If you have read 40Tech over the past year, you may have discovered my minor obsession with productivity apps and methods. It’s a journey that began with my first post here: GTD in Evernote with Only One Notebook (posted a year and a week ago ), and continued through reviews of Action Method Online and on into my latest experiment, Producteev 2. I have really been enjoying Producteev, and have been using it exclusively for some time now — so I decided it was time to attempt a full GTD implementation, and see how it would work. After some trial and error, I’m satisfied. Check out a walkthrough of my method for GTD in Producteev, below.
The General Approach
Now let’s get right into it, shall we? There are a few possible ways to set up an effective GTD process in Producteev, including adapting the smart filters in the left tab, or extensive use of labels for contexts (this will work better if Producteev introduces labels that can be persistent across workspaces). Neither of those methods quite did it for me, though. I needed a system that would be able to provide me with snapshots of my task list in non-overwhelming chunks (by context), even in Overview mode. Currently, the Overview tab doesn’t show labels; and I like to use the smart filters and labels, both, to provide further subsets of task-data for easy, at-a-glance viewing.
To bend Producteev to my will, I chose to take advantage of their unlimited workspaces. I set up my main workspace as my “Brain Dump” inbox — I call it that because that’s what it is, and because the Producteev sidebar already has something named “Inbox”, that did not suit my purposes. I then created a workspace for every major context. I understand the collaborative power that Producteev brings to the table, but the fact is that most tasks in your day, when put into a GTD context, do not require collaboration. Your general task list is personal to you, and under Producteev’s current pricing model, you can set up as many personal workspaces as you need to, for free. For specific projects that require collaboration, or you need to keep organized with a “project management” approach (as opposed to task management), you can open up a workspace up specifically for that project.
Producteev and Your Email Inbox
Before I get into the details of mapping your contexts into workspaces, I wanted to talk a bit about incorporating your email into your GTD system. In the GTD in Evernote method, you can forward emails from your inbox directly into Evernote. You can do the same with Producteev, but with some added benefits: you can assign workspace contexts, specific labels, and even a handy date and reminder that will sync with Google Calendar. Judicious use of the forward button in your email client will enable you to process emails into next actions, projects, etc., right from your inbox. In fact, if you work in Gmail, Producteev’s Gmail Gadget brings a fully functional Producteev tab into right into your email client (it works much like the Google Chrome and Firefox plugins).
As I’m sure most of you do, I often find myself trolling Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader/Feedly, and numerous other services where I discover links that are related to things I am interested in, or directly related to my projects. Using a social media client with a “share by email” feature, or a plugin like Shareaholic, is an easy way to get those links or clips into your Producteev inbox (Brain Dump), or directly into the appropriate context. This makes for a very streamlined system, where everything you do online is working together toward the same end. Keeping your tasks manageable is the entire point of Getting Things Done, and Producteev facilitates it nicely, while working within tools you are already used to using.
A Note On Mobile
Producteev’s iPhone Client is currently the most functional way to take the entire Producteev service with you on the go. I’m not certain as to the state of their Android client. The web client is available from a mobile browser, but it is full-size, so expect to do some zooming and panning. If you are without an iPhone or web-capable phone, however, you might want to try using an email/IM/SMS combo-service (I encourage investigation, here) for notifications and task interactions. You can get your task list sent to your email daily, using Producteev’s reporting feature.
Setting Up Your Workspaces
I’m not going to go into too much detail on the methodology behind David Allen’s GTD System in this post. If you are new to GTD, I highly recommend you get a hold of the book or seminar (audio), or take a look at the GTD in Evernote post here on 40Tech. Mainly, I want to focus on the functional implementation of contexts into workspaces.
Please note that the Getting Things Done system, while it has many rules that have been well thought out, is mainly useless if you can’t or don’t adapt it to what suits you. What follows is a guideline, nothing more. Take it, improve upon it, or scrap it completely as your needs require.
When You Start
- When you set up your workspaces, plan out their order beforehand. Producteev doesn’t have a way to reorder them yet. If you are already set up and using Producteev, you may have to recreate your system and move your tasks — this is actually a good thing, as starting from scratch should be part of your GTD process anyway. If you really want to keep a workspace, just recreate it and move all of the tasks. It’s pretty easy with Producteev’s bulk options, accessed by clicking the checkbox to the left of any task. You’ll have to recreate your labels, though.
