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Why GTD Doesn't Work and Why I Like My Modified System is Better
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Posted: Mar 23, 2012
Score: 6 Reference
I've been playing around with GTD for about a year and Toodledo for about 8 months now. Needless to say, I'm an addict to Toodledo and productivity systems. I've had my system evolve over two jobs, a major personal change, and the first half of law school, and needless to say I've learned a lot by brutalizing my GTD system at every level.
Consequentially, as the title to this post so subtly states, I have come to the conclusion that GTD simply doesn't work. Don't get me wrong - the premise is great, and many of the underlying principles are still applicable today, but when you try to apply GTD to anything beyond a low-stress priority system, it has the tendency to fall apart.

Why GTD doesn't work
There are a few problems that work against GTD, but in a nutshell, GTD's biggest problem is that it's now extremely dated. GTD's strength back in the '90s was its ability to filter data based on context; being able to sort out signal from noise in any given context created particular value in a world of ever-increasing digital information. That worked great back then, but GTD hasn't taken into account the pace of technology catching up to information management concerns.

How many of you have @laptop or @desktop or @phone on your context lists? Do you have a smartphone? Can you really do that task only while on your laptop, but not your desktop? Can you not follow up on that e-mail while at the coffee shop from your iPhone? Context is unnecessarily limited. I've seen a number of people push context off to #tags to account for context overlap, but this is a jury-rigged solution that begs the question regarding the gradual decline of context importance and is only one such problem with GTD.

GTD's second problem is best penned by Stepcase Lifehack ( author Francis Wade, who says "[T]he effect on GTD users on a whole is that they walk around with almost-empty calendars, but very complex mental schedules. In today’s workplace, trying to keep complex and ever-changing calendars in one’s mind has lead to feelings of overwhelm and burden as users are forced to build, remember and recall mental schedules that stretch over several months." The previous robustness of GTD's context system was never extended to the calendar. By treating the calendar as sacred and only for immovable entries, no time is allotted for time- or date-negotiable projects. While this might not matter for someone who has lots of free time, for those with busy schedules it is necessary to plan contiguous blocks of project time to ensure their completion. Essentially this defeats the whole purpose of GTD to instill tranquility by removing tasks from the mind.

The third problem, and I say this with utmost respect for Mr. David Allen, is that GTD was invented by someone who has a predisposition for mental health concerns. While GTD may have been Mr. Allen's saving grace in reducing stress, it addresses the problems of a troubled mind and not the problems of the day-to-day. From the ground up, GTD is built to be a reactionary, thought-free process whose touchstone is the abandoning of the necessity of forethought. It essentially programs the user to react mechanically to upcoming tasks, affirming a system that minimizes any concept of achievement and instead praises the process of clicking checkboxes. In many ways, if you've read any of Mr. Allen's biography, this makes complete sense. For someone who has been continually subject to the influence of others, there's a psychological gratification in surrendering control and concern to something external. This surrendering of control is counter-effective; instead of obsessing and stressing over the tasks, users of GTD begin to obsess and stress over the system itself. This contributes to the cult-like status of GTD, as it focuses the energy from successful task completion to energy spent into using or improving GTD.
There is also a hint of Eastern philosophy in GTD (not a bad thing) that focuses on the repetition of task and process to the exclusion of any concept of completion. Once a task is complete, it is discarded (or repeated). The workflow flows continually in and out, and no time or energy is spent reviewing accomplishments. Tasks of increasing complexity do not gain any discernable mass; they just gain fractal-like sub-tasks. In psychology and literature, this concept is referred to the mise-en-abyme ("placed into the abyss"), which is really not a topic for this board but basically reflects a child-like psychological state that minimizes the importance of progressive action in exchange for psychological and physiological gratification in the familiar. It promotes an obsessive-compulsive repetitive touching of the system to generate ideas of safety and security.
Because of this, GTD doesn't stand up well to paradigm shift. GTD builds off of itself - you have to do it and keep up with it to make it work. Everything must fit within the appropriate folder, context, or status. But what happens when you get one of those world-view shifting tasks that just simply doesn't fit into the system?
Maybe this is example is overkill, but what happens when you find out your sister has cancer? What happens to all of those Level 3 Top Priority tasks? Does it make sense to move them to a lower priority? Are they any less of priority now? No, but now there are tasks that are even higher priority. The whole scale has changed, but this can't be reflected in GTD. Something new came along that can't be adequately represented in the system. Really this is what happened to contexts. The invention of the smart-phone, wireless tethering, and tablets has made the differentiation of location-based contexts entirely obsolete.

