In other words, it often takes takes some degree of sophistication (effort, mindfulness, deliberation, analysis, naked truthfulness to ourselves ...) to arrive at something that really is simple to use, that simply works when you need it, and that simply frees you from all the work and frustration you wanted to rid yourself of in the first place.
I often think, half seriously, that maybe I should go back to using paper. With paper so much of all this is so simple. If I want to draw a triangle or a tree, I just draw one, or maybe I want to mark something red or draw a long green line connecting two things. That simplicity (flexibility) eliminates a lot of the thinking about how to fit our thinking into some mold created by a software designer.
What gets us (me, at least) "unhappily hooked" to computer based systems is their existing and potential capabilities to display the same stuff from different angles without having to rewrite everything. I have at times considered creating a really simple "software" GTD system myself based on Excel or Evernote or Workflowy, but I have come to the belief that it would probably take me more time to create even a clunky implementation than I would later save, and would be particularly "unprofitable" compared to simply enduring the rigidities of the least-worst of the commercially available apps. Unfortunately these seldom have managed to get "the edges coherent and intact. For the messy times." (That's a very good quote!)
Please let us know here how Evernote works out for you. I just might consider trying that myself, if I can see that it will be simple. Good luck.
Giggling ... I suppose you are referring to my "parasequential" idea.
You know, it is funny how difficult it can be to make oneself understood, and especially perhaps when we are trying to be smart and political about it. Let me tell you the full story, just as an anecdote, in case you are interested:
The thing that matters to me is not the automation. That hardly matters at all. Honestly.
What matters to me is that if I have a project with a whole bunch of tasks in it, then typically not all of them should be visible on the Next list (or on the Waiting For list or on any other list). The rest should be visible only within the project. Only those that are truly relevant/possible right now should be visible elsewhere. I know you agree. You have said so before. And this is GTD straight up.
Now, the funny thing (sad thing, really) is that none of the so-called GTD apps has any form of functionality whatsoever built in to specifically handle this in a smooth way (without using workarounds or compromises). They typically do not even recognize the underlying GTD principle.
Now, enter a "political" dimension that I have seen a number of times, and here is a recent example. I stumbled upon an old discussion in Doit's forum, where a rare few people had been demanding exactly this manual capability for years, and still are. And guess what. Not only was their idea not appreciated by their fellow users. The Doit team themselves had no clue what they were talking about, and said they have no such plans whatsoever. But at the very same time, other people in other threads on the Doit forum have requested automatic one-by-one progression "just like Omnifocus and Nirvana", in order to hide the not-yet-relevant tasks, and guess what: Their fellow users just love the idea, and the Doit team declared happily that they have something like that underway already and that they call it "task dependency".
So my dilemma was this. There seems to be very little recognition of the fundamentals of GTD projects (what goes on the Next list and what doesn't), but there seems to be quite a lot of enthusiasm for automating them and thereby hiding the "undesired" tasks. And automation certainly could solve my fundamental GTD problem, too, indirectly, if only it is done right. I cannot use Nirvana's, though, because it only promotes one a time and I cannot manually make additional tasks visible. I would hate to see even more developers going down exactly that too-narrow road (even though others are asking for it).
So I decided to promote the "parasequential" concept - sequential-automatic (just like Nirvana, and what people are asking for), but with a whole parallel bucket in front (not necessarily just one single task; which is what I and some others recognize that we need), and where you can move tasks as you wish between the two sections, and where new tasks land in the parallel section by default so as not to be inadvertently hidden from view. I quite like this concept even for my own use, but that's more of a lucky coincidence - it was more intended as a way to fuse a number of different user requirements into one single feature request (equally simple to use, I dare say, serves a wider variety of needs, and thereby also obviates the need for additional related features and requests later). But apparently I have come across to you as Mr. Automation, which is quite funny
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ― Confucius
I may come back in a month and post my results if it appears anyone is interested. If not, I'll simply say that the intelligent discourse here has been instrumental in helping me identify what's been in my way and see a solution. The exchange of ideas has been worthwhile even if I walked away still passionately disagreed with someone. Thanks, all.
I'd be interested in hearing more about your wunderlist experiment . Lack of Siri integration is probably the biggest deal breaker for me .
I've been forced to admit to myself that I've been talking a good game about GTD while in actual practice my GTD ecosystem is full of huge gaps and a staggering backlog of unprocessed stuff. I kept telling myself, "Hey, it's OK because I know I just need one more weekend and this time I'll get it right."
