Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Using Notes to manage my Tasks in a GTD way

Since the start of the year, I have been trying out a number of different tools for implementing Getting Things Done (GTD). For the last month or so, I have reverted to using Lotus Notes as a task tracking tool. I have been using the standard Notes email database design and did not use any special tools.

In order to ensure I was following GTD best practices, I read a document from David Allen's company which gives very practical advice on how to use Notes for GTD style task tracking. This guide is quite useful - as a long time Lotus Notes user I already knew most of the tips and tricks, but a new user of Lotus Notes would really benefit from reading this guide. Unfortunately it was written for an older version of Lotus Notes and so it does not mention any of the newer features such as follow-up flags or  the ability to drag emails from your inbox onto your ToDo list to convert them into ToDo items.

While I followed most of the instructions in the guide, I deviated from the official advice in a number of ways:
  • David Allen is quite adamant that it is important to distinguish between appointments which have a specific date and time and tasks which don't. However, I like to see at a glance what I need to do next. Therefore I ignored David's advice and configured Notes to show a all incomplete ToDos to on my calendar. I used the following guidelines when deciding which date to assign to tasks:
    • By default tasks go into today's list. By looking at a combination of my appointments and ToDo items for a particular day, I can quickly see when I am over booked. For example, if I have only two or three appointments on a day I can expect to get quite a few ToDo items completed, but if I have seven or eight meetings on a particular day I know it is pointless to expect to expect many ToDos to get done in the short gaps between them.
    • Whenever I see a day that is overbooked, Notes allows me to easily change its assigned date by using drag-and-drop to place it on a date with fewer appointments. This automatically updates the start date field for this ToDo without needing me to touch the keyboard.
    • By default ToDo items don't have a due date. If something really needs to be done by a particular date I will give a due date of the day before, then Notes will automatically put a red indicator beside it on my calendar after the due date is passed so that I can see it is more urgent.
    • I tend to put the less important ToDos on  Friday. This means that they don't clutter up my list of things that I need to do on a particular day, but at the same time I can easily see them if I have some free time and am looking for something to do.
    • I put most personal ToDos on Saturday unless they are something which can only be done on a week day (e.g. ring insurance companies to get a quote).
    • I put things that fit into the "Someday/Maybe" category onto new years eve. When it comes to the end of the year and I am making new years resolutions I can decide if I want to move these onto the active list or leave them on the "Someday/Maybe" list for next year.
    • David Allen recommends creating ToDo entries with an agenda for anyone with whom you will need to meet with regularly e.g. your boss. If I have a scheduled 1-on-1 with somebody I normally place the Agenda entry on the date of our next 1-on-1. If I don't have a scheduled 1-on-1 meeting with this person I move the agenda out some number fo days in the future which reflects my feeling for the urgency of the items on the agenda. If something on the agenda is really urgent I might even place a due date on it to remind me that I need to meet the person in question.
  • I followed David Allen's instructions on setting up categories for my ToDo items, but I must admit that I did use categories for all of my ToDo items. I find that I tend to have around 30-50 items and so I find it relatively easy to scan through them even if they are not all properly categorised. Therefore the small amount of time required to assign a category to a ToDo item is wasted time for me. I have heard David say that most busy professionals should expect to have about 150-200 outstanding things listed in their task management system. I am not sure if this means that I am not very busy or if it means that I don't capture all of my possible ToDos in a tracking system (I suspect the later).
  • I delete ToDos as soon as I complete them rather than marking them complete. I do this partly because I want to save space on my limited email quota and partly because I find that completed ToDos tend to clutter up some of the Notes views. However, I do realise that this means I won't be able to properly do reviews of what I was spending my time on - I might  change this policy in the future.
  • David Allen's guide gives no mention of the use of Follow-Up flags (probably because they were not contained in the version of Notes that was available when he wrote his guide). This feature allows you to place a flag on an email indicating that you need to take some action on it - then you can safely move it out of your inbox safe in the knowledge that you won't forget it. In general these flags are very simple to use, but I would love to hear some expert advice on how/if these flagged emails should be managed in conjunction with my ToDos
In general I find that Notes is very efficient and easy to use. Since I already use Notes for email and managing my calendar, it is very efficient for me not to have to switch to a different tool for managing my tasks. As a result, I think that this will be my task tracking system for the foreseeable future.

I have heard people speak highly of the eProductivity template which makes it even easier to use Notes in a GTD compatible way. It probably is very good, but I find that the standard Notes template works fine for me. In addition I believe that IBM won't pay the cost of the template and I don't think that I want to pay this out of my own pocket.

1 comment:

  1. Was looking into that just last week, I was due to attend the webinar of David yesterday, but realised that he was on east cost of US so time did not agree with me.. I believe I am a very organised person, and all I've read so far is what i think I have been doing with my mails, the issue for me is a one-stop-shop to track everything from all diff applications to follow-up on but there is no such central place that is easy to use & manage.. ;-) Rgds, Fred