I like Getting Things Done. I really do. But, ever since reading the book and subscribing to the philosophy, I’ve had trouble nailing down a process that entirely works for me.
At the core of Allen’s recommendations is this idea of a “trusted system” and it’s that aspect that I have struggled with. I’ve tried everything from plain text documents to the flavour-du-jour piece of software, but nothing has ever really felt quite right. I sat down and wrote a list of the features that I crave:
- Access across multiple devices. I want to be able to pull up my projects and lists at home, at work, and when out and about on my phone.
- If it’s a web application, it should also be able to work offline – I don’t want to be rendered impotent due to the internet going down.
- It should do “proper” GTD, and not just be a fancy to-do list manager. That means regular reviews, tickler files, the whole works.
- Capture should be possible through a variety of different means – at least email, but anything else is a bonus: voice, calendar, or integration with other apps such as Evernote.
- The ability to function as a mini project management tool as well – somewhere to write notes, a scratchboard, lists of links and future plans other than in a list format.
Reviewing the options available, it’s extremely hard to find something that ticks all my boxes. Plain text (or even pen and paper) is a little tempting, but I’d much rather rely on some form of automated reminder system than my own memory. Wunderlist, which is what I’ve been using for the last few months, is okay but little more than a to-do list tool, lacking even a built-in way to manage contexts – and because of the flat structure, you can’t even create fake contexts as pseudo-projects, because each task can only live in one place. In fact, the only application I’ve really found that is explicitly a GTD enabler is Midnight Inbox, but every time I’ve attempted to use it it’s either been too fiddly and sensitive to setup in a way that works for me, or horribly buggy.
At the moment, my shortlist (and reservations) looks like this:
- Nirvana: Web application with offline support and add-by-email, and reasonable note-taking and tagging facilities. Lacks full GTD features.
- Midnight Inbox: Beautiful native application, sync-able with Dropbox, and a real GTD process. Has notes plus a “reference” filing area, and planned iPad and iPhone versions – but no Android! It also seems to have really stupid bugs every time I download a new version…
- Firetask: Another lovely looking application, although again mostly a glorified to-do list. Costs money.
- The Hit List: I was using this earlier in the year, and got on reasonably well with it – excellent notes area for every task, really well-integrated GTD aspects like adding contexts when entering tasks (but no actual GTD process). The main drawback with this one is no mobile access unless you use their iPhone app and pay a monthly fee.
Obviously the lack of a GTD process isn’t a real problem. Weekly reviews and filing is simply a set of habits I need to get into, and would not be all that hard to implement with some basic recurring tasks and folders in any of these applications.
One final option is of course to roll my own, a solution which of course comes with the freedom to add or leave out whatever features I like. I actually started putting together a GTD-meets-Scrum personal project management tool last year as an excuse to use Django, but it kind of stalled when I reached the limits of my Python programming abilities (or perhaps the limits of the book I was learning it from). I have to admit it’s tempting me again, although probably safely back in the reliable arms of PHP; building a simple to-do list manager would be an extremely fast exercise, then layering on functionality and features would be driven by my actual use of the setup on a daily basis. It might also prove a great opportunity to jump into some new tech, with things like offline and email-as-input method to figure out.
For now, I’m using Nirvana, despite the fuzzy border between contexts and tags they employ, and the weird addition of ‘Focus’ as a third meta-property of tasks and projects. But the more I think about it, the more making my own – and therefore controlling all my own data – sounds like the most attractive option.