If you’re trying to be intentional, where do you start? This week, Justin gives a few tips and strategies to get you going.
This week Justin shares about how we should regularly disconnect to keep technology a tool instead of the place we live for our mental, emotional, and relational health.
This week, Justin chats about the power of flexibility as a remote worker, and some considerations to make about having such freedom.
In Part 1 of my reflections on David Allen’s ultimate GTD app, I went through the first page of his feature wish list.
At the GTD Summit 2019 event, David Allen attempted to explain what he wanted.
Reality sets in because the organizations we work for will have different technology infrastructures. One organization might be centered around the Google Suite services. Others might be revolving around Dropbox, the Apple Mac/iOS ecosystem, Windows operating system, or the Android environment. With so many competing ecosystems, it will be near-impossible to find a single GTD app that can integrate well with all of them.
I don’t think there will ever be one ultimate app that will do everything. It’s more about adopting the many habits and mastering the tools that can get us close to mastering GTD or any productivity system.
Let’s go through the list and check off which line items you have a workflow for. This is food for thought. What workflows do I want to implement? Are there any workflows I can improve on?
Page 2. Initial/Current View (The Startup Screen) and Page 3. Initial Screen
These two pages show an overall view of our GTD workflow. They will be explored next.
Page 4. Capturing To My Inbox
Do I have a process for capturing to my inbox? A trigger list is helpful in exploring any items that I wanna to capture. Here is the official GTD Mind Sweep Incomplete Triggers list. Customize this list to fit my needs.
Page 5. Inbox Processing
Do I have a workflow to process my inbox? List down the steps I need to properly organize any inbox items into my projects, checklists, and someday/maybe lists. The above picture illustrates GTD steps to processing my inbox.
Page 6. Creating New Projects
Do I have a template or workflow for project creation? I enjoy using a text expansion macro to create my project templates. Defining a project is a habit that often gets skipped over and I go direct to listing my next actions. Sometimes I need to remember if the project aligns with my personal goals or the objectives of the organization I work for.
I have started to explore more project creation in mind map form. Here is an example of a mind map to help me visualize my projects in its initial stage.
I brainstorm to capture tasks and ideas in the
Unprocessed Notes node. Then I group various tasks into different phase nodes. Breaking up a large project into various phases or sub-projects aids in keeping it more manageable.
Page 7. Projects
Do I have a task manager or analog workflow that is capable of storing my projects and its associated tasks? Apple Reminders is a great app for managing a small project but I’ll need to turn to a higher level app such as Things, Todoist, 2Do, or OmniFocus to handle more complicated projects.
Page 8. Next Actions
Do I have a workflow to take next actions from my various projects and checklists to create a Today’s Task list? I also need an Errands list if I’m going out shopping. Or I need a list of miscellaneous House tasks that needs to be taken care of.
Flagging a task or tagging a task with the
Today tag might be helpful. I personally look at my task manager list of all available actions and write down 3-5 tasks into my Bullet Journal (BuJo).
Page 9. Persons
Do I have a workflow for keeping tracking of any outstanding Waiting-For’s or agenda items from people I need to talk to? A Contact Relationship Manager (CRM) or my task manager can do fulfill this requirement for me. Sometimes, I’ll just have a page in my BuJo for a person that I frequently interact with.
Page 10. Someday/Maybe
Do I have a workflow for tracking any projects that I want to put on the back burner? Many projects do not need to be worked on right now. I want to keep track of it but I don’t need to see it in Today’s Agenda items to work on. I need to put a project on hold by setting it to start on a future date or assign a date to review a
Maybe projects are random ideas that I haven’t fully fleshed out into full projects yet. I might not have the necessary resources or information required to brainstorm about it. But it is something to think about at a later ideal
I keep my
Someday projects separate from
Maybe projects. I will definitely work on a
Someday project in the future. A
Maybe project is still in the incubation stage and needs further exploration. I have a checklist of different ideas such as:
House ideas to R&D
Professional ideas to R&D
Vacations ideas to R&D
Page 11. Tickler
Do I have a workflow to remind me about any events, appointments, or a due project? My workflow tools should have the ability to notify me of an upcoming appointment or a task that will be due in the next 2 hours. Thankfully, a digital calendar can be set to ding us at any time. My Apple Watch buzzes when something I wanted to track will happen.
Otherwise, I do try to adopt the habit of checking my BuJo at least once an hour to remind myself of any incoming events I need to be aware of.
Page 12. Meetings
Do I have a workflow or template to handle meeting notes? A text expansion macro or document template is helpful to make sure I’m always ready to take notes during a meeting. Then I make a mind map to help me summarize what happened. I’ll grab any next actions or waiting for’s that will come out of a meeting.
Page 13. Communication
Do I have a checklist to remind me about any forms of communication that needs to happen? This list includes any emails, phone calls, faxes, and letters that needs to be delivered. I think this also ties in closely with
Page 9. Persons. I’m either waiting for something from someone or I need to communicate with a person or organization.
I’m thinking of e-mail apps (Apple Mail, Spark, Airmail, Newton), social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter), or video chat (Facetime, Skype) as possible apps that can link with my task manager, calendar, and CRM.
