 types of tasks rather than have to think about creating a list for every single project - and their could be a huge number of them eventually - as well as goals, 4 or 5 of my contexts, and 3 energy levels, etc. Does that make sense? Most of these categories could either have a huge number of parts, or they at least have a decent static set. To me it makes more sense to list them in the tag cloud where they are just as accessible - ie you can create a list on the fly by clicking a link in the tag cloud and it would appear just as a previously set up smartlist tab, so why bother. But at the same time, since there are a few special designations of tasks like someday/maybe, projects, goals, and waiting for, why not include those as your more static lists? I use smartlists for these, not hard ones, but either one should work...

Moving on, I have a "Tickler" smartlist which is just tasks that have a due date. Currently the search is "Not(due:never)"

I also have a smartlist called untagged which lists anything that doesn't have a tag. Essentially all tasks should, so this is just a way of catching tasks that were input and never got a tag - this will be especially helpful when I start emailing and jotting new tasks to myself.

Finally there is a "Stale" smartlist which lists any task that was added earlier than 2 weeks ago. Theory being this might nudge me into reminding me that these are languishing.

I think that's about it. We'll see how it works. As I said, it's really untested so I'm bound to change it, but I'm glad that I've finally gotten something setup, since I've been obsessing about how to structure things for a couple of weeks now and that's prevented me from getting things done!
Posted at 6:39am on November 9, 2007
lwallach says:
Ok, already I've made a couple of tweaks. First of all, I wasn't using all the priorities. I got the idea of using priorities to specify projects and next actions from this thread:

The author uses priority 2 as subprojects. But so far my projects aren't quite that complex and so for me I found it more useful to use priorities like this:

Priority 1: Project Title
Priority 2: Next Action within a project
Priority 3: Any other actions within a project

This way, when I click on a given project tag in my cloud list, I see the project name at the top, followed by the next action, followed by all subsequent tasks (sorted by priority).

I then went ahead and created a new smartlist: "Lone" for non-project related actions with search term of "priority:none and not(tag:somedaymaybe) and not(tag:waitingon)" This produces a fairly large list, but definitely smaller than the all-encompassing inbox!
Posted 12 years ago
bzpilman says:
Haha! Dude, you ARE awesome!

You thought so many things close to how I did I just can't believe my eyes. Many little details to wich you gave similar solutions.

I know everyone here is tired of me saying I'll talk about my GTD setup soon. Life's been so busy this year (and for that it's been the best year of my life in personal growth, mind opening, and lifelong goalsetting), but I'm trying really hard to get my blog up and document my system as didacticly as possible. I'm really eager to share it.

Also glad you liked my tag cloud idea. It's really key not having to create smartlists for every project tag. That way your projects can be way more dynamic simply being accessed through the cloud. And then there are many more uses than projects, as you quickly caught =)
Posted 12 years ago
crystal.mckenzie says:
OOooooo, a "Stale" smartlist -- what a brilliant idea!! I definitely need one of those!!
Posted 12 years ago
sfromm says:
Like lwallach, most of my lists are smartlists. My hard lists are Inbox, Processed, and Sent. I added Processed to denote which stuff has been ... processed. This way, the Inbox remains the list of stuff that has been collected and is waiting to be processed (eg. deciding the next action, tagging to associate with a project, etc).
Posted 12 years ago
lwallach says:
Hmmm, processed. That does make sense. I just hate having to create an extra list. Then again, I have an "untagged" list to try to catch things I haven't tagged, so maybe I should institute a processed list and remove the untagged list? The thing is that a general catch-all list like my inbox or your processed is just there to be a list of everything, so it's not useful in and of itself unless you are looking for a specific task you think should be in another smartlist but can't find it, etc...
Posted 12 years ago
raymond.bergmark Power Poster says:
I have a Check smart list that checks for task without time estimate and location. It should be empty.

In true GTD fashion, you really shouldn't have items in your inbox that aren't next actions. Look at it, tag, locate and do whatever you need to immediately, get it done when you have the time.
Posted 12 years ago
bzpilman says:
But having the Inbox as an effective inbox is better for two reasons:
• In case someone send you a task.
• If you try to add a task via some smartlist that can't properly make tasks inherit it's properties, so the task lands on your inbox.

