Category Archives: Software

My GTD setup in RTM

It’s come up a few times: “How do you use RTM?” “What do your lists/Smart Lists look like?”

I cov­ered them briefly on RTM’s blog but they’ve changed a bit since then, and I’d like to flesh them out a bit more.1

Obvi­ous­ly my work has meant that I come in con­tact with a lot of users’ meth­ods that they share on the forums, and I’ve bor­rowed a few. :)

The first method I ever imple­ment­ed was Doug Ire­ton’s “clas­sic” post on the RTM blog on imple­ment­ing GTD.

My set­up devi­ates from that though. The basics are there — I try to min­i­mize use of due dates, I orga­nize my tasks by phys­i­cal con­text (home, phone, com­put­er, work, etc.) and I try to make my list cap­ture every­thing.

How­ev­er, I try to keep my set­up as min­i­mal as pos­si­ble, a lot more min­i­mal than a full-on GTD set­up. The biggest thing is that I don’t real­ly orga­nize my tasks in projects; that’s just not how my work or life revolve.

To show you what my orga­ni­za­tion looks like, here are my lists on the web­site:

RTM list tabs

As you can see, I only have two prop­er lists2: Mine and Shared. The only rea­son I have two is to sep­a­rate tasks that are shared with Dean­na. (I’ve shared that list with her.)

The rest of my orga­ni­za­tion is tag-based, and I’ve cre­at­ed a num­ber of Smart Lists (shown in blue) to orga­nize them in ways that I reg­u­lar­ly use.

I use my Inbox as a place where my quick­ly added tasks end up — some­thing I’ll email in, a hand­ful of tasks I think of and want to get in quick­ly with­out set­ting any prop­er­ties, etc. — but I emp­ty it reg­u­lar­ly.

Most of my Smart Lists are pret­ty obvi­ous (and cor­re­spond to a par­tic­u­lar tag or two), but a few of them are worth men­tion­ing:

  • zzz: This is a Smart List that puts tasks to sleep until a cer­tain time before they’re due. (When I’m look­ing at my list of tasks to do at home, I don’t care about the bills I have to pay until it’s time to pay them.)
  • !Next: (((priority:1 OR priority:2) AND NOT list:zzz) OR (NOT tagContains:@ OR list:Inbox status:incomplete)) AND NOT (list:Target OR list:Grocery)
    This is a list of all “next actions”, things I can do present­ly. Nat­u­ral­ly, this will exclude any­thing I’ve “put to sleep” as men­tioned above, and also things that I’ve des­ig­nat­ed as some­thing that I’ll get to lat­er. It also catch­es any­thing I haven’t filed cor­rect­ly (any­thing not tagged cor­rect­ly or in my Inbox) and it will exclude any­thing in my spe­cial Tar­get and gro­cery lists. :)
  • !Today: ((dueBefore:today OR due:today OR priority:1) AND list:!Next OR (NOT tagContains:@ OR list:Inbox status:incomplete))
    This is a Smart List that shows me the things I real­ly have to do today — or should at least try to. On a real­ly good day, I’ll clear this list. It’s every­thing from the !Next list that’s over­due, due today, or high pri­or­i­ty.
    Per­haps its obvi­ous, but this is where I spend the bulk of my time, with the occa­sion­al jaunt over to my !Next list.

Tag CloudLast­ly, my Tag Cloud shows how my tags/lists are being used. It should be no sur­prise that a lot of my tasks are things for me to do on the inter­net. :)

My goal with my orga­ni­za­tion is to make it quick and easy to use. I can quick­ly add a task that will show up where I’ll see it (!Next and !Today) and orga­nize all sorts of tasks that won’t show up there.

Let me know if you’d like any more point­ers or tips on how I do things.

  1. First­ly, you should read my notes on GTD; if you don’t under­stand that, my method­ol­o­gy will make less sense. I’m not going to reex­plain it here. []
  2. Inbox and Sent are lists RTM cre­ates []

Some notes on GTD

I start­ed this post on Decem­ber 15, 2008. I’ve most­ly kept it intact and sim­ply pub­lished it for the sake of get­ting it out there. It’s not near­ly as sprawl­ing as I ini­tial­ly intend­ed; you’re wel­come.

