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My Analysis of using the most popular tools for GTD - Outlook, Evernote, OneNote, etc

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  • My Analysis of using the most popular tools for GTD - Outlook, Evernote, OneNote, etc

    I just spent the last 3 days solid testing various tools with the intent of trying to do everything in the least number of tools possible. Unfortunately there is no tool that does it all surprisingly if you also want to do collaborative project task management well. If you don't need that, then Outlook is the closest all-in-one GTD tool I found where you can have your GTD system tightly integrated with your email collection, calendaring, and note taking. This is what I found.

    I had abandoned Outlook a few years ago and was quite happy with Thunderbird for email collection however since I have a Office365 Home subscription I went back recently and and happy with the exception there is no native unified inbox to more efficiently manage inbox traffic from multiple e-mail accounts (really Microsoft? really?)

    I'd suggest anyone looking to do GTD, check out "The Secret Weapon" (www.thesecretweapon.org) which used Outlook + Evernote for at least a good model of how to do it. You get an 'add to Evernote' function in outlook when you install Everote and you don't need an Exchange account to pull it off either, you can use any POP/IMAP account or Gmail/Outlook.com as your email repository. One big benefit of using Evernote is that it's free and if you are not tied to Microsoft products if you don't want to be if you are not currently using them or stop using them in the future. In addition, the web interface is fantastically robust as is the iOS and Android apps. With Microsoft, the web interfaces of Outlook and OneNote and the ios and Android apps are severely limited (obviously to encourage you to buy and use their desktop products.) It's all about flexibility and portability.

    I found that Outlook is a much better tool for GTD than OneNote. OneNote has more robust note taking abilities than Evernote, but it is MUCH more clunky/limited as far as setting up views to show lists of tasks based on matching multiple tags. It's really not what it was designed for obviously but I looked into it since it is the MS version of Evernote. Outlook tasks is a much better way as you can create custom views to say show me all tasks at.Work with 1 Now when context.

    The problem with using Outlook though is you have to use the desktop app for all your GTD. The Web App is sorely lacking in functionality and only lists tasks by priority. If you use Outlook.com, it's even more basic as far as task management. Because of this, I've decided to use Evernote for GTD instead as it adds a function in Outlook to 'Add to Evernote' similar to add to OneNote but as expected you can more easily and directly link OneNote notes to Outlook tasks (even though you shouldn't be using those if you are using OneNote for GTD, and Outlook calendar events.)

    The thing I was really disappointed in is that Evernote, while robust enough to easily do GTD, doesn't have the necessary functionality to also use it for collaborative project task management, especially with team members in multiple organizations. There's no ability to create a client folder with multiple sections (for projects) and then share the sections. Moreover, there's no ability to associated notes (tasks) with groups of users and have them get automated notifications when the status of the task is changed or the task's contents are updated. You need to use something like Asana or Basecamp for that so you end up having your team project tasks disconnected from your GTD system and you have to duplicate your own tasks in Evernote outside the project management system like Basecamp. Boo. Hiss. I would imagine though some of these project management systems could be configured so you can do your GTD there. But then most of these systems do have a good note taking capability with robust filing/organization like OneNote or Evernote and more importantly, they don't have easy ways (that I know of currently) to allow you to move emails in Outlook to tasks in the Project Mgmt System like OneNote and Evernote offer. I think there's a huge opportunity for either Microsoft to improve OneNote in these respects, Evernote to add better collaborative project functions/controls, or Basecamp or Asana to build more GTD like functions.

    If you really want to stay in the Microsoft ecosystem, the best solution is to use Outlook Tasks for GTD, get an Exchange account via Exchange Onlin ($4/month) if you don't have it for access to the Outlook Webapp with a little more robust task features than outlook.com, and then use OneNote for your repository. If you do this, you may want to buy the GTD plugin by NetCentrics https://www.gtdoa.com/ (you need an Exchange based email account in Outlook to use it.) This plug-in is costly (around $75) and introduces another application & company essentially to have to manage and rely on. But for someone that doesn't want to create the categories, folders, and views themselves, this plug-in will get you a jumpstart on setting up Outlook for GTD.

