Tag Archives: GTD

The One Tool That Makes GTD Work for Me: My Done Journal

Today is my fourth GTD anniversary! I started using GTD (by taking baby steps) all those years ago. It changed my life. I mean that sincerely.

In celebration of that anniversary, I’d like to share the one tool that has made my use of GTD (Getting Things Done) about more than just following the rules. I have one tool that makes the system come together for me in a way that the official parts of the methodology just don’t.

It’s my Done Journal.

What is a Done Journal?

I got the idea from Josh Medeski. The concept is buried in a post that is otherwise about why he gave up bullet journaling:

I created a Done Journal, writing down the day’s accomplishments and meaningful events. It was fun being able to flip though pages and remember the past, but I stopped the done journal after a couple months because it sucked up time and energy I thought could be better spent on my digital journal.

I’ve been blogging for over 15 years, so suffice it to say that I love having memories of the past. Josh didn’t give any details of the format for his Done Journal, but it sounded like a fantastic concept and name. I adopted it and made it my own.

Why I Keep My Done Journal

In Step 4 of the GTD process (Review), creator David Allen recommends looking back at your calendar from the previous week and looking forward a week or two. The goal is to identify any incomplete actions from the previous week and to spot any new Next Actions associated with upcoming events. When I was using Wunderlist to do my Weekly Review, I used that principle to delete the completed tasks from my account.

The part with all the deleting was initially just about Wunderlist‘s features and flaws. By default, the search feature includes completed tasks. That drove me crazy! The only solution was to delete all of my completed tasks. Can’t search them if they’re not there. And that is what I did for the three years I used Wunderlist. (I switched to Todoist last year, which searches completed tasks only when you specifically ask it to.)

So I deleted my completed tasks every week, but that made me sad. I worked hard to complete those tasks! I wanted some credit!

Enter the Done Journal. I keep it as a simple Google Doc, so it’s accessible in all the same places as my task manager (Todoist). It has been an amazing tool for reflection, review, and simply inspiring a sense of progress.

Computer keyboard, hand on mouse, and a coffee mug.

How I Use My Done Journal

I write an entry in my Done Journal each week, after I clear out my inboxes (digital and physical). The process goes like this:

  1. I open my Completed Tasks spreadsheet. Todoist compiles completed tasks automatically, but I find the interface too cluttered. I don’t need to see that many pictures of my own face! Instead, I use an IFTTT applet to create a Google Sheets file of each completed task with its date and project.
  2. I open my Done Journal, add today’s date, and start my two weekly lists. The first list is my top 3 completed tasks for the week. The second list is the top 3 things I’m thankful for from the past week.
  3. I review the past week on my calendar. This usually gives me at least one “thankful” item.
  4. I scroll through the Completed Tasks sheet, reviewing each row, remembering what I did and identifying items for my lists. I type them right in as they qualify.

That’s it! When I finish my lists of three items each, I close my Done Journal and add a “Weekly Review” line to my Completed Tasks spreadsheet so that I know where to start reviewing the next time.

My Monthly Review

At the end of each month, I do a Monthly Review. That’s not part of GTD either, but it’s critical for me. I review the past month’s worth of weekly entries in my Done Journal and write a paragraph-style summary of where I am in my life right now and what I anticipate for the next month.

Then I keep going. I started my Done Journal on March 10, 2015, and I have made an entry for every Weekly Review and Monthly Review since then. I’ve missed a few weeks, so I give myself more than three items per list when that happens, but I always use it to review what I’ve done. Sometimes I feel accomplished. Sometimes I struggle to pick out tasks that don’t seem tiny or “thankful” things that feel significant. But I always do it.

Do you use GTD? Have you found a tool that makes GTD “click” for you that isn’t officially part of the methodology? One blog post helped me so much—your comment could do the same for someone else!

7 Quick Takes on My GTD Anniversary, Pizza Scissors, and the African American Dream

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

My emotions these days are a bit of a throwback: I’m eager for school to start as well as anxious. I’ve been out of the classroom for a long time, but I’m glad to be getting back into it. I’m glad to have a career again, but I’ll miss the aspects of my life that I felt like I could only have because I had just a job. It’ll be an interesting ride.

— 2 —

As of June 27 (these takes have been a long time coming), I have been using GTD for three years. It’s been amazing, and I can’t stop recommending aspects of the method to everyone. It has changed my life in so many ways, and I am so thankful.

— 3 —

I don’t generally get involved in politics, but I read a feature-length political article by Anthony Walton in an old issue of Notre Dame Magazine. It spoke to me in particular in its discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement and the legacy (positive and negative, real and perceived) of President Obama. Here’s my favorite part:

There is an irony, both tragic and celebratory, at the heart of our society: young people of color grow up hearing about the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and they believe it. They want to hold the nation to its promises, they want to belong and be Americans, free and equal, as they understand those terms. And every generation understands the promises of our founding documents a little more intensely and insists a little more on the full implementation of those promises.