Did I Lose You, Yet?
Whoops, I went heavy, there. Now that I've essentially deconstructed GTD on a philosophical level, let me actually contribute something useful instead of just throwing rocks at GTD.

Next post: How to Make GTD Work for the 21st Century! My still-evolving Post-GTD system in all of its awesomeness.

I'll discuss 1) How my system works conceptually, 2) How my system works with context-sensitive hardware [nerd-porn], 3) How my system works with Toodledo, and 4) What I haven't figured out how to do yet but want to!

Posted: Mar 23, 2012
Score: 0 Reference
Thanks for the post. :)

You say "GTD's biggest problem is that it's now extremely dated", but you offer little to support such a strong claim.

Then there's this:
It essentially programs the user to react mechanically to upcoming tasks, affirming a system that minimizes any concept of achievement and instead praises the process of clicking checkboxes. In many ways, if you've read any of Mr. Allen's biography, this makes complete sense.
What "biography" are you referring to? Also, I'm curious about how you arrived at the conclusion about what GTD does "essentially". Seems like you are painting with a very broad brush.
Folke X

Posted: Mar 23, 2012
Score: 3 Reference
Thanks for taking the time put down some ideas. I do not completely buy what you are saying, though.

First, I think all this talk about 'mechanized' behavior etc is something you can observe with many or most humans in the way they (we) handle the tasks at hand. There is mechanical behavior across all schools. The most mechanized behavior I can think of off hand is pre-programming dates for everything, i.e. scheduling tasks, and have those tasks jump up at you as a big surprise, which you must obey. At least GTD (and MYN and DIT) are all review-based, which means you have overview and control.

As far as the old-fashioned contexts (@desk, @computer etc) I would suggest you do not use those. Create some that are meaningful to you, or leave contexts alone. Personally, I have just a few, Errand being one, Solo being another. Whatever you need to filter your Next list.

This message was edited Mar 23, 2012.

Posted: Mar 23, 2012
Score: 3 Reference
Interesting hypothesis. Maybe a bit reactionary?

First, I should state that I am not, nor have I ever been, a GTDer, and for some of the same reasons you state above.

It essentially programs the user to react mechanically to upcoming tasks, affirming a system that minimizes any concept of achievement and instead praises the process of clicking checkboxes.

While this is pretty strong lingo, it's similar to my own thoughts on GTD. I've simply called it "soulless". It strikes me as being designed for obsessive-compulsive personalities with lots to do. Write it all down, prioritize it, do it. Add more, repeat.

That is not to say that everyone using GTD is obsessive-compulsive, or that such a system can't be modified to include more "soul". I've seen examples of people who've done so in these and other forums. It's certainly not without merit. It appears that you have done this yourself - you've identified what you like and don't like about GTD and modified it accordingly. That's admirable. But to condemn the system that many find so useful seems like a bit of overkill to me. Baby, bathwater, that whole thing.

Yes, contexts, as Allen conceived them, are obsolete. But I recently stole a suggestion from someone else here for a context to identify work related tasks that I can do from home, so I can take a working-at-home day occasionally and not have to commute, and work uninterrupted. So while the original implementation may be outdated, the concept can still be useful.

So I admire your ability to analyze and modify and move forward with your own system, I don't see the necessity to condemn the system yours is based on. Just don't use it!
Folke X

Posted: Mar 23, 2012
Score: 2 Reference

You quote the statement:

It essentially programs the user to react mechanically to upcoming tasks, affirming a system that minimizes any concept of achievement and instead praises the process of clicking checkboxes.

What makes you say this is GTD?

I agree it is sad to see people fall into that kind of behavior, but as far as I can see you have those people all over the place, definitely not in GTD more than anywhere else.

Do you remember all those consultants in the olde days (when you and I were still young) who preached that you must put absolutely everything in a calender(make appointments with yourself) - and do you remember the followers? Jeeez. I remember one guy who called me on the phone and asked if he could call me tomorrow to discuss something for 15 minutes. I suggested we talk now, but he said he had booked this one hour solid with himself just to make appointments with others.

