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Lifehack.org Readers’ Favorite GTD Apps

Lifehack.org Readers’ Favorite GTD Apps
Your favorite gtd apps

Last week, we asked:

What online productivity/organization application do you find essential, and why? What would you replace it with if it disappeared tomorrow?

I was surprised at how many people chose Google’s suite of productivity applications — Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, iGoogle, and so on. I hadn’t really thought of these as “GTD apps”, per se, but thinking about it, it not only makes sense, but I realized that for a long time I’ve use these as my primary GTD applications as well.

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After some playing around with various GTD-based services on the web, I retreated to my trusty Moleskine and a Treo synced with Outlook. To be honest, though, I don’t use the Treo’s productivity apps very much — I find the thumb keyboard horribly uncomfortable and awkward to use, and the loss of integrated handwriting support (after I’d spent years mastering Graffiti) makes the built-in keyboard the only way of using the Treo on the go. Yes, I’ve used the third-party Graffiti replacements, and yes, I have an external keyboard, but neither works particularly well.

Which leaves me with the problem of how to get stuff done when I’m away from home — and I’m away from home a lot. Like a large number of lifehack.org readers, I too have built up a system on Google’s applications that is the backbone of my productive existence. I use:

  • Google Docs for writing (lately replaced with Buzzword, though)
  • iGoogle widgets for todo lists, file access (with, for example, Box.net’s widget), phone messages (using Callwave‘s widget), and of course accessing and creating documents using Google’s own Google Docs widget.
  • Gmail for email, naturally
  • Google Notebook for note-taking, but also for creating classroom presentations. I often have 5 or 6 videos, webpages, and other online materials I want to show my classes, so I use Notebook to capture and organize the links into the order I want to show them.
  • I don’t use Google Calendar, but I should — until fairly recently there was no good way to sync Outlook and Google Calendar, and there’s still issues when you add in the Treo (and while I don’t use the Treo much for lists and documents, I use the calendar function extensively — though I do most of my editing on Outlook, not the Treo itself).

Lately, I’ve committed to using Toodledo, which doesn’t sync with my Treo but offers a good mobile interface — and allows entry of tasks via Jott‘s Links service. Which means I can enter new tasks via Jott’s incredibly accurate speech recognition/transcription, overcoming the limitations of the text entry on the Treo.

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Another thing I like about Toodledo is that I can set up custom folders, which allows me to categorize my todo list by projects (a lot of GTD systems are built around the idea of contexts, which isn’t as useful for me). And it also allows me to ignore my categories — I can organize by date and just see the tasks I have to do today, regardless of what project they belong to. I like that flexibility.

If Toodledo disappeared, it would be pretty easy to move to another online todo list manager. They all have strengths and weaknesses, but rarely anything that would prevent me being able to use just about any of them. Right now, Remember the Milk is looking pretty good. And I’ve also been looking at Sandy a lot — that could be a good replacement, though I’m not sure I want my email to become my todo list.

Lifehack.org’s readers described a bunch of interesting systems they’ve put together around the various Google apps, along with their tips for using them:

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  • Mark uses Gmail’s “starred item” feature to highlight items that need action.
  • Miche describes Google as “my complete GTD system”:

    I use Gmail to receive my daily agenda, which I fill out every night before going to bed in Calendar, and GTDInbox to manage my tasks. iGoogle keeps my daily to-do and research tools. Notebook keeps my lists and snippets for stories. Reader helps me find stories, in conjunction with RSS feeds from Google saved searches.

  • miss_mary says she appreciates that she can access her Google apps easily, from anywhere — useful for a university student.

    I really appreciate Google calendar. Google calendar is very user friendly and you can also print things out quite easily. The reminder as well as the weather options of Google calendar are great also. It is very nice to use Google calendar to organise all of your obligations. And, you can also print out a daily guide to your day very easily.

  • And James Marwood offers a warning to Google users: put a backup system in place. Google accounts can be hacked, corrupted, or accidentally deleted:

    [R]emember that this is all dependant on that Google account and if you lose that, you lose everything else. This is VERY painful and there is nothing that really can be done other than starting again. By all means use Google but keep everything backed-up

Other apps that people recommended included:

  • Diigo: Social bookmark/clipping system
  • DropBoks: Online file storage
  • iGTD: Mac-based GTD system
  • Joe’s Goals: Goal management
  • Jott: Transcribes your voice messages into text and forwards them to email, SMS, and various web services.
  • Kalendra: PC-based calendar and contact manager
  • Netvibes: customizable homepage
  • Nozbe: GTD system
  • OmniFocus: Mac-based task manager
  • Plaxo: contact manager and synchronizer
  • Remember the Milk: Todo list manager
  • Sandy: Automated reminder service
  • Tiinker: RSS feed reader and recommendation engine
  • Todoist: Todo list manager
  • Toodledo: Todo list manager
  • Vitalist: Todo list manager
  • Wrike: Task and project manager
  • Zotero: Bibliographic reference manager

Many of these were named both as people’s every use apps and as replacements, which suggests that the field of online productivity apps has developed to the point where nearly every task is covered by several good, effective, and almost always free or affordable applications. There’s a wide variety of good substitutes for nearly every app.

That’s good news for people who, like me, dream of the day when their work is accessible from anywhere, on any computer. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about GTD 3.0

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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