You captured all of your loose thoughts and actions and wrote them down, you organized them and defined what to do next, now we will look at how to organize all of those items into a trusted system that you can take action on! This is a key part of the process and really is the turning point for fully buying into the GTD system. You aren’t just writing things done and deciding what to do next now, you are building a system that you will use for the rest of your life… no pressure.
Pick a system–This honestly might be the hardest part of the whole GTD process for two reasons. One, you might not fully know what “trust” looks like yet especially if you haven’t been good with managing lists before. Secondly, it’s really hard to pick a good system when there are so many great options out there. It’s easy to get distracted by wanting to try out a new one versus sticking with the one you currently have. There is nothing wrong with trying a few different systems (especially in the beginning), but you need to have some clear definitions of what you want the system to do for you. For us, Informant fits that bill and here is why. This is just speaking for our needs and what trust looked like for us.
- Calendar/tasks view- This was critical as it was great to see everything that was needed to be done in a day or upcoming days. Your tasks lists and calendar are basically the two main tools for a successful GTD system. While any calendar should really function and serve its purpose (as long as you can see different views and stick to the rule that when you put something on the calendar it gets done no matter what), the task manager is where tweaking can come in. Informant still fit the bill for us which leads us into point two.
- The task manager is very powerful- Initially we synced with Toodledo which is another great website/app that is very GTD friendly and has many good features. Even though you may have a main to do list, part of using GTD is to have many lists based on different contexts, actions, energy levels, etc. Informant allowed us to do this and then some by making “smart lists” with even more criteria. For example we could make a list that was personal (not work related) with a context of being home. Other apps can do this too, but Informant was very easy to set up and is multi-platform as well. Even though the IOS versions are significantly updated, the Android apps, still function well enough and updates to them are said to be in the works and coming soon.
Those were the two big reasons for us choosing our system and hopefully you can see that getting to trust your system might mean something different for you. Maybe you want a powerful calendar app and don’t mind having a separate task manager app. Maybe it’s the opposite. Our biggest advice is to not feel stuck using an app that you don’t enjoy using or does not make it easy to complete/view your tasks. At the same time we do not recommend constantly trying out new apps just to improve on one or two features unless the one you are using is very much lacking and that is main strength of the new service. The reason we say this is because with many things in life, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Constantly switching apps can also stop you from actually getting work done. It takes time to move your tasks over, learn a new system, and get into a new flow. If your app/service is mostly working good, but is getting stale, look at some ways you can make it feel like new again or change some settings to see if it will work better for you.
Contexts, Folders, and action lists- Picking the right system/app/service/paper method is crucial to keeping you from falling off the wagon. The next step is how you organize your tasks and following GTD principles. To start you should have contexts, folders, and action lists. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Contexts- This was a game changer for us thinking about our tasks and when we can actually do them. If you have to fix something at home, but you are away on a business trip, well there is no point really looking at that task since you are at home to do it. If you have to do some research or reading though, then a business trip might be the perfect time to do that. Contexts allow you to quickly see what you can do given where you are. While the internet has eliminated some contexts, there are still many relevant ones that you can still use.
Folders- I don’t want to start a debate here, but some people despise folders. Other people swear by them. Tags have become all the rage and folders are outdated. Whatever your stance might be, use one or both, but have a plan! We personally use both. We use folders to separate work and personal. We use tags to identify our areas of focus. if the task takes a lot of willpower or low willpower, and a few other miscellaneous tags to help categorize. We don’t care how you set up your system, but part of the GTD system is being able to pull up your different lists quickly and efficiently. As long as you can do that then you are good to go!
Writing and capturing everything in your head might be a hard habit to change, but is actually very simple to do. Deciding what to do next with a task and creating next actions can be tricky at first, but once you get into a rhythm and really get good at asking yourself “what is the next thing I need to do to move this forward”, this part of the process becomes easier too. We don’t want to say organizing is the hardest part of the process, but it definitely is the one where you can get the most lost and waste time. You can spend a lot of time organizing and not actually doing. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed if you don’t get it right away. Heck it took us years of tweaking (and still tweaking) to get our systems where we wanted it to be. You can always do better, but sometimes good is good enough. Your tasks lists should attract you not repel you. If you can get to that point, missing features and all, than you are on the right track! Step #4 is Review. Look forward to that post in the next couple of weeks!