And what do you think of today's fashion - programming everything into something that beeps or plays a song - at 3:15 pm you get a message that says 'Stop smoking' LOL

If I want to act brainless, I prefer whisky :-)

Posted: Mar 24, 2012
Score: 6 Reference
@wksims86 - either you've not read Dave Allen's GTD book or you've not understood it.

1. Contexts - I disagree that the importance or relevancy of contexts has declined because of the advance of technology. They're still relevant. Perhaps they're different for some than they were but in the main, context is still important. The fact that I have my iPhone in the boardroom doesn't mean that I should be making phone calls, surfing the net, writing emails, etc. And in any case GTD doesn't propose that you have to use contexts. It's just one tool that can be used if needed.

2. Calendars - there's nothing in Dave Allen's book that says you can't schedule work in your calendar. It recommends you don't put items on the calendar that are not time-specific or date-specific If I've planned to work on something on a specific day and at a specific time, then it does go on my calendar. GTD done properly doesn't lead to complex mental schedules.

3. Abandoning of the necessity of forethought - the GTD book is full of information about planning. And I don't see how you could reach the conclusion that it's built to be a reactionary, thought-free process. The book says otherwise.

Your example about someone whose sister gets cancer - GTD talks about the 6-level model (runway to 50,000 feet) and I'd suggest this example fits into Level 6 (50,000 feet) = life, the big picture. Most people's tasks fit into levels 1 and 2 and are the daily things we just have to do. I suspect many GTD'ers don't use their system for more than Levels 1-2 but even so, when life-changing things happen it doesn't remove the need to have a trusted system to help get stuff done. My sister had cancer and so did my best friend. Both were life-changing events. My sister recovered but my friend died a few months ago. This hasn't "broken" GTD for me - I still needed it and used it to keep daily life happening.

So I pretty much disagree (respectfully) with all you've postulated so far but I am looking forward to seeing what kind of system you've constructed for yourself.

Posted: Mar 24, 2012
Score: 1 Reference
Posted by wksims86:

Maybe this is example is overkill, but what happens when you find out your sister has cancer? What happens to all of those Level 3 Top Priority tasks? Does it make sense to move them to a lower priority? Are they any less of priority now? No, but now there are tasks that are even higher priority. The whole scale has changed, but this can't be reflected in GTD. Something new came along that can't be adequately represented in the system. Really this is what happened to contexts. The invention of the smart-phone, wireless tethering, and tablets has made the differentiation of location-based contexts entirely obsolete.

Did I Lose You, Yet?

Well, yes, you lost me. David Allen never advocated anything like "Level 3 Top Priority tasks" and is pretty explicit about the ever-changing nature of what we need to do. There has also been a fair amount of discussion of the changing nature of contexts due to technology, but very few people have suggested that "location-based contexts [are] entirely obsolete."

This message was edited Mar 24, 2012.

Posted: Mar 24, 2012
Score: 7 Reference
How to Make GTD Work for the 21st Century! My still-evolving Post-GTD system in all of its awesomeness.

First, before I jump back into this, thanks for the thoughtful replies in discussion! I should probably clarify that the overall methodology of GTD is not what I am criticizing, but instead the implementation of the methodology into a lot of the software/personal systems we see today. GTD's brilliance, as you pointed out, is that it is extremely adaptable to personal preference. I am sure that many of you would say that the system I am using now is still GTD. Apples and oranges are still both fruit. Really the criticism shouldn't have stood alone and should have had my ideas for improvement along side it to keep from seeming so heavy-handed.

@Purveyor - "read his biography" slipped in there without appropriate editing. I don't think he has an official biography. I studied David Allen some in business school from people who knew him, so that is where I get most of my character information. I think Wired has a good article on him, too, that talks a bit about his personal history. That's a good summary.

@FolkeX - I agree that mechanical behavior is pervasive across all schools. In and of itself it's not a bad thing, obviously, since it removes some of the mental energy necessary to keep on top of these tasks. GTD may be review-based, but I don't think it does review very well. Analog systems like "43 Folders" push a lot of the focus out of the review process by emphasizing ticklers - hence the focus on the reactionary instead of the predictive. All the hardware and software systems today that tout GTD are all about the tickler, whether it be a post-it or that 3:15 "Stop Smoking" alarm. Maybe that's not what GTD should be about, but that's what everyone has made it about. It's not energy efficient. You spend more time programming alarms or writing ticklers or reviewing than you get out of contextual information. My big picture belief is that GTDers spend more time working on sorting, contextualizing, and tickling than they do completing the work. If I have 300 tasks in a project, I'll spend more time any given day having to change statuses to "waiting" or "delegated" or "actionable" than I'd save by knowing what the status of these tasks are. Maybe that's just me and my needs, though.