    Sidenote: It's funny to think that OneNote is really just a replacement for using Word and Windows Explorer / Search. I could see a lot of people putting too much in OneNote and then you have most of your documents in the OneNote file format which is less ubiquitous and transportable than Word, PDF, etc. However if you work for Microsoft or everyone you work with uses MS Office products, it may be the best choice for housing a library of project notes and support materials - I just caution people to think about what would happen should they not want to use OneNote in the future? Could be a lot of copying and pasting into a new document/system going on.

    The area that I didn't explore that much is taking an existing project task management system like Asana or Basecamp and trying to use it for GTD. I'd love to hear if anyone has pulled this off elegantly, especially in conjunction with moving email in Outlook to tasks in these systems as then you could simplify down from a 3 tool system to a 2 tool system and more importantly, not have to duplicate your project tasks from the project task management system to your GTD tool.
    Last edited by consultant; 01-10-2014, 09:48 AM.

  • #2
    There are GTD-oriented applications!

    Originally posted by consultant View Post
    I just spent the last 3 days solid testing various tools with the intent of trying to do everything in the least number of tools possible. Unfortunately there is no tool that does it all surprisingly.
    As I see you haven't tested any real GTD-oriented application. Try Nozbe or OmniFocus.

    Originally posted by consultant View Post
    I found that Outlook is a much better tool for GTD than OneNote.
    How can you compare an email/PIM application with a note-taking application?

    Originally posted by consultant View Post
    The thing I was really disappointed in is that Evernote, while robust enough to easily do GTD, doesn't have the necessary functionality to also use it for collaborative project task management, especially with team members in multiple organizations.
    I can easily list many more useful functionalities that Evernote is not equipped with: spreadsheets, vector graphics, image manipulation, Gantt charts, org charts... But wait - isn't it just a simple online notes organizer?

    Originally posted by consultant View Post
    The area that I didn't explore that much is taking an existing project task management system like Asana or Basecamp and trying to use it for GTD.
    Try Nozbe.

    Comment


    • #3
      I spotted a few factual errors I'd like to correct...

      Originally posted by consultant View Post
      One big benefit of using Evernote is that it's free and if you are not tied to Microsoft products if you don't want to be if you are not currently using them or stop using them in the future.
      That's only partially correct. Evernote does offer limited functionality for free, with the most significant limitation (at least from my POV) being an upload quota of 60 MB per month. There is a Premium service available (I'm a Premium subscriber myself) for $5/month or $45/year. There is an even more robust service called Evernote Business available for $10 per user per month.

      Here is a link to some information about what's available with the free and paid services:

      http://evernote.com/contact/support/...ticle/23283158

      Originally posted by consultant View Post
      The thing I was really disappointed in is that Evernote, while robust enough to easily do GTD, doesn't have the necessary functionality to also use it for collaborative project task management, especially with team members in multiple organizations. There's no ability to create a client folder with multiple sections (for projects) and then share the sections. Moreover, there's no ability to associated notes (tasks) with groups of users and have them get automated notifications when the status of the task is changed or the task's contents are updated.
      That's not true. As a Premium subscriber I can share individual notes or entire notebooks (in Evernote, a "notebook" serves the same function as "folder"; same concept, different name). The only thing you can't do is share notebook stacks. You can choose to grant read-only access or give collaborators editing privileges. I've used this functionality myself.

      One could easily set up a folder for various projects, creating a separate note for each one and sharing those notes as appropriate. Collaborators could add and edit text notes, attach and edit documents (which they would edit in their native file formats even though they're stored in Evernote), and more.

      You can get a high level overview of Evernote's sharing capabilities using the following links:

      http://evernote.com/premium/?origin=...et)&offer=work

      http://evernote.com/business/

      Originally posted by consultant View Post
      I could see a lot of people putting too much in OneNote and then you have most of your documents in the OneNote file format which is less ubiquitous and transportable than Word, PDF, etc.
      I'm not sure what you mean by this. OneNote apps are available for Windows, iOS, and Droid smartphones. It syncs via Skydrive and there is a web version of OneNote. Any documents you attach including PDFs would be viewable and/or editable via their native applications.