- Click on the + button in the upper right corner of Producteev to add a workspace. Create the following (case doesn’t matter and if you don’t like my names, they are easily changed later): @home, @work, @computer, errands, calls, waiting for*, reference, tickler, projects, someday/maybe*, “specific project(s)”.
- *These are contexts that I chose to handle as labels within other workspaces, but could be handled as workspaces of their own. Read their sections, below, to see details.
- For each workspace, click on the Workspace Settings button, or any of the little gear icons in the sidebar, and navigate to Communications Preferences.
- This is where you will connect your various emails, IM accounts, and Google Calendar.
- You can connect multiple accounts of each type — set up all potential incoming connections to make it easy for you to send items into your Brain Dump/Inbox (or whatever you call it), as well as easily be notified by or interact with your tasks.
- Make sure you configure each connected account’s notification settings, per workspace. You can add all incoming emails and IMs to your main workspace, and they will have access to all of your Producteev account; however, you may not want to receive notifications in all of your email/IM accounts, or may only want certain workspaces to send certain kinds of notifications to you. Experiment and see what works best in your system.
- DO NOT sync to Google Calendar without at least one scheduled task already in the workspace (use a dummy task to start). If you do, you will end up with a broken calendar subscription in your Gcal that has a long string of letters and numbers for a name. If this happens to you, delete the calendar from Gcal, head to the offending workspace in Producteev and disconnect it from Google Calendar. Schedule a task, then reconnect to and sync with Google Calendar. That should fix you up. If not… try again — it will work at some point.
Now you’re ready to get started!
Brain Dump (Main Inbox)
This should also be your default workspace. As per GTD principles, any new idea, unprocessed project or task goes here first. You can forward or send emails to it, including attachments (watch your space limitations per workspace); you can manually add a task from the Producteev desktop or mobile interface, or via instant messenger, Gmail Gadget or browser extension. If you’re brave, you can even allow other people to have access to this workspace so that they can send you tasks. Be careful with this last, however, as someone you invite to your workspace can view all of your tasks just by clicking on your name, unless you specify the privacy of the task. If you are going to be assigned tasks by someone else regularly, and want to skip email, then set up a specific workspace just for them, either for the project you’re or as a “sub-inbox.”
Sometimes, if I know where a task is going to end up anyway, I will add the appropriate hashtags (#+workspace, ##+label) to my email or IM, or add the info directly into the Producteev interface if I’m already there. This often takes less than a minute and saves me a step later.
DO NOT send out notifications from this workspace or schedule anything and leave it here. DO NOT connect this workspace to Google Calendar. The object of this workspace is to empty it (which has the side-benefit of a nice feeling of accomplishment!), and notifications here will drive you several stages of batty unless you actually enjoy spamming yourself.
GTD Note: Go through your Brian Dump inbox (and any others you may set up) daily, processing each task. Remember that any task that requires more than one action is actually a project and should be sent to the Projects list. All other tasks are sent to their specific context, sorted, and set as a next action by schedule, priority, label, and whatever other means you feel necessary as long as you don’t bog yourself down. Anything that can be done in two minutes or less, should be done immediately.
Producteev Note: Moving a task is easy. Click on the aforementioned little checkbox as you would with a bulk move, do it from within the task detail interface, or click on the workspace name that is to the left of a task in the Overview area. You can also change workspaces and add labels, notes, etc, by responding to task notifications from Producteev. In many cases, regular language is understood by the system.
This is the place for your next actions when you are at home and not on a call or on the computer – add labels as needed. Some suggested labels: kitchen, garage, bathroom, livingroom, etc.; or labels for recurring tasks that take place in different areas like “vacuum”. Whatever works for you.
This is the home for your next actions while at work (or for work-related next actions if you are working from home). Label this workspace as needed to organize yourself. If you have recurring or long term projects that don’t require their own major infrastructure to organize, use a project label here. If you work for more than one company, or have several freelance gigs going on, you can set up labels for them as well.
This is where you put all tasks that need to be, or can only be done while on the computer. In this workspace I like to add labels like “read”, “review”, “research”, “experiment”, etc.
Out and about? This workspace is your friend! All errands go here as an easy way to keep on top of what needs to be done when you are on the go. Set reminders, add labels and remember to look here as you prepare to walk out a door.