This is, I think, what lies behind Black Lives Matter and many of the other protests enacted around the nation. In another country, one which has not made such promises, there would not necessarily be such a sense of failure. Black Lives Matter protestors are expressing a belief in the system; framed this way, the question becomes: Can the system live up to that belief?

This is why looking at Obama as an individual, whatever one might think of him as a politician (and setting aside, for the moment, the irrationally partisan and race-driven attacks upon him, there are dissatisfactions a reasonable person may have with his performance), is worth our while. In my view, in many ways Obama is the most important black man in history, beyond Martin Luther King, beyond Nelson Mandela. This is not because of his celebrity, accomplishments or lack of them while in office, but rather because of the way he matter-of-factly mastered and rose through the tests and trials of U.S. society. To put it simply, he won the highest political prize of our nation through playing by the rules. He battled and prevailed in many different arenas: academia, law, publishing, politics. He learned how things worked, how achievement is accomplished in the secular world — an important point because so much previous outsize black accomplishment had been based in religious institutions. He showed a path.

Obama’s life and career is a model for blacks and people of color on how to progress to the highest reaches of our society: work hard, get educated, get qualified, learn how to contest the career and workplace circumstances you find yourself in and, with a little timing, a little luck, who knows what might happen? He mastered the politics of Harvard Law School, the politics of Chicago, the politics of the Democratic Party and the politics of national elections by learning the traditions and rules of each context. His was, for want of a better term, a “secular” triumph, the next step in African-American progress in society, following on black athletes and business executives, stating his case to the electorate and receiving their endorsement.

One would think that whites, whether they agreed with his politics or not, would see his career and achievement as something to be celebrated, something to be pointed at, not because of any “Kumbaya” racial fellow feeling but because it encouraged millions of young blacks and other folks of color to believe they had a chance in our society. That the way for them to advance their hopes and dreams was in the library and at the ballot box, not in the streets.

— 4 —

Duolingo understands religious life!

"La profesion" is illustrated as a religious profession of vows!

That picture is not helpful if you are (a) trying to learn Spanish just using Duolingo and (b) not familiar with Catholicism, but it made me laugh.

— 5 —

In other strange things spotted online, pizza scissors are apparently a thing. I know cutting a pizza at home can be tricky, but it should be done by grown-ups, and grown-ups ought to know how to use a cutting board and a knife.

— 6 —

Being a Marylander living outside her state for years now, I’ve gotten good at spotting Maryland license plates on cars. I saw one a few weeks ago with a totally new standard design, and it’s so pretty!

"MD PROUD" license plate

I never liked the lame War of 1812 plate, and the original (from my lifetime) was very plain. The new one is perfect.

— 7 —

I liked a lot of the items in a recent Verily post about dating in your thirties. Happily, I don’t relate to all of them, but some ring very true. (I also note with amusement the reader comment from someone who complains about how irrelevant Verily is to her. She’s reading it, isn’t she?)

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Wunderlist to Todoist: First Thoughts and Free “Labels”

I did it. After many happy years using Wunderlist as my task management tool with the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, I have switched from Wunderlist to Todoist.


I blame Microsoft. As I’ve already lamented here, Microsoft keeps snapping up the independent apps I love, taking their features, and shutting them down. I moved on from Sunrise because I didn’t want to use Outlook, so I’ve moved on from Wunderlist because I don’t want to use Microsoft To-Do. (Yes, that’s its real name.)

This is the first time I’ve ever switched task managers. In some of my GTD reading and podcast listening, I’ve discovered that switching GTD apps is not uncommon. It just sounds so messy. I spend enough time refining my system already; I really just need to get to the “doing” part!

Todoist made importing my tasks very easy. Everything came through the way it was in Wunderlist folders and lists, ready to reorganize Todoist-style. My due dates were there, although I had to reset everything that was recurring. The main import problem was that I needed to fix all my tags. The main usage problem was not having the features available to a Todoist Premium account. (But keep reading; there’s a surprise!)

How I Used Tags in Wunderlist

I started out not using tags at all. I have never been into contexts (a statement which is GTD blasphemy). I use way more due dates than by-the-book GTD allows. However, when I started applying GTD’s concepts of Projects and Next Actions in more detail, I found a use for tags in Wunderlist.

I kept a Wunderlist list for each Project, with a minimum of two items per list: the Next Action and the desired outcome. The name of the list was an abbreviated version of the desired outcome, since the sidebar is only so wide. I marked each Project’s Next Action with “#NA” at the end of the task title, and I marked each outcome with “#outcomes”. The tags were clickable, giving me a very easy workflow for my weekly review. No matter where that item appeared (in my Completed list, in a search, etc.), I could tell it was a Next Action (or outcome) and for which Project.

