The Words Notebook system
I have been following life-hacking and productivity for quite some time now, like many of you. After a while the many of the subjects and themes seem repeated.
I have taken a tool box approach to productivity. I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. I studied Autofocus. Years ago I had some training in the Franklin Covey method. I read all of the Zen to Done articles. I studied Agile. There are others. I use elements of many of these.
I find all of this interesting. One of my undergraduate degrees was in psychology. I came quite close to doing a Masters in organizational behavior.
The downside to this interest is that I tweak my systems a lot. I evaluate new ideas and see if they will help me. I get restless and switch between system. I have started keeping notes when I make these jumps so that I can remember the pros and cons of various approaches and minimize changing.
What if I limited tweaking to only certain days of the week or the month? What if any approach I chose had to stay in a steady-state for a month?
I could save a lot of time. I’m trying to focus more on actually getting things to completion rather than focusing on the methods or the philosophy of productivity. Novel idea, right?
Many of us remember Merlin Mann’s presentation at Google a few years back on Inbox Zero. This concept has permeated the productivity world.
I have desired to have Todo List Zero. The presence of a large todo list can, at times, seem overwhelming. Sometimes my list is up to 175 items.
GTD leads to large todo lists because of the goal of getting everything out of your head and into the system.
I have told myself that I just have to get the most important things done each day, that I should not think about the size of the global list. This has helped frequently. I’d call this MIT Zero, or Daily Todo List Zero.
I removed my Someday / Maybe list from my main Taskpaper document. This decreased stress also.
However, I can’t help but dream of Todo List Zero.
How would it feel to have a day where the list was empty at the end of the day? There would have to be nothing I was waiting for (in Taskpaper items I am waiting on are tagged with “@w” and colored blue). There could not be any open projects.
I know this is not a realistic dream. But, I can’t help but think about it sometimes. What if?
these productivity systems attract us by holding out the promise of overcoming our weaker natures. All we need, to produce, to be successful, to be our ideal selves, is to adopt some new system that will short-circuit all our weaknesses and reveal our incredible true selves.
— Dan Barrett
Productivity has become it’s own thing, and I have bought into that thing. It is a philosophy that praises and prizes those who “get things done,” while maintaining a steadfast agnosticism on the matter of what you’re actually doing. You could be killing people and hiding their severed limbs in your crawlspace, for all we know; all we care about is how you managed to hide so many limbs while holding down a busy full-time job.
Many productivity methods mention tagging tasks with metadata. I’ve been thinking about this and wondered if I have gone overboard in this regard. Having been a fan of productivity systems for many years I’ve seen systems come and go and most include this in some way. There was the Franklin letter/number system. GTD has contexts. I’ve seen recent articles advocating more expansion of tags to include energy, passion and others.
Is metadata tagging worth the time to do it? One thing I can’t stand about Omnifocus and Things is the number of taps it takes to enter metadata on iOS. I have tried to minimize this time investment by using Taskpaper with Textexpander. I have snippets that expand to sets of context tags. For example typing “t1m” expand to “@AAA @1 @m” which is a priority one task to be done today on the mac. Very fast tags.
I find, however, in practical experience, that I don’t end up leveraging these tags on the back end like I could. Perhaps that makes it not worth my time to do it in the first place. I most frequently use my mac-related tag “@m” when I am seated at the computer. I rarely filter by priority. Why? I already know what is important with or without a quick glance at the list. I also like my “@AAA” tag which is my designataion for today’s list. That allows me to see my actionable stuff for today and prevents me from feeling overwhelmed by the size of the global list.
Mark Forster’s Autofocus system advocates scanning pages of tasks to see what stands out. I have always found this to be interesting. I think I agree with what I believe to be an underlying assumtion of this method: our brains know what needs to be done and are able to consider, in real-time, any number of related elements such as our energy level, our passions, our priorities, our deadlines.
Maybe simple list apps like Clear have a good thing going in being too simple to allow tagging.