@ PeterW - Allen's book-proposed GTD isn't what I tend to see in the real world. The book talks a lot about conceptuals, most of which I agree with. I'm more talking about how GTD is used in productivity systems, like ToodleDo. The cancer example isn't a terribly good example, I'll admit. Obviously anything that catastrophic is going to cause some major life questions that go well beyond, "Where should I file this task?" If you'll forgive my not having a good specific example, this is more what I'm talking about: GTD starts upon input; you identify a task and sort it into a certain bin. Let's say red or blue. But every now and then you get a task that's purple. You can either try to distinguish it as being a more blue-ish purple or a red-ish purple, or you create a NEW bin called purple and throw it into that. The advantage of a new bin is that it's better defined, but you create a new context that has to be analyzed separately of the red and blue bins. It increases the time or frequency that you need to perform review and eventually can grow so big that it requires a major garbage-collection project. This is inevitably what I see happening with the businesses I know that run GTD - they tend to create so many categories that they burn more time sorting and categorizing than they do simply finishing the task. Maybe that's a user error and not a system error, but I've seen it happen enough (and experienced it enough) that I think GTD, or at least the GTD trainers and developers, could do a better job of minimizing the collection time.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. My heart is with you. In the spirit of things, let me offer something constructive rather than critical.

My biggest gripe has been that I have to spend more time reviewing, tailoring, and tweaking my tasks than I do finishing them. I wanted to build a system that would cut out the noise for me. Context sensitivity, if you will. I have work tasks, I have school tasks, I have daily tasks, projects, errands, goals, and others that belong in different folders. But some of the school things I have to do at home, some at school, some while out... Some required a computer or e-mail access, some required that I have a certain book on me, etc.

My frustration wound up being two-fold. First, I found it was more realistic for me to pull up my master list and review everything at once than to try to force things into context-sensitive lists that may or may not work. This took way too much time and resulted in tasks going unfinished, because my "check" periods essentially became limited to my "review" periods. Second, I found myself constantly without the tools I needed to finish certain tasks when I wound up checking them (because checks occurred at the wrong time). Law school + job + family life = me being stupidly busy, and I couldn't really afford to waste any productivity time. I'd find that I would drive home from school and I'd have forgotten to get milk from the grocery store because it was on my "errands" list and not my "home" or "school" list, and while it wasn't "errand-time," I could have finished in a 10-minute stop what would now require a 45-minute outing. I'd also wind up leaving "tools/context-items" necessary for task completion in places because I sucked at keeping it all in my head.

So I wanted a system that would do the following:

1) Intelligently display and sort itself to the Contextual Environment that I am in. (Context would not be another kind of folder but something that takes into account time, location, tools available, and energy available)

2) Offer Context-based reminders. Driving by the grocery store? Buzz to remind me to grab the milk. Driving by the grocery store at 50mph because I'm late to a meeting? Don't bother me needlessly.

3) Bridge the analog/digital gap. A lot of times I'm not able to get to my computer or phone to add a task, so I'd just write it down. Stuff became split over paper and Toodledo, which messed up my ability to reference stuff and review it properly.

4) Streamline personal efficiency and energy efficiency. Any task management should be done with the expectation that you will get more time and energy out of the savings than you spend putting into it. My efficiency sucked, so I needed to improve it.

5) Mental well-being. GTD is right, here. Task management is designed to make us happier and relaxed by preventing the panic that occurs from forgetting to do something and the general overwhelming-ness of too many tasks. Whatever I did, it shouldn't give me more of a headache than whatever I was doing.

I'm pretty happy with what I've done thus far.

General Hardware
HTC EVO 4g running Android 2.4 (ICS soon!)
Dual-screen desktop at home running Windows 7
Crappy laptop running Windows 7
Linux-based web server (Apache)
Daily notebook
[Class notebooks]
Scanner / Printer

Tools and Reference
The first problem I set out to solve was fixing the persistent issue not having the tools or reference material that I need to finish a task. The analog/digital problem was a big one, so I started with the digital/digital issue.