      I suspect you tried the free version of Evernote and were unaware of the paid version, which might explain your misconceptions about what Evernote can and can't do. I'm not trying to persuade you or anyone else to use the tool; I don't work for Evernote, I'm not an Evernote evangelist, and frankly I believe that if someone can do GTD using a quill pen and parchment paper and achieve maximum productivity with minimum stress then quill and parchment is a kick-@$$ GTD tool. But I happen to use Evernote and used to use OneNote extensively, and given my knowledge of both tools felt I should correct the misinformation in your post.

      BTW, please don't take this personally. It's great that you took the time to share your experiences, but I think you may need to dig a little deeper before deciding you've learned all there is to know about a particular solution. Nevertheless, I am grateful that you posted and look forward to whatever else you choose to contribute here.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
        I can easily list many more useful functionalities that Evernote is not equipped with: spreadsheets, vector graphics, image manipulation, Gantt charts, org charts... But wait - isn't it just a simple online notes organizer?
        No, it's a bit more than that but I've really taken as much time as I can to discuss it. You've obviously got internet access so if you really want to know what it's all about, Evernote's website is just a few keystrokes away.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
          Try Nozbe.
          I did. I found it burdensome. The Evernote and Dropbox integrations are to me clunky and difficult to use, and I don't like Nozbe's design choice to force you to assign every task to a project which contradicts the GTD methodology that Nozbe supposedly enabled. Considering what you get, the $8/month price tag isn't worth it. There are less expensive services that offer similar functionality.

          Personally I've found that GTD-specific apps are always constraining. The beauty of GTD is that it leaves the implementation up to the individual. There are as many ways to do GTD as there are people. GTD-specific applications lock you into someone else's vision of GTD, and having tried the majority of the most popular apps that purport to be "GTD tools" I've found that most of them get the methodology wrong in one or more fundamental respects.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by consultant View Post
            I just spent the last 3 days solid testing various tools with the intent of trying to do everything in the least number of tools possible. Unfortunately there is no tool that does it all surprisingly if you also want to do collaborative project task management well. If you don't need that, then Outlook is the closest all-in-one GTD tool I found where you can have your GTD system tightly integrated with your email collection, calendaring, and note taking.
            The Microsoft ecosystem is made up of overlapping dysfunctional products, each with its own limitations and significant costs. In a world where people successfully use smartphones, tablets and laptops/desktops together (and wearables are getting more useful), I see Microsoft as way off the radar. Unless one is in a corporate environment where the significant support costs of providing a reliable comprehensive Microsoft solution are taken care of, I can't see devoting limited resources to Microsoft products. To be blunt, I see Outlook as a tool for cube farms, and not a good personal choice in today's world.

            Originally posted by consultant View Post
            The area that I didn't explore that much is taking an existing project task management system like Asana or Basecamp and trying to use it for GTD. I'd love to hear if anyone has pulled this off elegantly, especially in conjunction with moving email in Outlook to tasks in these systems as then you could simplify down from a 3 tool system to a 2 tool system and more importantly, not have to duplicate your project tasks from the project task management system to your GTD tool.
            Attempts to integrate GTD with powerful project management software have largely failed. It will be interesting to see how more lightweight approaches such as that used by Wunderlist will do.

            Comment


            • #7
              Some other apps that call themselves GTD are Things, Nirvana, MyLifeOrganized, Doit, Zendone, Getitdoneapp, IQTell ... and dozens of others. I currently use Doit and I also like Nirvana a lot. Zendone has its plusses for those who want to integrate mail and Evernote etc. IQtell, too, but it is a more complicated app. MLO is super-complicated but powerful.

              Comment


              • #8
                My criticisms of Nozbe and other GTD-oriented apps had more "bite" than they should've. It's all a matter of preference.

                That said if people want to pooh-pooh Evernote that's their right. What I'd suggest to anyone reading such diametrically opposed points of view and trying to make sense of them is to look at the use cases each person has. When I read something by someone with a use case similar to my own that's often the advice I'll try out first. It's not a 100% accurate gauge of whether I'll find the advice useful but more often than not it works.

