My Organizational System (GTD)

So I've slowly been evolving my organizational system to help me in (my version of) Getting Things Done (GTD).  This post is about where I've been, where I'm at, and where I'm going with it…

So way back in 1994/5 I started using EccoPro personal information manager.  I used this for several years and absolutely LOVED it.  It did calendaring, todo's and notepads.  For me this application was absolutely killer because the notpads used an outlining structure which was fantastic for me because I tend to think in outline from (as many others likely do too).  Thus I could easily transfer my mental organization to paper/electronic form.  Bear in mind this is pre-cellphones/SMS as well as the pre-web days.  Unfortunately development of it was dropped and the product effectively whithered away.  Oh no!  I held on as long as I could and continued to use it, but eventually it became a hassle to try to maintain on newer versions of Windows.  Go read the above linked Wikipedia article for the full scoop.  Actually it still lives, but progress is glacial.

In the year 2000 I broke down and bought a Palm IIIx organizer for the then lofty price of about $180.  This was huge for me as it was lots of money at the time (actually, it still is!), but was easily the lowest price I had seen it at.  I really wanted a Palm device well before that, but it I couldn't justify the cost until it came down in price.  And then they kept coming out with new models of course, but when the IIIx came out it was the right combination of features (mostly memory) and price.  Actually the price went back up over $200 after I bought mine, thus I was quite happy to have bought it when I did.

With my new wonder toy I imported my contacts from EccoPro, gained portable calendar alarms and began to conduct my life with the Palm memo pads replacing the the outlining notes I had previously kept.  I missed the nested listing that EccoPro's outlining provided, but I learned to adapt by breaking things into smaller pieces and keeping them in separate topics as necessary.  Plus, with third-party applications I gained secure password storage and a gas mileage tracker.  The notepad situation was not ideal, but it worked for most everything else I was doing, so life went on.  

I used my Palm IIIx until about May of 2005 when a coworker saw it and gave me a Handspring Treo 90 they were no longer using.  This was really nice because it had a color screen instead of the Palm IIIx's gray-scale.  A very nice, sleek freebie indeed.  It was faster and the colors were nice, but then I found the downside.  I dropped it one day and one of the tabs that hold the flip up cover broke off.  Bummer.  Then, after about a year of using it I started having display problems.  The touch screen calibration would be off and sometimes the display would be scrambled.  I learned that a slight twist of the unit in my hand would get the display straightened out, but I still had to recalibrate the touch  screen every couple of weeks.  And as I knew it would, the display problem kept getting worse.  I was contemplating moving back to the Palm IIIx because although it's bulky by todays standards, it's a tank.

Another development was that I started carrying a (company supplied) cell phone around 24/7 in September of 2005.  I've had two different, yet mostly the same Motorola RAZR V3's.  It's with me nearly all the time, whereas the Palm often wasn't.  And at work I was running around a lot and often left the Palm at my desk because it was bigger and I didn't want to tote them both around.  Thus any notices there obviously weren't getting to me.  Ironically I had the option of getting a Treo phone that would have combined these two devices, but I wanted "the smallest phone I can get".  If I've got to tote it with me everywhere —particularly in the summertime, it needs to be small or I'll likely leave it behind just as I did with the Palm.  I have a full data plan and can (painfully) access the internet, get email and text messages.  One of my primary uses for it has been to monitor my work email.  I wasn't a texting junkie because I didn't have a phone previously and well, I'm well beyond 30 years old.

Finally in the summer of 2007 I started exploring the possibility of dumping the Palm and using just my phone.  But before I could do that I had to be able to replace the functionality that the Palm (and the Palm Desktop) provided me.  This meant contacts, memo pads, reminders and secure password storage.  Moving to an online calendar I knew would easily gain me that functionality with the ability to send reminders to my phone.  And I could surely find something to fulfill the role that the memo pads had been doing.  So I started looking around and then learned that because of my Verizon DSL and it's premium Yahoo package that was included, I could get a conduit to sync my palm to a Yahoo Calendar for free.  So that was an easy choice that also handled my contacts and memo pads (to their notepads) as well.  Because I rarely travel anymore —and this would be web accessible, this was looking really good except for password storage.  Thus I now had the Palm and Yahoo Calendar synchronizing, but didn't really need the Palm now other than the password storage and gas mileage tracker which I figure I could live without.

I mulled around for a bit on how to solve the password dilemma and finally came up with TrueCrypt which would allow me encrypt things stored on a USB thumb drive —which I already had.  But I wasn't completely thrilled with just storing passwords in text file there.  It's useful for toting around things and it was a keeper, but I wanted something else to manage my passwords.  I finally came upon KeePass Password Safe.  So now I had an encrypted password keeper which is stored on an encrypted USB thumb drive.  And although it's not online, I'm fine with that because I'm not entirely comfortable with storing them online.  And if I do opt to put them online it will be in an application hosted from my domain where I have complete control over it.  But I really don't see doing that anytime soon.  In any case, at that point I was done with my Palm device.

So now I had most everything online that I need and my passwords securely stored away.  Life was good.  Now that all the data was online I knew I could easily export it and move on if necessary.  So I used Yahoo Calendar for about about 9 months, but after a while I found a few shortcomings.  It was working well for tracking appointments and sending alerts to my phone, but I was looking at some other things and it doesn't seem to have an easy API available for integration.  So I used it while I continued to explore other options.  One of those being Google Calendar.  I had read a lot of good things about it and was contemplating moving, but Yahoo was working fine.  Thus I didn't explore moving at the time because I had other things to do, most notably trying to figure out a better way to track issues and tasks.

