Discuss all things Remember The Milk.


dan.julian says:
I know this is highly subjective, and I'm an RTM newbie, but after scanning the forums and the tubes for a bit, I think I've come up with a unique way to do GTD on RTM. And while it's our job to do the clarifying/engaging (processing/doing in GTD-speak), it seems like people keep working for a better method of organizing the results of their clarification processes. The following post is long, but I hope it's helpful.

That said, my ideal GTD@RTM system is not going to be the place for "Trash," "Reference," or "Support" materials. Those belong in trash cans and file folders, respectively. My ideal GTD@RTM system is going to effectively address "Outcomes," "Actions," and "Incubating Items." I'm going to propose one that I think works well below.

And, I should say, I know this will probably only be one in a million ways to try it, but hopefully it will help some people GTD better and result in a net increase in the world's creative greatness. Feel free to offer tweaks and suggestions that keep in the general spirit of what I'm attempting, as described in the "Goals" section below.

Some background: I just started with RTM, switching from Cultured Code's Things Touch because I like the RTM feature-set quite a bit more. I looked at quite a few apps, and in spite of the fact that I remain critical of RTM's refusal to add sub-tasking, it's the best I've found. I'm still testing out the iPhone app to see if I want to go Pro, but at this point, it looks like a non-question--the app is very smooth, and I want RTM in my pocket. So, if something will obviously not work from an RTM point-of-view, feel free to point it out. How can I be offended if the goal is general improvement of everyone's efficiency and GTD-fu?

1) Effectively corral incoming and yet-to-be-clarified "stuff"
2) Maintain a minimum number of tabs and an unlimited number of projects (Apologies to Doug Ireton, but I have more than three projects.)
3) Effectively allow for sorting non-project actions by context for in-the-moment review
4) Effectively sort individual projects for daily/weekly review, with hierarchical "sub-tasking" style lists (HT: Carib for helpful ideas)

1) It won't maintain itself. Reflection/Reviewing is your job.
2) It won't do your work for you. Engaging/Doing is your job.

However, if you implement this system, and trust it enough to contain your data, and maintain the disciplines of reviewing and doing, I think it will work for you.

LISTS (Only 5!):
1. Outcomes
2. Actions
3. Incubating

--Treat "Inbox" like an actual inbox. E-mail or enter any unprocessed thoughts there that may turn into projects or actions during your weekly review and clarification.

--On the "Outcomes" list, enter your Purposes/Principles (50,000), your Vision (40,000), your Goals/Objectives (30,000), your Areas of Focus (20,000), and your Projects (10,000). See David Allen's "Making It All Work" for good descriptions of the first four. Tag and order the first four appropriately. Here comes a long section about dealing with the fifth:

By "Projects," I do not mean actually enter each action step, but the desired outcome, what you are working towards. (i.e., "Write a short story set in 1850's Mexico City and publish it," or "Submit Market Analysis Report to C.E.O.") Keep yourself to clear outcome descriptions, not lists of actions. Prefix it with two periods keep them all in one place, if you prefer. Then, create a tag appropriate to the project. (i.e., "p.mexico_story" or "p.market_report") It should be clear to you what project the tag is referencing.

--On the "Actions" list, you will want to enter all non-project actions with context tags (@cell, @laptop, @anywhere, etc), and then you will want to begin entering the results of your various project-planning brainstorming sessions with hierarchical titles, each tagged with the project tag and a context tag. As per the above examples, this might look like:

1. Decide length of story. (tagged with @anywhere, p.mexico_story)
2. Develop resource list. (@library, p.mexico_story)
3. Create character sketches.
4. Etc....

Your list might look different, but that's a ballpark approximation. Each step must be a discrete action, however, and I know that you are asking yourself, "But what if I need to go back and add a new step? That's a lot of re-numbering!" That's a legitimate complaint, and until RTM decides to offer sub-tasking (like Toodledo or Things, for instance), the best approach as I can see it is to insert the task with a decimal. For instance, if between the resource list and the character sketches, you realized you needed to read your resources (you really do), then you would enter "2.1. Read resources" The value in 2.1 as opposed to 2.5 is that you give yourself 9 more tasks to enter before 3, but if you get in a real bind, and discover you have 30 tasks between 2 and 3, then maybe re-evaluate your project-planning method. :) Just kidding. If you have 30 tasks, then don't feel bad going to another decimal as needed. Remember, the only value in this is to let them list in the order you need to do them in. If you are concerned about how "pretty" or "consistent" this will end up being, you might be in for a rough time. It's about doing the steps, not wasting time organizing them. If my list looked like the following:

1. Decide length of story.
2. Develop resource list.
2.1. Read resources. Eat a chocolate cake.
3. Create character sketches.
4. Etc....

...I'd still do the task, and they'd still be in the order I need, even if they're not beautiful.

One other appropriate question is what to do about projects-within-projects-within-projects. I treat each project as an individual project, with a place holder on my "Outcomes" list, and then I place an abbreviated placeholder within the list of tasks necessary for the overarching project. For instance, if within the writing of the short story, I realized that "Develop resource list" is a project (it is), I'd go to outcomes, enter "Develop resource list for Mexico short story that provides information on current political climate, popular songs and novels, and contemporary geography" and then I'd tag that with an appropriate tag ("p.mexico_story-resources"). I'd create the necessary actions to bring about that result, and I'd list them in "Actions" as actions, tagged only with the sub-project tag and appropriate context tag and ordered hierarchically as I did with the larger project. I will then tag the action-turned-project "Develop resource list" with the new sub-project tag as well. (It now has both project and sub-project tags, but no context tags.) On the "Actions" list, everything will get jumbled, all the 1.'s to the top, then the 2.'s, etc. I view this as a good thing, as I would like to see the next actions for each project at the top of my action list. If you want your non-project actions at the top, prefix them with two periods or something similar.