Note on Recurring Tasks: Producteev doesn’t support recurring tasks, yet. They may in the future, but for now, you have two options: get creative with labels (though this is still somewhat limited), or sync the task to Google Calendar, then go into Gcal and modify the task as recurring. Sure, you are then relying only on your calendar as a reminder service, but the job gets done.
This is where you place all of your “to call” actions. Many calls need to be scheduled and require a reminder. This is one place that the Google Calendar integration of Producteev is a lifesaver. Remember that email bodies, and even responses to Producteev reminder messages that have quotations around them (” “), are added to a note for the task. This is a good way to keep on top of what you need to know for your call.
A task that requires the action(s) of someone or something else before it can be done goes here. Many people will view Waiting For as a context unto itself and will want to make a workspace just for it. I tend to view Waiting For as a sub-context. It organizes better in my mind when I view what or who I am waiting on in relation to larger contexts like @work or Calls, so for me, Waiting For is a label that lives inside many of my workspaces.
I debated on whether to to put a workspace up for Reference at all. This is essentially your filing cabinet, wherein all things that need to be remembered but require no action, or no further action, go. I use Evernote for that and am saddened that Producteev has not yet discovered the wonder of the Evernote API (I would love to be able to access my Evernote content as well as to send tasks and notes into Evernote!). However! There are often times when I will want to keep track of a task and/or its notes even after completion, so I created the Reference workspace and a list of tags covering the entire alphabet for file-cabinet-like searching. I have this workspace set to notify me whenever there is a note posted on it, which helps in two ways:
- If I allow collaborators in the Reference workspace, I can see when a note is posted and keep track of conversation.
- I can forward the notification email to Evernote — it contains a link to the task and can live in my Evernote filing cabinet for easy and clickable later reference. If you like, you can simply do this with all completed tasks and not bother with a Reference workspace at all.
This is where you put everything that doesn’t require your immediate attention, but you want to get back to at some point. Connect this Producteev workspace to your Google Calendar, as you will want to give each of these tasks a loose schedule that will “tickle” you with a reminder.
Everything that requires more than one action — and isn’t a reference item – is a project. Once these items are weeded out of your inbox and everything else is sorted, you open up the Projects workspace and hammer out next tasks for your project items, adding them to your inbox/Brain Dump for later processing (or directly to where they are supposed to go, if you’re ready for that). Use labels here to split things up (@home projects, @work projects, specific project names, etc.). This is also a great place to implement the starring functionality of Producteev, to allow you to sort your projects by importance.
Someday/Maybe is another context that could be a workspace of its own, but I chose to put it as a sub-set of the Projects workspace, using a label. This organizes better, in my mind — you should implement it whichever way works best for you.
“Specific Project(s)” (Large/Collaborative)
I’m not a hardcore GTD guy. I love the spirit of Getting Things Done, but there are still some things that need to be organized outside of the methodology, for me. Large projects that require their own organization (milestone structure and the like), or projects that require collaboration suit me better when they are in their own workspace. If I want to, I can move the next-action tasks for those projects into the GTD aspect of my Producteev system, or I can keep the tasks focused within the specific project’s workspace. I actually have a workspace set up just for 40Tech, where I put up a list of my upcoming post ideas, which are each projects unto themselves. There are other labels in there as well, and it can serve as a place for us 40Tech types to collaborate.
GTD Note: The Weekly Review is the lynch pin of your GTD setup, whether in Producteev or another system. Make sure you review all of your projects, as well as the health of your GTD implementation, in general. This will ensure that you keep on top of everything, as you will be able to see where things are lagging or doing well, and tweak your system accordingly.
Producteev Note: Overview Mode is a fantastic way to get a solid and non-overwhelming picture of your entire Producteev GTD system. There are several sorting options, the most useful of which (for the purposes of this system) are sort by Deadline, Priority, and Workspace.
So there you have it, a fully fledged GTD implementation in Producteev, utilizing multiple workspaces and added labels for easy snapshots of your task lists. It has been working well for me, so far, as it allows me to manage myself and everything I’m working on or need or want to do, while still being flexible enough to allow collaborations without overwhelming the system. GTD in Producteev also offers me the main thing that GTD in Evernote just hasn’t yet: easy calendar and reminder management. I need that…
Give the system a try and let me know how it works for you! Got a better idea, suggestions? I’m all text-based ears!
UPDATE: Producteev now supports recurring tasks!
UPDATE 2: Producteev has produced a 4 minute screencast that boils down the concepts of this post into a simplified method. Check it out below: