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Christopher's GTD Setup and Implementation



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CM_1346948732

Posted: Dec 22, 2010
Score: 4



So, I have been struggling for the past few months to really settle down with a GTD tool. I have floated between them all and have decided to give a concerted effort to Toodledo as it is the most ubuiquitus of any todo list manager I have found. I will post my initial setup and any progress I make with it.

About Me

I am a pretty busy person and have several different areas of my life. I am a student, work for two different companies, have my own business pursuits, a husband, and a puppy owner. It feels like GTD was made for me; now it's all about the implementation and using what works. Mr. Allen always says that if you cannot trust your tools there is no point in even trying this.

Caveats

That said, I'm going to point out some quick caveats that I found so far with Toodledo and GTD. Mind you this is my opinion.

1. Sub-tasks suck for projects

Seriously, sub-task handling in Toodledo is extremely annoying to use. I found myself trying to setup Proximo's way and became irritated with having to move actions around based on the crappy sub-tasking model. Mr. Allen says that linking projects to tasks isn't that important, as long as you have a plan to follow, all you really need is a reminder of the next action on your next action list. The only time I will use sub-tasks will be for a task in a project that has multiple steps. Even that seems a little annoying though, so I try not to use them at all.

2. Statuses do not make sense

I have tried so many different things to make statuses work, like, "well, "active" could be for a project, on "hold" could be stuff that isn't a next action, delegated could mean waiting, but wait... THERE IS WAITING!". They don't really make too much sense to me, and because of that I really have to put some thought into using them. I don't want to think that much using my system, so I got rid of them. Thank God.

3. Get rid of priorities

It's either important or it isn't. If you need to differentiate something, use stars. It's a binary way of looking at things. Fewer choices means less thinking, means faster input and use.

4. Folders and contexts are your friends

My entire system is based on the use of Folders and Contexts. I am setting them up sort of opposite from Proximo's way. Folders are used for "Areas of Focus" and contexts are used for tools or places. I would use folders for projects but you are limited to 32 characters for a folder name (WTF?!) and at that rate it's somewhat useless. Also you can't put a note on a folder (you can leave a note inside of a folder, but you can't attach it like a task). Plus folders cannot be given due dates. I'll use them for "Areas of Focus". We will get into that in the implementation section.

5. Custom searches are just 'OK'

I love the way that you can hack and shred the information in Toodledo in any way you deem fit. It's really awesome. I don't use it that much though and won't be included in my implementation. You can use it if you want, and there are definitely good reasons for it. It just is too much to add into the mix for what I am trying to accomplish.

Wow... All that out of the way, let's look at the setup, shall we!?

Setup

Here are the fields/functions that I use in Toodledo:

Folder
Context
Start Date
Start Time
Due Date
Due Time
Repeat
Length
Tag
Star

I don't use all of the features all of the time but things like tags, length, and start dates sometimes are valuable. If you really wanted to make this setup and implementation nice and lean then you could only include the following:

Folder
Context
Due Date
Star

Here is how you use each function:

Folder

Like I said above this is for "Areas of Responsibility". My areas include the places that I work, anything that has to do with house and home stuff (this also includes family things), my personal business (writing, development), school, and volunteering responsibilities.

Contexts

I use these a little differently than just normal contexts. I also use them for project, waiting for, and on hold differentiation. Here are my contexts:

@home - anything I can do at home
@phone - anything I need a phone for
@car - anything that can be done in the car, I commute a lot
@computer - anything done on a computer
@online - anything online
@campus - anything that must be done at campus
@agenda - things that I need to go over with people (I usually tag the task with their name)
@waiting - things I'm waiting for
hold - any action or project on hold
project - projects
someday - someday/maybe items

Start Date/Time

Pretty self explanatory but sometimes I set this to the date that I put something in the @waiting for context. Helps me know when to start some fires to get results from others.

Due Date/Time

Obvious

Repeat

Use this for repeating tasks. Toodledo has decent handling of repeat tasks. You can then change the view options to only see items that are due soon.

