Editor’s Note: This is a piece by a new GTD Times Contributor, David Pierce. David is a unique contributor to GTDtimes due to the fact that he’s about half of the age of the typical reader of this site. We love his fresh perspective and the fact that he represents the first generation to have grown up with the web being an always present part of his life. Beyond this David Pierce is a college student, freelance writer, and lover of all things Web-based. He blogs about the digital world at The 2.0 Life, and can frequently be found on Twitter.
In the few years since I became a GTD fan and follower, I’ve tried altogether too many different systems. I’ve tried Web-based and desktop-based, computer-based and paper-based. I’ve tweaked and changed, and constantly found myself picking up and dropping systems.
Recently, I sat down and thought hard about it: what do I need in a system? What are the features that are going to keep me working, on the wagon, and functionally using a given GTD tool? I came up with three, and they’ve changed how I evaluate GTD and productivity systems.
An increasing number of people don’t spend their time sitting at a desk. We’re on the run, on the move, and in a number of different places. Some people don’t even have an office, instead choosing to work from a combination of coffee shops and home offices. Anyone in this situation needs a system that’s portable, and is accessible from anywhere. One of the most critical parts of GTD, and the one I’ve always had the most trouble with, is the “Collect” phase – getting everything out of my head, and into my trusted system. Any system I create needs to be available to me, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. It has to be easy to see, to manage and to add to from a variety of inputs. For some people, who spent much of their time at a computer, availability elsewhere isn’t as important, but for an ever-growing number of people like myself, systems must be portable.
I need a system that does what I need it to do. At its basest, I need a way to make and keep lists; most applications, paper- or digitally-based, do this well. To truly make it a GTD-friendly application, though, I need a few other features- due dates, contexts, project definition, and easy review. Some features can be created with work-arounds, but any system worth using has to be feature-rich, or at least feature-upper middle class. Easy collection is a plus, as is a way to easily search through my tasks and sort them in any number of ways. Applications or systems that I use don’t need to be overly powerful, but they need to pack enough punch to do what I need them to do in order to function with GTD.
No two people, even the strictest GTD followers, use exactly the same system. Everyone’s got their own workflow, own quirks, and own way of getting their own things done. If I’m going to use a pre-made application, I need to be able to meld it to my own needs. Creating my own contexts, making for simple reviews, and coming up with multiple ways to figure out exactly what I need to be doing at any given moment are all critical to my actually getting anything done. Some applications try and meld you to what they believe is “the GTD method,” where in reality everyone’s system looks a little bit different. Functional GTD systems need to bend to our needs, not the other way around.
After considering those three things in every application I tried, I’ve moved almost my entire GTD system online. I use a couple of different applications to make GTD work, but the Web has revolutionized how I get things done.
These Web applications are portable – they’re accessible from anywhere with an Internet Connection (which seems to be everywhere now), and can be used even with my cell phone. They’re powerful – search and tagging are becoming popular, you can sort and manage your tasks however you want, and new features and uses are always being rolled out. They’re pliable- good Web-based applications let you view, edit, and add to your system in a huge number of ways, as well as make it as complex or simple as you want. Using other applications like Greasemonkey, you can even change the look and feel of the application; nothing’s set in stone with the Web, and things are changing for the better all the time.
My system uses a combination of Evernote and Remember the Milk, but those aren’t the only two options for a good Web-based GTD system. There are endless options, and different systems will work for different people.
If you’re not a Web-based GTDer, give it another shot. Whatever system you use, though, make sure you’re creating one that’s portable, powerful, and pliable. That will ensure your system will continue to work for you, and you’ll be able to do (or create a way to do) anything you might ever need in order to get things done.