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WordPerfect 5.1 is legendary among tech geeks of a certain age, and still has devoted users. I used various incarnations of WordPerfect as my main word processor and brief[1] writing tool until just a few years ago, when I succumbed to the inevitable force of change, and switched to Microsoft Word. Now, though, I’m not even using a traditional word processor as my main brief writing application, because I’ve discovered that Scrivener is a fantastic tool for that purpose.

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DEVONthink for Lawyers

GTD Not Working for You? Try Action Method Online

image Some of you may have already read our rather detailed how-to on Getting Things Done in Evernote with Only One Notebook — in fact, we are pleasantly surprised on a daily basis by how many people keep reading it… But what if you  don’t use Evernote? *gasp* Or what if GTD just doesn’t quite do it for you? Maybe you need something a bit more visual? A bit more project-centric? If so, then Action Method Online may be just what you have been looking for.

Action Method Online is a web app (for both browsers and Adobe AIR) by Behance that brings a whole new methodology to the productivity, task management and project management worlds. It was originally developed as a paper based, offline program that is both stylish and functional and the online version adheres to the same principles. Everything about Action Method Online is focused around a functional visual presentation of your projects and tasks that has not been effectively accomplished by any of the multitude of project management applications we have researched or tried. This is no surprise though, as Behance initially created the software for creative types, alongside their other offerings: the Behance Network and The 99%.

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How is it different from GTD?

At first glance, GTD fans may find some similarities with David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology — but it is actually quite different in its approach. The main differences between the Action Method and GTD, straight from the creators, are as follows:

“(1) While GTD is based on WHERE you are when you do stuff (eg: @work, @home), the Action Method is project centric (not context centric). Especially for the creative world, we believe that, in many cases, work is home, home is on the road, etc.

(2) While GTD is focused on the integration of email into workflow, we believe that Action should be separate and center. As such, the Action Method views the inbox as a means of communication rather than a tool for action management.

(3) The GTD best practices were created for an office environment – and fine-tuned for the bureaucratic cycles of organizations. In contrast, the Action Method is based on how creative individuals and teams function – and their tendencies.

(4) The Action Method is an attempt to use design to boost productivity, while GTD proclaims to be design agnostic.”

 

The Action Method is based on five core elements:

Action Steps — These are tasks (or Next Actions for the GTD crowd). Techcrunch described Action Steps as the “virtual equivalent of a Post-it note"”. These can be used as with any task, as a means to jot down something that needs doing, and are displayed alongside all the other steps in the project. They can be dragged and dropped around for organization and can be colour-coded for importance (Blue, Orange and Grey). All Action Steps can also be assigned a target date (to complement the sort-by-date function of the software), and have a track time feature.

References — These are notes, attachments, links and other items that are relevant to your project. It’s not Evernote — but it you can keep everything that you need to know to complete your project successfully in the References area for easy access via the tab or the search function.

Backburners — These are your non-actionable items. This way you have a visual and trackable area to keep your ideas percolating until you’re ready to move on them.

Discussions — Here, you can manage ongoing conversations about your projects with anyone who is working on the projects with you. Discussions are forum-like in style and help you keep all relevant communications on the project (such as feedback, problem solving, and decisions) in one place. This can go a long way to getting rid of convoluted email chains and increase the productivity of both you and your team.

Events — These are your your milestones and other major moments (morale parties, meetings, calls, deadlines) in your projects.

 

The Action Method considers personal and professional projects as one and the same, just like GTD — but every task is boiled down to a project, which you can then organize as you see fit.

 

Main Features

Beautiful and Intuitive Design: The design and functionality of Action Method Online makes it easy to use and limits the possibility of “glance overwhelm” — you know, when you look at your task list for a moment and then feel compelled to curl into a little ball and cry. It helps you to put everything in manageable chunks so you can look at it without increasing your likelihood of a myocardial infarction or aneurism.

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Empowers the User: Perhaps the strongest feature of Action Method Online is that it addresses every aspect of project collaboration, organization and communication without taking away your freedom to devise what works best for you. Behance did a lot of research and testing to create the Action Method, and they found that many people would abandon active use of project management software that required them to conform to a usage pattern that didn’t necessarily suit them. Action Method Online allows you to not only discover your own way of working with the software, but it does not share your task list directly with anyone else; rather, it shares only what the pieces of projects you want to share or need to share, allowing you to adapt the system for work and life in general without having people looking over your shoulder or stifling you.