I say "false" because whenever reality serves up the unexpected as it always does, these preciously complex systems fall apart like a house of cards in a stiff breeze.
I've been kidding myself over the past couple of years. To paraphrase DA; I was 'dealing with things when they blow up rather than when they show up. '
I am feeling overwhelmed with my work and personal commitments. I've attempted multiple restarts of GTD, jumping in with both feet. The first evening of a restart, I'm feeling great. Smash cut to 5 days later, my systems are out of date and I now just have yet another out of date placeholder for incomplete information.
Enough of this.
A few days ago I went back to basics. A Google spreadsheet, separate tabs for Projects/actions etc. Is it the most efficient list manager? Probably not. What I do know is I'm in no position to comment until I've worked the system to try and achieve that mind-like-water. I can't remember if it was a DA quote, but I do like this one: "The system works if you work the system".
Kudos bcmyers2112 for aligning my focus as we reboot. I look forward to reading your up-and-coming posts.
Soleo--please keep us posted too on how you're doing with your new restart. Back to basics is a good motto. Get by with as complex a system as you need, but as simple as you can. Simple spreadsheets have served many people very well. We're here to support you along with many wonderful members on these forums.
Anyway, I think I've found the ultimate GTD app: my brain. As long as my lists represent a complete inventory of my commitments I can trust my mind to connect the dots. In fact, I think I have to because today's world is so fast and fluid that the larger picture -- the gestalt -- can change moment to moment.
Yes, well said! This is the point I reached also. I got caught up for a while trying to find the perfect GTD software but it just does not exist. All I needed was a system that allowed me to record the basics so I don't forget commitments, and that was fun to use, i.e. a good UI and with as little input friction as possible. I then allow my brain to "connect the dots" as you say, which is what it's good at (and software generally isn't).
I used to set up projects with long lists of tasks but now just put in the next action, and sometimes the one after that if it's obvious. That was liberating and it works because my brain can deduce what needs to happen after that when the time comes. It's so easy to over-complicate things, and sometimes the app you use encourages this with all the bells and whistles provided.
I intended to quote myself here, but cannot remember which thread I wrote it in, so I'll summarize it again
I think quite a bit of our confusion with apps etc comes from our not being quite clear about what part of our lives we are trying to computerize, i.e. which parts of our whole thinking and memory and written material is it that we are trying to map into our task app. And the computer adds new possibilities that we did not have before, which can be both for better and for worse.
In the 80's I had lots of different lists and plans (and a shelf full of reference material, and further reference material elsewhere). I did not experience the same kind of problems that I have now. It was not better then, but the problems were of a different nature.
As for me, something I have ruled out completely (but many have not, as you can see in all task app forums) is reference material. My task app is just for things that I will or might do, not for things that I need to remember later or have available while doing. That takes one big burden of my chest (compared with all those who are fretting about not having Evernote and Dropbox integration etc). In fact, I want my reference material to be separate, standalone. I want a robust reference system that I can trust, and I want to keep it organized in such a way that I can always find the stuff I need regardless of which task app or task lists I am using or none at all. And this is how I do it, and always have.
So for me the "mapping" problem comes down to this: I used to have a few short-term miscellaneous lists, more or less like short-term Next-by-Context lists. I also used to have "plans" for various longer-term efforts (projects or goals etc of various kinds). I like to get things off my mind and into written form, always have.
In the old days I would then move or copy selected things from the "plans" onto the short-term lists, or work straight off the "plan". Theoretically, I could do the same thing today, and use a simple list app (such as Wunderlist etc) for my short term miscellaneous lists, while relying on paper or Word or Workflowy etc for my various "plans". That would certainly work. It would be almost exactly the same "system" as I had in the 80's, now computerized, and with no integration between short-term lists and other "plans". But this is the part that I find hard to tolerate. Seeing the computer in front of me, knowing its potential, it is hard for me to accept that I would have to sit and enter the same "todo statements" first in a "planning document" and subsequently transfer it to a "short-term document". I prefer these to be in the same app, and this is something we definitely can get today. Apps such as Nirvana, Doit, Zendone and many others make it possible to keep it all together, short term todos and longer-term efforts such as projects or goals all in one. The main thing that is missing in these apps is a bit of "clarity" - how all this stuff fits together, what is a part of what, what do you want to see right now, etc. It easily gets messy. We are very near, yet still so far away ...