I wish Wunderlist had offered an automatic list of all the tags you’d created. It was awesome that tags would auto-complete as soon as you typed the hashtag symbol! That showed the data was stored somewhere specific in the program. However, there was literally nowhere else you could view all your tags except in that drop-down. I solved my wish for a task index by creating a list called “Tags.” I used the auto-complete drop-down to create one item for each tag. It took less than a minute.


Blurred for privacy, but otherwise my real tag index.

I had to fix things when I switched to Todoist, but my homegrown tag index came in handy for remembering what tags I’d used.

My Solution for Free Labels in Todoist

Todoist uses labels to provide the functionality that Wunderlist called “tags.” I think “tags” is the more universal term for that function, largely thanks to Twitter and Evernote, but Gmail calls the same function “labels,” so maybe that battle over nomenclature will never end.

However, in Todoist, labels are a Premium feature. Bummer. New users and those willing to hack the system a bit can do without, but I had a different vision in mind for a tool that could handle sub-projects. I wanted my own solution, and I didn’t want to pay for it. (Again, keep reading.)

My most-used tags in Wunderlist were:

  1. #NA for GTD Next Actions
  2. #outcomes for GTD Project outcomes
  3. #MrManAgenda (with my boyfriend’s actual name) for agenda items
  4. #waitingfor for Project items that I’m waiting for (non-Project waiting-fors went on a dedicated Waiting list)

My free solutions are, respectively:

  1. Apply the Priority 1″ flag
  2. Apply the Priority 2 flag
  3. Make this a sub-project
  4. Begin each task with the text “waitingfor” (all one word)

Converting my old tags to for-free labels seemed like a huge undertaking—until I realized that Todoist allowed me to view all of the items from all my Project plans lists in one long screen, because I kept them in a single folder in Wunderlist. I simply scrolled down the screen, looking for NA’s and outcomes in each project, deleted the plain-text-starting-with-a-hashtag-symbol, and used the inline language parsing feature to specify “p1” or “p2.” Once I’d finished, I appreciated the way Todoist changes each task’s checkbox (which is actually a circle, not a box) to the color of its priority. The red and orange really stand out!


Image from the [Todoist Support page on priorities](https://support.todoist.com/hc/en-us/articles/205873321-Priorities).

The only missing part of my solution is how to handle a Project that has worked its way down to one task: something you’re waiting for that is the last remaining action (and therefore also the Next Action and the desired outcome). I’d suggest using just the Priority 1 flag since the fact that you’re waiting for it is the main reason it’s not done yet.

For a Next Action that is also the desired outcome but for which you are not waiting for something, I would still use just the Priority 1 flag. If you’re looking at your system for Next Actions, you don’t want to miss one that’s doable just because it looks like an outcome.

Finally, for other tags, I would recommend using a unique text string (something that’s not already a word) so that you can add it to the name of the task and search for it when you need it. The hashtag symbols from imported items will still be there in plain text, but you won’t be able to add any text starting with a hashtag in Todoist because it will try to assign your task to a project. (I guess if you used Wunderlist tags for projects, you’re still in business!)

So, since my Wunderlist tag for items to do or discuss with Mr. Man was “#MrManAgenda,” I would write “MrManAgenda” in any new agenda items, and I would remove the plain-text hashtag from imported agenda items. Then, when I sat down with Mr. Man, I would search Todoist for “MrManAgenda” and be all set.

A Big Surprise

Converting to Todoist made me realize that Wunderlist’s free tier was probably too feature-rich for zero dollars. I got used to having power-user features for free. Todoist doesn’t give you those for free. I started missing Wunderlist very quickly. As I described above, though, I was well on my way to making Todoist free work for me.

Just like when I started using GTD, I did some Googling for how to best use Todoist… and if there was any way to get free Premium time beyond the 30-day trial.

Astute readers might have already figured out what happened: I got four free months! I had spotted a few posts with promo codes for free Premium, but they were old enough that I thought the promotions had surely expired. Nope!

To get free Todoist Premium, go to todoist.com/redeem and enter the codes 1MillionTasks (for 1 month) and skillshare (for 3 months). They are stackable, adding up to four months total, and they worked for me as of April 30, 2017.

I was very surprised, but also very happy!

Initial Thoughts on Importing from Wunderlist to Todoist

In the import, subtasks came over seamlessly. I don’t generally use subtasks, but the few I had were just fine. My Wunderlist notes became Todoist comments. (Different term; same functionality. See the “tags vs. labels” discussion above.) I couldn’t add comments without Premium, but I could edit any comment that already existed. (Presumably, I could delete the random empty comments that were imported with some tasks that hadn’t had any notes in Wunderlist, but I wasn’t about to try it and lose a free comment!)

