GTD Update

So after trying out a bunch of different GTD apps, I’ve gone back to using “Thinking Rock”:1 as it’s the closest fit to how I imagine a GTD app should work. I can enter to-do items by project, then view them by date or by context. Thinking Rock automatically saves my actions periodically and backs them up, and even auto-saves a calendar file of my actions that iCal automatically imports. Finally, a short, custom perl script runs periodically to convert any action I haven’t set a time for into an ‘all day’ item for iCal.

With this setup I can see my list chronologically within Thinking Rock, which helpfully displays overdue items in red, today’s items are blue, while future items are green. I can sort the list by context, or just show a single context. I’ve got it set up so that it only shows me the next 7 days worth of items, thankfully hiding that March dentist appointment until the week before it happens. iCal gives me a calendar view, which I can look at by week, month or day. I usually leave it open to the current week, then periodically review the entire month and future months.

To capture items I use the kNotes widget if I’m at the computer, or a moleskine pocket notebook (with a slim bookmark pen inside that I discovered at Barnes and Noble). The moleskine is useful for capturing actions (pick up stamps soon) as well as notes to myself (books I need to research, or a word to be looked up).

For the most part this system works well for me, keeps me on top of the various things I need to do. I am far more organized than I was a year ago, and remembering meetings, commitments, milestones and other actions has never been easier.

Tracks: Ruby on Rails Meets GTD

I love it when two of my interests collide, and when it’s two fresh new interests that’s even better. The theme for this entire week as been Getting Things Done, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time collecting and organizing the things I need to do. I’ve also been curious about Ruby On Rails, a cool new tool for web development.

It turns out that there’s a GTD tool written using Rails called Tracks that does a great job of tracking projects, next actions and contexts. It’s free and it runs on my PowerBook, both big plusses as well.

Tracks was written to do GTD, which it does really well. Adding a new Next Action item (say “call to order a gate for the fence”) is as easy as clicking on the “Add the next action” link and typing it. Optionally you can add more details about that Next Action: you can attach a longer note to it, give it a due date, assign it to a project (Pool Fence Project), or give the action a context where it can be done (“next time I’m at the phone”). It’s easy to edit all three GTD pieces: Next Actions, Projects and Contexts, and to check off items as they’re completed. And it’s easy to print out the current state of things, so you can carry your To Do list in your pocket and leave the computer at home.

I’ve been keeping Tracks open in a browser tab, so it’s quick to switch to it and keep my To Do list up to date. So far Tracks has been trouble-free, and it’s way more fun to use than the Palm Desktop software (which was replaced by Tracks after just one day of using it to do GTD).

The downside of Tracks is that it’s still pretty geeky to set up, as you need use Terminal and set up a mySQL database. There was also a conflict between Tracks and Instiki (which also uses Rails), but I found a quick fix for that little problem.

It’s interesting that I’m relying more and more on browser-based tools like Instiki and Tracks to keep track of my life. They run on my machine and I don’t have to be connected to the net to use them.

*Update Oct 6*
Woke up way too early this morning and decided Tracks was running too slow as a CGI under Apache, so I installed Lighttpd and FastCGI per These instructions, but it barfed on the @sudo gem install fastcgi@ step, til I ran across this solution:

sudo gem install fcgi -- --with-fcgi-include=/opt/local/include --with-fcgi-lib=/opt/local/lib

Getting Things Done

I just went to David Allen’s seminar GTD: The RoadMap and I’m already implementing a few of his ideas. As much as I want to be on top of my To Do List, I have to admit that there is a part of me that takes comfort in only being vaguely aware of what I need to do. That part seems to be a defense mechanism to keep me from feeling overwhelmed by all the things that need doing. If I had a system in place to get those things done, however, there would be no more need to play that game with myself, and (according to David) I could attain a Zen-like state of “mind like water.” Now that would be nice.

What he says does make a lot of sense, and I know only too well how lousy my brain is at keeping track of what I need to to, and I rely on a number of lists to help me remember what to do when. GTD says to make a list of “next actions,” organize it by where the actions need to be done (can only do home things when I’m home, for instance), review it every week or two and keep it up to date, and look at it as often as you need to get things done.

I realized today that I have far fewer projects, loose ends and Things To Do than if I worked in the corporate world, and I feel pretty grateful for that.

An excellent seminar, I’d highly recommend it. Now to get everyone I know to take it 😉

**Update Oct 3**
Hey, this stuff really works! I knocked a good half dozen things off my list today, including sending out invoices to clients and a running a bunch of errands. It was actually pretty easy, just a matter of paying attention to what needs to be done. I picked up a pocket-sized moleskine notebook to carry around with me, it’s great for writing down things I need to remember (and would otherwise probably forget), ideas, etc.