By the way I seem to recall you from the Toodledo forums. Am I remembering correctly? I also remember Folke from the Toodledo, Nirvana, and IQTELL forums. I used to haunt Toodledo's and IQTELL's forums myself.
Yes, I used Toodledo for over two years and posted on the forums a lot. Toodledo has some nice features, like being able to turn off fields that you don't want to use. However the UI was kinda old-looking and cumbersome, and the iOS apps were terrible in my opinion so I used Todo on iOS synced with Toodledo.
The reason I left Toodledo was that I desperately wanted a few things that it couldn't do, and that the admin seemed completely disinclined to even consider. For example:
- an Inbox (rather than having to use the "no folder" folder)
- manual sorting of tasks (drag & drop only worked for subtasks)
- simple & logical parent/subtask behaviour
Many users were asking for these things (and more) over a number of years but the standard response was always "it's on our list". Curiously, Toodledo would regularly release new features that no-one ever asked for. When challenged about this, the developer admitted that he developed features that he found "interesting". I got tired of that so moved on.
I spent time evaluating Nirvana but the lack of an iOS version, missing features and general complexity kept me away from it. Thankfully Appigo released a web-version of their app which was simple and tightly integrated with the iOS versions (compared with syncing Toodledo to Todo which wasn't so tidy).
Anyway, I think I've found the ultimate GTD app: my brain. As long as my lists represent a complete inventory of my commitments I can trust my mind to connect the dots.
I think you are right!
Many years ago, prior to 2007, we discussed this issue on this board ad nauseam. In those days the software tools for list management as well as the hardware (no iPhone) weren't there yet. So, the question as to how best to link NAs to projects was a constant topic.
We invariably would reach the same conclusion as you did: the brain connects the dots allright.
The reason I left Toodledo was that I desperately wanted ...... an Inbox
ROFL. Please don't be offended. I fully respect that requirement, but it is so fun looking back at how we ended up where we are now that I want to share an anecdote.
I first heard of GTD probably around 2009 or 2010. And it was on the Toodledo forums. And it was precisely this request I always heard, about the Inbox. I didn't know anything at all about GTD except this - a philosophy built solely around having an Inbox, it seemed
And it was one of the silliest things I had ever heard. I have so many inboxes already (email, SMS, letters, coasters, what have you) - why on earth would I need yet another one in my task app? So my first impression of GTD was distinctly skewed.
Another, similarly hyped, thing was the "inbox zero" concept. Have you ever heard about the gorgeous concept of "two-legged walking"? To me, zero inbox sounded equally intelligent. Stating the obvious and making a big deal about it. How else would I walk, if not on two legs. How else would I manage my email, if not by dealing with it?
Do you want to know what made me notice GTD as late as in 2011, and thereafter quickly go looking for a GTD app? It was when I discovered, on the Toodledo forums, that GTD was cautious with dates, just like I have always been, and which has been something that has always made me feel a bit alienated from the rest of humanity. I felt that maybe here finally I have people of my own kind, and apps to go with it.
I have never really used dates much, except for a brief period in the late 90's when I moved from paper to electronic (Outlook) and found no other way to get my lists in some kind of half-sensible order. Up until then I simply did not use dates, except if they were objective or agreed facts, but never for planning purposes. After my failure with Outlook I became distinctly "anti-date". It gets so messy. You have to keep changing the dates all the time. And (depending on your app) you tend not to be able to see the difference between a "true date" and a "planned date". So I was happy to find GTD, and feel thankful to David Allen every day for taking all the trouble of formulating and promoting a consistent philosophy around this - which increases my chances of eventually getting a good app for it one fine day.
The other big thing I like about GTD is that it uses a process of elimination, something that feels very natural to me, and which I do often in all kinds of situations. The way that GTD, during processing, "eliminates" things that you cannot do now, and sorts them into different piles depending on what the problem is, is exactly how I like to go about it. Things you are not even sure about you put Someday/Maybe. Things that others will do you put in Waiting. Things that will become possible only after certain other things have been completed you put after those other things in a project. And things that you cannot even assess at this stage, only after a certain date, you put in the Tickler file. Brilliant.