Todoist’s smart due dates are very useful. It is so nice to type “every month on the second Wednesday” and have all my computer cleaning tasks schedule themselves just right!

My checklists (for computer cleaning, house cleaning, blog posts, etc.) had all been preceded with numbers to allow easy sorting in Wunderlist. Those came over to Todoist, but not quite seamlessly.

As a completed task, the items still show numbers on mobile, but not the right numbers:

But for some reason, the numbers don’t show up in the not-yet-completed task:

This is a known bug. I just took the numbers out, so they don’t show up anywhere now. The recurring tasks seem to stay in the correct order when I complete them out of order, though, so that’s okay so far.

Completed tasks can’t really be deleted from Todoist, which would have been terrible for my personalized Weekly Review if I hadn’t found another solution almost instantly. I use an IFTTT (pronounced like “gift”) recipe that adds a line to a Google Sheet every time I complete a task. I review that sheet each week, add a line so I know where to start reviewing next time, and skip the step from my old procedure where I deleted everything. It’s working well.

Finally, in the aforementioned Googling, I found and marathoned Carl Pullein’s excellent step-by-step, bite-size tutorials about using Todoist. The best episodes are:

I miss Wunderlist, but I’m excited about the possibilities that Todoist is offering me. It took several hours to get up and running, and of course I’m still tinkering with my system, but I am still getting things done.

Wunderlist and GTD: My Weekly Review

A sad time has come, dear readers: I have to find a new app for my to-do list.

Microsoft acquired Wunderlist (WL) in late 2015. Nothing much had changed since then besides an Outlook integration. But last week, MS and WL announced the preview of the new app, which is called To-Do. The name and current bare-bones functionality leave much to be desired. I have to face the reality that my beloved, life-changing task management app will be shut down in the next few months.

I used Sunrise, too, and I ran away as soon as Microsoft announced its sunset (pun intended), so I am doing the same with Wunderlist. I always had a second-choice app in mind, so it’s time to make the move.

In the meantime, I’ve had the draft of this post ready to go for a while, so it’s also time to press “publish.” The concept of applying GTD principles to specific apps remains relevant even if my specific app will soon be no more.

I like to have an elevator pitch ready for my life-changers, so of course I have one for Getting Things Done (GTD). It sounds like this:

GTD is a productivity methodology popularized by David Allen in his book of the same name. It’s based on three principles: ubiquitous capture, the two-minute rule, and the Weekly Review. When you think of something you need to do, you capture it. Write it down immediately—unless it can be done in less than two minutes. In that case, you do it immediately. Once a week, you review everything you’ve written down.

The part that thwarts even GTD black belts is the Weekly Review. In my opinion, if you’re not doing the Weekly Review, you’re not doing GTD. Period. Once you build the Weekly Review (WR) habit, you will wonder how you ever maintained a to-do list before.

Do I always do my WR? No—but when I skip it, I feel the pain. When I was home with my family for Christmas 2015, I fell out of all my usual routines. I skipped my WR for two weeks straight and was horrified at the result. But I recovered, and now I make the WR a priority.

Tips for Actually Doing Your Weekly Review

  • Pick your best day and time. I do my reviews on Tuesday. The middle of the week is when my life slows down a little bit. I started out by scheduling it for Sunday. I never did it until Tuesday anyway, so I finally just changed the schedule. The best productivity method is the one that works for you!

  • Move quickly. It’s a review, not a retreat. It is easy to get bogged down in your Projects list or to get distracted by items you capture along the way. Just keep going. Project planning is a separate process.

  • Finish your review every time. It is best to complete the WR all in one go, but that’s not strictly necessary. A WR checklist is a checklist for a reason: if you need to stop before you’re finished, you can pick up where you left off. The point is to do a complete review once per week. Starting on Friday afternoon and finishing Saturday morning is okay. I start mine on Tuesday morning… or afternoon… and sometimes finish on Thursday. That works for me.

My Weekly Review Checklist

Screenshot of my Weekly Review.

Click for full-size.

I adapted this from the official checklist (scroll down at that link), and I have modified it since then as my needs have changed. I keep my checklists right in Wunderlist (WL) so I can check them off as I go. They are set to repeat weekly (duh), so they regenerate right away, which gets the checklist ready for next time.

