I have been trying to get David Allen’s famous productivity method, GTD (Getting Things Done), to work for me, and in this effort I have tried numerous tools to help me along. Some of them rely on computers to run, others do not. However, since I spend most of my day in front of a computer, I found that a computer tool suits me best, since then I don’t have to “switch environments” to take notes or check on something. Here are my experiences with what I would choose as the five best tools to use daily:
Nozbe is an online service specifically designed to work along the gtd methodology. As such, all familiar terms are there: contexts, projects, next action item…. It is very simple to set up and use, and, being a hosted service, you can reach it from any place that has an internet connection. However, it has serious limitations: it will be officially launched on May 14th, and from that date you will be limited to creating five projects and pre-configured contexts on the free accounts. To have unlimited projects and configurable contexts, you have to pay. Even though the basic account, with 30 projects and 10 custom contexts for USD 4.95/month, would serve my needs well enough, that is exactly USD 4.95/month more than I want to pay for my chosen tool…
Tracks is an open-source project written in the infamous Ruby on Rails framework, making it instantly buzzword-compliant. It is a full-fledged web app, meaning that you have the options of installing to your own machine (where you would run one of RoR’s own web servers to access it), installing it in your own server if you have one, or get an account at a hosted service. I have not tried the hosting services, and installing it on my own machine would be a bad idea because I am constantly switching between Windows and Linux which would mean my tool would not be available to me whenever I switch OS. Since I have an account on a web host (yes, where this blog is hosted!), I tried to install Tracks over there. It wasn’t exactly simple, because Rails apps have to run as cgi scripts in shared hosts, but after going through this tutorial, it finally worked. Once I got it going though, it works beautifully – very simple, and, since it is your own installation, completely customizable and with no limitations. One particularly nice feature is that you can access different aspects of your account (completed items, to-do items due in the next seven days, etc) in both RSS and iCal formats, perfect if you already use some kind of desktop calendaring solution or if, like me, you are constantly checking your feeds reader.
- Thinking Rock
Thinking Rock is a desktop software written in Java (and as such available for Windows, Linux and Mac) also designed to work along the lines of gtd. A gamma release of 2.0 is available, and that was the one I tried out, without any significant stability glitches or bugs for a very early release. There was one major hiccup: apparently due to some bug in Java, or at least some inconsistency between Java and Compiz, which is Ubuntu’s default composite window manager (of wobbly-windows fame), I get a blank screen when I start the application. To get it going, I have to turn off all the desktop effects, launch Thinking Rock, then I can switch the effects back on. Annoying… Once that is done though, Thinking Rock is an excellent piece of software, enabling you to quickly get going in gtd. As you can see from the screenshot (click on it if you can’t see that much), it leads the new user through the steps required to get going, simplifying enormously the adoption of gtd. Its major flaw, in my evaluation, is that it is a desktop app, and as such is only available when I’m on my own computer and even then, when I’m using the OS I installed it on. I suppose I could install the xml file the application uses to store your data on my external drive so it would always be available, but that would mean extra, unnecessary synchronization issues whenever I use the notebook out of home, for instance. But if you use only one OS, and carry your computer with you, meaning you don’t need to use your chosen tool from other machines via the net, Thinking Rock would be the way to go, in my opinion.
- Remember the Milk + IMified
The last entry in my list is not really one tool, but rather a combination of two different tools which, taken together, can be a real killer. Remember the Milk is one of the best “simple to-do list” apps out there, and in fact, it is not all that simple, really. It has a lot of features, such as tagging and saved searches, which make it a perfectly fine tool for GTD usage. It is quite easy to set up a number of tags which, together with saved searches, work as GTD contexts.
IMified is a very nice tool which allows you to interact with a variety of services via IM. You add IMified’s bot as a contact, and voilá, after registering which services you want to use with it, you can simply send it messages to create new entries in a variety of different ways. With Remember the Milk, for instance, you can create new lists, or new to-do items, simply by sending them as messages via your IM client. You can also view all your items via IM. This nice little tool can be used with a number of services (you can even post to your blog from it), so it is definitely worth checking out if you spend a lot of your time in IM sessions.
Remember the Milk together with IMIfied can work fine as a GTD system, but it does require a little thinking as to how you structure things. As such, I wouldn’t really recommend this to someone who, like me, is only getting started on the methodology. On ce you get the hang of it though, I guess this would be the fastest, most lightweight manner to manage your lists.
The final winner, in my case, was Tracks. This is because I have enough Linux skills and patience to install it by myself, plus I have a web-host which allows me to run Rails apps. If this was not the case, I would have gone with Thinking Rock. And, if you really need to access your stuff from the net, you might consider chucking away the whole GTD thing and use Stikkit, just because it’s so cool!
This post is my entry in Darren Rowse’s Top 5 Group Writing Project. Check it out, it is a nice way to discover new, interesting blogs. Plus, if I get picked in the draw I get 1k cash!
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