Choosing the right tools for your process
I wound up preferring one system over another. In this case, Toodledo (a service I'll dissect in a later post). Todo and The Hit List and even lowly iCal are great, but since the majority of my inbox items fly at me in a work context, I simply wound up using Toodledo more often. That simple cognitive shift of changing to another system wound up enough of a barrier to me to discontinue my hacked-together system. Oh, and it didn't help that my hacked system didn't work right.
The Hit List is a very powerful tool, and iCal works great with my MobileMe account. The hack to sync the two with Todo, also a terrific piece of software, only works so well. My second piece of advice this week: avoid hacked solutions unless you can fix them easily. This goes back to truly learning your system. If you can code your own apps and craft your own workflow, more power to you. If you can't, admit that you won't be able to fix things and look for a total solution elsewhere.
Case in point: so-called Kinkless GTD. Remember this one? I loved it. Add items via QuickSilver into a special, fragile OmniOutliner Pro document and all sorts of magical things happened. Unfortunately, the system was fragile as a glass kitten. Once it blew up on me once, I never got it working again, and had to unlearn a number of methods for capturing and completing tasks. That is not the way to get things done. But the toolset was beyond my capacity to fix it. So take a lesson from Star Trek and don't become dependent upon a tool you can't fathom. Or, at the least, find something with support documentation.
Next I'll show you some questions to ask when evaluating tools.
Think about how you process items, how you deal with stuff like appointments, to do's and so forth. If it helps, write down where you collect things, or how you process items. Do you use Outlook? Do you have an iPhone? Are you always carrying notecards?
Aside from processing, how do you actually get things done? If you schedule blocks of time to do things, look for a tool with powerful scheduling capabilities. If your time is less structured, look for something that'll take good notes and cross reference them with tasks. Are you detail-oriented? Are you a keyboard shortcut addict? All of these minutia will impact what tool you use. I'm not saying to ignore the precepts of whatever GTD system you're wanting to use, but I am saying that you should consider fitting the tools into your process in the best fit possible.
Example: a commenter suggested I take a look at GTDagenda. I did, and it looks great. Unfortunately it doesn't sync with anything I use, and there's no iPhone app with offline access, so there's no chance I can use it in my workflow.
Now consider this:
- How often do you access the tools your GTD system will run on? If you only use your phone for calls, don't worry about choosing a tool with mobile apps unless you are dedicated to changing your habits. Being able to input and process your tasks in the tools you choose will encourage usage and success.
- How frequently are you in the most critical contexts? In other words, how often are you in the @office or @home? Choose a tool that will carry across those contexts if possible.
- What is the cost associated with using this tool? Yes, maybe it's a subscription (I happily paid Toodledo $15 for a year's worth of service). Or maybe it's just the mental overhead of a cumbersome system. Look for tools with the least amount of effort for the maximum amount of detail and flexibility. This part, in itself, is a process.
- A trash system, with a way to recover completed items.
- A reference system, or some way to link to reference materials.
- A method for tracking pending items
- A scheduler for recurring items.
- Flexibility to sync across multiple platforms and devices.