Page 14. Areas of Focus and Page 15. Projects
Do I have an established structure for my Areas of Focus? I need a task manager that can group my projects into folders. These folders represent Areas of Focus or Responsibilities that I am tracking.
Alternatively, I have sections in a 3-ring binder that separated by divider pages. Each section represents an Area of Focus. I slip in my project pages inside when I need to capture items.
Page 16. Reference Lists
I am looking at Allen’s page about Reference Lists and am unsure of what he truly wants. Maybe he wants a text expansion macro that can create blank reference lists to print out? Or a PDF editor to create templates for his use? The world still revolves around papers and creating blank forms is still essential.
Allen lists books here. Maybe he is referring to keeping resources in easily accessible locations such as a notebook app (DEVONthink, Evernote) or putting everything into a cloud drive such as Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive?
Page 17. Weekly Debriefing (The Weekly Review)
Do I have a workflow to review my projects and checklists? I want to make sure my projects and checklists are always up-to-date. I set a time to review a variety of projects and checklists.
Mondays – Routine Tasks
Tuesdays – One-off tasks for my Work, Personal, House, and Family
Wednesdays – Any currently active work projects
Thursdays – Any currently active personal projects
End of the Month – Any projects that are on hold or on Someday status.
Some projects such as the Christmas shopping list don’t need to be reviewed on a weekly basis. I put an all-day appointment in my calendar for these ticklers.
The Weekly Review is the secret sauce that makes any productivity system click. Once I adopted this essential habit into my productivity workflow, life flows more smoothly.
Page 18. Coaching Messages and Page 19. Coaching Models
I don’t know of any app that will truly hold your hand when I’m going through my workflows. I do have a Keyboard Maestro macro group that coaches me through my Daily Review workflow.
I use an OmniOutliner outline that I refer to when I’m doing my monthly review. I like checklists a lot. Atul Gawande wrote a book exploring the idea of using checklists for nearly everything in my life.
If I have a checklist, I won’t be skipping any steps and assuming that my projects and checklists are up-to-date.
The checklist becomes my coach. As a matter of fact, this post is a checklist for me to fine-tune my system.
Create your own ultimate GTD workflow
What works for me might not work for you. I created a checklist from David Allen’s GTD app wish list and looked for workflows, tools, and apps that will help me get to a well-oiled machine that is humming on all eight cylinders.
Some other productivity systems that I have incorporated into my own personal system includes:
J.D. Meier – Getting Results the Agile Way
Leo Babauta – Zen To Done
Ryder Carroll – The Bullet Journal
Find your own productivity workflow. Create a system that includes habits and tools that facilitates your needs as a remote worker. What works for you? Diagnose areas that have provided some friction. Look for something that works for you.
Some workflows that have been created are presented here:
@bkruisdijk shows how he uses OmniFocus, DEVONthink, Drafts, Shortcuts, Keyboard Maestro, Fantastical, Apple Mail, and TextExpander to create his own ultimate GTD app.
@Kourosh reflects upon his GTD workflow and explores how he was able to use his methodology described in his book Creating Flow with OmniFocus..
Take your time developing the different checklists and workflows needed. Test it in your daily life for a few weeks before moving on to the next workflow. Then share your own workflow by creating a new post. We can learn much from each other.
It’s not about the apps. It’s about the workflow.
Freedom is a debilitating condition that affects me as a Remote Worker. I’m crippled with the freedom to do anything I want. I could ignore the phone calls and binge on my Netflix queue. I can put up the “Gone Fishing” sign on the front door and take my kids out to the beach. I need to have structure in my life to ensure that I can keep my business running. The first step was to find a productivity system that provides structure. The first productivity system I truly looked into was GTD. It’s been a lifesaver for me. I found OmniFocus as the app to use to implement my GTD workflow. It wasn’t pretty in the beginning but I eventually got OmniFocus clicking after two years. I didn’t have all the workflows clicking quite yet but I eventually got there.
I was intrigued when I heard that David Allen released his vision of the ultimate GTD app at the 2019 GTD summit:
Despite valiant efforts, Allen reports that he got close but the technology and user awareness about GTD wasn’t ready yet. Here’s a quote from a January 2019 Medium blog post:
"I spent 3 years looking at intentional software with Charles Simonyi and his team. These are the people that built Office, Excel…they were looking at whether or not our technology can actually build something that wasn’t out there yet. The answer is no. The technology might be there already, but there’s no market for it. Most people don’t even keep stuff in their head, why do you think they’ll need it."
David Allen admits that GTD can take up to two years to truly understand and master.
"What they don’t realize is that it is a methodology, and not a technology. It’s a thought process.” That thought process takes some time to master, around two years according to Allen."
I’m not a mindreader but Allen probably thought that if there was one GTD app that incorporates AI (Artificial Intelligence) and coach me through the GTD workflow.
This isn’t a quest to look for the perfect GTD app. This is a journey to get new GTD practitioners a way adopt a GTD workflow.
