BitDepth 575 - May 08

I continue to try to get my work in order using David Allen's Getting Things Done method...
Still trying to get things done

Thinking Rock is a good place to start exploring the world of personal organisation.

Regular readers of this column will be aware of my interest and flirtation with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system for managing your time and workload.
The challenge of Allen’s system is its rigor, you have to commit to working with the system in a serious way if you hope to gain its benefits and most of us GTD flirts have more stories about falling off the wagon than having successful rides to personal organisation.

The fundamental premise of Allen’s system is the merit-worthy concept of moving things you need to do out of your head (which is a mercurial place to keep critical information) into what the guru describes as a trusted record, a smarter kind of to-do.
From there, tasks are logged according to project and moved to “next actions,” inviting you to work on them immediately if that makes sense or placing them in a suitable queue for attention, depending on whether they require outside input or just need more time than you have available at the moment.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone trained formally in project management, but the rest of us have to muddle along trying to make sense of the chaos of work and daily life.

Several enterprising GTDers have created templates for what has come to be called the Hipster PDA, a pack of loosely bound cards kitted out with preprinted forms that channel your inner chaos into something usable.
Part of the problem, for me, at least, is the fact that I do so much of my work at a computer and the right tools for me need to be built from code, not paper.
I need reminders that popup and harass me and lists I can add to while I work.
I’ve tried with Kinkless GTD, a collection of scripts embedded in an Omni Outliner document which can, with more effort than I’ve given it, put your thoughts in order.

Now I’m working with Bartlomiej Bargiel’s iGTD, which solves a crucial part of the organisation puzzle for me, allowing a single entry to be categorized quickly into appropriate projects, and contexts, the GTD way of grouping things which are done in a particular place or mode of operation together.
That way, all your phone calls appear in an “@ phone” context and tasks done using a computer appear in the “@ computer” context.
While this sort of thing seems blindingly obvious when you see it in practice, it isn’t so easy to do when you’re constructing a list from scratch or using a bolted together solution.
GTD hopefuls can access several potential problem solving websites designed to provide online access to GTD organisation.

These solutions include Nozbe, 37 Signals and GTD Tracks, which offer a dynamic way to access your information from any computer. GTD Inbox is a Firefox extension that works with GMail to add organising features to your Google based mail. Web-based solutions work best for folks who prefer that kind of dynamic access, but I get nervous when my data isn’t right in front of me always.
For anyone who wants to invest a few hours each week in a GTD system but have reservations about the quality of their connection to the Internet, there are fewer tools available.

Outlook users might want to try the official Outlook Add-in from the David Allen Company, which adds a GTD specific toolbar to Outlook and turns the mail and task organiser into a way of processing tasks according to the Allen method.
Easy Task Manager (USD$19.99) runs on both Windows and the Mac as does Thinking Rock, a freeware, java-based application that rigorously applies GTD principles.
There are, surprisingly, more and sleeker applications dedicated to the principles of GTD available on the Mac than there are built for Windows.

Apart from iGTD, an excellent freeware product that lacks only in its ability to print the data it captures, there is the elegantly designed InBox (US$35), from Midnight Beep software and the confusing Hotplan (US$16) from Intuiware.
This abundance of riches doesn’t include the eagerly awaited OmniFocus under development at the Omni Group or the many other task managers that can be made to work with GTD with some planning.
Much of this wealth of organisational software on the Mac is enabled by the robust SQL database now included with Mac OS 10.4, and many web based organisers work on Web 2.0 Ruby on Rails and Tracks engines.

But anyone hoping to apply David Allen’s principles of organisation need not worry about those details. The result of all this database backbone work is a sudden rush to market of products designed to help you work more efficiently.
If you have the time to work on your to-do list, there is no shortage of software available to support you.

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