Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

  • 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

Advertising

More by this author

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

Trending in Featured

1 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 4 How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life 5 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

Advertising

Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

Advertising

Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

Advertising

For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

Advertising

About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Read Next