Length

Sometimes it's good to give an estimate to a task's length, especially if you are looking for something quick to do.

Tag

I use tags for different things. What I use them for most is to put contact names in (good for sorting when I need to speak to someone off an @agenda list), identify what tasks belong to what class in school, or sometimes a customer's name for development projects. You can get pretty creative with tags; my advice with tags is that the less you have the better.

Star

Good for pointing things out that are really important.

That's about it for setup, now let's take a look out how I implement it.

Implementation

Let me give you a real world example of how my setup works. I will take my work at Erie for an instance.

Task Management

First I go to the folders tab and click on my Erie folder. I usually have my 'all tasks' list sorted by context. This gives me a nice little bar at the top of each context with its name as a heading. I could work this way if I really wanted to; just accomplishing tasks from the context that I wanted to work in, but I usually hit the filter bar at the top of the page and choose what context I am in while I am at Erie. So, what this is essentially doing is giving me all tasks with the folder of "Erie" and the context of, say, "@computer".

When creating new tasks the least I do is give them a context and a folder.

Project Management

This may make some people uncomfortable but I couple Toodledo and Evernote for project management as they are both universal, ubiquitous tools. I first outline and brainstorm my project in Evernote, give it a task in Toodledo with the context of "project" and the folder of whatever Area of Focus it is in, assign due dates if applicable, and then give it a next action in one of my next action lists. I don't make any effort to "link" next actions to projects as it is difficult and annoying to do with sub-tasks in Toodledo.

I use the next action as a reminder of what to do next on the project and usually what happens is that I start to work naturally on the project accomplishing many tasks that need to be done that are not even in Toodledo; they just happen sporadically. This is the real beauty of GTD that I have found; it truly is all about the next action.

If you can't stand the idea of combining Evernote and Toodledo, then you can of course just include your project plans as a notebook in Toodledo or merely attach a note to the project task and put all of you information there.

Conclusion for now

This is the basis of my GTD with Toodledo implementation. The best part about being a GTD geek that uses Toodledo is that you have a ton of options and room for growth. For instance, I experimented with sub-tasks for a long time and just decided they weren't worth the effort; having a good weekly or even mini daily review of projects and tasks is enough to "link" my projects to actions.

So, for now this is it. I may tweak things here and there and I am definitely open for questions, criticisms, and suggestions. If I get a decent amount of response I will post a video of my setup and take on any questions.

Now, get back to work!


This message was edited Dec 22, 2010.
greginfla

Posted: Dec 29, 2010
Score: -1



Chris thank you for taking the time to share your setup. I am a new GTDer... and learn from other's implementation of Mr. Allen system.

And I see you are a non-status field user.

I have been working with toodledo and GTD for almost a month. I think it will take 50-60 days of using the program with GTD to really develop, and to be comfortable with, a system that works with me.

I am struggling with projects and subtask.
AJS

Posted: Dec 29, 2010
Score: 1



While GTD was the first organisational system I came across and used I haven't stuck to it rigidly over the years although the basic principles are still there. Your implementation is quite simple and when I first started using Toodledo I used it similarly in a lot of ways, especially stars. I haven't ditched priorities yet though, I like the fact that these tasks are bolded so I tend to assign a high priority to tasks that I want to stand out even if they aren't urgent right now.

Folders for Areas of Focus is how I'm doing it, and I haven't really bothered with a projects implementation as of yet as I'm not sure the overhead is worth it.

Thanks for that.
Salgud

Posted: Dec 29, 2010
Score: -1



Thanks for posting your system, Chris - very interesting implementation of TD and GTD. I'd like to make a couple of comments based on my experience with TD and other task managers, probably more for other users coming here than for you.

Your comment about the 32 character limit on folder names limiting is usefullness I find strange. Partly because I'm a very slow, inaccurate typist, and partly because I just like to move quickly, every time I get a new project on my desk, one of the first things I do is to give it a universal short name. Right now, I work with the "Communications Work Group", so everywhere in my system, they are ComWG. Not just my folder in TD, but my file folder on my computer, as a category in my email client, etc. It sure beats typing out "Communications Work Group" many times a day. In fact, until you mentioned it in your post, I didn't know there was a 32 character limit on folder names! Just saying that this is easy to surmount, if you're so inclined.

