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Productivity

Forget about the Ultimate GTD App; Create Your Ultimate GTD Workflow

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:

Easiest Hard Rule to Follow

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.


1. Features

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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:

  1. Home tasks

  2. Office Tasks

  3. All phone calls

  4. A due soon list that shows any upcoming tasks that will be due in the next 7 days.

  5. Errands

  6. 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:

omnifocus:///inbox

omnifocus:///perspective/Bills


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?


Global Search

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.


Alarm

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:

  1. Initial/Current View

  2. Initial App Screen

  3. Inbox Processing

  4. Project Creation

  5. Project Engagement

  6. Next Actions

  7. Persons

  8. Someday/Maybe

  9. Tickler

  10. Meetings

  11. Communication

  12. Areas of Focus

  13. Reference Lists

  14. Weekly Debriefing

  15. Coaching Messages

  16. Coaching Models

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)

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