If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably already know that I follow the GTD method developed by David Allen.
GTD is a very flexible method that allows you to use any tools that you are most comfortable with to implement it. You can use paper and pen tools, a digital solution or a combination of both.
Personally, I use a mostly digital system. In this post, I’ll discuss my digital toolset and how I use it. I’ve already discussed GTD in previous posts, so I won’t discuss it here again. I’ll just discuss my digital tools and how I use them.
So, there are four important tools you need to have in order to implement GTD (or any time management or productivity system to be honest), they are:
- A note taking app
- A calendar
- A task manager
- A cloud storage solution
Each of these tools does one thing very well, and it’s important that you use it for that thing only. There is some overlap in the functionality offered by each tool, but you need to keep strong boundaries among the tools you use so that you are always sure where to look for something when you need it.
Let us now discuss what each of these tools are used for. Your note taking app is where you put all your notes — your text-base brainstorming, research and reference material. Depending on your notes app, you can also store images, PDF files and other material you use for reference or research. Examples of this include clipped web pages discussing a topic you are researching, a mind map you make to organize your thoughts around a topic, meeting minutes, notes taken down while answering a phone conversation, ideas for projects that you write down and so on.
I personally use Evernote as my note taking app, but there are many alternative tools on the market. In a subsequent post, I will discuss the detailed features of Evernote and why and how I use it. But for now, it suffices to say that you should choose a note taking app you are comfortable with and use it for this purpose only.
Next, you need to choose a calendar app. Your calendar is where the hardscape of your day goes. Its where you record the time, date and duration of your meetings, Drs appointments, publicity events or any other event, appointment or meeting.
Your calendar should only store things that you have committed to, if you clutter it with things that you may or may not do, you’ll lose trust in your system and stop looking at your calendar.
There are many calendar apps on the market. Every mobile platform has a built-in calendaring solution, and you can easily use that. However, you may want to play around a bit with third party apps to see if anything suits your workflow more than the native apps on mobile platforms.
Personally, I use google calendar as my calendar service since it can be accessed on virtually all platforms, and use Fantastical 2 on my Mac and iOS devices to access google calendar — on my Windows 10 machine I use Microsoft’s native calendar app to access my google calendar. I use Fantastical because of the strength of its natural language processing, which allows me to enter, for example, “meet John for coffee today at 7Pm” into its input box and rest assured that the app will parse it into the correct slot on my calendar.
I’ll discuss Fantastical in more detail in a later post, but all you need to do is choose a calendar app that suits your workflow and use it to record all your events, appointments and meetings.
Next is your task manager. You’ll spend a lot of time in this app, so choose wisely. Again, as in the case of calendars, there are native apps on most ecosystems that you can use for this. For example, Reminders on iOS and Mac, and Google Keep on Android.
But since you will spend a lot of time in this app, you may want something more robust. Personally, I use Todoist since it is available on all my work platforms (Windows, Mac and iOS), and has just the right combination of simplicity and advanced features to suit my needs.
So what do you put on your task manager? Any task you need to do. Many people confuse tasks with appointments, and try to put them on their calendars. But that is a big mistake. As I said previously in this post, put everything where it belongs so that you don’t get confused when you are looking for something. You should be able to know exactly where to look in your tools for something once you determine its nature.
Examples of tasks include, “renovate child’s room”, “get report done for next meeting”, “buy some milk”, etc. Notice that these aren’t appointments, events or meetings. They are not things that you have to attend or go to, they are things that you have to do, thus they go into your todo list or task manager and not your calendar.
Finally, your cloud storage solution is where you store the files you are working on. It is here that your word, excel or photoshop files are. You put them there so that you can access them from anywhere — from your home, work or even from your mobile when you’re on the go. There are many awesome cloud storage solutions, but I’m mainly a user of Dropbox. It is in Dropbox that I’ve stored all my work files and it here that I go when I want to find a file I’m working on.
It is very important that you put everything into the appropriate tool, and that you have only one tool for each category. For example, if you use Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox as your cloud storage facility, you’ll lose a lot of time looking in three different places when you want to find a file and can’t remember where you put it — to be honest I’m sometimes guilty of this, since I have Office 365 OneDrive space and I’m a Dropbox premium subscriber.
Fortunately, I don’t do this very often and I try to maintain rules for each category — for example, I store Office files I intend to work on while on the move in OneDrive since it has better integration with the mobile Office apps, and then I move the files to Dropbox when they’re done for record keeping.
Let me wrap up this post with an example to further clarify things. Let us assume that the dean of my university asked me to make a presentation about the department’s research and educational facilities to present in a meeting with an accreditation body that is coming to visit us.
I immediately enter “create a presentation about dept research and educational facilities” into my todo list as a project. I then immediately go to my calendar app and enter the time and date of the meeting so that I know when to show up to the meeting and so that I don’t double book that time slot for something else.
Next, I go back into my todo list and create next steps for the new project I’ve just created. Example next steps may include
- Email the head of the postgrad committee in the department and ask for statistics about the program
- Call the head of the lab technicians and ask for information about our undergraduate and postgraduate labs
- Research the visiting accreditation organization to learn what they want to see in an institution
And so on.
These all go into my task manager. Next, I begin brainstorming about the structure of the presentation, this I do in my notes app. I also clip the webpage of the accreditation organization, and enter all information I receive from the people in my department pertaining to the presentation into my notes app as well.
I do my research and prep work in my notes app. Once I have enough material to work with, I create a new folder in my cloud storage solution (Dropbox in my case) and create a new PowerPoint file there. I can now work on my presentation from anywhere, using the information I’ve researched and stored in Evernote, and guided by the tasks I’ve entered into my task manager.
Looking at my calendar on a daily basis allows me to judge the urgency of the task so that I know when to do it, and reminds me of the location and date of the presentation so that I don’t forget it when an overwhelming load of work falls into my lap.
That’s it ladies and gents, my digital toolset and how I use it. I hope that this post has given you ideas and inspiration to choose your own toolset and tailor it to your workflow. Until my next post, bye for now.