And one of my first stops was Remember The Milk (RTM).  This looked then —and still does, to be a rather impressive application that would suit my needs.  So I signed up, but didn't have the time to really explore using it.  Thus I didn't.  So after a couple of months I learned about Sandy, "your free personal email assistant".  It offered some similar task/todo features to RTM, but also allowed you to easily manage tasks, lists, contacts and appointments via their web site, email, SMS and Twitter.  This seemed rather novel and if I could move my appointments to Sandy I figured I could dump Yahoo Calendar.  So I signed up and started playing.  And within a couple of day I found I liked it, although managing appointments didn't quite pan out as I had hoped —it lacks a calendar view and only displays then in a list form, so I would need to keep a separate calendar.  About he same time I learned about Sandy, I learned about Jott.  Jott also allows similar features to RTM and Sandy, as "Jott converts your voice into emails, text messages, reminders, lists and appointments."  One really cool and killer feature it offers though is the voice to text transcription service.  You can call Jott and tell it send emails to others on the contact list you setup.  And making it even cooler yet, Sandy is setup with Jott's API so it allows you to call Jott and send things directly to Sandy.

I was definitely hooked on using Sandy with Jott as an extension, but I was still looking to get some sort of true calendaring integration for Sandy.  At the time I signed up, Sandy was working on integrating with Google Calendar, thus I began exploring that.  Unfortunately the integration only put a link to Sandy onto your calendar, not your actual scheduled events/tasks in-line on your calendar like I really wanted.  So again, I stayed with Yahoo Calendar and waited for things to get better.  And better it did get.  About a month later Sandy started providing private iCal and HTTP URL's so you could overlay your Sandy events on another calendar.  Done.  I immediately exported my calendar data from Yahoo and moved to Google Calendar.  And I've not looked back as it's a more modern and more full featured calendar solution.  And as a further bonus Sandy also started providing filterable (via their tag system) RSS feeds of your tasks.  So now I have a calendar module and an RSS task list on my "GTD" tab of Netvibes, which I've used as my homepage for quite some time now.

This brings us pretty much up to date as to where I've been, but it's still an evolving process.  At this point I'm really liking being able to email or SMS things onto my task list as well as the occasional one-off appointment.  For regularly scheduled/reoccurring appointments, I still prefer to use Google Calendar.  And when you're driving in your car and think of something you need to do, sending a voice message to Jott and having it transcribed and appear on your Sandy task list is really great, no to mention incredibly cool!  I occasionally will use the ability to direct message Sandy via Twitter, but not so much since I cut back on Twittering.  It's handy though as I'm still running the TwittyTunes Firefox add-on, so it's easy to shoot things off to Sandy from the browser.   So appointments and tasks/todo's are working pretty good for me at this point thanks to Google Calendar, Sandy and some assistance from Jott.

I don't need to access my contact info a lot as I don't have a job that requires a lot of outside contact.  Thus most of my contacts are personal.  So I had continued using the contact feature of Yahoo Calendar.  Google's contact management unfortunately is built in as part of GMail which I don't really care for.  For email I'm quite happy with basic SMTP and IMAP from my own domain that I access with Thunderbird.  But I did import my contacts to GMail recently, although I'm not using it, and just this week I imported my contact into Sandy which was also effortless.  Sandy is probably what I will settle on using for my contacts being I have my tasks there already and more importantly I can easily access my contacts and anything else Sandy stores.  This is done through Sandy's really cool and powerful lookup feature.  You just send Sandy a message (using any of the above mentioned methods) with "Lookup Dr. Nick" and she will return any piece of information you've saved that contains that.  So one can very easily lookup a person or a task from their phone via SMS even with a shortcut: "L Dr. Nick" or "L Widget Project".

So right now the only thing left at Yahoo is the notepads that were created from my Palm import many moons ago.  Nearly all of that is archival information that I rarely access, but I don't want to lose it.  Thus I'm searching for a way to consolidate that and be done with Yahoo Calendar/Contact/Notpad.  I've done some preliminary work on finding an online equivalent to the EccoPro outlining model I used to use as I'd really like to get back to that.  For now I've been mostly using text documents stored on a PC, thus it's not accessible on the go.  I've looked at a couple outlining specific applications and I've toying with the idea of a private wiki.  Today I explored Google Docs and it seems that may meet my outlining needs plus its got spreadsheet abilities.  That would be a cool bonus, but ideally I'd like to be be able to access some of the outlines in some sort of RSS feed or other retrievable format.  We'll see, that's not a major criteria for this part of my organizational system.

And just to keep life interesting, this evening I signed up and started to take a peek at 30 Boxes which offers what appears to be a nifty calendar as well as todo's.  This likely will wither much the way RTM did though as another calendaring option isn't a top priority right now.

So there you have it.  That's where I've been over roughly the past 15 years with staying organized and getting things done.  So what do you do and what do you use to try to stay organized?  I'd definitely like to hear from you if you have ideas on how I can fill in the holes I still have in my GTD system.

It took me two-and-a-half weeks to assemble this post so I sure hope somebody reads it and either gets some benefit from it and/or provides me some feedback.  :)
March 8, 2008 @ 11:05 pm | Category:
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