Originally my laptop and desktop had different files. I tried to take notes on my laptop, making it the general input device, and then save the desktop for reference/important material once I consolidated/garbage-collected the stuff on the laptop. That was a really terrible idea that didn't pan out very well. I wound up saving files on once machine and then not having access to another. Dropbox worked alright, but I had way more than the GB file limit to share between the two.

No one had ever told me about Windows Live Mesh. I stumbled across it while cleaning out my computers of junk, and it has become the most incredible cloud solution for me. Unlike Dropbox, I don't have to worry about size limits or file folders. I don't have to think about it at all. If I save or change a file on my laptop, it will be there on my desktop, and vica versa. It essentially made me have one computer with two different IMEs. If I needed to take notes on the go, I could boot up my laptop and have at it, knowing it'd be waiting for me on my desktop for where I needed more real estate to manipulate the file. But best of all I wasn't forced into having to use one or the other for different tasks. I could just as easily take notes on my desktop or deal with end-product files on my laptop.

But as OCD as I am, I wanted secure access to all files all the time. I had a web server up and running, so I set up drive sharing to allow the web server secure read-only access to my desktop. I used ES File Explorer on my phone to dial into my web server on the go, and so now my phone could see any of the files available. This was nice for when I wanted to show someone a file but didn't want to pull my desktop out to do it. This also had the added advantage of allowing me to watch my entire terabyte-sized movie library from anywhere (thank you 4G!) without having to deal with any digital playlist management.

I had known about OneNote and fiddled with it some prior, but it never really took. I like handwriting. I'm old school, and I just like the look better, as well as the control over formatting. But writing is hard to quickly reference, which in law school is your Achilles heel. I also write really slowly, and I was getting major hand cramps from class lectures. So I went back to OneNote with the whole cloud-syncing thing, and it's been good. I know a lot of people have used OneNote as their entire GTD system. It might work for you, but the aesthetics kind of bother me for archival of reference material.

That said, it's a good system, and it can do reference material well enough. I might not store all of my bar drink recipes on there (I don't often mix drinks from my PC), but it does make clipping things from the internet or from other files fast and easy. I tend to use it for any reference material that is important enough to keep for now but not important enough to put into archival-quality storage. I also found notetaking to be MUCH more bearable when I had a friend turn my handwriting into a font. I set it up well enough that printing a page is mostly indistinguishable from one I hand-wrote, and this made exam review much better. If you want to try, does a decent enough job. Just be prepared to have to try multiple times, because the kerning can kind of suck if you don't write perfectly in the lines.

This did a well enough job of solving the digital tool/reference issue. I still needed something that would fix the analog problem.

I first tried to go with a paperless system, scanning everything that I had and trying digital inputs on everything. I'm a big flowchart/thoughtmapper kind of guy, so I tried everything from Gliffy to InDesign to thoughtmapping software to MS Paint, but I couldn't capture the same kind of free-form complexity that pen and paper give you. So I digitized as much as I could (particularly work notes, class notes, meeting notes, business cards, and the like), filed that under OneNote and Google for reference, and started using one spiral-bound, college-ruled notebook to handle ALL of my stuff to be drawn out or written down. It rarely makes it to digital, but it's good for the throwaway lists or scratch-work necessary. I've set aside one section of it for important things to transfer to Toodledo or my PC ASAP, and thus far it's worked very well.

Any paper handouts, mail, bills, etc. that I get either get filed in a hanging filer, thrown out, or scanned for quick reference. OneNote's Optical Character Recognition is really nice for this. It can't do handwriting, but bank statements and the like become much easier to file when you can Ctrl-F your way through tax season! Documents I need in hard form, like stock statements and government documents, go into a hanging folder. Anything important enough to keep gets scanned and then either filed or thrown out.

The Internet
This is pretty rudimentary, but I'll go on and share it for comparison's sake. I use Firefox as my browser and love it. The add-ons are really helpful. Anything that I might need to reference later or just generally think is cool but not actionable about gets clipped and pasted into OneNote. Anything that I would like to explore but don't have the time to research gets saved to ReadItLater. Important sites I'll reference over and over get bookmarked, as does any site that I'll reference at a particular time or under a particular context. I'm very careful to keep my bookmark list small and not let "oh that looks cool" websites wind up in my bookmarks. Youtube videos worth sharing get OneNoted, not bookmarked. It keeps my browser clear of clutter and makes referencing important material much faster.

