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Posted: Feb 25, 2013

I'm not going to comment on whether this system is good, bad, GTD, or not. What I am curious about from the original poster is this: Could you (or have you) create downloadable versions of your Tasker Profiles that you mentioned in here? I'd be interested in tweaking them to meet my needs. I'd make them myself, but I'm new to Tasker, and wouldn't want to completely mess one up (especially since it's essentially 'reinventing the wheel').

Thanks, and have a great day:)

Posted by wksims86:
Building a Context-Sensitive Phone

I'm no iPhone buff, so I have no clue how one does this on iPhone. But if you have an Android phone, there's a neat little tool out there called Tasker that gives you very advanced controls over your phone. It's good at setting up if/then/else scenarios. On its own it's a cool utility, but when you pair it up with a productivity system, this sucker becomes really useful.

For my Toodledo interface I'm using Ultimate To Do. I'm not the biggest fan of the UI, and I'm playing around with DGT some, but Ultimate To Do does one thing very well that makes the unlock purchase worth it: predefined complex views. I can set up one my widgets to show me folders 1, 2, and 4, all tasks due in the next 3 days with a priority of 1 or greater unless the task hasn't started yet, and another widget can show me folders 2 and 3 that have an expected length of 30 minutes or less, while a third can show me everything I haven't modified in the past 7 days that's assigned to a particular contact. It's an exceptionally robust system, and it's very good for defining complex views. This was great for me because it cut down on the amount of time I'd have to spend scanning over whole folders just to find the subtasks I needed to access.

Another neat trick for Ultimate To Do is location reminders. Only, location reminders aren't the greatest because they require your GPS be on for it to work correctly. Tasker works very nicely here. I've set up a series of Tasker profiles that will essentially tell the phone where I am and when GPS should be enabled. First, the phone will look to my Google Calendars to determine location from that. Do I have a class or a meeting scheduled? If so, it will active the school profile which will do things like silence my phone, mute all alarms, turn off Wifi, and shift my homescreen to a school-oriented setup. This means that my main UTD widgets will show school tasks and things I can only do at school. Swipe left or right and I'll get peripheral information, like tasks due soon, or tasks I can do while driving home. Once the calendar shows I am no longer in class, the phone will shift back to normal mode, unmuting my ringers and shifting to normal homescreens with basic widgets. Same happens with work, and when my calendar says I'm working.

So what happens when I stop in to study over the weekend, but I don't have it on my calendar? Another profile checks WiFi SSIDs. If it sees the work SSID, it will shift over into work mode automatically. Same goes for home and school. With the Sense UI, I get 7 screens. Generally the widgets for each phone mode will stay roughly the same (main page, calendar agenda [I use Agenda Widget], major applications, news feed and contacts, and 2x UTD list screens with quick-add event and task buttons [which let me send an e-mail/SMS message to Toodledo or Google Calendar]. But by enabling certain workspaces (scenes) through Tasker's context sensitivity, I can change out which applications have shortcuts, which widgets appear and with which information, what background shows up, what calendar events get highlighted... and of course I can switch it manually if I need to, but because the context sensitivity only changes the overlay and not the actual accessibility, I can always check on my school tasks from work or my errands from class with a couple extra taps.

When I'm mobile, I've set up Tasker to check if I'm in the car. I can cheat here because my radio has bluetooth built in, so I just have it check to see if it can connect to my bluetooth, and if so then it will flip on GPS, remind me to plug in, boot Pandora, and turn on "Errands" mode. Here, when I'm driving past Best Buy, because my GPS is on, Ultimate To Do will remind me that I really need to stop in and buy that new static defrinklyzer I've been ulcerating over. Except here Tasker acts as a TSA gate agent. It checks my calendar to make sure I'm not on my way somewhere, and that I actually have time to go into Best Buy. If I do, it will pass the alert along and my phone will zing at me through my radio. If I don't, it will stop the alert from going through and then molest it while taking photos of it naked.

I won't get into the details of building profiles, mostly because it's tedious and boring and I'm doubtful anyone will have made it this far through my wall of text, but Tasker is a really cool utility for $5. If you have Android, try it out. If you have Sense, make a Scene for any major life-context with a unique but awesome-looking background. Load up the app shortcuts, contacts, widgets, whatever you want for that particular context, and then save it to queue with Tasker. When setting up Tasker, just try to think about how, if you were a phone, you would figure out where the heck you are and what you're doing. If you have unique WiFi, use that. If you're location controlled, you can have tasker use dead reckoning through cell phone triangulation, and then if it thinks your close it can flip on your GPS, check, and then flip it off. If you have an event tied to a calendar, use Tasker to reference the calendar. The possibilities are endless.

The one thing I can't stress enough is that location isn't enough. I work in marketing, and the big new tech trend in marketing is location-aware advertising for your phone. What advertisers don't get though is that just because I work near a Starbucks doesn't mean I'm going for a cup of coffee 50 hours a week. Your phone needs to know where you are, and then it needs to know what kind of stuff you're doing. If you can give it (Tasker) these inputs, you can program it to give you context relevant outputs.

Your phone should be as helpful as a personal secretary that rides around with you and reminds you of important things, thinking when you don't have to. This has gotten pretty close. Essentially I have 7 phones - one for each identifiable context facet of my life - rolled into one nifty device. Phones are important, too, because for the most part they never leave our side. We always have them near us. You don't have to wait for them to boot. You don't have to connect to WiFi to get internet. They're basically the always-on portal which make them great for productivity systems. I can tap out a task that I just thought about and drop it into an inbox to deal with later on Toodledo, and I don't have to worry about remembering to add in what I wrote down on that post-it somewhere. It's a great capture and reference tool, and while it may lack the real estate and reference of a full-fledged PC, it works pretty well for dealing with front-end task and life management.