The other thing I see rather differently is your take on Status. No one every said you had to use them all. I do use them all, (some of them only occassionly). E.g., Waiting and Hold. For me, Waiting is when I'm waiting for someone else to do their part, and Hold is for when I've put something on Hold until something happens or until I'm ready to move on it.

As for subtasks, I find them extremely helpful at keeping track of my projects and enabling me to keep my task names short to avoid more typing. I can have the same task multiple times, but each as a part of a project, each project having some kind of unique identifier, usually a tag, so I can isolate and multi-edit the project.

So we have very different approaches to using TD. It's so flexible and powerful, you can do so much with it and use it so many ways.

I enjoy hearing how others use TD, and one of these days, I'll describe my latest implementation here, when I have a bit more time. Right now, it's on my "Someday" list.
Salgud

Posted: Dec 30, 2010
Score: 1



A couple of important points I missed last night as I was posting just before I left to meet a friend for dinner and rushed it a bit.

I forgot to mention the other major advantage of using abbreviations for Project names which is that I can see a great many more folders across the top of the window with the significantly shorter names, avoiding having to click on the little arrow over to the right and selecting from the annoying drop-down list (that dissappears before I can make my selection, necessitating doing it two or three times to get the correct folder/tag selected).

The most important reason I use subtasks is that most of the projects I do are repeat projects. I keep my template projects in a folder cleverly called "Templates" :). When it's time to do a repeat project again, I just go to the Templates folder, clone the parent task for that project, and multi-edit the parent and subtasks to move them to the appropriate directory. It really simplifies my life.


This message was edited Dec 30, 2010.
CM_1346948732

Posted: Dec 30, 2010
Score: 1



Thanks for the feedback so far everyone. The thing that I have picked up the most from this that TD is awesome because of its flexibility. It allows you to take any type of workflow and use it here. In fact, I was just reading how the "creator" of the Master Your Workday Now! system, Michael Linenberger, is now recommending that people use TD. That's why it is the best right now in my book; flexibility.

@greg - I totally understand the struggle with subtasks and projects. That's why I gave up with them. @Salgud has some good reasoning for them, I just can't wrap my head around them yet. And by the way, it has taken me a little over a year to settle on my implementation. My advice is to find something that makes sense in your head and implement it. The hardest part is sticking with it.

@AJS - Priorities make sense in some contexts I believe. If you have a massive amount of stuff on your list, maybe that are all calls for example, it's good to seperate and make some of them float to the top. My lists are pretty short (mostly because I Get Things Done!) so, I tend to find priorities still an extra piece that isn't needed in my setup.

@Salgud - I have tried shortening the names of my projects for use as folders. But here is the reason it doesn't work for me, and trust me it is kind of touchy feely! I like to use my words to direct me on what to do. For instance let's say I have a project where I need to create some documentation at work for a piece of software. Sounds easy.

In my implementation I would create a task called "Create documentation for dual mod implementation", which is well over the 32 character limit. The reason that I do this is to give myself a verbal cue of what needs done for this project (like I said, touchy feely). I need a reminder of what I am doing; creating a document. I have to use verbs to make sure things are clarified.

I know that it is "hippy-ish" but it really has changed the way I feel about my projects.

I could however, based on your implementation, create a folder called DualModDoc and put my actions inside of it. But here is where I am confused, do you put a task inside of the project folder that represents the project and then make subtasks of next actions underneath it? You say you use subtasks and partent tasks for projects, but if that is the case what are the folders for? I would definitely like to see a post of your setup and implementation, more ideas the better!