I don’t know if one single GTD app will be able to do everything. Everyone’s needs will be different. I am an advocate of implementing the GTD system with tools I am comfortable with. I implement GTD concepts with apps that facilitates my workflow.
I took a look at David Allen’s 19 page proposal of his dream GTD app. I realized that it looks more like a series of habits, workflows, and checklists. Instead of requesting my favorite task manager app developer to include Features X, Y, and Z, I should look at collecting the various tools and apps that will help me create my own workflow. The technology is available to everybody but it takes some elbow grease to glue it all together.
I sat down with pen and paper and walked my way through Allen’s dream GTD features. I’ll be looking at different pages over the next few weeks in an attempt to decipher what Allen wanted.
Default Debriefing process
This is the habit of checking my checklists weekly to keep my life current. I schedule a time block to review next week’s commitments, appointments, active projects, administrative tasks, and routine tasks to stay current.
The Weekly Review is an essential building block to keep my checklists, projects, and task up-to-date.
Customize List Sorting
I need to have an app that will keep my projects and tasks sorted. I need an app capable of sorting my tasks and projects into bite-sized views. I might have a saved search list for a variety of contexts:
All phone calls
A due soon list that shows any upcoming tasks that will be due in the next 7 days.
Agenda items to talk about with my wife and kids
Using tags can help with grouping similar tasks for me to work on. A task manager should have the ability to create saved searches to show a list of commonly reviewed search criteria.
Cross Reference Projects to related actions, waiting for’s, reference, people, dates, meetings, etc.
The introduction of URL schemes can help link tasks in my task manager to calendar events or notes in my notebook can facilitate this need. Here are two examples of URL schemes to go to a specific view in my task manager:
Decision-Making and Organizing Expert System built in
Allen might be thinking about creating a digital assistant that will be able to automatically categorize our tasks into different Areas of Focus (House, Work, Personal, Family) or checklists (packing list for trips, birthday presents list). Or is he thinking about a digital assistant that can prioritize and help us with making decisions about what is the perfect next action I could work on right now?
MacOS’s Spotlight feature allows me to search my computer for nearly everything I need. My internet search engine is just one tap away from accessing the world’s archives of blog posts, articles, and reference material. My task manager’s search feature is also capable to grouping a variety of tasks together for my review. Everything (or almost everything) is just a few keystrokes away.
Gateway to all other software (while processing)
I’m not sure what Allen means by this? I can switch between apps easily. My iPad has split-screen capabilities to let me look at two apps side-by-side.
Many apps are now capable of “talking” to each other with internal APIs such as URL schemes and AppleScript dictionaries. They send information between each other and scripts can be written to speed up a repeated process.
Allow free-flowing thinking while tracking toward closure
This feature sounds like the perfect spot for apps such as an outliner or mind mapper to come into play. Use free form thinking to brainstorm goals and projects. These can be translated into real projects inside the task manager app.
Rules-based customizing (eg. Every AA flight scheduled, schedule 72 hour upgrade)
It is possible to use tools such Zapier or IFTTT.com (If-This-Then-That) to create rules-based customizing. If I get an email from my airline company about an upcoming flight, it should be possible to have Zapier or IFTTT automatically schedule a flight upgrade. This all depends on whether the web site has the necessary APIs to facilitate communication.
Maybe one day, we’ll see our Apple HomePod, Google Assistant, or Amazon Echo get close to assisting us with this feature. For now, tools such as Siri Shortcuts, AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, IFTTT, and Zapier are at the forefront of giving us rules-based customizing.
Print any views in any hard-copy format (by meeting, person, dates, project, etc.) / Generates complete hard-copy systems with up-to-the-second lists + data
I love printing hard copies of my projects and tasks. I put my printouts on my clipboard and get ready to work without returning back to my iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Printing is not a strength of many task managers. OmniFocus doesn’t have great print formatting capabilities but I can export my tasks out as a TaskPaper text document and then run an AppleScript to format it for my needs and insert it into Apple Pages.
Tag any file/location/activities -> in-basket to ensure later closure [or make any note]
The wording isn’t very clear. I suspect this feature requires a quick entry screen or capturing method to easily enter in tasks for later inbox processing.
Siri has been a very capable capturing mechanism to record any new ideas that may pop into my head at any time. Drafts is another capable app that can send text to my task manager as well. Another popular feature would be an e-mail address to send any task or file attachment to my inbox. Apps such a Evernote, Things, and OmniFocus have this feature now.
Notifications are an important part of many tasks and projects. I have notifications set for my Start/Defer date/time and another notification for the due date/time.
That was just the first page of David Allen’s mockup! Next week, I’ll dive deeper into some of his GTD app wish list. Here’s what’s coming next:
Initial App Screen
Areas of Focus
If we break down his feature wishlist, we could review what we want from our digital devices. Then find the tools to fill out our GTD repertoire.
Do you have a productivity system or workflow that can handle most (if not all) of these GTD building blocks?
It’s not the app that we should be chasing. It’s the workflows that we should be building. The apps are tools that will help us create the workflows that remote workers (and non-remote workers) use in our daily lives❗️
(Part 2 continues this conversation)