Remem­ber the Milk is one of my favorite web­sites.1 Keep­ing a list of tasks, keep­ing it sim­ple, and keep­ing it cur­rent are ways I man­age my life. It’s noth­ing super pro­found or super impor­tant for me, but a list of tasks keeps me from becom­ing over­whelmed.


My basis for task man­age­ment is GTD. Mer­lin Mann sum­ma­rized it quite well, and I still think of his four-year-old arti­cle when dis­cussing GTD:

Basi­cal­ly, you make your stuff into real, action­able items or things you can just get rid of. Every­thing you keep has a clear rea­son for being in your life at any giv­en moment — both now and well into the future. This gives you an amaz­ing kind of con­fi­dence that a) noth­ing gets lost and b) you always under­stand what’s on or off your plate.

Obvi­ous­ly it’s great for pro­fes­sion­als where you’re more or less paid for being pro­duc­tive, but I’ve found the prin­ci­ples to be very use­ful for my own per­son­al life as well. (I’ve found that it goes very well with Inbox Zero—inci­den­tal­ly also by Mer­lin Mann — which basi­cal­ly pre­scribes that it’s not worth your time to waste it on email, and that your goal should be speedy mail man­age­ment and an emp­ty inbox.)


So I’ve been con­vinced about these GTD tech­niques for a few years. Here are a few ways I’ve attempt­ed to imple­ment them:

  • Tid­dlyspot: A host that offers free Tid­dly­wikis, Tid­dlyspot show­cas­es a few “fla­vors”, two of which are geared to GTD usage. Quite use­ful, easy to get used to, but only real­ly usable on the inter­net and from a com­put­er. And way too fid­dly for my taste.
  • Remem­ber The Milk: It should­n’t sur­prise you at this point that I use Remem­ber The Milk2, but I’ve been using them for two years. RTM’s ser­vices are its strength; you can access your tasks wher­ev­er you are — on your com­put­er, phone, in your Gmail, etc. — and be remind­ed of what you have to do.

Sor­ry this post does­n’t have a great fin­ish; like I said, I’m pret­ty much pub­lish­ing it as-is, and I don’t have any­thing pro­found to say at the end of this. Let me know if you’d like my thoughts on some­thing else. :)

  1. I work there now, but did­n’t when I start­ed this post. []
  2. Uh, hel­lo, I work there, remem­ber? []

Google Maps Navigation

Google Navigation on AndroidGoogle Maps Nav­i­ga­tion: A Free, Ass-Kick­ing, Turn-by-Turn Mobile App — Google maps nav­i­ga­tion — Giz­mo­do

If Google sells this in the App Store for zero dol­lars, those mil­lions of bucks Apple makes off of GPS app sales will like­ly dis­ap­pear. It’s not for us to wor­ry about until there’s no more GPS com­pe­ti­tion except Google, and we’re depen­dent on their pace of progress, but no com­pe­ti­tion is a bad thing. And it’s a lit­tle strange that Google’s search mon­ey is going to pay for a free map app that is com­pet­i­tive with stuff that costs $100 a year from full-time GPS mak­ers like Tom­Tom. Unfair is the word that comes to mind. But I can’t say I don’t want this app.

Agreed, on all counts. I won­der if Apple will try to play any dif­fer­ent­ly with this than with oth­er nav­i­ga­tion apps since this is Google; does that make it any more “con­fus­ing­ly sim­i­lar” to the iPhone’s Maps app (dri­ven by Google Maps)? I think not, but I also would­n’t be con­fused by a mobile Fire­fox (Fen­nec) or Google Voice.

It’s easy to see Google’s (and their users’) advan­tage in enter­ing a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket this way, but yeah, I would­n’t want to be their com­peti­tors either.

It does scare me how much data Google now owns, more in how they ditched their licen­sors so they could do some­thing like this. But I want this app too. ;)

Tree Style Tabs

Fed­eri­co Mena Quin­tero — May 2009 Activ­i­ty Log

Tabs show up hierachically, on the side by default
Tabs show up hier­achi­cal­ly, on the side by default

An inter­est­ing — if not ful­ly inte­grat­ed — exten­sion. Too many options, mess­es with the default tab order (when clos­ing tabs, etc.) but orga­nized and unclut­tered, even with twice as many tabs open.