So it may not be best to keep everything that's been dealt with physicially in your Inbox list, but rather in some other called "Processed" or "Main".
Posted 12 years ago
ranbarton Power Poster says:
My processed list is named | yes, just | to be as narrow as possible. I tried . for some time, but I liked the | better.
Posted 12 years ago
lwallach says:
I have a widescreen display, and I've tweeked the stylish script to give me even more room, so I don't so far have to resort to tricks like that. Currently I have 11 lists displayed on one row with room for at least one more. Plus I still have some more space on the sides so could expand this even further!

Hey, just decided I might as well include a link to a screen capture of my new (and seemingly still developing) setup:
Posted 12 years ago
lwallach says:
To follow up with the above, I just wanted to give an update on what I've changed. I created a Processed list, seperated out Projects and Goals from Next Actions (they are now seperate lists, changed "untagged" to Check, which now checks to see if something is untagged but also if it doesn't have a context tag (unless it's a priority one, since I use that to make project and goal title tasks those don't get context tags):

Searched for: isTagged:false or ( not(tagContains:@) and not(priority:1))

Further, I've created one fake task that "holds" my tag cloud dividers (since in order to exist they need to be assigned to a current task), as well as some context tags, energy tags and tags I use to "hide" tasks. All of these tags aren't always being used in a current task, but I wanted to see them as options in my tag cloud to remind me which ones I'm giving myself the choice to use.

Speaking of the "hidden" tasks, I've developed a system whereby I tag items that I want to "hide" with "zzz02d", "zzz07d", "zzz30d", etc. Then in my "tickler" list (which is basically just a list of tasks with due dates, I use the following search criteria to hide these tasks:

(not(due:never) and not(tagContains:zzz)) or (tag:zzz02d and dueWithin:"2 days of today") or (tag:zzz03d and dueWithin:"3 days of today") or (tag:zzz07d and dueWithin:"7 days of today") or (tag:zzz14d and dueWithin:"14 days of today") or (tag:zzz30d and dueWithin:"30 days of today")

Based on sfrom's suggestion, I've put in a processed list as well.

I think that's all the recent changes/additions. I'm sure there are more to come, you guys have given me so many great ideas and as RTM comes out with new features, it seems like I'll have to keep reworking things to take advantage of these as well as to optimize things.

The funny thing about all this is that I've spend about 95% of my time on developing and tweaking this system, and discussing it here, and 5% (if that much) actually doing things! Hopefully that will change as things solidify and I get tired of tweeking things endlessly, but I just wonder if any of you have had similar experiences?
Posted 12 years ago
bzpilman says:
I did, but I think it's worth it. Not only you eventually settle down on something that works for you and improves your productivity, as well as lowering your procrastinantion, therefore being an investment, but also it creates good awareness and knowledge of GTD and of ways to implement it.
I guess thinking never hurts. I would be worried if I still spent too much time on my system after a year (mine's turning 6 months now, that's how long I've known GTD). Less than that, and I consider it a solid investment.
Posted 12 years ago
lwallach says:
Ok, small correction to the tickler file search criteria. It appears that if you have a task overdue, then dueWithin won't see it. I just figured that if I had due within 2 days and I'd already gone past the due date, it would find all tasks that were within 2 days of the due date OR MORE (including negative values, I guess!). But it doesn't work. So I had to add the following in order to get overdue tasks to show up:

or (tagContains:zzz and dueBefore:now)
Posted 12 years ago
wakela says:
Very inspiring stuff.
lwallach, I think I also replied to you on the yahoo GTD group. You are doing pretty much what I am, but you have some more sophisticated searches. I did not know about "tagContains." Now I have something else to play with instead of actually getting things ... well .. done.

My tags:

c_out_kamakura (where I live)

p_[project name goes here]

r_[reference name goes here]


Instead of naming my project title task "PROJECT:project name" I name it "project name" and give it the tag "project."

The nice thing about starting my tags with that letter code is that RTM will give me my status choices when I type "s_" in the Tag field then I can arrow key to them instead of type them out.