As you can see, my actual checklist starts with step 00. Wunderlist will sort that to the top alphabetically, so I use it. Step 00 is processing my physical inbox. That doesn’t always happen at the same time I do the rest of my review. It’s limited to a place (my room) and time (when I’m at home), whereas everything else can happen online from anywhere.
The rest of my Weekly Review goes like this:

  1. Process Inbox list. Almost everything I put into WL goes to the Inbox smart list first. Here, I do the second and third steps of the GTD workflow: clarify what I’ve captured, and organize it into my other WL lists.

  2. Review Completed list and past week on calendar and write entry in Done Journal. This is the “get current” part of the official checklist, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the WR. My Done Journal is not part of GTD, and I do not keep it in WL. It deserves its own post. (Update: Read that post here!) For now, suffice it to say that I go through the Completed smart list in WL and look back on my calendar (from the time since my last review to “today”). Anything that triggers a new thought gets captured. I move over to the Inbox list, type, hit Enter, and go back to reviewing. Don’t stop to clarify!

  3. Delete completed tasks. WL keeps every task you mark as complete. Every single one. That, to me, is clutter. I don’t need that kind of clutter in my system, so I delete them at this point in my WR.

  4. Review upcoming week on calendar. I capture anything that comes up as I look over the next week or two. This step frequently reminds me of things I forgot about! GTD is designed to let you forget about things until you need them, so it helps you set up a reminder system. This is one of the reminder phases.

  5. Review #monthlygoals. I don’t use stars or subtasks, but I do use limited tags. This is one of them. I currently have just one monthly goal, but this step reminds me that I should be making progress on that one goal every week. My monthly goal is also part of a Project. This part of my system is still messier than I’d like, but it works for now.

  6. Review Week list. WL makes a smart list of everything that has a due date for the next seven days, sorted by day. I look through it and reorganize as needed. Using WL for web, I drag-and-drop items from one day to another. In the web app, I can also remove due dates completely or change them to today or tomorrow with the right-click context menu. I capture anything that emerges in the process. I also compare my scheduled tasks for each day to my calendar. If I’m not going to be home until 9 p.m., there’s no use pretending I’ll get much done that has to happen at home. And yes, a lot of things are scheduled. For me, what gets scheduled gets done.

    Screenshot of my Projects and Project Plans.

    Click for full-size. Blurred for privacy. Yes, that says 2016; I’ve been working on this draft for a while.

  7. Review Projects list and plans for #NA or #waitingfor and #outcomes and log completed projects. I keep one Projects list and a separate Project Plans folder in WL. For this step, I sort the Project list alphabetically and add or remove due dates where applicable. I make sure I have the same number of lists in my Project Plans folder as items on my Projects list. For example, if I have 15 Projects and 16 Project Plans, then I’ve finished a Project and I need to delete the now-empty Project Plan list.
    Then, I click the tag (which is a clickable link because it’s written into this step on my WR checklist; see WR screenshot) to search for each Project’s Next Actions (NAs). The search results are sorted by list, so I count to make sure the number of lists with NAs matches my number of Projects. If not, one or more of them needs a Next Action, or it has something I’m waiting for that keeps me from taking any action right now. I click the “outcomes” tag and do the same thing. I do not review my Project Plans here! That’s how you get stuck doing a three-hour WR.

    Screenshot of my AoF list and items from my Dance AoF.

    Click for full-size. These are my real AoFs, by the way.

  8. Review Areas of Focus. I keep most of my tasks sorted by Area of Focus, so this is an important step, and it usually takes the longest. I actually read/skim through every single item. I sort each list by due date and review what’s in there—especially items I added in Step 1 of this WR.

  9. Review Waiting list. I follow up on anything that’s been here for a while, adding dates for hard and soft deadlines. Throughout WL, I use due dates as an electronic version of my physical tickler file. I’m okay with just remembering the difference between hard deadlines and soft ones.

  10. Review Someday/Maybe list. I skim this. I save the hard work of digging in and deleting things for my monthly review (which also deserves a separate post).

  11. Review Trigger list. I customized a version of the official list that I copied-and-pasted from 43folders. It doesn’t always jog my memory, but sometimes it does!

  12. Review Goals, Vision, and Mission. These are separate lists I keep for the “higher horizons” of GTD. GTD is not great for managing the higher horizons (long-term goals), but it’s useful to remind myself on a weekly basis why I do what I do.

  13. Download Wunderlist backup to hard drive. Just in case. Considering how much I rely on this app, I should probably back up more than once a week. I could probably recover if I lost a few days, though.

And that’s it! Everything I’ve captured during my Weekly Review is now waiting in my Inbox list, where I will process it. If I somehow miss processing for a whole week (like that Christmas), those items will be processed during Step 1 of my next Weekly Review.

The Weekly Review is just an overview. Finish it so you can get back to doing.

Additional Resources

Leo Babauta offers some tips for getting your Weekly Review done in under an hour. Tip #6 is my favorite.