                Other than the facts about what a specific solution can or cannot do, there is no right or wrong answer. Or to be more accurate there are right and wrong answers but they vary according to the individual.

                Comment


                • #9
                  mcogilvie, I did not notice your post (apparently you posted it while I was still writing mine).

                  Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                  Attempts to integrate GTD with powerful project management software have largely failed
                  This is interesting. Project management and collaboration seem to be difficult to integrate with GTD, and from my viewpoint of what makes GTD unique this is no big wonder.

                  Project management and collaboration are traditionally - and I'd say almost necessarily - based on agreed scheduling of tasks and time plans whereas GTD favors a more open calendar and leaving decisions to be made at the spur of the moment, based on context, energy etc.

                  This obviously does not make it impossible to combine the two in one app. It would be perfectly possible. The big plan, agreed among everyone (or decided by a big boss), with its fixed milestones and even dates for each task, could very well serve as input to the individual's personal planning of his/her own smaller tasks. A task in the big plan would typically be a whole project in the individual's world, and the deadline for the agreed "task" would be the deadline for the individual's "project", but everything within the individual's project could be handled as per GTD. In fact, this is how we normally handle it today, but often using different tools at the two levels (organizational and individual level).

                  It would not be impossible at all to have both in one app, but it would mean a (necessary and justifiable) mixing of two fundamentally different philosophies in one and the same app. This might make it slightly more expensive, but the biggest problem of all might be that the people who love scheduling and project management often do not seem to like GTD - or am I wrong? (And vice versa, perhaps, too.)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Folke View Post
                    It would not be impossible at all to have both in one app, but it would mean a (necessary and justifiable) mixing of two fundamentally different philosophies in one and the same app. This might make it slightly more expensive, but the biggest problem of all might be that the people who love scheduling and project management often do not seem to like GTD - or am I wrong? (And vice versa, perhaps, too.)
                    I think different people have different work styles, but primarily jobs are just different. If your job is largely to take stuff from a queue and deal with it, e.g., a help desk, then the queuing system is what you use for a lot of your day. If you are a project manager building a building, you are going to hope that you can get the plumbing done when the plans says for it to happen. In my job, I have three components with very different scheduling: research, where progress is hard to predict; teaching, where I have a syllabus (the project plan) but time required is not completely predictable; and administrative, which involves mostly simple, short-range projects. GTD works for me, but time estimates and schedules? No way.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Folke View Post
                      This is interesting. Project management and collaboration seem to be difficult to integrate with GTD, and from my viewpoint of what makes GTD unique this is no big wonder. Project management and collaboration are traditionally - and I'd say almost necessarily - based on agreed scheduling of tasks and time plans whereas GTD favors a more open calendar and leaving decisions to be made at the spur of the moment, based on context, energy etc.
                      I don't see it that way at all. In one of my roles now -- and also in roles I've had in the past -- I've managed projects where others were accountable to me and where there were a lot of moving parts. Scheduling "tasks" is ineffective. It's micromanagement, which is inherently a destroyer of productivity. When I manage projects I hold people accountable for milestones or outcomes, and if it is logical to attach dates to those I do so. How they achieve them is their responsibility. I don't get involved unless my progress checks reveal they've made inadequate or no movement toward the milestones they committed to.

                      If someone needs me to hold their hand every step of the way I will try to find a way to keep that person off my teams in the future if at all possible.

                      Anyway, in my personal system outcomes from the team are represented on my waiting for list. Shared resources on Google Drive allow me to keep track of progress and allow the team to share information. I consider that project support. I expect team members to have personal systems robust enough to allow them to keep up with their commitments, whether they do GTD or use some other methodology.

                      Originally posted by Folke View Post
                      This obviously does not make it impossible to combine the two in one app. It would be perfectly possible.
                      Maybe not but I don't like mashing the two together. I tried to participate in a conversation about how to instill GTD in an organization. I tried to inject into the discussion thoughts about how the best way to do it would be for everyone on the executive team to really walk the walk and set the example, how it could be offered as part of training and development plans, and how to encourage employees to learn it, etc. But all everyone wanted to do was talk about tools. "Maybe it could be done with TRELLO!" Uhm, yeah. Just use Trello. Everything will fall into place.

