Really Getting Things Done

Since I have found a system that works for me, I feel this can be useful to share with others. The section that follows will be a more generic discussion of ideas but less of a workflow.

For most of my day-to-day actions, I use a Mac running OS X 10.6. My choices in programs will be reflected in that.

One of the most important aspects of my workflow that I adopted long ago was Quicksilver. Quicksilver is a launcher with a lot of features. At its most basic function, it has the ability to open an application by pressing a key command and starting to type the name of what is desired. This might seem small, but not having to search through the dock or a menu saves me a lot of time and hassle. In particular, this keeps me working on what I am doing and less working on how to get my computer to do this.

Quicksilver can also help with other things. In particular, I integrated YubNub into quicksilver. This allows me to then preform all sorts of actions on the internet from anywhere on my computer and have instant results.

Also on my computer, I use spaces to sort applications. This works particularly well for me to reduce distractions. For instance, I keep all of my communication applications (instant messenger and email) confined to one space that I only move to when I’m looking to speak to people or read what’s going on. The rest of the time, I can easily ignore it (and use growl to be informed as I choose to configure it no matter what space I am on)

When I am working, I tend to confine myself to one space with only what I am using for work (such as terminals and editors). I also keep my work then in git. This might seem extremely geeky (which I can’t argue), but it also gives me flexibility with my work. For one thing, it provides me with a detailed history of everything I’m working on and how I’m progressing. It also allows me to go back in time to a different point if what I’m working on doesn’t work out. This can work for anyone that is working on something that uses files (though optimally text files). It has a somewhat steep learning curve, but can generally help keep track of things and encourage a feeling of accomplishment with every commit.

Moving away from technical things is my calendar (I use OS X’s integrated I keep several calendars to sort everything that I need to do (such as personal, work, school, events, skydiving club, or any group that helps describe the events). Keeping multiple calendars helps one to prioritize where one must be faster as well as share only what someone else really needs. Having a calendar really only works if you use it though. For instance, only keeping certain events in it makes it less useful as it won’t show time conflicts. When in doubt about whether or not it might be useful to see, keeping everything in your calendar helps. This allows your calendar to restore balance to your life when you become overwhelmed with where you might need to be.

Tasks/todo’s are really where GTD becomes important and what helps to keep me productive a lot more of the time. I use The Hit List (THL). There are a few features that really stand out and help to make this a good program for me:

Global hotkey for adding todos
Not having to switch to the application allows me to add todos as I think about them. This is extremely useful for not interrupting my work when I get an idea
Good keyboard support in the application
Having to take my hands off the keyboard for any reason reduces my productivity. THL makes it very easy to interact with my tasks quickly
Easy tagging/categorization
Instead of using priorities, I use tags. This is faster to deal with and doesn’t usually require trying to rank various tasks. Instead, you can determine what is more important by what it is related to (which is represented in the tags it has)
A happy sound when you complete a task
This might sound extremely silly, but it helps. Enjoying marking something off of your task list makes you want to complete things. THL plays a simple little sound that helps to encourage you and make you pause for a moment and take a breath. For someone who enjoys this to the point of metagaming their life like me, this is crucial.
Good date management
Many tasks need to recur. Being able to set that is very useful. To keep in the spirit of GTD and to keep the task list under control, being able to set both start and due dates is very important. This means you can shield yourself from needing to see and start a task before its appropriate, required, or otherwise planned by you. This keeps your todo list reasonable. Due dates are important so that you do not slip behind on the really important tasks.

These are some of the larger ways that I have set up my computer and life to be more productive. In the next section, I’ll discuss some of them more generally (why is this better). Finding the perfect application to help you with part of this will always be your own opinion though.