If you’re an audio person, the rebooted GTD podcast has an episode that walks you through your Weekly review. You can download it and play it every week, if that helps you. It’s like having a free, non-personalized coach!

“GTD with Wunderlist – Part I” Is Available Here!

The Internet is a vast and fleeting resource. As I often say, “the Internet never forgets.” That is, until it does.

If you’re just here for the plain-text archive of “GTD with Wunderlist – Part I,” click here! Otherwise, read on for the story.

As I keep mentioning in my ad-hoc WL + GTD series, I love the Getting Things Done productivity methodology (GTD) and Wunderlist (WL). I think Wunderlist is a great tool for GTD. With very few up-to-date resources, I built a GTD implementation in Wunderlist that works for me. I hear praise for GTD all the time and for various apps to use for GTD, but no one ever mentioned WL. I couldn’t be the only one. On a whim, I searched the Wunderlist Support Center to see if there were other aficionados hiding in a space not indexed by Google.

Lo and behold, I found my people! So many of the other threads are full of angry Internet personas (nothing makes people complain quite like not getting as much free stuff as they want), but we were actually cordial.

Our original thread's header in the Wunderlist Support Center.

Sadly, we had such a long and lively discussion that we discovered the Community Forum’s technical limits the hard way. After we had contributed the maximum 100 posts to our thread, I found myself mysteriously unable to post to it. The posts aren’t numbered, so there was no real way we could even know how many we’d made. I had to contact WL Support myself to find out there was a limit in the first place. There were no other references to that limit, so that was an unpleasant surprise.

I was, however, encouraged when a Support staffer created a new thread and added a (non-clickable, as usual) link to the old one in its first post. Hooray! Problem solved.

Until it wasn’t. After “a period of inactivity,” the thread was automatically deleted and unrecoverable. It only went inactive because we reached a limit we hadn’t even known about! That was extremely upsetting. After WL’s three-day sync debacle, I started seriously considering changing apps.

Happily, our original poster, Youssef E.B., saved us! Like a good GTD-er (and a good Internet researcher, really), he kept a PDF of the entire thread for Part I. He sent it to me, I extracted the text, and I am posting it here at Lindsay Loves.

Click here for the archived, plain-text version of the Wunderlist Community Forum thread “GTD with Wunderlist – Part I.”

I have the original PDF, but the file is too huge for me to host publicly. The Support Center only allows plain-text posts anyway, so that plain-text version is as close to mint as possible. The text is completely unedited. I copied, pasted, removed the upvote/downvote text, and did nothing else.

If you’re interested in Wunderlist and GTD, come join us on the Part II thread. Update 5/22/18: The Part II thread is no longer available. No registration required. Also feel free to leave comments here or use my contact form; I’m just an ordinary user, but I do like to help people. Enjoy!

Currently: October 2016

Currently at Lindsay Loves

No one in my life died in September. On that basis alone, it was a much better month than August. Other than that, it was pretty neutral.

Here’s what I am currently…

Cheers-ing: I’m glad “toasting” a couple of months ago really did mean “putting in a toaster.” That’s how I answered it. It could have meant this kind, though. I don’t really have anything specific to celebrate at the moment. I have a local wedding towards the end of the month, so there should be some bubbly festivity there.

Organizing: My calendar and task list, as usual. I have a very full schedule until the end of the calendar year. My saving grace is that I’ve been using GTD for over two years now, so I don’t have emergencies so much as new Projects. As long as I write everything down, minimize my inboxes, and review my calendar and task list every day, I’ll be fine. And yes, saying “I am not going to do any of those things on my list because I need a break” is a perfectly acceptable approach to task management. As David Allen says, you have to know what you’re not doing in order to feel comfortable about not doing it.

Dreaming: Of a life with adequate sleep. I have been trying extra-hard since I made it through August to go to bed on time and get up on time. I feel less exhausted than I used to, but I’m struggling with the flip side: I’m not getting as much done as I used to. It is very hard to close up shop and go to bed, especially because I have no human help with getting anything done. (Technology is great. I make the machines work for me as much as possible.) So I’m dealing with the chronological and physical aspects of sleep, but I need help with the emotional part.

Buying: A birthday present for my godson. He lives far away, so I basically never get to see him, but I send presents. He might be the closest thing I ever have to a child of my own. He’s still little, so we can’t write to each other, but presents are a language all kids understand. I try to find a balance among fun gifts, religious gifts, and educational gifts. I would like to think those adjectives also describe my personality. Maybe add “extremely organized” (see item 2 above).

Listening: To a lot of podcasts, as usual. Fr. Mike Schmitz is back at school, so he’s doing a new series, and it is a gem, as usual. I marathoned Catholic Bytes a few weeks ago and got hit between the eyes once or twice. I don’t always agree with Catching Foxes, but I always laugh, and that’s worth something. I also slipped in archived episodes of Productivity Book Group for The 12 Week Year and Making It All Work. I have a long commute.