Whew. Projects are a pain in the task-list. Anyhow, on this "Actions" list I also enter agenda items with a tag that is only the person's/group's name (i.e. "Discuss ridiculous stimulus package." is tagged with "Bob," or "Plan town barbecue" is tagged with "City_Council.") You may want to prefix the names with something for smart-listing later. I also enter "Read/Reviews" tagged with "Read/Review."

I also enter here any "Waiting For" items with the tag "Waiting For" and a tag with the person's/group's name. You may prefer a separate list--feel free, but again, limited tabs is a goal.

Any actions that have a "must-do" due date, I give a due date to. If they are simply "ASAP," then a due date is an indication I don't trust my system and I don't plan to review it. It's a bad idea to give due dates to "ASAP's" unless they get a real "must-do" due date. Things change, and you may have a non-dated item get a date or a dated item lose/change its date. Feel free to update it, but don't create arbitrary due dates.

--Finally, the "Incubating" list is where you enter your "Someday/Maybe" items tagged as "Someday/Maybe." (It's plausible but not necessary to further narrow the tags on these--"maybe_soon," maybe_later," "maybe_never.") It's also on this list that you enter "Calendared Later Start" items with due dates that will bring them to your attention when appropriate. This is like an electronic tickler file. I might want to start project-planning/working on a short story on May 12th even though I don't have a deadline for submission until August 4th, so I enter it in "Incubating" with a May 12th due date. When it hits my "Today" tab, I begin, and I make sure that I have a last action of "Submit to magazine X" with a due date of August 4th.

Okay, so that's how I set it up. Setting up the lists and tags won't take much time. Actually doing the work of establishing your projects, goals, purposes, visions, etc., will. As you enter and work with your trusted system, it's vital that you review, so you can review the whole list of actions, or you can make wise use of the tag cloud and click through the list by context and project tags. You know what these items on your list are. Your list is for you and it's likely true that if you see the project title on one list and the appropriate actions in a tag-based search, you're going to be all right correlating the two. (If it's not, this style might not work because others might not understand your shorthand.) Remember, it's all in reviewing and doing.

"If you did a few seconds of focused thinking about the [project] and what was happening with it, at least once a week...from the time you committed to it, and if you looked over your Calls list every time you had a phone and some discretionary time, you would have little or no need to be concerned about what was connected to what. Those kinds of associations are made in a flash, and a consistent review of a complete inventory of such details ensures cohesive perspective." --David Allen, "Making It All Work"

Posted at 8:11am on February 18, 2009
dan.julian says:
I wanted to add an update. I've found an additional list very helpful, which I call the "Whiteboard" list. I use it to do my project planning, where I start by entering the desired outcome first, and then I start brainstorming action steps and entering and tagging them appropriately. It usually remains empty, except for during the project planning stage. I imagine others might use an actual whiteboard, but I prefer to type things out--it's a thinking process for me.

After this, I have a discrete, clean, review-able project breakdown which can then be parceled out to the relevant lists--outcome to "1. Outcomes," actions to "2. Actions," and waiting for's to "3. Incubating."

This became necessary as my "2. Actions" list became very full, with various first and second and third steps that had no due dates all shuffling into order (all my first actions, then all my second actions, etc). By very full, I mean, I'm a third of the way through the results of my brain-dump, clean-sweep activity, and I'm at about 150 distinct actions.
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
This is interesting, because this is almost the exact opposite implementation laid out in the article in the RTM blog (, which uses lists to manage projects and tags to manage next actions and waiting.

Might take me a while to work out which approach will work betetr for me, but thanks for sharing!
Posted 9 years ago
(closed account) says:
After some consideration, I think the 'lists for projects' model works better for me. I think the reason this 'feels' rightis because an action can only ever belong to one project, which fits into the 'Lists' metaphor (a Task can only ever belong to one List), so your list is your 'vertical' view. Tags and Smart Lists then provide your 'horizontal' view.

I've modified the system set out in the blog post with a 'Projects' smart list, which is derived from the project_goal tags I add to the desired outcome I have defined for each Project. I have also created a 'Tickler File' Smart List which pull out any waiting actions that have a due date in the next month.

It's true there are a lot of lists and you need to create a new list as each project comes up, but I think you'd need a lot of Smart Lists to keep on top of all the different tags, so it's swings and roundabouts really. I'm interested in your 'Outcomes' list though - I'm still waiting on my copy of MIAW, so am intrigued to see how that develops.
Posted 9 years ago
dan.julian says:
It is the opposite, but I'm just backwards at times. :)

Oh, well. I'm glad the Ireton method works for you. I also understand what you mean about storing smart lists, though I tend not to save them--I review and delete them as I go. I think you'll really enjoy MIAW--the use of an "Outcomes" list has been particularly helpful for me in gaining perspective (ID'ing whether my projects/actions match up with my goals--looking at 10k, 20k, 30k, 40k and 50k visions).

Thanks for the response! Happy GTD!
Posted 9 years ago
Log in to post a reply.