Getting Things Done (GTD) With Toodledo, Using Pseudo-GTD Methodologies
One of our readers previously wrote about Getting Things Done with 2Do and Toodledo. That great writeup focused on using Toodledo through 2Do, an iOS app. I have been using Toodledo ever since I first was blown away by it, although primarily through the web app (albeit via Fluid, a Mac app that turns a web page into a standalone application). Over time, I’ve developed a system of my own to implement some GTD methodologies within Toodledo. Here it is.
True GTDers might scream when they see my set up, asking me where I’ve buried the body of GTD that I must have shot and killed. They may be right. It’s been quite a while since I read David Allen’s GTD book, and my system has morphed and developed since that time. I’ve recently been reading the book again, and I see just how far I’ve strayed, even with core concepts such as Next Actions. Part of this is by necessity if you’re a Toodledo user, as Toodledo doesn’t have automated support for Next Actions. Still, this setup works for me.
The heart and soul of my system rests with Toodledo’s saved searches. Toodeldo lets you slice and dice your data in almost any way imaginable, and then save that slicing and dicing so that you can quickly repeat it in the future. I almost never venture out of saved searches now.
Props go out to Proximo, a user in the Toodledo forums. His system was the launching point for my system when I started melding GTD with Toodledo. I modified his system when getting started, and I’ve further modified my system since then, so any bastardizations of GTD are solely my fault.
Before getting into the nuts and buts, a bit of an explanation is in order about how my real-life job fits (or doesn’t fit) with traditional GTD concepts. Projects, and a determination as to the next action required in any project, is at the heart and soul of GTD. A project is any outcome that requires two or more actions to complete it. In my real-life job, I do have projects, but my projects are outnumbered by unrelated one-off tasks. So keep that in mind as you review this system.
Collection and the Inbox
One of the first steps you should take when getting started with Toodledo is to take your Toodledo email address, and get it into any address book from which you might send mail. You can find your email address at Tools > More > Email Import / Export by clicking the “Configure” link. Sending a task via email is one of the more common ways for me to get tasks into Toodledo. I don’t worry about classifying or formatting the email prior to sending it. I do that later, when I go through my Toodledo Inbox.
I set up my inbox by creating a saved search to catch any task that hasn’t been assigned to a folder, as follows:
I named that search “No Folder” when I first set up my system, and never bothered to change it. In hindsight, calling that search “Inbox” would make more sense.
My system uses Folders and Contexts at its base level. First, here is a look at how I’ve set up my columns, using a sample task that I’ve used input called “test.” You can see that my columns include the task name, as well as its folder, context, start date, due date/time, and notes.
My use of folders might be where I’ve strayed the most from traditional GTD concepts. You’ll recognize most of the terms, although I’m not using all of them in a manner that strictly comports with traditional GTD concepts. I do have folders for projects and stand-alone actions, but I’ve also added to this. Here’s a look at my folders.
The way I use these folders is to review an item after I input it, and decide if it takes one step or more than one step. If more than one step, I set it up as a Project by assigning it to the Project folder, and then using Toodledo’s subtask feature (this requires a Pro account) I enter the various steps of the project as subtasks. I like how, in Toodledo, those subtaks will appear in the Action folder (if that is the folder to which I assigned the subtask), but also in the Project folder if I expand the project.
The Action folder is where I put all of my standalone actions, or the subtasks of a Project – unless I put them into my Next folder. My Next folder differs greatly from GTD “Next Actions.” I use the Next folder for important items that I need to get to soon. GTD next actions, on the other hand, are all of the very next actions for every project, that would move each of those projects forward. While my job involves deadlines, it also involves tasks that don’t have strict deadlines, but do have time urgency to them. In my saved searches, detailed below, you’ll see that the Next folder is just one possible criteria in having a task percolate to the top of my radar. I found that just using a Next Actions list of all of my next actions, regardless of urgency or priority, wasn’t sufficient for me. In fact, I’ve recently been testing out OmniFocus, a Mac app that is much more true to GTD concepts, and my glut of next actions has my head spinning.
The Someday folder is where I file items that I’d like to complete someday, but I know I might never get to them. I generally use that Someday folder as a reminder of items, although you could break down those items into subtasks if you wanted to scope out an entire “someday” project.
