The Apple GTD System

The two most important things about your system are that you trust it and enjoy using it.

I’ve been using the getting things done methodology for over half a year, and since then I have used Evernote almost exclusively as my system. Evernote is a great application for implementing GTD. You can apply contexts using tags, and create your different lists using notebooks. What’s more there are levels to these, you can create nested tags and notebook stacks. Evernote is also a multiplatform beast, featuring web clipping and the best way of saving emails I’ve seen. But with all of these features comes weight. Even when first using Evernote it feels big: like an unexplored wilderness. Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to acclimatise (mostly thanks to www.thesecretweapon.org).

However, Evernote felt larger than necessary especially on my phone and iPad. I would often find myself only using my system at my own computer, because the mobile interface just couldn’t display all the complexities. So I lost trust in my system and almost avoided using it. I realised it was time to change. A key point David Allen makes about GTD is that it’s not about the app. There is no GTD approved app, because the app isn’t really what’s important. It’s about making a system you feel comfortable with. That could be physical even. The point is, it needs to work.

I tried many apps briefly:

  • Remember The Milk – Weird interface and the logo kind of freaked me out
  • OneNote – just as powerful as Evernote with almost all of the same problems
  • Todoist – the app places too much emphasis on urgency and the free version is too limited
  • Google Keep – No way of storing notes in different bins
  • Simplenote – a bit too simple

Eventually I looked at my iPad’s home screen and saw Reminders: an app I had never opened on my previous iPad (which I had for 3 years). I then thought, perhaps this could work. So I typed in ‘GTD Reminders’ into Google and bang a concise, but plentiful article from you guessed it: Lifehacker.

The transition took some time, about an hour to transfer it all out of Evernote. But reminders could not take on all of Evernote’s workload, for Evernote was storing detailed notes, receipts, manuals etc. So what I had to do was split it up which perhaps counterintuitively has made my GTD far more enjoyable to use. The diagram below shows what I transferred and to where.

Diagram 1That may not mean much to you. Quite frankly, I struggle to work it out. But all you need to know from that ‘diagram’ is that I split up all those bins and contexts on the left that were all in Evernote into three apps: Notes, Reminders and Google Drive*. Google Drive also stores my general reference and project materials.

It’s a lot more manageable. I’ve even modified a few things, like finally realising the need for a @read/review context and Reminders (as the name suggests) can remind you with an alert to do a task, for example I’m reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People at the moment, so I have it set to remind me to read it every other day.

I must admit, there are a few things I miss about Evernote. For instance, before I would clip email receipts straight into the Receipts notebook. Now I have to save the emails as PDFs and if there are multiple emails for a receipt I then have to merge them. But this has the upside of ensuring that all reference materials are stored in the same place as opposed to some on Google Drive and some in Evernote. Reminders also lacks tags. Tags allow for a task to under multiple categories e.g. @Home, Now, Project A. My workaround for this is to use the Notes feature in Reminders which is slightly more tedious as I have to enter it each time (it’s not automatically saved like a tag is), but it makes the system cleaner and less complex.

Reminders

All in all, I’m relieved. This slight, but considerable modification to my system has already motivated me to stay focused and get things done. I can see it working for the considerable future.

I will keep you guys updated on any changes and if you have any questions about my implementation or what GTD is please feel free to contact me here.

*I know this is called the Apple GTD system, but Google Drive is essentially the same as iCloud Drive, and plus Google Drive works on all Apple devices.

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