And by the way, my implementation has been going strong for the past three weeks. I now have my setup put together on my Android phone using the app Due Today and also on the native TD app on my iPad.
AJS

Posted: Jan 01, 2011
Score: -1



Chris,

priorities don't necessarily float to the top, it depends on which view you have set as default. If you had starred for example, you could use stars for items that are urgent but use priorities for tasks which are important but not necessarily date specific.
juha.anttila

Posted: Jan 01, 2011
Score: 1



Thanks a lot 4 everyone on this thread.
I think some pix or vids would clarify in a more effective way
Salgud

Posted: Jan 03, 2011
Score: 1



Posted by Chris:
@Salgud - I have tried shortening the names of my projects for use as folders. But here is the reason it doesn't work for me, and trust me it is kind of touchy feely! I like to use my words to direct me on what to do. For instance let's say I have a project where I need to create some documentation at work for a piece of software. Sounds easy.

In my implementation I would create a task called "Create documentation for dual mod implementation", which is well over the 32 character limit. The reason that I do this is to give myself a verbal cue of what needs done for this project (like I said, touchy feely). I need a reminder of what I am doing; creating a document. I have to use verbs to make sure things are clarified.

I know that it is "hippy-ish" but it really has changed the way I feel about my projects.


Interesting feedback. Will try to answer your questions.

Not sure about the "hippy-ish" part, being an aging hippy myself (hitch-hiked all over the country in my purple suede applejack cap). If it works for you, do it that way. It's only the Folder names that are limited to 32 characaters, not the task names, so put in whatever you need. I like verbs in my tasks as well.

I could however, based on your implementation, create a folder called DualModDoc and put my actions inside of it. But here is where I am confused, do you put a task inside of the project folder that represents the project and then make subtasks of next actions underneath it? You say you use subtasks and partent tasks for projects, but if that is the case what are the folders for? I would definitely like to see a post of your setup and implementation, more ideas the better!


I use the term "project" for my folders, but I use it very loosely. Should say something like "Areas of Responsibility". Actually, there are some of each. I don't base what is or isn't a folder on whether or not it's a project, my system is not that ordered. A folder is just something that I think will take a while and I want to separate the relevant tasks out from others. So I have Communications Work Group (which is a work group implementing the CPI project, abbreviated to ComWG as I mentioned earlier), Child Welfare (the division I work for, abbreviated to CW), Colorado Practice Iniative (a major project within Child Welfare, abbreviated to CPI). So my folders don't represent a level in a heirarchy, they include many levels. CW is the division, CPI is a project withing that division, ComWG is a work group on the CPI project that I support. Obviously, I'm not a very linear thinker, and I know this kind of system would drive a Meyers-Briggs SJ crazy.

So the CW folder includes tasks I do for the division, like timekeeping and maintaining the division's cars. CPI contains tasks that I do for the entire CPI project, like some communications duties and maintaining an overall project Action Item list in Excel. and ComWG contains things I do for that work group. So even though the organization of these entities is heirarchal, my perception of my work is not, and I have structured my folders accordingly. Is that "hippy-ish"? :)

I use the subtask feature for "projects" that repeat, mostly. I have a monthly timekeeping cycle with a parent task, "Timekeeping", which has the various subtasks that I do monthly, like "email timesheets" which go out to all employees for their approval and signatures from them and their supervisor, "Email timesheeet reminder" which I send out near the end of the month to remind people to get them in if they haven't already done so, and so forth.

I also have a IV-E data extraction repeating project which is really a 12 step process I do on demand from our two IV-E auditors to extract data from various databases that they need to do an audit. This one just gets done whenever they need it, a month or so before an audit.

And by the way, my implementation has been going strong for the past three weeks. I now have my setup put together on my Android phone using the app Due Today and also on the native TD app on my iPad.


If you've got a working system, more power to you. It's taken me a while to evolve a working TD implementation that I really like, and that is mostly automatic. Every morning (I'm trying to move this to the end of the previous day before because it feels (more hippy-ishness!) better when I do it that way), I review what's up on my daily list, determine what has to be done that day, star those, then get to work on those. When/if I finish those, I move on to the less urgent ones to finish out my day. Works well for me, but always interested in learning how others do it. I guess my system will always be evolving, like me.
rdd

Posted: Jan 04, 2011
Score: 1



Funny. I use exactly the same setup as you, Chris, after months of trying different alternatives. I recently discarded subtasks, because they are horrible. Therefore, I let my pro subscription expire, since I saw no added value in it anymore. I am now happily using a quite minimal implementation, using only:

Folders for areas of focus
Tags to indicate projects, topics, etc. (also very usefull in searches)
Context to indicate where/when to do something
Due date to plan something on a specific date
Stars to get thing on the radar

Nothing more, nothing less.
By the way, I use mostly the iPhone app, which is really great, since it is a native app therefore fast. The PC is more for the reviews, although I have to learn to do that more often.