My wife writes task lists on paper, or her hand on days she needs to and just works from an inner list on the other days. She has no formal productivity system. She is as productive as anyone I know.
Perhaps I will back off of all this tagging and trust my brain more.
I usually use Taskpaper. However, it does not have repeating task capability. Also, new apps have arrived such as Checkmark which appear intriguing. I decided to do a search for other todo apps. I had never used any apps which sync with Toodledo, thinking that a web interface was suboptimal. I decided to consider new apps including those that sync with that service.
This app is centered around the idea of geolocated lists rather than individually geolocated tasks. The GPS was not especially accurate for me. It lacks repeating tasks. The user interface is very nice and it is well designed. It will not accept a task without a location. So, in the end, this is a very narrow task app at present.
This app is intriguing in that has a Mac app with which to sync. The design is nice. It is a simple list of tasks any of which can be repeating. There is snooze functionality. Tasks only appear in the pulldown list of notification Center if there is an alarm pending.
Syncs with Reminders on Mountain Lion. No snooze feature. Must drill down into multiple menus. Strong Siri integration but cannot use Siri to add both a custom list and a reminder date. Can add tags to tasks in the task name (i.e., @home) and then search based on tags (home brew).
This is an alarm app which has natural language input capability. In my experience the recurring task options are limited, and the check off process is more extensive than it should be.
A robust, mature app. There are many options for each todo. There are repeat tasks. It synchronizes with Toodledo, or an Appigo server. There is a Mac client. This is a very capable app. One must constantly drill down into menus, though.
I like the hierarchal capabilities. Tasks can be indented with a thumb swipe. Repeating items are possible. It syncs with Google tasks, Toodledo, and their own proprietary server. I don’t like the denim theme. The fields for data are too tall. There is a way to link devices apparently via a web connection.
This app has a calendar which I initially thought would be the iCal calendar. However, it appears to be a freestanding, isolated calendar. I’m not interested in a calendar that does not synchronize with the Mac desktop so minus points for that. Apparently changed owners recently.
Has a wood theme that I don’t necessarily care for. There are other themes which would not be as annoying. Has a calendar on the bottom half of the agenda portion of the application but the day fields seem crowded. The app can do start and due dates. In order to repeat, or set a priority, the todo must be created and then re-selected to add more metadata. The feel of the app is like another operating system – not very Apple-esque.
I love the quick input of this app. There are not a lot of levels within which to drill down. It has repeat tasks. Tasks can be organized into folders. There are no tags. This app cannot handle projects and contexts. It is fast and nimble. Synchronizes with Toodledo. There is no way to filter out completed todos without deleting them.
I did not favor apps that deviated too far into fringe design, odd themes, or constricted or too large of data fields (ActionAgenda, Pocket Lists, To-do Plus 2). I did not like the apps that required endless tapping into different screens to set repeats, dates, notes, and other - this is a time waster in my opinion (Todo, Reminders). Some had too narrow of functionality (Alert Notes, Checkmark). My two favorites:
ezTodo - I liked the speedy feel of the app and the one-page-data-entry method. It syncs with Toodledo which I am not sold on, though.
Due - this is a well-designed and simple app. The stock settings of reminders and “auto snooze” are annoying as can be but once these are purged, it can serve as a reminder app outside of another GTD app. I tried the Mac app and it is well-designed also. The iCloud sync is fast. The timers are useful for Pomodoro-esque productivity sessions.
I am still using Taskpaper (GTD, contexts, projects, speed, quick entry, quick app use, flat text file) and have now added Due (repeats and timers). Things 2 just dropped and I also have not yet used Reminders on Mountain Lion1. However, both suffer from the deal-breaker I found in Things previously: a high tap count (tap, tap, tap, tap and screen after screen after screen and it never ends…).
1Reports of decreased battery life under Mountain Lion have be waiting on the sidelines with Lion until there is an update.