The Follow Up folder and Tickler folder serve a similar purpose, and I’ve thought about eliminating one of them. I’ve used the Tickler folder to enter items that have specific due dates, that I don’t want mixed in with items in other folders. This folder is underused, as items with hard due dates usually just end up on my calendar, with sufficient reminders set up. Items in my Follow Up folder usually start somewhere else, but get moved to the “Follow Up” folder when I’ve taken the action that I can take, and am waiting on someone else. For example, if I have an item in the Next folder called “call opposing attorney regarding settlement,” I might move that to my Follow Up folder after making the call, and modify it slightly to reflect that I’m waiting on the return call.
A context in GTD signifies the tool or location needed to complete a task, such as Office, Home, Phone, Errands, and so on. Here are my contexts:
I’ve kept my contexts to a minimum. My “Computer” context is really a context for 40Tech work. Computer work related to my job, for example, just goes in the “Work” context since I’m rarely not near a computer while on the job. You’ll notice that I don’t have a “Phone” context. I did have this context at one point, but eliminated it. I get so many voicemail messages on the job that it was too slow for me to enter them using the Toodledo interface or via email. I just keep a notepad by my phone now, dedicated strictly for recording information from voicemail messages. Phone related tasks that aren’t originated via voicemail just end up in my Work context. I should note, though, that in my trial of OmniFocus, I have found it much faster and easier to get information into the app, such that I’ve experimented with a Phone context in that app.
Use of Start and Due Dates
Another place where I drift away from GTD gospel is in my use of Start Dates and Due Dates. As mentioned above, I need some way to have my more important items float to the top of my list. Due Dates are one way that I do this, as I’ll show below when detailing my Saved Searches. Basically, I use Due Dates to set when I want an item to appear on my radar, not to indicate an actual deadline. For items that are truly due on a specified date, I put an alarm on my calendar, and my firm also has numerous other tools to monitor hard deadlines. I usually use Start Dates, on the other hand, to signify when a project or task first appeared on my radar, so I can keep an eye on stagnating items.
This is where all the magic happens. My default starting screen (which can be changed in Toodledo’s settings) is my Search screen. Here is a list of my saved Searches.
And here are the search criteria for each of those items. For my Work – do today search, I catch anything that is “overdue” (using my loose definition of “due”), due today, due tomorrow, or Starred. This has significance during my review process, when I prioritize items (completely contrary to how you’re supposed to do things in GTD). As I’ll explain below, my system is fairly automated after the review.
My Work: queue search looks like this:
It catches items that I put into my “Next” folder or that are due in the next 5 days, but that aren’t due in the next 2 days or Starred. I’ve also put in criteria to catch items based on priority, but I don’t really use priorities any longer.
My Work Follow Up search is designed to simply catch the items that I’ve moved into my “Follow Up” folder, and looks like this:
I’ve mentioned my No Folder search above. It’s my Inbox, and is long overdue for a name change to reflect that. It catches items that I haven’t filtered into my system. My Home and Home Someday searches also deviate from GTD. My lists there, until recently, were simple enough that I just used it to catch items that were Starred or due in the next week, and that fell into the Home, Computer, or Errands contexts. My Home Someday folder caught everything else that used one of those contexts. My Personal all and Work all searches are just what they sound like – a list of every single task from either the office or home, respectively. It’s a way for me to do a review and make sure that I’m not missing something with one of my other searches.
The Weekly Review
The weekly review is a crucial part of GTD. I’m still working on an ideal method for automating this in Toodledo. Right now, I just work my way through each of my saved searches, tweaking and adding to items. For example, if I notice an item that is moot, I delete it or mark it as done. If a single action is better set up as a project, I set up subtasks for it. I sometimes jump over into projects to get the big picture.
And, most importantly for me, and in a deviation from traditional GTD concepts, I try to prioritize my tasks for the upcoming week during my weekly review. I don’t use Toodledo’s priorities, though. Instead, as mentioned above, I use start items or give due dates to specify when an item should appear on my radar. The way my saved searches are set up, this becomes pretty automated after the weekly review. I come in to work each day, and I see the important tasks for the day. If I need to quickly add a task to that day’s list, I star it, and the saved search for “Work – do today” catches it. If I star an item, I don’t need to bother with due dates.
This system has worked for me for over a year and a half, but it isn’t perfect. For one, while Toodledo is insanely customizable, it isn’t designed out of the box to be a GTD tool. As a result, I occasionally toy with some other GTD applications. In a future post, I’ll cover some of Toodledo’s main shortcomings as an electronic GTD tool.
Even though Toodledo isn’t perfect, it is one of the more powerful tools out there. The best part about it is that you can mold it to your own personal tastes. So, if my system doesn’t work for you, you may be able to tweak it. If you do, let me know in the comments.