It’s not too often I’ve seen a Fire­fox exten­sion that real­ly changes the way I (can) oper­ate.

Least frustrating system


I don’t con­sid­er myself blind­ly brand-loy­al to the Mac.

I know, right? Co-founder of a indie Mac soft­ware com­pa­ny?

I find Mac OS X to be the least frus­trat­ing of the cur­rent­ly avail­able options, but the buck cer­tain­ly doesn’t stop there. We have miles and miles to go in terms of mak­ing com­put­ing bet­ter. I want my socks blown off, and I don’t care whether it’s Apple, Microsoft, Google, or the open source move­ment that does it, as long as some­one does.

I hope that mak­ing it1 Some­one Else’s Prob­lem will work out for you. If you put your faith in Apple/Microsoft/Google, or even in the open source move­ment, you can expect what you get. Since at least I can par­tic­i­pate in the open source move­ment, if it does­n’t blow off socks, I can say that’s my fault2.

  1. “total usabil­i­ty utopia”, for lack of a more all-encom­pass­ing word []
  2. in part, of course :) []

A new phone: Terrible timing?

So my AT&T con­tract is up this month and I’m con­sid­er­ing all my options for my next PDA. My Black­Ber­ry has been slow­ly dying on me, and I’ve not been hap­py with it.


It’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise that I’m a big fan of Android—it is pro­duced by Google — so ide­al­ly I’d get an Android device next.

How­ev­er, I’m not ter­ri­bly inclined to switch to T‑Mobile; their net­work is small­er and not as robust in all loca­tions. And the G1 leaves a lot to be desired, so I’d rather wait for the next iter­a­tion. But how long will that be? Hard to say, though they may have a new, awe­some device soon, so it may be worth wait­ing.

I had also men­tioned that AT&T would like­ly be pro­duc­ing Android devices, but that dynam­ic seems to have changed some­what: I sup­pose because of their ties with Apple and the iPhone, they’re not keen to pro­duce any com­pet­ing devices cur­rent­ly. And I can under­stand that, though it’s unfor­tu­nate.

It does seem like I’d be join­ing an active com­mu­ni­ty though. :)


An iPhone would be a sol­id choice, and I cer­tain­ly think the devices deserves (most of) the acclaim it’s been get­ting, but I’m not switch­ing from one pro­pri­etary mobile device to anoth­er. Even if it is Apple. I’m also not impressed with the inabil­i­ty to run back­ground appli­ca­tions, and while jail­break­ing the phone would open up a lot of extra func­tion­al­i­ty, I’m not inclined to do that. I don’t want to sup­port Apple by buy­ing their device if I don’t actu­al­ly sup­port how they design their soft­ware.


So my two choic­es feel like this: Get an iPhone (and pos­si­bly jail­break it) or switch to T‑Mobile if/when they release a sec­ond (slick­er-than-G1) device.

Are there oth­er choic­es? Which do you think I should do?

Users Don’t Like Change

Face­book’s Users Don’t Like Change — Read­WriteWeb

Users don’t like change, and as a prod­uct becomes more pop­u­lar, users will grow ever more resis­tant to change.

The entire arti­cle (about Face­book’s con­tentious changes to their News Feed) dis­tills to that one sen­tence. It’s not a Face­book thing1, it’s a peo­ple thing.

Real­ly, I grow tired of all this resis­tance to change. While I’ve been there too — it’s easy to get habit­u­at­ed — it’s annoy­ing to hear. Microsoft Office 20072, Fire­fox 3, Safari 4, Black­Ber­ry, iPhone, etc. etc.

It would seem that if peo­ple had their way, inter­faces would become sta­t­ic (at some unspec­i­fied point) and remain there. Rather than fix­ing quirks, users would sim­ply habit­u­ate to them. And there would be lit­tle room for inno­va­tion.

I under­stand that designers/engineers don’t always get things right, but espe­cial­ly with com­put­ers, there is a lot of change from year to year, and that’s a good thing. An incli­na­tion to embrace change would go a long way to enjoy­ing the dynam­ic world of tech­nol­o­gy. :)

  1. But I do under­stand that Face­book removed func­tion­al­i­ty in this update, and that is a prob­lem. But a dif­fer­ent prob­lem. []
  2. I hear com­plaints about the Rib­bon all day at work, worst of all from my cowork­ers! []