GTD System v.2

Last year I wrote about my transition from Evernote to Apple Notes, Reminders and Google Drive. I will be honest, I have not been using that system for a while now. A few months after (circa September), I noticed a big hole in the system: Apple. Reminders and Notes are great apps, but they only work (offline at least) on Apple’s macOS and iOS.

The iOS part was fine, I use an iPhone, but I don’t use a mac. I was using Apple Notes and Reminders on my PC using icloud.com. It wasn’t perfect because it required some trickery with Chrome, but it was feasible and almost as good as the iOS apps. This was when the only PC I owned was my desktop. I used an iPad and iPhone whenever I was out.

In September, I started University which meant, I needed a laptop. And not because I wanted to type up notes in lectures or anything so trivial. I needed a laptop to write code (I study Computer Science). Remember earlier how I mentioned that Reminders and Notes work offline only on Apple’s OSes? Well, that was a problem. I need to be able to use my GTD system everywhere: on the train, plane, bus, ferry, wherever. These places often don’t have (useable) Wi-Fi.

I noticed this when trying to perform the Weekly Review on the train, the perfect location. A few hours to spare in relative quiet and comfort. I opened Reminders on my laptop and nothing. It doesn’t work because it’s a webpage not an app and the train WiFi just didn’t work at all.

I realised that this system was not going to be usable anymore. Before, it was fine, I only used Reminders and Notes offline on my iOS devices. However, I needed to replace Reminders and Notes with apps that work (offline) on Windows, iOS and other platforms for the future.

In a quest for universal Notes and Reminders apps I found Simplenote and Wunderlist.

Let’s start with Wunderlist: it’s brilliant. It has everything Reminders has apart from location reminders which I never used. It also allows for tags! Which is one major shortfall of Reminders. It also has a few other smart features all shown below.

wunderlist

Simplenote is not really much better than Apple Notes (apart from being multi-platform), but I couldn’t find anything much simpler that still featured folders/tags. However, Simplenote was no good either. It failed to do the most important thing of a notes app: sync properly. I couldn’t trust it so had to switch. I did research the problem, but even if I could fix it, Simplenote was a bit too simple. It has no formatting.

So the quest continued, and I stumbled upon a good old friend: Google Keep. I remember using Google Keep long before I came across GTD. In fact, I remember it being the alpha version of my GTD system (back then (2015), it didn’t have folders so I used it as a sort of reminders app).

Google Keep is remarkably similar to Apple Notes which I like. It has one disadvantage though which is organisation of notes, they’re not very neatly displayed and cannot be rearranged by title.

In all, my current system is not so different from the Apple system that came before it. It’s simply a more universal, platform-independent one which I hope will serve me well for years to come (switching systems is not particularly fun). In the next blog post I will cover Inbox, the email client I use to maintain inbox zero.

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.

Building a PC

Sorry, for another rushed blog post, but I want to get this post out before I fall flat on my face, yes it’s been a tiring day.

Today’s topic: building a PC. Yeah, we’re going there. The first question regarding this matter is: build or buy? ie should I build the PC myself or get a pre-built system from an OEM like Dell. If you just want a computer to do computer stuff and you don’t care about clock speeds and memory you’re better off buying a standard computer. If, however you want to get the most bang for your buck, have fun experimenting and build an absolutely amazing machine have a go at building one.

There are many PC build guides around so I’m not going to regurgitate that content, instead here are a few build guides:

So why am I talking about this? Well, just today I decided to research some components for a PC that I hope to build soon. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress of the build.

In a Musical Mood

Ever find yourself singing along continuously and irritating everyone around you? It’s also annoying to oneself most of the time. Generally, the tune has a very memorable melody that you just can’t get out of your head. So how do you stop it or should even stop for that matter? No, don’t stop.

Singing along is great because it means that your musical mind is at the works. However, instead of just singing the old “badababeepbop” change it to “badadabadop”. Changing the tempo, lyrics and rhythm is actually pretty fun. For example, I’ve had that “Gmail man” song from a Microsoft ad a few years back so what I did was use a similar tempo to come up with: “Where is my wallet, where are my keys. I don’t know, you better ask Jeeves.”

Sounds silly I know, but if you find yourself singing a tune, experiment and try to manipulate it to something even sillier or more amusing.