The Perfect GTD List Manager

Date: Monday, June 01, 2009 by GTD Times Staff

One of the most common questions we get is, “Which tool should I use for my GTD lists?”  With the GTD approach, the tools you choose to manage your workflow are up to you.  Some tools are certainly more conducive to GTD than others, but among the ones that will work well, it will come down to functionality and personal preference.  That can make the choice for some people exciting…or daunting.  In this podcast, David Allen and his technology team talk about the phenomenon of list managers, what qualities to look for, what has a zero learning curve, the keys to really making it work and more.  There should be something here for everyone, no matter what your job, style, platform or inner geek.  LISTEN NOW

“There’s a strange paradox. You want it simple and it won’t be cool enough for you. And if you want it really cool, you’re gonna have to have discipline and sophistication of really understanding GTD to make it work and gain the power out of it.”  – David Allen


16 Responses to “The Perfect GTD List Manager”

  1. Todd V says:

    Yes. Robert Peake is exactly right on transitions and the importance of exporting your data. Shiny new apps may be nice for the short-term but the most important thing for any digital implementation has to be the long-term reliability of your data (e.g., can I access this two years from now?). This is why some of the most techie GTDers have returned to paper, text files, pdfs, or in my case, the file system.

    One also has to be careful not to let software entice with endless ways of tinkering — reorganizing, sorting, color coding, etc. Tinkering = not getting things done.

  2. Mark Jantzen says:

    I would also emphasize the part about not trying to learn both GTD and a new piece of software at the same time. That’s really tough.

    Right now I use a combination of tools for work (Outlook/Blackberry) and my main system (Omni Focus/iPhone) and I almost dismissed Omni Focus at first because it wasn’t intuitive right out of the box.

    But because I knew the GTD part already I spent the learning curve time and now it’s my favorite list manager.

    Not trying to advocate the tool but suggesting you learn the systematic approach FIRST.

  3. Josh Freeman says:

    I’ve become an OmniFocus convert as well, but only after having been working at GTD for about a year. OF’s learning curve is steeper than paper (though not terrible by any means), and well worth it once you get the hang of the overall system. But you need to learn GTD first.

    The point that sticks for me is how much easier it is to scan a sheet of paper than an onscreen list. The computer can quickly start to feel overwhelming and distracting when you’re really busy. And the iPhone? Pffft. Good for carrying the data around, but tough for processing it, as you rightly suggest.

    All in all, a nice discussion. Very helpful. Thanks.

  4. Renaud Marly says:

    Hi, I listened yesterday to the podcast: very interesting!
    I think this podcast takes 3 high-profiled people and 20 minutes to explain that a toy (tool) will never replace the “real labor of thinking”. 🙂
    As far as I’m concerned, GTD changed my life the last two years and I am 95% relying on pen, paper and filofax. The last 5% is my Waiting For that is actually email-based (so I send myself reminder emails for corridor or phone-agreements).
    I like hand-written lists because:
    – after reading 120 emails, I can’t stand reading tasks on a computer
    – after a work day, I don’t want to need a computer at home
    – I like my writing 🙂
    – I like being a human: typos, scratches, small letters, big letters are nice, as long as the quality stays (clear and visible next action)
    – I like touching paper, ffx leather and hold my whole system in one hand.

    Thanks for the terrific job!

  5. Rod Greenshields says:

    My first few years of GTD were paper-based for many of the reasons noted in the audio and comments above. The last version used colored index cards (yellow for Next Action contexts, Blue for Waiting For, Rose for Agenda, etc.) and a simple home-made printed template.

    But it was the iPhone and Gmail Tasks that finally lured me back to the digital world. *Especially* the ability to access my data with true portability.

    My iPhone isn’t integrated with work, so I just use iGoogle to view Tasks with full-keyboard efficiency. And the iPhone itself is slick for on the go or at home when I’m not tethered to the computer.

    Gmail Tasks isn’t perfect, but it’s refreshingly straightforward. It allows multiple lists/contexts, optional date, notes field, manual re-ordering to loosely priortize when that’s helpful. The real-time synchronization keeps things updated and Google’s servers get backed-up a lot more often than my hard drive!

    Project lists (work and home) live on Google Docs for similar universal access. Rarely need to access those away from a computer, but they’re easy to view with the iPhone if necessary.

  6. Robert says:

    Rod–thanks for sharing about your system. Last time I visited Google’s tasks (sometime in the 19th century), they didn’t seem very GTD-friendly. If you can set up contexts now, sounds like it’s worth a re-look.