Recapping: September

  • I didn’t blog much. Something had to give.
  • Mr. Man and I have a tiny two-person book club. Our selections lately have been pretty solid. I reviewed one for ATX Catholic.
  • The heat finally broke, weather-wise. It’s still 87 degrees at 9 p.m., but the mornings have been almost chilly.

So what’s new with you? What are you organizing currently?

Currently is hosted on the first Wednesday of each month by Anne of In Residence. This month’s guest co-host is Jacqui of Drink the Day. Won’t you join us?

Wunderlist and GTD: Getting Started with Email Bankruptcy and Inbox Zero

I am not a GTD or Wunderlist coach or trainer, but I do like to help people. One of the biggest hurdles is just getting started, especially if you’ve heard that GTD is too complicated, or you’ve been burned by trying to use apps for GTD before. Maybe I can help. This will probably be the least app-oriented post in my ad-hoc GTD and Wunderlist series, but it tells you how I got started. Maybe this will work for you, too!

A note: Some people are dabblers. They think, “I will try this new app/system/process/thing to see if it works.” So they use it halfway, or two or three times total, and then they decide it doesn’t work. That’s not me. I am an “all in” kind of girl. I call it the “This Is My Life Now” Method. I said to myself, “GTD is my life now. Wunderlist is the app I’m using.” I gave myself permission to quit in a month if it wasn’t working, but during that month, I was all in. And I stayed there.

So, be warned: my advice will only help if you’re ready to dive in all the way.

Declare Email Bankruptcy

I use GTD mostly for my personal life, but I use a less-strict version at work, too. Unless you are starting a brand-new job, you probably have a backlog. (Life always comes with a backlog.) You have an old to-do list, or two, or three. You have Post-Its stuck to your desk, walls, and computer monitor. You have emails in your inbox that you read and then marked as “unread” because you need to do something with them, but you didn’t do it the first time you read them. Now, though, you can’t remember what it is that you have to do, so you have to re-open the email and re-read it to figure it out. I’ve heard stories of inboxes with 3,000 unread emails!

That’s not good. That’s no way to live.

The bad news is that you might not ever catch up, and all of that stuff is clutter that you can’t stop thinking about. David Allen calls these “open loops.” You are wasting time with every email you have to re-open and reassess. You have a note on your desk that says “Mom.” What does that mean?

The good news is that no one lets you forget something that’s really important. I forgot to pay taxes on my AmeriCorps Education Award one year, so the IRS sent me a strongly-worded letter. They did not forget. If any of those 3,000 emails is critical, you will get another email. If you forget to call your mom on her birthday, she will let you know.

There is really only one way out: declare email bankruptcy. Put every single email in your inbox into a “Backlog” folder. If you use Gmail, like I do, label them all “Backlog” and archive them. For physical to-do lists and Post-Its, put them in a file folder or envelope labeled “Backlog.”

Now, take a deep breath and enjoy the look of your clean inbox and clear desk. The Gmail iOS app even gives you a smiling sun as a reward!

Gmail at inbox zero says, "You have no mail. Please enjoy your day!" Thanks, smiling sun!

Sign up for Wunderlist and look at your big, empty Inbox list. Don’t worry; you’ll be seeing these beautiful, clear vistas again at least once a week. This is your life now.

Learn Inbox Zero

Inbox zero is a way of life. Your goal is to reach inbox zero at least once per week. This means that you will have:

  1. Zero emails in your inbox
  2. Zero items in your physical inbox(es)
  3. Zero tasks in your Wunderlist Inbox list
  4. Zero tasks floating around in your brain

Yes, this is possible. I’m living proof! (I struggle with my physical inbox.)

The simplest way to visualize this is to compare your email inbox to your physical mailbox, the one the U.S. Postal Service uses. Some things that wind up in there are fun, like birthday cards. Some are less exciting but very important, like bills. Some are things you just can’t figure out how to stop getting; we call that “junk mail.” I’ll bet you can think of parallels for things floating around in your brain.

No one goes to the mailbox, peers inside, shuffles through to get the fun stuff, and closes it back up with the junk mail and bills still inside. If you do that for too long, the box gets full and the Postal Service will literally stop delivering your mail until you go to the post office in person, with ID, and tell them that you’ve emptied it out. True story.

In GTD terms, any thoughts bouncing around in your head work just like emails lingering in your email inbox. Think of your brain like a gooey version of your email inbox. According to the cognitive science David Allen cites in the revised edition of the GTD book, your brain inbox can only hold about four items. After that, one of them has to go before something else can be stored. That’s why you forget where you parked.

