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  • Areas of Focus

    I am looking for a new GTD software system. I have been looking hard and it's incredible how crowded the market is, and yet none of the products seems to have it all.

    The big sticking point for me is "Areas of Focus". It seems like every app seeds this with "work" and "home", but David's book is very clear that this is the 20,000 foot level, and there are typically 7-10 Areas in each realm of home and work.

    Home and work are still needed in an app, because when I'm off-duty from work I don't want to think about it, and when I'm at work I'm paid to do work and it's inappropriate to be worrying about or futzing with my home tasks. Home and work are more like super-contexts than super-areas.

    OK, so the important thing is that when I'm doing a review, I want to look at each of my Areas of Focus and make sure it contains the right projects to meet my responsibilities in that Area.

    I'm a bit dizzy from looking at task manager apps, but pretty much none of them do this, even though most of them claim to implement GTD. I just don't get what's wrong here. I feel like all the apps are doing runway and 10,000ft and for reviews you are totally on your own.

    Some of the apps have tags, but you still have to work pretty hard to get a view where all the tasks and projects are sorted by the tags in a way that would be helpful during a review.

    Does anyone's favorite app do a good job with this? I'm looking for a Windows or Web app with an Android version.

    Thanks in advance!
    Jason

  • #2
    That's quite a simple one to solve - just start your project names with the AoF. For example, Marketing - Design New Brochure

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    • #3
      Originally posted by jdunham View Post
      I'm looking for a Windows or Web app with an Android version.
      Platform requirements is the primary limiting factor. I would look at Todoist or perhaps Toodledo. I have to say that an explicit area-project-next action hierarchy is not a requirement for list software for gtd, but I think most Mac users do take advantage of what's available.

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      • #4
        Regular hierarchies should be more prevalent

        @jdunham

        I have made the same observations as you, and I think it is sad that most apps are limited to runway and 10,000 ft. There seems to be such a simple and otherwise common solution. They could simply implement a "folder" structure in the left panel, just like Windows Explorer, Google Drive and many other apps.

        I think they should still call these elements "projects" instead of "folders", because that is how they would probably initially be used by most users, but users would be able to use them as AoF containers or Goal containers or whatever - group and map their tasks as high as they want. Or conversely, break larger projects down into subprojects.

        As far as workarounds, yes, like @vbamton says, you can using naming conventions, and or/you can use tags for filtering purposes. This will help to some extent, but you will still have a gigantic left menu. Personally I use a bit of both, and what I do in addition is something that boils down to a "manual" workaround:

        I refuse to have a mile-long list of 10k projects in my left menu. Essentially those are still just "tasks" in the general English sense, and I want a better overview than that. What I have there instead is a bunch of AoFs and a bunch of really large projects and 30 k goals. This gives me the overview I want, but it also means I have only the task level and comment level left to play with for 10 k projects and tasks. That means I would drown in tasks in each of these folders, so I use the task level only for those tasks that are Next or very near etc, but for the more distant (not-yet-possible) things I use the tasks as project containers and list the individual actions and subprojects in the notes, and then manually convert these to tasks (and apply tags etc) when the time is ripe. Clunky, yes, but my personality does not allow me to have long lists either in the left menu or in individual folders - if I cannot grasp the list mentally I go nuts.

        As @mcogilvie says, Todoist is an excellent choice if you want hierarchies, or you can use an outliner such as Workflowy. Unfortunately, neither of these have equally handy features for listing/filtering/viewing as those that call themselves GTD apps. Personally I use Nirvana, and am also looking at Doit and Zendone and others.

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        • #5
          Thanks for the replies, and keep it coming.

          I am fine with prefixing the project names with an AoF, but the current software I'm trying out, Zendone, doesn't sort projects alphabetically, so it doesn't really help in the review.

          @folke keep up the faith, maybe the right app will get written one day. If you find it let us know!

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          • #6
            I'm a mac user myself , but for windows you might check out ; my life organized or Life Balance .
            MLO would be my first choice . I believe you can easily arrange projects in folders with that program .

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            • #7
              I don't know if this would work for you, but I have split out my AoFs into a completely separate mindmapping programme (Freemind). As I look at my AoF mindmaps once every 4-6 weeks, I don't feel the need to have them interlinked within my system in the same way as I like to keep my runway and project lists. I do start each project with an area of focus, but I don't sort them by AoF as my list is on paper so it runs in date order. I find the visual nature of mindmaps works well for my upper horizons.

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              • #8
                Well thanks for the pointers. I am trying Zendone for a while, with a whole bunch of areas rather than the defaults of "home" and "work". Wish me luck!

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                • #9
                  Todoist does exactly what you wish. It uses a simple hierarchy like a computer - toplevel, 1st level is in top level but its own project, 2nd level is in 1st level which is in top level... etc. through to 4 level indentations. For example, here's one setup I have that showcases this: http://chir.me/iPtd . I have a generic "Freelance" top level, in which I keep my broader goals (Create Design Presence, Update Portfolio, etc.). Then, I'm able to break these down into individual projects: For example, in Create Design Presence, I have Create Brand Collateral, Update Portfolio Website, Create Social Media Strategy, and Launch a Side Project. Inside these I have the tasks listed, in order, that I need to complete in order to achieve my goal or finish the project. What's nice is it's true hierarchical data; if I click the Freelance top level, it shows me everything inside of it, broken down by level/project. I can easily choose at which altitude I'd like to view my work.