I use GMail, Google Calendar, and Google Reader as web apps. The Android phone really contributes to this. GMail gets the Inbox-Zero treatment every week. Every semester I garbage collect on my folders which helps me reduce noise when I'm searching for an old e-mail for reference. My calendar is divided based on folder (Personal, Law School, Work, etc.), but I always have all displaying at any given time. I tried to do it based on Context or actionability, but this just resulted in my trying to reinvent the wheel. Folder-based calendars work pretty well. Reader is pretty solid as an RSS reader. I'm a latecomer to RSS, so if you don't subscribe to RSS feeds, I would highly recommend you try it out. It's a great way to put your input information into a single channel, so you don't have to go out and hunt for updates. Huge time-saver!

Things I have tried and failed at:

Toodledo Firefox App: Once in a blue-moon I'll right-click and add a task via "Toodledo Something", but the Toodledo App pop-up box doesn't give me anything that keeping ToodleDo open in a tab won't. Plus I get the added advantage of checking over my tasks while I'm adding in the new one, just as a touch-and-go. I don't need to "Toodledo a Page" because I have ReadItLater for that.

Toodledo for Google Calendar: The side panel completely sucks for trying to get any usable information out of that. One click to a new tab and I can have Toodledo in all its ugly-but-functional glory. Trying to import Toodledo tasks via iCal was also a nightmare. I could live with the 1x a day update, but the iCal would show a task lasting from the start date to the finish date. I'd have 40+ tasks spanning the "all day" category for months, and even limited tasks would still span several days, throwing my calendar completely off visually. I came to Toodledo from Google Tasks, and the functionality is 100% better, but I do miss being able to visually inspect when tasks were due on certain due-dates. I'm a geometrically visual person; I infinitely prefer bar calendars (the 7-day view) over the agenda list. I'm still hoping Toodledo will someday host better GCal integration or have its own 7-day view window alongside the "Due Date" list's agenda breakdown.

Digitizing my Books: Law books rarely come in eBook form. Law books also weigh upwards of 170 lbs. per semester. When you can find an eBook, they are DRM locked into oblivion. My Civ Pro book can be installed on one machine using proprietary software only available for registered Windows 7 machines. I spent a month trying to rip one of my books out of DRM (for fair use!) so I could put it on a tablet as a proof-of-concept, but the best I got was a barely useable watermarked PDF, and that still didn't solve the problem of books DRM'd through other methods or books without an eBook version at all. I had to give up on the digitization of my books. And I'm not much of an eBook person anyway...

So while I got most of my stuff down to digital, I still look like the junk ogre from Labyrinth walking around with all of my stuff. I caved and got a new backpack that I love so much I'm going to post it here. I'm convinced that the Targus II Drifter backpack somehow defies physics by folding space-time. I'm able to fit 4 1000+ page hardback textbooks, 1 800 page paperback textbook, 3 notebooks, 15.6" laptop, charger, device cables, keyboard, computer repair kit, first aid kit, climbing rope, pocket knife, phone, glasses, pens, etc. with plenty of room to spare. And it all fits very comfortably with good weight distribution. The bindings are solid, the grab-handle is a steel cable reinforced with lacquer and a soft rubber grip, the shoulder-straps and backing are padded, and there are so many pockets and hidden flaps that I expect Xzibit to show up with a camera crew.

While it's not the most elegant solution, it does let me carry all of the practical tools and devices I could need. So there's less danger that I'm going to leave something behind because I can just throw it into the bag and go.

But the real fun in all of this is building a context-aware phone. I'm hungry, so I'll post the details tomorrow, but as a teaser I've got a rooted Android with Ultimate To Do and Tasker set up to give me a hyper-aware, context-sensitive geniusphone that will give me tasks and alerts based on time, location, what I'm doing, etc.

Posted: Mar 25, 2012
Score: 8 Reference
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.

Posted: Mar 25, 2012
Score: 3 Reference
Useful Stuff...

So here's hyperlinks to the stuff I've talked about, plus some other tools I find really useful for hyper-productivity geeks.

