Are you a member of the cult of GTD? David Allen’s time management system has gotten so much attention in the last several years that you’ve probably at least tried it out. If you found GTD didn’t work for you, you might try again–there’s a whole host of Web 2.0 tools for GTD.
Allen’s Getting Things Done describes five stages of mastering workflow: collect, process, organize, review, do. Some devotees of online GTD divide these tasks up among several apps, while others keep them all in the same place.
Doing what they do best: stand-alone apps
Collecting your stuff. The first step in GTD is collecting all the “stuff” you need to deal with in some kind of container. Your collection tools probably include your inbox and your voicemail. But have you tried using Google Notebook as a collection tool? Gina Trapani of Lifehacker points out that not only can you capture information anywhere on the web using Google Notebook, you can also set it up so that your spouse or co-worker can add to your Inbox.
GTDers on the go may want to try Jott as their collection “bucket.” Call Jott and record a message to yourself, and they’ll deliver a transcription to your email inbox. Users report the transcription quality is surprisingly good; as it turns out, Jott uses a mix of voice-recognition software and actual humans.
Processing and organizing. Processing your information means taking it out of the inbox and either handling it right away or putting it in a system you trust to be handled later. Plenty of online apps are vying to be your trusted organizational system.
One of the most popular online GTD organizers is Remember the Milk. Blogger Geektronica recommends using tags to differentiate between projects and mark items as “someday,” “sent,” and “next actions,” then using saved searches to keep track of your workspace. Remember the Milk has recently gotten attention for being one of the first applications to implement Google Gears, letting users take their lists offline.
37signals’ Backpack also boasts a considerable following among GTDers. Its reminders feature is patterned after the GTD tickler file, and tagging project pages lets you specify both project and context for a given action.
Hiveminder is a cute little listmaking app that offers quick braindumping and then some nifty ways of organizing those action items. It’s worth a look if lists are your thing, whether or not you’re into GTD.
Hard landscape. Reminders and tickler items don’t go on a GTDer’s calendar, but birthdays and meetings do. These “hard landscape” items are events that must happen on a specific day or not at all. Judging from the number of search results, Google Calendar gets more love from the GTD community than any other online calendar. Google’s online application suite generally appeals to GTD devotees, who have written several Firefox extensions to tweak Google’s apps to better fit GTD.
30boxes also has a strong following in the GTD community. No doubt about it, this app is a slick calendaring application. Its creators have created a really thoughtful data entry process that parses your info quite well. For example, you can enter “run Sunday 1pm repeat weekly” and it will create an entry every week. In addition, 30boxes has some thoughtful integration with other online apps like MySpace and Twitter for those who enjoy complete online transparency. Also, the calendar has more of a full-screen view going on, so there are fewer instances where you’d have to drill down to see what you’re up to on a given day. And of course, there aren’t any advertisements–at least for now. A big drawback, however, would be that sharing would be a lot harder than with Google Calendar, which has a much larger user base.
The all-in-one approach: apps designed specifically for GTD
If cobbling a system together out of several different applications doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, you’re not alone. Vitalist, a tidy-looking app launched several months ago, aims to implement GTD to the letter. Your dashboard is the left-hand column where you can add projects, assign tasks to your projects, and specify contexts in which to complete the tasks. You also have an inbox, to which you can forward emails. Vitalist will keep you completing your tasks on time, if you enter due dates on your to-dos. Additionally, Vitalist now integrates with Jott, so you can use that application to assign yourself tasks. A premium subscription to Vitalist ($5/month) lets you upload files and share tasks with others.
Nozbe is another popular GTD-specific web app. Nozbe has a broader pricing structure, with four different subscription models. The free version only lets you have one “context” (a setting appropriate for a task, such as “home” or “office”). Contexts are key to GTD, so taking Nozbe for a serious test drive on the free plan could be tricky. Nozbe is also a little difficult to navigate and is quite a bit more opaque than Vitalist. For example, when you first sign up, the dashboard areas are cluttered with sample tasks you have to get rid of. You can’t add actions from the action dashboard, only from projects. GTD concepts and 2.0 functionality are definitely represented here, but Nozbe could spend a little more time on design and usability–especially since it costs more than the competition. Keep your eye on Nozbe, though, since last week its founders published an API, which could really ratchet up its popularity.
SimpleGTD, true to its name, is the most stripped down of the all-GTD-all-the-time apps. It’s brand-new and it’s cheap–the developers only request a $2 donation. It definitely seems on its way to facilitating a super-fast brain dump, which would be integral to Allen’s vision of clearing your mind. But SimpleGTD is young yet, so look out for some “under construction” signs and dead-ends for the time being.
Why so many applications in the GTD space, with no clear frontrunner? For one thing, it’s clear that geeks love GTD, and lots of GTD solutions started out as a way to scratch someone’s own itch. But even technophile GTD disciples often find that a paper-based GTD implementation works best for them. Harvard student Josh Rothman put it this way in 2004, before any of the all-in-one apps were launched: “The goal of GTD is [to] get things as much off your mind as possible, and software… makes you think about the software. Before you know it, you’re spending time improving or rethinking your wiki, notebook, or outline. This is exactly not the point of GTD.” Either that, or the paper-based GTDers may just want an excuse to keep buying Moleskine notebooks.
- Tom Markiewicz on July 18, 2007 at 09:08 AM:
I’m preferring the desktop based GTD apps for the Mac. I started using GhostAction, but now I’m loving OmniFocus even though it’s not even in beta yet.
- Bryan Collick on July 18, 2007 at 09:21 AM:
Great review, Nick.
Recently Remember the Milk provided list accessibility through Twitter as well. Sending a direct message to their twitter page will post an item in your RTM inbox. There are other commands as well.
- Josh S. on July 18, 2007 at 10:47 AM:
You missed one of the best ones: Todoist. It can be set it up with projects however one would like, so GTDers are happy, but so are partial GTDers and non-GTDers.
- Jose on July 18, 2007 at 06:04 PM:
GTD didn’t work when it was launched. Nowadays users have other options to organize their agenda.
- Jake on August 27, 2007 at 09:37 AM:
You should also list Toodledo.com, which is a very powerful online to-do list that supports GTD. Here is an article that explains how to use Toodledo with GTD: http://www.toodledo.com/info/gtd.php
- kelly andersen on September 24, 2007 at 09:23 AM:
Nick, thank you for the review. Paper-based gtd might be effective in tracking a dozen of tasks. However when it comes to hundreds of tasks and issues, we cannot do without good software tools.
I also apply gtd approach. But I prefer to have a whole picture of projects instead of bunch of disconnected tasks united by several tags or necessity to do them some day:)
I use Wrike for this purpose (http://www.wrike.com). It combines tags and hierarchies, gives a clear view on multiple projects, has many productivity features that I love.
- DanGTD on April 16, 2008 at 09:07 AM:
For implementing GTD you might try out my application for time management and productivity,
You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
Hope you like it.