What I would wish for, both in GTD itself, and in GTD apps, is the capability to continue using this process of elimination also when checking the Next list for suitable things to do. All apps are geared towards "pick this" filtering. To me that is often totally unnatural and random - except if I specifically want to find tasks to do while on errands or when I have John on the line, but normally it is not like that. I usually have several tags (context requirements, energy requirements etc) that are perfectly possible right now. It feels random and backward to filter for just one in particular, or for several in succession and compare. It is much more natural and easy for me to eliminate all those contexts etc that are clearly unacceptable, and then choose between those that remain.
Anyway, I think I've found the ultimate GTD app: my brain. As long as my lists represent a complete inventory of my commitments I can trust my mind to connect the dots.
I think the implied conclusion may be a bit too far-reaching.
It is absolutely true that the brain can connect the dots. The computer certainly cannot connect any dots for you.
But it may well be a total waste of time to keep re-connecting the same dots over and over. I like to review my stuff, but when I do I prefer to focus on creative things like finding new avenues forward or realizing things that I had forgotten to even list, not on re-understanding things that I had already understood several times but had forgotten.
For example, if you have a little GTD project with tasks such as "Hammer nail into wall", "Climb ladder" and "Raise ladder" it will certainly speed up subsequent reviews if, when you first realize that there is a natural sequence between these tasks, you can arrange the tasks in the right order (or mark their sequential dependency in some other way). It helps you verify that nothing is missing.
Or when, for the first time, you realize that this particular little project can be regarded as a part of a larger project on your list, then it will speed up subsequent reviews if you can make a visible note of this fact somehow, such as by placing them hierarchically.
The initial connection of the dots certainly must be done by the brain. The subsequent repetitive re-connection of those same dots can be sped up significantly by having the adequate means available to support your memory.
As I said in an earlier post, a lot depends on whether you are aiming to manage only your short-term lists, or if you are also trying to keep your longer-term projects and goals in the same app. In the former case, you may not need much much "re-connection assistance" whereas in the latter case, when stuff is going to sit on your list for ages, you could save a lot of time by simply making the lists easier to re-read.
I'm pretty sure you and I aren't going to see eye-to-eye on this.
I agree that it certainly does not seem likely that we will choose teh same approach, and there is nothing wrong in that.
But was perhaps hoping that I had managed to nail down what our differences really boil down to. For example, I do not think that either of us want to make things complicated. We both want "it" as simple as possible in our own minds. "It". I think, to rephrase what I have already said, that maybe the fundamental difference is what "it" is.
If you will pardon a very simplistic description, we just might be able to agree, roughly, that the real difference is whether we prefer a 1-app or a 2-app approach to implementing the lower levels of GTD.
We both have the more immediate (lower level; runway) stuff to deal with, and some recurring ticklers, and maybe a bit more. Then on top of that we may have goals or major projects etc that aim maybe a couple of years into the future. The difference is whether we want two different apps for these "different" things or just one. Both approaches I would say have comparable complexity/simplicity, but in different ways.
The 2-app approach, which I think is what you favor, has the advantage that you can choose apps much more freely for each of these, say Wunderlist for the short-term stuff and Workflowy or Word for the longer-term plans. And that also makes it possible for you to replace one without replacing the other. In principle, this is how I used to do it in the pre-computer days, and I even now sometimes consider perhaps reverting to it. There is nothing wrong with this approach at all. I know it works well. All it takes is a bit of cut-and-paste, and some app switching.
The 1-app approach, which is what I had wrongly assumed we are all looking for, and which I am still trying to use despite the various shortcomings of the now commercially available apps, has the advantage that you organize your short-term stuff immediately by what longer-term purpose it serves, and you can have the longer-term goals etc visible in the same view, say left menu, while you have your day-to-day stuff on the rest of the screen. This give me some mental comfort. And you might save yourself some pasting and app switching, too. You definitely need more functionality to cover all this in one app - fewer apps available. Om the other hand there is only one app to master.
So, there are different pros and cons. I honestly cannot say that one approach is objectively better overall. But what I think I can say with reasonable objectivity is that for the 2-app approach you do not need much in terms of hierarchies etc in the short-term app (and you do not need much automation or tagging etc in the long term-app - probably just some simple hierarchical outlining capabilities), whereas for the 1-app approach both hierarchies and daily capabilities have a most fundamental importance.
Does this description sound roughly correct to you? If so, can we agree that what we disagree about is mainly the preference we have for one approach over the other (1-app or 2-app), not really about which kind of app functionality would be most relevant for either of these two approaches, as these will obviously be different.