I have 48 projects. Most of them are just two or three tasks. I try to start similar projects with the same word. ie. "fix squeaking door" instead of "get squeaking door fixed." Also "send", "check", "decide" etc. That makes them easier to find.

I definitely agree with the "processed" list. It's just easier to make sure that the Inbox is empty.

The stale list is a great idea.

With so many project tags, my cloud is difficult to read, so I don't use it. Can you give an example of your "cloud dividers"?

What do you use the hidden tasks for?

In my system all projects should have a next action, waiting, or deferred task. All waitings and deferreds should have a date. All next actions should have a context. With the tagContains search option I should be able to automate find orphans and lost projects pretty easily.
Posted 12 years ago
wakela says:
Oh yeah,
I'm getting pretty slick with the keyboard shortcuts. But I still need the mouse to move my tagged tasks into Processed. Is there a shortcut for this?
Posted 12 years ago
lwallach says:
Hey wakela, thanks for your input. Here's my tag cloud:

My RTM Tag Cloud

As for hidden tasks, I hide things that I don't want cluttering up my lists as I don't care about them until close to when they are due. For example if I need to do something, but I can't really do it until a certain date, I don't want it cluttering my list for days or weeks or months before that date comes.

I'm trying to remember why I should have a set of deferred tasks. Doesn't deferred mean you've just pushed them off on someone else, and if so, why do you still need to keep track of them?

I actually ended up getting rid of my stale list as I wasn't checking it. I got rid of a bunch of the others as well. I figured I'd keep only those that I used the most. So far that's been my tickler list, but I set up another one called Quick and Easy where I put tasks that are low-energy and can be done in 15 minutes or less. I try to look at the tickler all the time and if I don't have anything I can do on it, I'll peruse the Quick and Easy list for some ideas on what to do, but I also look at my context lists based on if I'm at home, work, out driving around, etc.
Posted 12 years ago
thorrrr says:
Hi lwallach do you have Skype or MSN so i can have a quick chat with you re your ideas?
Posted 11 years ago
lwallach says:
thorrr, sorry, I'm not checking these forums daily at the moment and as I'm sure you know there is no subscription or alert mechanism here, nor any links people can provide to show their contact info. my msn/Live/whatever IM is
Posted 11 years ago
ranbarton Power Poster says:
@lwallach: There is an alert/subscription system here... these forums have Atom feeds. E.g.,

Posted 11 years ago
lwallach says:
Well, I suppose that is KIND of an alert, but my thought is the same type of email alert that you can get from countless bbs systems out there... Feeds are nice, but it's not at all the same thing. Those feeds won't tell me specifically that someone responded a specific thread that I wrote or was just interested in...
Posted 11 years ago
ranbarton Power Poster says:
Since RTM maintains a page of posts in which each user has contributed (, I have always thought how slick it would be if that could generate a feed of followups to threads we've posted to.

You're right - a feed is not ideal - but it's all we've got.
Posted 11 years ago
jerry.rubinow says:
I'm considering using RTM for GTD, and I was wondering if this aspect of GTD is possible to implement. Say I have a project - "Build Doghouse", that I want to set up tasks for in RTM. The tasks would be 1. Draw up plans. 2. Buy material at Home Depot. 3. Construct doghouse. I can't do #2 before #1 is complete. I can't do #3 before #2 is complete.

I'd like to have a view where I don't even see #2 or #3 until #1 has been completed. I'd like to be able to set up the tasks and searches so I don't have to do anything when I finish #1 other than mark it as complete, and #2 will then show up automagically.

I know I could probably set up some tags for the non-current tasks and then when the current task was done, review what was there and mark the next one for display, but it would be great if I didn't need to. I mean, that's something a tool should handle for me.

So is this possible? What's the closest I'd be able to get to this ideal? RTM staff: any chance of adding another field to a task that specifies another task it depends on?
Posted 11 years ago
lwallach says:
Jerry, what the tool (RTM) should and shouldn't handle for you is completely subjective. We all want it to handle every scenario we can think of. The developers, though, built it to use tags and smartlists in order to give the users a great deal of power to create these different functions themselves. I agree I would love to have this, and it's been discussed ad nauseum - just search for "dependent tasks." But no, you cannot do this. You need to create your own mechanism in terms of how these things work with tags, priorities, etc., then create smart lists that filter based on these different variables. It is a pain, I agree, and I wish RTM would make it easier, but for now that's not the case...
Posted 11 years ago
jerry.rubinow says:
Point taken about the subjectivity about what RTM should and shouldn't handle. I agree the way tags and smartlists were implemented provide a tremendous amount of flexibility to customize behavior to one's needs. And while RTM provides a fantastic set of building blocks, I think with just one more task property or one more type of search, it might be possible to build dependent tasks (I know, easy for me to say).

