A few weeks ago I got into the Things Cloud Beta (which has been great), and started using the app again to manage my GTD workflow. I’ve been doing GTD for about three years now so I decided that I wanted to share some of the ways my practice has improved, and some of my thoughts about doing GTD using Things.
Since Things has a great iPhone and iPad app, you should get into the habit of using them to capture your tasks whenever you’re mobile. I used to often wait until I was back home at my “home base” before starting the work of collecting tasks. I’d always always forget stuff though. When you’re mobile and capturing items, I like to capture just the critical information. You want to capture information like the due date for a task, or a list of people to be notified. Add a note for yourself to read later when you process the task. Less important details like tags can wait for now.
When you’re mobile, just put items into your inbox. Don’t worry if you know items belong in certain projects. Just get them into your system. You’ll process everything fully later.
Items just don’t show up in our digital GTD system like they do in your email or on your desk. To know that something belongs in Things, you’ve already done some of the thinking about what the item means. This is important because it means there’s friction to getting items in your Inbox. Make it easier for yourself by allowing your inbox to be messy. If your Things inbox was a physical inbox, you’d have all sorts of crap in it. If you don’t feel good about adding items to your inbox, the rest of your GTD practice will suffer because the system won’t reflect reality.
A lot of GTD is about trust. You have to trust that your system will do things like remind you about important tasks, and that everything you’re not doing is in your system, properly defined, and where it’s supposed to be.
The goal of collection isn’t that everything you need to do is perfectly defined, but that everything you need to do is out of your head, out of emails, out of stuff lying around your desk, and in your inbox.
Before you start to do any of your items, process them. Don’t do items from your Inbox. If you do items in your inbox, you’re working from an incomplete picture of all your responsibilities. Processing is an essential phase that helps you clarify and uncover your full set of next actions.
If you work from your Inbox, you’re mixing together “tasks” and “stuff”. This is a bad practice in GTD because you never want to have a mix of knowns and unknowns as it prevents clarity and leads to avoidance.
Processing & Organizing
With a digital GTD system like Things I find it makes sense to combine the Process, and the Organize phases of GTD.
Processing your Things Inbox deals with discovering the next actions related to a task, and if there are multiple next actions, defining a project for them and its outcomes.
Organizing tasks in Things involves down a few things: Moving tasks into the right Projects or Areas of Responsibility, scheduling them, assigning them due dates, and also assigning them tags. When you combine Processing and Organizing, you’re taking each raw item in your inbox and working it completely into a finished action in your system.
Since you’re dealing with digital project lists, and not paper ones, you can do things like drag and drop tasks, add tags with hotkeys, type in due dates, and work with multiple items at time. All this makes combining Processing and Organizing a more effective way of clearing your inbox.
The Two Minute Rule
I find that since I can process and organize my tasks with Things very quickly, the two-minute rule (that any next action you can complete in less than two minutes should be done immediately) isn’t effective. If I’m focused on processing, the two minute rule causes me to lose that focus.
Another benefit I get from not following the two minute rule with Things is that if I process and organize tasks before completing them, I get a log of those actions. Things logs your tasks from projects, but not from the inbox.
As you process your Inbox, try to seriously think about each item. This is one of the hard parts about GTD for me. If I rush, I’ll often miss the fact that one inbox item should really be multiple tasks. If you do identify multiple next actions, remember to create a new project for them. Creating new projects for any outcome involving multiple next actions is something you should always do.
When you create a new project in Things for your next actions, remember to always define the outcome of that project. I use the Notes section of each project to track what a successful outcome for that project looks like.
If it doesn’t feel right to put an item from your inbox in a project or an area of responsibility, don’t be afraid of adding it to your Someday list. You should be doing a review of your GTD system often enough that if you later realize that the item should really belong in a project, you know that not more than a week will pass by before you simply drag it back out into an active project. And as long as you’ve done the work to identify what the next action is, if the item really is a someday action, you can feel comfortable knowing it’s where it needs to be.
If you have any questions let me know, I love talking with others about this stuff.