The key is to get everything out of your inboxes and into a trusted system like Wunderlist. You will work out of that system. Not out of your head. Not from memory. Not in your email inbox. You’ll build a system, use the system, and work the system.

Practice Inbox Zero

I’ll use email in this part because it’s more straightforward, but the same things apply to processing your brain, your physical inbox(es), and your Wunderlist Inbox list.

From now on, you don’t “check email.” You process email. You will deal with every single email that hits your inbox as though it’s a piece of regular mail. Emails don’t live in your inbox anymore. They come in (something you can’t always control, just like regular mail), and then you process them out.

This is a shortened version of David Allen’s basic GTD processing workflow:

  1. Open the email (unless you can delete it without opening it, based on the subject line).
  2. Decide what to do with it. Ask yourself, “What is this?”
  3. Delete it, if possible. (It will be in your trash folder if you make a mistake.)
  4. If you need to do something based on what’s in the email, and you can do it in less than 2 minutes, do it right now.
  5. If someone else needs to do something, delegate the task by forwarding the email to that person.
  6. If you need to do something, but you can’t do it now, forward the email to me@wunderlist.com. The subject line becomes the task title, and the body of the email goes into the task notes.
  7. File the original email in one big “Archive” folder. Gmail makes this easy.
  8. Repeat until you have zero emails in your inbox. Then celebrate!

In summary: open, decide, delete/do/delegate/defer, and file. Move fast. It will be scary to start filing and deleting emails immediately. Everything’s still there if you need it, though. Even Gmail only deletes your trash every 30 days.

Aim to reach inbox zero at least once per week. When you get really good, you can reach inbox zero several times a day.

Stop “Checking Your Email” Constantly

If you have been “checking email” for more than 30 minutes, stop and do some other kind of work. Unless one of your explicit job responsibilities is to read and reply to email, you have other work to do. It’s called Getting Things Done, not Checking Your Email All Day. Open your inbox, and process to zero. Then go to Wunderlist and work from there. You will find all the work you have to do because something was emailed to you.

How often should you process your inbox? That’s up to you. The best of the best can do it just one a day, in the late afternoon. At a minimum, I process first thing in the morning, before lunch, after lunch, 30 minutes before my workday ends, and last thing. That last check usually consists of deferring everything to the next day. To figure out what works for you, try processing every 30 minutes. Adjust from there.

I can’t lie: it was scary when I applied this at my job for the first time. I made it My Life Now for a week, and now I’m never going back. It took my coworkers some time to get used to our new face-to-face exchanges.

Coworker: Did you get my email?

Me: When did you send it?

Coworker: Just now [or “two minutes ago,” “ten minutes ago,” even “thirty minutes ago”].

Me: No, I did not get your email. (opens Outlook, which I use at work) (discusses email with coworker)

But now I’m evangelizing them all about the glories of converting. It’s pretty cool.

Capture, and Work Through Your Backlog

You might also wonder what to do with new tasks, random task-related thoughts, or things like a honey-do list. Those don’t show up in Gmail. This is where the first step of GTD, Capture, is invaluable. When you think of a new task (or get one from someone else) by any channel other than email, enter it into your Wunderlist Inbox list or put it in a physical inbox tray.

As for your backlog, go through that in 30-minute or 10-email bursts once a day, every day. Start with the most recent emails (because those will have the freshest or most urgent information) and with any emails from family or friends (because they care about you). Truly urgent things (like a fire alarm) don’t let you ignore them, and people get angry when you ignore them. Once you reach items that are over about 30 days old, you can probably ignore those forever.

To manage and complete tasks in Wunderlist, you’ll actually be moving into the five-step GTD process. Discussing that is for another day.

Additional Resources

Sci-fi writer and Evernote Ambassador Jamie Todd Rubin offers some tips for how to stay at inbox zero. Skip the first tip. Boomerang makes you re-process email, and Mailbox is no longer available.

Wade Roush of Xconomy shares his story about declaring email bankruptcy. Don’t be scared! You can do this!

Gretchen Louise offers her own tips for maintaining inbox zero, including one for the Spam folder that I also use.

The widely-accepted originator of the term “inbox zero,” Merlin Mann points out that inbox zero is a state of mind, not just a number. Your actual work shouldn’t be maintaining that zero; just focus on reaching it more often than never.

The GTD VSG (Virtual Study Group) hosted a discussion on working from zero. You can download the recording directly or find it in your podcast app of choice. There is some great advice on how often to aim for and achieve inbox zero.

I really like the team at Asian Efficiency. They updated their recommended email processing technique to promote inbox zero and get rid of their previous folder system. The current recommendation is basically the exact system I use at work with Outlook (which has superb email-to-task integration).

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