Choose your weapon: picking a tool for GTD

In Which Our Hero Selects His Weapon In The Battle Against Chaos

In many ways, the principles of GTD are rather tool-agnostic.  You can write down your tasks and dump your memory into any one of many different repositories, both physical and electronic.  That being said, it is helpful to have some kind of framework available with which you can evaluate all the various options out there.

In my experience, a GTD system works best when it meets the following criteria:

The system is readily available to you at all times

Your chosen repository will do you little good if you are not able to easily refer to it at all times. Whose to say, for instance, that you won’t suddenly get inspiration on a new project while out running (it happened to me today, as a matter of fact)?

Ease of use

Similar to the above, but not necessarily the same. You could probably find a Web 2.0 app that was available on both your iPhone and online (therefore meeting the above criteria), but was still an absolute boor to use. If it’s not easy to query, edit, and analyze what’s in your system, you will surely shy away from using it, rendering it worthless.

Tagging or other means of categorizing items

Without the ability to easily filter and sort your lists based on contexts or other tags, the task of deciding what to do at any given moment becomes harder. For instance, if you are on the train headed home after work, and you only have access to your phone (and no internet), you should be able to quickly see a list of all the tasks in the “@phone” context.  It also makes it very easy to check off your “next action” and “waiting for” items across multiple projects.

Tracking of completed items

It is an accepted fact in the world of psychology that positive reinforcement is very powerful in changing behavior patterns. As you continue in your efforts to ingrain the principles of GTD into your daily life, being able to see all that you’ve accomplished can be a very powerful motivator to continue down your chosen path. I’ve found it amazingly satisfying to look back at the past week on a Friday and see just how much I’ve been able to do.

I believe all three of these could be accomplished with any number of tools, be it a web app like Remember The Milk (a subtle endorsement for my weapon of choice) or a simple paper based notebook. To me, that’s the point of the framework: it’s platform independent. Hopefully you will find it useful in your quest to find the right tools for implementing GTD.

Speaking of which, if you already have a framework, what is it? How do you evaluate all the various options available to us?