An incredibly robust utility that allows you to make your phone extremely context aware.
Try out the 7-day trial from this website if you're not sure if it's worth it. It does take being a bit of a power-user, but if you can use Toodledo, you can use Tasker.
A Wiki that has some good start-up profiles.

Ultimate To Do
As ugly and robust as Toodledo, the killer feature for this app is the ability to break down your widgets into custom views based on very high level contexts. 14-day free trial, and then has to be purchased (well worth-it, though). Also available in a tablet version.
The website won't win any awards for style, but it's useful and comes with a free 14-day trial.

Android Agenda Widget
Hands-down the most customizable agenda widget ever. It can be confusing as hell to navigate sometimes, but it works very, very well and can be set up (with patience) to your own style. It's free, but consider buying the plus version if you like it!

Mindmapping is somewhere between "awesome" and "gimmicky" for me. I've been fiddling with it. Pen and paper tends to win in the long-run for me, but if you are glued to your phone or tablet, or you just hate drawing lines, give it a shot.

What I can't do on paper for concept mapping, Gliffy picks up with ease. Gliffy may be one of the coolest digital design programs out there. It lets you build conceptual objects like user interface designs, mind maps, flowcharts, swimlanes, website maps, and much more. I use this for work daily, and it's also been very helpful for my law classes, too. You can get a free account (which is what I'm using) that limits you to 5 documents (I just make the maps larger and export), but for those of you not rapidly accumulating student debt there is a reasonable subscription fee that unlocks everything.

If you have Office for PC, you probably already have this. Greatest notetaking application ever. There is also Evernote, which is close, but the UI isn't as good. I prefer the folder breakdown that OneNote provides.

Windows Live Mesh
Lets you sync selected folders between computers. Any size or file can be shared. Also gives you 5 Gb of cloud space on Windows SkyDrive. I don't use it, because I don't like artificial size caps, but the cross-PC file sync is absurdly useful if you have more than one computer.

Best on Firefox, IMO, but works with practically everything. Don't have time to check out that video or article? Bookmark it with ReadItLater, only don't clog up those important bookmarks with adorable cat videos. ReadItLater is an inbox for your web life, but best of all, it zeroes itself out when you watch or read something on it.

Targus II Drifter Backpack
The only backpack you will ever need, ever. I had one Targus that I loved, but this one is on a whole new level. The only caveat is that it fits me great at 6' tall, so if you're a small person, this may be a little overwhelming, as you could probably fit inside of it. But for its incredible cargo capacity, I still can't figure out how it doesn't look like an overstuffed camping frame. It's still carry-on size, even jam-packed.

This message was edited Mar 25, 2012.

Posted: Mar 25, 2012
Score: 3 Reference
What's Next

All of the elements of GTD I guess still exist in the system I'm using, so you can still call it GTD if you like. I've been working on developing a new approach, though, that takes the focus off of the mechanical aspect of input>filter>file>complete>refresh. The "Goal" tracker in Toodledo was a neat idea that doesn't really help me all that much. While it might be nice for building habits to make sure I'm staying on task with repeating tasks, it doesn't really help me to know that I'm working on something every day if I don't have a good top-down overhead.

I'm addicted to progress bars. I play too many video games, I guess, but achievements are a great motivator. So I've been trying to build a system that will interface with Toodledo that will look at my projects and put them into progress bars. In doing so, this will create a better goal tracking mechanism. Every Criminal Law homework task complete adds more to my Criminal Law progress bar. As that fills, my homework bar fills. As that fills, my 1L bar fills. It keeps me aware of my overall progress. Once you fill a bar, you get a badge of sorts. For me, the badges translate to real world rewards, which give me incentive for finishing tasks. I also find that when I work on items in the same category or context, synergy tends to make me more efficient, and this type of reward system promotes synergy.

In a perfect world, this progress-bar system would also be combined with a Kanban-based visualization system, allowing me to break down a set of tasks and look at their relative positioning on a swimlane. I've got this set up with Gliffy, but I don't have a good way of porting the data in or doing anything with it once it's in the system other than just move it from one side to another. Unfortunately, my distinct lack of free time has kept me from finishing this idea out. Any of you seen anything like this? Thoughts or comments? I'll shut up now and let you guys post!

