Recently I started playing around with different systems, making different changes to how I work. This should surprise exactly no one. Long story short, I’m reading Getting Things Done for the first time:1 not just passively reading and finding little hacks, but rather studying the material. I’m reading it very slowly; I’m using iBooks, highlighting passages and taking notes in various places on how it applies to me. So many people swear by the system, and I want to see what this system could do for me. With all that I have going on, I wanted to make sure that I have a handle on anything and everything that needs to get done.
One of the things that has resonated with me so far is that the system isn’t about just one task app. The notion that you can only utilize one of those apps often gets lost on people; the idea that a single task manager will solve all of your needs 100% of the time is a falsehood, even if someone tells you that “This task app is the best ever!” — even if that someone is me . Your needs change, your roles change, your life changes. Things need to evolve as you do.
From the book:
Your life is more complex than any single system can describe or coordinate…
Single system. You might need multiple as your life changes. You will, at the very least, need multiple parts for the system: a task manager, a calendar, email, and even some long-term reference storage. This could be all in a single app, but more than likely, it will be multiple apps. Sure, in the grand scheme of it, having multiple sources is really hard when it comes to conducting a weekly review and making sure you capture all of your tasks; it puts the onus on the user to review multiple places, which some can find difficult. Due to constraints at my workplace, I need to use two task managers to get my life sorted out as part of my system. This works for me if I am diligent about my weekly reviews; the weekly review is vital to making sure you don’t miss anything, and you need to be relentless about conducting them. The weekly review is one of the key elements to a successful system, and I’ve been able to set up weekly reviews utilizing reminders for both work and personal, and I’m getting through life mostly unscathed.
One of the keys to the GTD methodology is capture. It works best when you have a single, trusted place for capture, so that you can process everything later: this is your Inbox. So while I could use any app to input tasks — like 2Do or OmniFocus or Reminders or Todoist or [insert app name here] — the important part for me is to set up my system so that the inbox for capture is the same. So that it’s muscle memory. As it turns out, I have the muscle memory for this already: Drafts. As it is a permanent member of my dock, and that’s where 99% of everything text related starts already, it makes total sense for me to use this as the GTD Inbox with my system. I utilize the app for so much, and I was doing most of this already. But one thing I wasn’t doing was really utilizing it in the best possible way.
Before, I would write tasks down in a draft. Sending to a singular app is easy. Then, when I bifurcated my system and utilized one app for work and one app for home, I created separate lists to send over with actions for each list. But the separation was really hard for me to keep when I started trying to think of everything that I needed to get done in my personal and professional lives. In episode 3 of the GTD podcast, David Allen — the man behind the method — guides you through a mind sweep. I recommend sitting down and listening to the episode, and highly suggest you follow along. When I went through it the first time, I listened through it and often paused the episode when he mentioned certain things that triggered some tasks or actions that I needed to remember. I’ve done it a few times now, and each time I’ve thought of at least five additional items – some even larger projects – that I needed to ensure are in my system.
You might think that you need to use a singular task management app for this to work effectively. But through the power of Drafts’ ability to tie into multiple apps, you can make it so that you can effectively do the mind sweep, and send things to where they need to go if you use more than one. For multiple reasons, I will need to keep a separate system for work so that I can process tasks on my work machine. But chaining things together in the right way will allow me to keep both task managers in my system, and really focus on capturing.
If I were to use a single system, the Drafts Action Directory is filled with great actions that can send various bits of the text —
[[selection]], etc. — and create tasks simply. I most often use
[[selection]] in my actions; if nothing is selected, it defaults to
[[draft]] and grabs the entire contents. If I’m in a meeting taking notes, I can quickly grab each task out of that meeting and send them to Todoist, my work system. If I have an upcoming business trip that I need to make sure I have something packed for, I can send that over to my
ever evolving personal system. I can add a calendar event or send an email. If I need to store some text for reference, I can even send it over to DEVONthink. You get the idea.
Even when I use a split task system, I can utilize multiple actions and send items to the apps I need them to go. However, to help better facilitate sending the mind sweep of my tasks all at once to other places, I created a simple workflow that takes the draft text as the input, then allows you to parse the tasks line-by-line into the system of choice.2 I don’t need to think only of home, work, or family oriented tasks in separate ways when sweeping; I can think of everything in my life all at once, and send it where that needs to be. Not only can I send to multiple places, the workflow allows me to tinker with multiple apps to broaden my knowledge and experience.
What I’m finding out the more I get through the book is that even though I am using multiple-app system, I’m using as many apps as I need and as few as I can get by with. This reduces my mental overhead, and allows me to focus on the task(s) at hand; it’s always there, always available, no matter where I am. Most importantly, I trust in it to work for me, so that all of the people around me at home and work can rely on me. As I continue to read and learn more, I’m hoping that this sparks some more ideas to apply the methodologies I’m learning. No matter what systems I try, no matter what new methods I am experimenting with, at the center of all of it is the foundation for my productivity: Drafts.
- If you’ve read the book, or are a guru of this stuff, bear with me on all of this. You’re probably going to think I’m really late to the party, and you’re right — but I’m glad I’m expanding my knowledge. ↩
- The workflow contains four such apps that I have used, but you could use whatever works for you. I made this simple example, but it can be done a number of different ways and you can make it customizable for your needs. You can add calendar, email, or reference storage to this as well. ↩