PS. I am thinking of using the repeat function in the near future.
Derek-User1

Posted: Jan 04, 2011
Score: 1



I like your implementation Chris. I am confused about one aspect however and was hoping you could expound upon it. You mention the following ...

"and then give it a next action in one of my next action lists."

Can you explain this a bit more? I am a bit confused on how to use next actions.

Like you I cannot use subtasks as the mobile clients I use to sync Toodledoo do not support subtasks. Thanks!
CM_1346948732

Posted: Jan 11, 2011
Score: 1



@Salgud - I now understand why you are using folders, more or less a grouping of similar tasks and even what we could call "mini-projects". But I think that we use folders for pretty much the same thing; "Areas of Responsibility". Personally I think that this is the best way to do it. You have a folder as a part of your life, maybe 'Personal', and then have that folder contain all of you personal actions and projects sorted by context.

I like using this route so you can filter be folder and with that you see that whole aspect of your life and what actions and projects need completed and what context you are in.

As you say:

If you've got a working system, more power to you.


@Derek-User1 - Basically I follow David Allen's way of looking at next actions as a "reminder" of the next direct, physical thing that you can do to get a project moving along. I place my next action of a project onto the context that it must be completed in and in the "Area of Focus" that it falls in.

The Next Action is the crux of GTD in my opinion (as well as the weekly review) and is used to remind one of the next thing to do. Some people prefer to list out a plan of their project by listing several actions and then putting them under a task as subtasks, effectively creating a project / task heirarchy. In my personal experience this has always been a pain in Toodledo.

I plan my project in the notebook, evernote, the project's note field, whatever, then put the next one or two things on my next action lists to remind me of what to do next.


This message was edited Jan 11, 2011.
cesarabeid

Posted: Feb 08, 2011
Score: 1



Interesting implementation, Chris.

I toyed with the idea of going TD Pro so I could try the subtasks feature. From what I see, people generally don't like it, and as Derek-User1, I'm afraid my iPhone client won't support it (I use Pocket Informant).

Cesar
http://pmforthemasses.com
Salgud

Posted: Feb 09, 2011
Score: 1



Posted by cesarabeid:
Interesting implementation, Chris.

I toyed with the idea of going TD Pro so I could try the subtasks feature. From what I see, people generally don't like it, and as Derek-User1, I'm afraid my iPhone client won't support it (I use Pocket Informant).

Cesar
http://pmforthemasses.com


Don't know about PI, but I can tell you that there's a lot more of us who like the subtask feature than dislike it from reading these forums. It's particularly great for handling repeading projects. Of course, YMMV.
cesarabeid

Posted: Feb 09, 2011
Score: 1



Salgud,

Yes, there is a lot of people who like it, and I can see how it could be useful when repeating a project.

Even if I don't use the subtask feature, I still might consider upgrading TD because of the file management feature. I read on the forums here that if you forward an email to TD (and you have a Pro subscription) it'll save the body of the email AND the attachments.

Can anybody confirm this?

Thanks,

Cesar
http://pmforthemasses.com
Michael Crouse

Posted: Feb 09, 2011
Score: 1



If you send an email, the body of the email is saved as a note in the task. The file is not saved with a standard Pro account.
PeterW 

Posted: Feb 09, 2011
Score: 1



If you have a Pro-Plus subscription, email attachments are saved & attached to the task.
cesarabeid

Posted: Feb 10, 2011
Score: 1



Nice, thanks. I think I'll take the plunge. :)

Cesar
http://pmforthemasses.com
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