Posted: Mar 25, 2012
Score: 3 Reference
Way too much time on this. :-|
A lot of words about tools and not much about systems. (Some cool stuff about Tasker and Ultimate To-Do List.)
I could write several paragraphs commenting on what you wrote but I won't.
I have several other things that I am getting done. ;)

This message was edited Mar 26, 2012.

Posted: Mar 26, 2012
Score: 0 Reference
Man, you are way over complicating this. "Context sensitive phone" is just wayyyyy to techy. David Allen has addressed this many times of folks who focus on the gadgets/tech and not the philosophy of it. It is like reading about people who want to start GTD and they type in the 5 main contexts into their Toodledo (of whatever tool they have) and then figure out how to use them. Instead of doing a brain dump and assembing your projects and next actions. All you need to know is what do you need to do next. Once you complete that you don't need the software to figure out the next task and how many minutes it will take to complete, and how you will be notified by 6 sources (Wuph for you Office fans). You just look at the project in your weekly review and decide. Proximo has the most read system here and he really only had 2 contexts and never used status, locations, etc. Steve Jobs shared this philosophy in a great clip I saw the other day -

Posted: Mar 26, 2012
Score: -1 Reference
Posted by Dave:
Man, you are way over complicating this. "Context sensitive phone" is just wayyyyy to techy. David Allen has addressed this many times of folks who focus on the gadgets/tech and not the philosophy of it.

Which is part of the reason I don't like GTD and feel like it's dated. I'm a technologist and I can make technology work for me very easily. For me it's not that complicated. It just becomes a wall of text when I try to type it all out... I have a pretty solid methodology to back it all up, but I burned myself out talking about the tools. But I'm now 100% sure I've lost everyone and will let this thread die a quiet death. :) Thanks for entertaining my rant!

Posted: Mar 26, 2012
Score: -1 Reference
No prob. Whatever works for you, go for it.

Posted: Mar 27, 2012
Score: 2 Reference
I love you. You are my new hero. I have been struggling to work my way toward something like this; thank you. LOL You need to add some screenshots and graphics and such, and turn this into an ebook! Or at least a blog. If you ever decide to do something crazy like that, let me know - I'm happy to help, just so other "hyper-productivity geeks" can benefit from the amazing amount of time and thought you have put into this. :D

Speaking of which; do you have a blog? I would love to re-post this, but need somewhere to track back to!

Posted: May 23, 2012
Score: -1 Reference
If something can be done on the PC/iPhone/iPad why not just use @Cloud? Besides, I am sure many of us have so many things to do that we have enough things to do for each of these segments. Just set the typing task for your PC, the easy-to-do-task-on-the-iphone for the iphone and so on.

By the way wksims86, if you are studying law may I recommend use of a spaced repetition program called Anki? I know someone studying for the bar who uses it and you can set the percentage of the material you want to remember and it works very well.

This message was edited May 24, 2012.

Posted: Jun 03, 2012
Score: 0 Reference
It is interesting for me to see how simple things can be over-engineered using GTD. When I read this (sorry I didn't read all of it) I somehow get the impression of compulsive behavior.

If I need to buy stuff, I try to keep it in my head. If it's really bad and I didn't get urgent things twice or three times despite driving past the store, I write it on a paper that has the shape of those "don't disturb" signs in hotels - i hang this on my doorknob, take it with me the next time I leave the house and hang it on the shift lever of my car. This happens once every year. :)

Posted: Jun 04, 2012
Score: 2 Reference
First of all, thanks you for advancing some ideas regarding challenging some of the real world issues with GTD. You sound like someone who likes to pick at existing systems to improve them.... hope you don't blow a gasket in real-world law :) You have my sympathy in advance.

I get how you're pushing the limits of location-specific reminders. I think in a few years the killer app for this will materialize.

One thing i wanted to hear developed more was how you work such a tight calendering system around your method. I've had so much trouble over the years marrying GTD with a calendar. What do you do?

Posted: Jun 17, 2012
Score: 1 Reference
Posted by wksims86:
...I'm now 100% sure I've lost everyone and will let this thread die a quiet death. :)...

If you have time in your world, I'd encourage you not to let this die. (Or at least let us know about a blog / e-book as noted earlier!) Some of us are tech-oriented, others have AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder), and many for one reason or another NEED some more structure and context awareness / support. Different strokes for different folks or vive la difference....
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