                  Todoist also uses a combo of Boolean search and its own item types to allow you the ability of viewing whatever combination of tasks you wish. Any combination of any factor can be used to sort your items, so I'm not quite sure where @folke is finding the issue. I've tried Omnifocus, Things, Wunderlist, Any.do, and most other to do apps you can think of, but Todoist is finally that app that hits home for me.

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                  • #10
                    MLO shows the way with hierarchies

                    Originally posted by ext555 View Post
                    I'm a mac user myself , but for windows you might check out ; my life organized or Life Balance .
                    MLO would be my first choice . I believe you can easily arrange projects in folders with that program .
                    Thanks for the tip. Yes, you are right. MLO proves elegantly how simple it can be to implement hierarchies. The trick is, as they have done, to let go of virtually all notions of subtasks, tasks, projects etc etc with different capabilities, and instead just let you arrange "items" with identical capabilities into a tree structure. The lowest level, by definition, will be the "runway" items that are listed for action, whereas all the "items" above are just "containers" that control the sequence of the stuff within them. This is great.

                    But I had a few other issues with MLO. Apart from the fact that it is a very feature-rich program, with a million options to examine and choose from, which is a once-off effort I could probably accept, I did not manage, no matter how I tried for maybe 20 hours all in all, to set up a combination of views and task defaults that would be simple enough to handle on a daily basis. So I gave it up - with a bit of sadness in my heart.

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                    • #11
                      Mindmap?

                      I have a mindmap that has all by 50k, 40k, 30k and 20k. I also brainstorm 10k's that directly relate to one of these. This way I know that every purpose, goal or objective I have ends in one or more relevant (end nodes). End nodes are what I call things I can action - projects, actions (5k), habits (0k).

                      When I'm ready to start a project, then I move it into my list manager.

                      The nice thing about the mindmap is that I can very easily see coverage of all my horizons of focus. If there's a higher level horizon (e.g. professional) that I am feeling some dissatisfaction with, I'll move projects in other horizons to S/M and move or accelerate other projects in the 'Professional' horizon.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by enyonam View Post
                        I have a mindmap that has all by 50k, 40k, 30k and 20k. I also brainstorm 10k's that directly relate to one of these. This way I know that every purpose, goal or objective I have ends in one or more relevant (end nodes). End nodes are what I call things I can action - projects, actions (5k), habits (0k).

                        When I'm ready to start a project, then I move it into my list manager.

                        The nice thing about the mindmap is that I can very easily see coverage of all my horizons of focus. If there's a higher level horizon (e.g. professional) that I am feeling some dissatisfaction with, I'll move projects in other horizons to S/M and move or accelerate other projects in the 'Professional' horizon.
                        Interesting idea. And I actually do a bit of the same already. I adjust the overall effort I spend on different AoRs and higher objectives in order to achieve a good overall balance. But so far I have not tried using a mindmap, not even for the higher levels.

                        What I find a bit difficult to accept, though, and one of the reasons why I moved from paper to computer in the first place (late 90's) is this whole idea of having action-type stuff (lists of big or small thing to get done) spread out in more than one place. I have no problem at all having other documentation spread out (project budgets, contact addresses, mission statements, whatever), but I do have a (psychological) aversion to having action-type stuff spread out in different places just because it has different "levels" or "horizons". A 30 k level objective and a runway task both are concrete things for me to get done, and I intuitively prefer those to be in the same app. And 20 k AoRs are a good organizing principle for 10 k level projects and tasks (even though they never "get done").

                        But maybe a mindmap going down to just 30k/20k would be a possibility for me? Do you have any advice?

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                        • #13
                          Sure ...

                          Originally posted by Folke View Post

                          But maybe a mindmap going down to just 30k/20k would be a possibility for me? Do you have any advice?
                          I think that's absolutely fine. And then your 10k goes in your list manager and you can even reference your 30k and 20k in your project name or entry.

                          I guess I should just clarify that even though I identify projects and actions in my mindmap, I do not think of those as actionable. It's really part of my brainstorm of what I need / could do to accomplish my 50k, 40k, 30k or 20k. So it's there as reference. They are really part of my someday/maybe list. So as part of the Horizons of Focus review I'll move the 10k I want to start working on over to my list manager. I don't ever 'action' them in the mindmap.

                          I do leave a copy in the mindmap because it's a way of tracking my 20k and 30k. This means I have a history of the things I've done for that particular 20k or 30k PLUS a list of potential future 10ks for that 20k or 30k. This is why a list in my list manager did not work for me. In a mindmap, I am able to see what I have done and what I can do for each 40 to 20k items.

                          I do add a hyperlink to each 10k when it ends up in my list manager so I can quickly navigate to the details if I want to. And I keep a reference in my project in my list manager so I quickly reference the related higher levels if I need to.

                          Hope this gave more explanation. I definitely avoid having multiple places for 'stuff'. If I could have my mindmap and list manager in 1 tool, I'd go for that - part barring that, this is what I've found works for me.

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