                      There's nothing wrong with Trello, of course. It's just that software can't cause people to change their thinking and their habits. The idea that simply installing a tool will change everything is the type of thinking emblematic of inept executives and managers.

                      The problem with mashing together collaborative systems and personal productivity systems is not just philosophical but practical. They're for different purposes. Collaborative systems will by their very nature be one-size-fits all. Personal productivity systems should be left up to the individual.

                      Mind you, I have set aside a section of Evernote for collaboration with colleagues in the past. But Evernote isn't a dedicated task manager. I set up my lists in one set of notebooks and set aside another bunch of notebooks for collaboration. They may have been in the same tool but I handled them separately and in different ways.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        My problem with Evernote is that its syncing is slow, especially with Windows. You also have to remember to constantly force syncs if you need an up to date page. The other thing is that I find its layout boring for something to use a lot daily. As a note manager and research organizer (something I use a lot but less frequently), it is unsurpassed.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                          ... primarily jobs are just different.
                          GTD works for me, but time estimates and schedules? No way.
                          I think we share that sentiment. What I meant was that developers of apps might have preferences which affect their ability to create an app that serves both kinds of needs, plus it would make the app more expensive (and complex). And this could be one reason why such efforts have failed.

                          Originally posted by bcmyers2112 View Post
                          Scheduling "tasks" is ineffective.
                          I think we share the same sentiment, and I also think we have a semantic issue here again, concerning the word task. What I meant was that in the very big, overall plan, the lowest level detail (possibly called "task" in that plan) could be an immense long-term effort (possibly called project or even goal) in the eyes of the person in charge of it. Example: maybe you as a salesperson are "tasked" with something like "secure contract with XYZ Corp" (one single "task line" in someone's overall plan, and they may even have set up a deadline and/or a start date for you whether you like it or not), but to you as a salesperson that could be a major key account sales "project" or even a 30 k "goal" that will change what your job is all about.

                          Originally posted by bcmyers2112 View Post
                          The problem with mashing together collaborative systems and personal productivity systems is not just philosophical but practical. They're for different purposes.
                          Yes, in many ways they are. It probably would be very difficult and expensive. I am constantly bewildered when I hear people asking for collaborative GTD apps. What is it they want?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Folke View Post
                            I think we share the same sentiment, and I also think we have a semantic issue here again, concerning the word task. What I meant was that in the very big, overall plan, the lowest level detail (possibly called "task" in that plan) could be an immense long-term effort (possibly called project or even goal) in the eyes of the person in charge of it. Example: maybe you as a salesperson are "tasked" with something like "secure contract with XYZ Corp" (one single "task line" in someone's overall plan, and they may even have set up a deadline and/or a start date for you whether you like it or not), but to you as a salesperson that could be a major key account sales "project" or even a 30 k "goal" that will change what your job is all about.
                            A few hours after I posted my remarks I had a feeling I had misunderstood you but didn't have the chance to do anything about it. Given the context you provided around the term "task" I should've realized we were talking about the same thing. Sorry. Anyway we're on the same page now.

                            I'm sure this is very tangential but I was thinking about your very correct observation that projects almost always involve timelines. On the one hand I think it would be difficult to manage a project without attaching dates to key milestones. Yet there is a management philosophy called "holocracy" that has as one of its tenets a prohibition against arbitrary timelines for managing projects. Proponents of holocracy would say that doing so often influences the person to whom the task is delegated to assign it a higher priority than is warranted because what one's priorities are at the time of accepting the task might not be the same as that person's priorities when the task is approaching its "due date." I don't know a great deal more than that about holocracy but learning more about it is on my "someday maybe" list.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Folke View Post
                              I am constantly bewildered when I hear people asking for collaborative GTD apps. What is it they want?
                              An excellent question. Ironically, I do use one app for both personal activity management and collaboration: Evernote. But I keep my personal GTD system "walled off" from those parts of Evernote I use for collaboration by keeping them in separate folder structures (actually Evernote technically has no "folders" but instead uses "notebooks" and "notebook stacks").

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