I'm pretty surprised that none of the tools I've seen, even ones that are specifically designed to implement GTD, seem to provide dependent tasks. Perhaps it's difficult to implement for some reason?

One way I could see this being accomplished is to add another task field, Linked Task, which you can use to select from all the existing tasks. Then for searching, you'd be able to say (linkedTask:status:completed OR linkedTask:none). I figure at the user interface level, the list of tasks must be available to the code, and if the user named the tasks well he/she wouldn't be confused with similarly named items when the list was displayed. Not knowing how the search is implemented, I have no idea whether it would be prohibitively difficult to implement the doubly-nested search term.

Anyway, I want to say that RTM seems like a great piece of software. I'm not trying to criticize, just offer a suggestion to make it better.
Posted 11 years ago
jariail says:
I've tried implementing GTD on a few different platforms: the Outlook plugin that David Allen Co. sells, Jello, an all paper system, an Excel spreadsheet that I developed, Google Spreadsheets and, for the past few months, RTM.

The most crucial lesson that I've been slow to really "get" is the importance of the project list. It has been very easy for me to make my projects list just another list, alongside next action lists like "@office," etc. There is a night and day difference in implementation when you make the project list your central point of reference.

I've been using a rather low-tech approach to make this happen thus far. Since creating a new hard list only requires 2-3 mouse clicks, I have been creating a new hard list for every project. I then attach tags for context / next action (@home, @office, etc.).

So far this has been working pretty well for me. My only complaint is that it would be easier to scan my "project list" (i.e., the view of my different hard lists) if the hard lists were arranged in a single column. If you have 30, 50 or more projects, it can take a few seconds to find the correct hard list tab for that project.

The suggestions for using smartlists are interesting. However I'm not certain how to use them in a way that preserves the project list as the central organizing element from a visual standpoint. Perhaps seeing them in the tag cloud is sufficient, but it would seem to take me away from the primacy of the project list.
Posted 11 years ago
raymond.bergmark Power Poster says:
jariail: A different approach that I use is to have one Projects list where you only add headers for your projects. I also use a priority for those (don't use priorities otherwise) for sorting purposes.

I then add a tag for the project and from there I use the task cloud to administer the project. It's quite easy to add tasks in the project and to review it I only need to click in the task cloud.

This works best with a task cloud layout like this one so you have all your project tags grouped together.
Posted 11 years ago
(closed account) says:

I put a tag on for every project and then a separate task with the project title. Project titles are tagged active_project so I have a ons-stop place to look at what projects I have in the air. (Yes, there is a someday_project too and I switch back and forth.)

Within the project tag, I number each task (like "1. Collect resources"). Only the project title task and the next task are assigned due dates. I give the project title a recurring frequency to keep the project on my radar and the only task due-dated is set for when to start it. (I postpone like a madman for when time becomes available.)

The result is I have a list of all the steps in one tag (no need for a smart list) and only the current pops up as due.

Hope that helps!

Posted 11 years ago
luc.boillot says:
I have been doing that implementation of GTD to RTM, it's just great.
I don't get how you manage to get rid of the project title and false task for tags. You said you move it to sent, but i can't do that unless I have a contact defined. Did you create a dummy user to have him as a contact for sending ?
Posted 10 years ago
raymond.bergmark Power Poster says:
It used to be possible to move tasks to/from Sent, not anymore. Create a dummy list ("¤" for example) and move dummy tasks there, filter out these tasks in your smartlists.
Posted 10 years ago
luc.boillot says:
I see. Well I will do that.
Thanks for your answer.
Posted 10 years ago
stujohnson says:
Love wakela's tags. Thank you!
Posted 10 years ago
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