How advanced software can help you to get you to 100%
The last post showed how simple list management solutions prevent us from getting a 100% GTD system. This post will describe some ways advanced To-do software could help you to get closer to the ideal 100%.
The following points are a description of what is possible today. All the features discussed here are possible with at least one tool that is available now. I have been using OmniFocus (copyright OmniGroup) for OSX (Pro version) and iOS. It allows me to do all of the features described. Other software with the same capabilities might exist. If you are using an advanced tool with similar capabilities, please share it in the comments.
I hope you will find the detailed feature description useful when evaluating which tool to use. The points can serve as a checklist for choosing your most powerful tool. It tells you what you are missing out on, if you are using a simpler tool. I hope it will inspire you to use the tool you are using to serve you best or change to one which provides them if you are dissatisfied.
First of all I want to provide you with an explanation of the terms tool, outcomes, task and open loops for this post: By (advanced) tool I consider a software you use for organizing your outcomes and tasks according to GTD’s principles. The tool organizes your desired outcomes as projects, here called outcomes, and the next physical actions, here called tasks. This is equivalent to what would be on the project list and the next actions lists when using a paper system. Open loops mean all the internal and external commitments you have. In a 100% system you use a tool to deal with all the open loops.
In the following I will describe how advanced tools might help in each of the 5 steps of the GTD workflow:
- quick entry from any application / any screen
- mobile client
- pre-clarify while adding
- task linked to outcome
- multiple outcome levels
- show open loops
- defer date
- recurring tasks
- lots of outcomes
- add task to existing outcomes
- support review
- review cycles for outcomes
- show only available tasks
- adaptable filters
- adaptable view layout
1. Capture with advanced tools
To capture ALL your open loops the following features might help:
- Quick entry: Very often we are on a computer while getting things done. With advanced tools it is possible to quickly add items by pressing a shortcut. You type your thought in a pop up appearing and then continue working as if nothing has happened. It does not matter which application you are in. Quick-add from any application lowers the barrier for entering distracting thoughts.
- Add on mobile: Today a lot of us have a mobile device at arms reach. This enables us to directly write down an idea the first time we have it. It could be in the store, the restaurant or on the coach at home. The tool should have a mobile client, which enables you to quickly add task, ideally by voice even without opening the app.
- Pre-clarify while adding: Some open loops you capture you might also clarify immediately. Predefine a task while entering it. For example, if “email Bob about budget missing approval” comes to your mind, you should be able to append it to its project and context directly from the quick add pop up. This saves time and you don’t have to clarify it again later. Pre-clarity will not be appropriate for every open loop. It is helpful to have that option.
2. Clarify with advanced tools
To clarify EVERYTHING you have in your inbox regularly the following features might help:
- Task linked to outcome: There is a semantic link between the outcomes and the task trying to complete them. The tool should capture this connection for you. Simpler tools do not have this important feature. If you use a system appropriately this connection is incredibly helpful. Otherwise your brain will probably recreate the connection mentally every time you read an item on your list. Especially when going through your outcomes in the weekly review.
- Multiple levels: Often outcomes need to be split in sub-outcomes before deciding the tasks for them. The tool should capture such hierarchy like “get job at A” > “get interview at A” > “email application to A”. It saves the results of your clarification decisions to trigger further task later. Ideally the tool does not limit the amount of levels you can use.
- Show open loops: With GTD you define at least one task for any unaccomplished outcome. The tool should present you with all the outcomes without any task. This way it helps you quickly closing open loops.
- Defer date: Sometimes you cannot do something until a certain date “pre-order tickets for A on January 1st ”. You should be able to set a starting date for a task or outcomes. This way you can easily postpone things without the need of an extra tickler system.
- Recurring tasks: There are probably things which you want to do on a regular basis like “check mail again after X days”. You will probably only use such routine reminders if the creation of the previous tasks can be done without thinking. Advanced tools can create repeating tasks with custom intervals and rules.
3. Organize with advanced tools
To organize ALL the results of your clarifications the following features might help:
- Lots of outcomes: If you clarify all your open loops in a granular way you will need a tool that is built for keeping track of countless outcomes. It should have no limit on the number of outcomes you can create and allow you to create new outcomes very quickly. The number of outcomes you track in your tool depends strongly on your current situation and how you like to review them. An effective way for the tool to support you in structuring your reality outside of your head is by letting you create outcomes with keyboard shortcuts. I find it much too long if you need to drag and drop to create a project. Probably you will never have thousands of projects, but I think imagining to be able to create, organize and complete a huge number of projects permanently shows if your tool really scales up.
- Add task to existing outcomes: The system should make it easy to append tasks to outcomes quickly. The easiest way to do this is with an outcome field in the quick entry tap mentioned above. This way you can create both a task and its outcome at the same time.
- Templates: In addition to recurring tasks, you probably have outcomes, which you want to do more than once. The tool could save you time by letting you recreate outcomes you did before. You can improve your workflow from one completion to the next. It serves as an adapting checklist.
4. Reflect with advanced tools
To reflect on EVERYTHING in your system in the appropriate time intervals the following features might help:
- Support your review: One of the most important habits when doing GTD is doing a weekly review of your system. This review ensures that everything is up to date. As David Allen says “If you are not regularly doing the weekly review, you are not doing GTD”. The tool can help you in reviewing your outcomes by offering you a review perspective. This view lists the outcomes and their associated tasks. You could also jump through all the not yet reviewed outcomes using a shortcut.
- Review cycles: If you externalize your open loops into a tool you will most likely want to review different outcomes in different intervals. Most of the outcome will default to being reviewed weekly, but some may not. Long-term outcomes are most likely reviewed only on a monthly or quarterly basis. A tool can reduce your review time by letting you postpone the review of some outcomes.
5. Engage with advanced tools
To engage with your world by using your tool to decide what do next the following features might help:
- Show only available tasks: A task list is most useful if it contains only tasks that are relevant and doable right now. The tool should only present tasks to you, which you can do at that moment. Deferred tasks should be hidden until they are active. Some tools let you keep track of sequential steps in your project list. They keep track of tasks which depend on something else to be done first. Those tasks should not be shown on the task list view.
- Adaptable filters: When deciding what to do next you want to scan through the available tasks for that particular moment. The list should be filtered according to constantly changing criteria. It should be easy in the tool to see all task related to a specific context or outcome. Ideally you can save the filters and perspectives you go to regularly. Define a shortcut for them. For example, it should be quick to see all tasks you can do at home, otherwise you will most likely not use the tool to decide what to do next once you enter the door.
- Adaptable view layout: If you use the system extensively it is important that you can quickly scan over the list of the currently available tasks. I find it more efficient for me to scan through a list of tasks if each line represents a separate task with its associated outcome. It might be a matter of taste and how you like to process information. The tool should give you the flexibility to arrange the list’s structure according to your preferences.
If you want to maintain the state where your system reflects your complete current reality, use as much help from today’s tools as possible. Effective software for GTD can help you in all of the 5 workflow phases. It lowers your burden to capture inputs. It lets you quickly clarify and organize those inputs. It makes the reflection over your active outcomes effective. It lets you choose what to do next by showing you only the tasks at hand.
In today’s rapidly changing environment the tool you use should support you as much as possible to get your system to 100% completion. Currently available advanced software has the possibility to make the complex task of externalizing open loops at full scale much more approachable than simplistic tools.
Most of the available tools require some setup for those features to work. Let me know which tool you use. I could describe the setup for the most requested tool.
This post is part of my productivity series on advanced GTD. If you like the content, please comment and subscribe below.