Toodledo does some stuff very well, and then it does some stuff very irritatingly. I still like Toodledo because of the robustness of it. The web interface is just plain awful. I came late to Toodledo, so I can't imagine what it must have been like before the UI retrofit, but even still, it's just uncomfortable and cumbersome to use. But, you can tell Toodledo has been built by programmers. It may look terrible, but it has a the most robust feature-set for a task management system I've seen. And as a feature geek, that speaks to me.

That said, I turned a few of them off a couple weeks ago. I found I wasn't using certain columns, and they were wasting screen space (a problem on my laptop and phone) and reference time. So here's how I Toodledo:

1) Context
Contexts are folders. I got rid of tool-oriented contexts like @laptop and @desk for categorical contexts. These tend to be broken down into life areas like @School and @Work that are not necessarily location tied but represent a particular facet of my life. I have 7 major contexts right now, although I could probably drop it down to 4 (Work, School, Personal, Family).

2) Folder
Folders still operate like folders and group tasks based on shared characteristics. Folders include things like Chores, Games, Civil Procedure, Website Design, and so forth. Generally speaking, folders break down into a parent-child relationship with Contexts, but they don't always have to. I could have @Work errands and @Personal errands that both show up under Errands. But honestly this rarely happens for me. The advantage of switching Folders and Contexts is that it allows for this parent-child relationship into a folder/sub-folder kind of system. You don't have to turn a folder into a task with subtasks.

3) Due Date

4) Start Date
Extremely useful for task filtering, although it completely screws up Google Calendar when I try to show my tasks on it. At first, I never used start date because I felt like if I were putting the task into Toodledo then obviously I was starting on it. But even putting an artificial start date to push the task down the line a bit has made me overall more productive and not nearly as likely to keep a list of overdue tasks. This is most useful for dealing with sequential tasks, because on my phone I can show the task due now while hiding the one due later, unless I go looking for it.

5) Priority
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of priority. I feel like either something is worth doing or its not. I tried for a while to make priority represent "energy level," but even that didn't work really well because I apparently never had energy. I'd love to play with a system at some point that works on two axes to try to fix this: high energy / low energy vs. have to do / want to do, but for now I've still settled on priority as the best way to rank tasks for importance. Mostly I just ignore it, though, because priority should be easily determined from a properly broken-down Context and Folder system.

6) Location
Also less important than I would have imagined... Most of my context awareness through my phone can be done via other contextual clues. But this does become nice for things like driving by the grocery store or Walgreens, or remembering to grab the logbook from work.

7) Repeat
In doing a major overhaul to clean out the broken stuff, I've scrapped the daily "check mail" type tasks just to cut down on the noise while I made sure the new system worked. Now I'm finally adding them back in. I don't have a lot of repeating tasks, because I always run behind on them and then they nag-nag-nag, but for important stuff or long-term projects that require constant small actions (e.g. ripping all of my DVDs, scanning 1 a day) are good for repeat.

8) Star
I guess you could call it a "next action" flag. I call it an "Oh crap, take care of this NOW" flag.

Everything else I've turned off.

Length/Timer were only slightly useful. Generally I'd forget to start the timer when I'd start a task (because it was easier just to do it). This might be useful for people for whom time efficiency and prediction is more of a concern. Because I don't have time to review, and because I feel pretty good about my time-estimating abilities, I went on and turned it off.

Tag should have been more useful for creating a new axis for task management and reference... something not stuck in a parent-child relationship, but I'm almost always able to group relevant tasks into useful views just through Context>Folder definitions. A lot of people seem to use tags for tool- or location-based contexts (e.g. I can do this at my #computer #phone #home #work #Amys #shipment), but when I tried this I spent more time entering in all of the possible contexts than I did just figuring it out in my head or referencing the task by its folder (e.g. "I can do all of that stuff in those places because I'm looking at my "Work Projects" Folder and I need to talk to Amy about the next shipment date).

Dropping Status was probably the most un-GTD of all, and everyone I know who uses GTD thinks I'm some kind of loose cannon because of it. But Status just took up way too much time. So everything defaults to None. For every task I have, I need to set it to a status then: Next Action, Active, or Planning. Practically all of my tasks are in the active phase, because if I'm planning something, it's usually not concrete enough to have established tasks. Planning items wind up in my notebook while I'm drawing them out and mindmapping them. Only items that tend to be complete will make it to Toodledo.
So then it'd either be "Active" or "Next Action," which had me flipping statuses of items every time I finished a task to create new next actions. And then I'd almost always be wrong, thinking I'd finish one task but really being able to knock out another that was only "Active." Delegated and waiting were actually the more useful out of the statuses, but I'm also a really obnoxious perfectionist, and so I tend to just do it myself and not ask for help. So delegation (and therefore waiting) never really happened.
Hold / Postponed on the other hand weren't very useful. If something's on hold for me, it's almost always still active - I just can't get it to it yet. I.e. the context is wrong. Usually this was for things like homework, which would force me to change the status of the next item from "Hold" to "Active" every time I finished an assignment. I spent more time changing statuses back and forth than I did just knowing "I can't do that yet," especially if I dropped the task into a folder full of similar things that I can't do yet, and hiding their appearance until I can do them.
Somedays get put into a separate folder. Cancelled items get deleted. Reference gets pulled off of Toodledo and put into OneNote.
Assignor I don't use because I am riding solo on task management. It's hard to convince others to buy in. Most of my friends won't even use Google Calendar. Bunch of Luddites.