Task Delegation: Furthering what was mentioned above, tasks are only delegated to someone if they are accepted by that person. This adds accountability, something which is sorely lacking from many project management systems. You can even delegate to people who are not using Action Method Online — all you have to do is enter an email address (or just start typing the person’s name if you have imported your address book) and send it on to them. Once the recipient of a delegated task accepts the Action Step, he or she will have the ability to file the task into their own implementation of Action Method Online or other project management software or method. The person can also choose to decline a task, and send it back to the original delegator with a short explanation.

Project Grouping: For further organization and custom implementation, you can create your own project groups to help you get a better view of the “big picture”. You can put as many projects into each group as you like and, as both projects and project groups are listed in the same type of order as a folder on your hard drive, you can use familiar modifiers such as ‘*’ and ‘-‘ or numbers and letters to create a hierarchy. An example of a project group set could be: *Work Projects, Contracting Projects, Home Projects, Mixed Bag.

Sharing, Sharing, Sharing: You can share pretty much anything you enter into Action Method Online with anyone on your team, but as mentioned before, you don’t have to. No managers looking over your shoulder and seeing your “Send Company X My Resume” task in your “Get The Heck Out of This Place” project in the “Need Newness” project group. Nope. You just share with them the tasks that they have delegated you, the tasks you have delegated them, discussions, the entire project that you are working on, timelines of the projects you are sharing, events, or whatever else you decide to share with them. The rest is yours and yours alone.

Notifications: All of your activity across all of these tools is recorded and displayed in your configurable activity feed. You can choose what you want and don’t want recorded and use it to track your progress. You can, of course, share certain notifications with others, as well. There is also a Nag feature that allows you to pop a quick reminder message or question up on the screen of someone else who is using Action Method Online, and to whom you have delegated a task. You can also send them an Appreciation message to leave them feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

Integrated Discussions and References: As noted above. Very handy. No Evernote… but very handy.

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Tips: Action Method Online will also, if you so choose, provide you with pop up tips to help you get the most out of the software and the methodology. There is also an extensive Resources section that will answer many of your questions, as well as dedicated support staff and a forum for suggestions and problems.

Mobile Application: Behance has recently released an iPhone app for Action Method Online that looks to be just as slick as the main application. Only for the iPhone though… As with many software developers, they went where the pretty was first (though I give them a break due to their designer-type and creative-type customer focus). There are no formal plans for other mobile apps unless there is a demand for them from their clientele — so if you want one, then make sure you tell them so.

 

Pricing

The pricing for Action Method Online is very straightforward. You get pretty much everything for free as long as you keep it below 50 Action Steps. More than that and you will need to sign up for a monthly pricing plan of either $12 bucks per month (USD) or $99 per year. The premium plan gets you everything and a bit more (i.e. 2 gigs of upload space for attachments and files, and 10% off of Action Method paper products). The premium version also helps to subsidize free accounts for the non-profit world, which they offer in limited supply. There are special corporate packages available by request.

 

A Tiny Bit of Negative

Everything in Action Method Online is tightly connected, and the UI is extremely intuitive as well as pretty, but there are some definite areas for improvement.

For example, there is no export feature. Export to Evernote (all software should integrate with Evernote!) would be ideal, especially for the References and Discussions, but any export feature would be a good start. There is also no calendar feature. They did this on purpose as Behance believes that calendars should be used strictly for scheduling and arranging appointments, but one could argue that appointments on your schedule are tasks that require action and thus an export feature, at the least, would be both peachy and increase productivity overall. There is also no offline access. This is hardly unexpected for an online application, but what do you do when you are in the middle of something and your internet goes down? 

Action Method Online is relatively new (about a year or so) and is growing, so expect a few bugs. The drag and drop functionality, while awesome, is not complete (you simply can’t do it in some sections, and in the sections you can do it, the order you established doesn’t always follow), and there are a few other things like notification errors and such. The support staff is fairly active, however, if sometimes a bit slow to act (or they just need to update the person who posted the bug more regularly). Finally, Action Method Online is not supported on all browsers. It’s main focus has been Firefox and Safari and Behance is working on Internet Explorer 8. Other browsers are a possibility, but not supported. If it doesn’t work on your browser of choice, you can always download the Adobe AIR app as AIR is available to all major operating systems — and most major updates and new features work there first. Bottom line: if you are extremely picky about how your software works, it is recommended that you try the free version first and do a thorough test before you commit yourself.

 

All in all, Action Method Online is a feature-rich, fully functional and visually pleasing project management — or even life management — program that is constantly growing. The methodology is sound and the app is slick. You can use it on pretty much any computer and from anywhere there is online access, and if you are a power user, it is actually pretty darn cheap.

 

What do you think of Action Method Online? How do you feel it compares to GTD systems?

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