This note describes my trials with implementations of GTD [Getting Things Done, productivity boost system by David Allen], on my Nokia e71 cell phone. Although my expectations have been imho slightly different than those that majority has, I hope that my conclusion will turn out to be useful for most of you, seeking – like me – The Holy Grail of productivity. Before reading, please learn about the method itself; Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity is a must.
Nokia e71 turns out to be almost ultimate solution for mobile GTDer. It lacks few details but, in general, it seems to be the wannabe-perfect tool for a person who wants to plan his life in fast and efficient way.
In the beginning, I’d like to say few words about my workshop. I’m… well, say I’m a kind of freelancer. My workshop are two PCs, connected to the net in different locations, mobile and my brain everywhere-I-am, also when it’s far too late and too far away to work in a „normal” way – good ideas may appear everywhere; at home, in the office, on a holiday, when taking my daughter to her kindergarten, etc. Besides, I’ve needed a good ‚notepad’ for common things, such as shopping, home to-do lists, etc. With all those requirements, my e71 works perfectly. Almost perfectly.
Hardware & Software.
Nokia E71 is equipped with two things that really make GTDing a pleasure – the keypad and a PIM software.
Keypad on e71 is an ultra-fast, reliable, more-or-less-wide-keyed model. Ergonomy specialists may have their own cons but my opinion is clear: e71’s keypad is good enough to continue this essay 😛
Before e71, I used old Palm device with Graffiti v.1 handwriting recognition system. I’ve considered it – and still consider – to be the coolest note-taking system ever. This feature introduced entering data under almost every circumstance, even, say, on a walk, in the midst of Tesco hall or in the midnight when you don’t need [and rather mustn’t… :)] light all the fires to write down a small idea of a presentation for next month. It may seem ridiculous, but that’s just my way of understanding ‚ultimate GTD’ – taking notes everywhere you are to completely free your mind from remembering all this
messburden of ideas and concepts.
GTD on e71 is done by means of two things: the Calendar app and Active Notes. But first, let’s have a look on basic GTD concepts.
Allen advises to put into the calendar ONLY items with closely defined date & time. You should put there your appointment which you fixed yesterday but you should NOT enter there things you THINK you SHOULD do @ precise date & time, i. e., say, your weekly shopping. To plan all your routines efficiently and free your mind like karate master, you should write the rest on lists, depending on context you’re in. You make separate list called ‚work, ‚shopping’, ‚household’, etc. When you’re at work you analyse things only on ‚work’ list and so on. Placing all but the meetings on list instead of calendar has several advantages. You avoid rewriting frustration, you arrange your time efficiently depending on various factors [priority, time available, even mood, etc] and you’re getting more and more independent from asap things [sudden phone call, blackouts, your workers and their queries, etc.] – at any time you can do just this thing you have sufficient resources [time/ mood/ media/ motivation/ whatever] to do.
e71’s calendar looks rather standard with few useful variations. You can enter four kinds of events: meetings, memos, todos & anniversaries.
Meeting is a kind of entry you can enter with date & time specified, you can also specify repetitions and alarm. No need to explain 🙂
Memo is something w/o time [but with date]. It suits perfectly for entries that have to be done that day but w/o specified time – i.e. calling your supplier tomorrow [w/o given time]. Memo entry can be spread between several days.
Todo can be entered as a thing you should do and it can be marked as done when needed. Seems useful but I don’t need it at all. I use Active Notes instead.
Anniversary – classic form of anniversary reminder. No need to describe.
In my [and not only] GTD implementation its core are lists as they constitute ultimate task management system. Almost perfect tool for making lists on e71 are Active Notes.
First you can organize you notes in folders that can be thought of as just lists. I have
folderslist called ‚Household’, ‚Work’, ‚Shopping’ and ‚Varia” with its uncommon sublists [placing every list on top-level hierarchy harms its ergonomy] such as ‚Bookstore’, ‚Ideas’ and so on. When entering list you can write down your entries instantly.
Active Notes has a sorting feature [alphabetical order]. Apart from the normal usage we can implement one of GTD highlights: projects. Project is a subset of ideas to do. Imagine that you must employ new guy. You should write down a job offer, plan interviews, define working conditions and so on, but all of these acitivities are logically to be done within a given project, say ‚Recruitment’. On e71 it can be done in two ways: separate subfolders / sublists and / or alphabetical sorting, i.e. I can call the entries „recr interviews” recr job offer”, „recr introduce new guy”, etc. Both ways allow instant access to all project elements. I like the latter way but ofc YMMV.
Alphabetical sort can also be useful when setting priority – things you should do really asap but w/o given time you can enter starting with, say, „aaa”. For example, you have to update asap some CSS markups regarding h3 on your blog? 😉 You simply call it „aaa CSS h3” and have it on very top of your todo list.
GTD note: there is REALLY a huge temptation to mark all things to do as „aaa”. You can see someday that you’ve marked three fours of your todos as aaa’s 😉 My own concept are separate folders for „normal” activities and for ideas, plans and „maybes” – not in the canonical sense of Allen’s book, rather divided by a stage of thinking it over. When I have enough resources to do something with those concepts they go either to lists or are deleted. This way my „work” folder contains only important todos, the rest is clasified as „varia” or however I name it so I don’t have to examine the latter during normal task review. This solution partly prevens from temptation of marking everything with „aaaa” but not exactly. You’ve been warned.
When I’m done with a thing I simply delete it.
With e71 it comes a kind of „desktop”. You can customize it to display the most used icons [max 6 in a row]. On mine, Calendar icon and Active Notes are first two. This way everytime I have my e71 unlocked I am max 2 clicks away from my calendar and max 2 clicks away from entering any kind of todo or reminder. I works well; really, really well. I’m using my e71 and this GTD system almost a year and I’am really fully satisfied.
Below the shortcuts you can see awaiting entries, i.e. meetings and memos that have to done soon / asap. This way you can really easily check out and plan you working day.
… and cons
Only two of them are really vital.
Active Notes lack a feature of moving task from one list to another. Say we have two lists, ‚Calls’ and ‚Reminders’ [in fact not reminders, just things we should keep in mind to see to]. When we’re done with a call and have some conclusions we’ve to check in a few days it should be a feature to pass it to ‚Reminders’ folder. There isn’t.
e71 sometimes hangs. But not too often. That’s all.
I’ve tried several things to do a perfect [or at least usable] GTD system. RememberTheMilk.com, my old Palm, old plain handwriting… e71 seems to be the ultimate solution. A person who works only in the net or who runs soho will prob’ly like RTM website but mobile „offline” solution seems to be the best choice as it gives imho fundamental possibility – with e71 you can take notes everywhere you are.