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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 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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