  7. Rod Greenshields says:

    My “GTasks” contexts are just lists with different names. My contexts (and subsequent lists) have evolved to:

    -Agenda (Work)
    -Waiting For (Work)
    -Home PC
    -Agenda (Home)
    -Waiting For (Home)

    And from a desktop (not the iPhone, unfortunately), it’s easy to move tasks between lists which is great for migrating a Next Action to a Waiting For.

    One great hope I have is that the iPhone 3.0 release with its Memos/Notes synchronization will prompt Google to spin up something on this front with comparable accessibility. My current hack of using Gmail drafts for memos is too awkward.

  8. Mike B, Virginia says:

    Great constructive input. Thanks to everyone for the tips. I have gone back and forth many times from digital to paper and back and forth again (over the years). I currently use a nice Franklin leather binder and I keep my GTD lists in there along with my calendar. I move some NextActions onto the daily tasks area for that day, usually the @WORK context ones. I do not have iPhone and I am unable to synchronize all home and work information (don’t have internet at work.) There is something very freeing in having ALL my GTD (and life, really) related thinking in ONE place (InBox gets processed into my binder system). I also enjoy the human look of written pages, and enjoy writing too. I’ve tried text files and GMail and Outlook, and Palm, and Moleskine, and Index Cards, etc., but right now, nothing beats having my binder with me and being able to quickly glance through all applicable pages of projects, actions, and even horizons info, no matter where I am. Plus, using a nice fine pen like a Uniball 207 Micro, I can fit a LOT of info onto one 5.5 x 8.5 page. I saw that David Allen Co is now making paper and binders, etc. Very nice.

  9. Max says:

    I’ve tried everything going, including enormously complicated OneNote-Outlook-Blackberry setup. But finally about 9 months ago I came across the answer – It’s perfect, really flexible, fast, good iPhone app, widgets, the lot. I love it. It’s my life.

  10. gofer says:

    I am stable on Thinking Rock for 2 years now, project support on Evernote, inbox in Reqall when I’m away from computer (often).
    When possible I print my NAs and work from that. It works for the level of complexity I am managing now, before then I was used to a single text file.

  11. JayRhino says:

    Thought I’d share the tools I’m using for GTD since they weren’t mentioned in any of the above commentaries. I’ve tried several different systems, but so far what appears to be working for me right now is “Things”, task manager for Macs, and Personal Brain, Mac and PC. Like most who start out in GTD the first focus was collecting and organizing lists. Things works really well for this. There’s a keyboard combination that quickly allows me to add something to my IN category to process later and move to the appropriate task category/context. That’s helped tremendously in collecting all those random “things to do” that would pop into my head while I’m on the computer. Unfortunately it’s not PC compatible. However, my work around this is printing them and carrying them in my Franklin binder. Personal Brain is great for focusing on the different horizons. PB frees up my thinking from categorizing to just one horizon or thought. I can link a thought to different areas in my life and not be afraid of losing it because I haven’t gone to that one specific category to review.

  12. Tony in London says:

    I echo Max above and encourage list makers to look at ToodleDo which I stumbled across recently. Very fast and flexible. Not perfect for full GTD but ‘good enough’ for lots of us. I specifically like the ‘Importance’ algorithm ToodleDo applies automatically to each entry based on due date and priority. A useful way to manage priorities across projects.

  13. Project Management Templates says:

    What about creating a OneNote template based on GTD (Getting Things Done)?. There are a lot of people interested on it, some are trying it their own way… just search “GTD Onenote”. I’m sure that an “official” template will boost the sales of OneNote since it will automatically gather that whole target market.

  14. CrosbyNc says:

    Listening closely to the podcast, the Palm came in for praise- and this is the backbone of my system: Project Lists; Next Actions lists, Agenda and Calendar. Capture is to A)a physical in-tray B) a beautiful Moleskine for brainstorming/outline project plans/meeting notes and C) Hotmail with folders for processing electronic mail to an inbox and NEXT actions. Filing for a hard copy of project lists, hardcopy project support materals and hard copy tickler folder. But the core of the system is the Palm.

  15. I just downloaded an e-book yesterday for a system based upon setting a plain old MS Word table to hold next actions for various projects ( I like the simplicity, but the reality is yet to be seen. I’ll try it for awhile and see how it works. BTW, he quotes GTD in his book.

  16. Marshall says:

    The absolute top app for integrating Blackberry and GTD is

    Perfect for GTD or just simply getting organized and taking it mobile.

    check them out- they have a free trial – you should check out their whitepaper…

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