“There is one thing we can do, and the happiest people are those who can do it to the limit of their ability. We can be completely present. We can be all here. We can…give all our attention to the opportunity before us” – Mark Van Doren
That pretty well sums up the goal of Getting Things Done (GTD:) allowing you to always be able to focus on the task at hand, whatever it may be. The idea is to put everything you need to do or remember into a trusted system. As long as you use it all the time you will trust it enough that your brain can let go of trying to remember everything; thus allowing you to focus on whatever you need or want to focus on. The best example of this (from David Allen’s follow up book “Making It All Work”) is a calendar. If you have a lot of appointments that you keep on a calendar you probably don’t stress about remembering all of them; you just look at the calendar. But how would you feel if your calendar got lost? A little panic probably. The point is that everything should be stored in a trusted system; not just future appointments.
To do this you need a way to capture and then review everything: to-do items, projects, notes, things to buy or read or investigate and so on. So here’s an explanation of what I’ve been using to do that.
Since I use FogBugz for software project management at work and I found this nice post on GTD with FogBugz and they are kind enough to offer a free version hosted online for up to two people, I thought I would start there. So far so good. The main reason why is that while FogBugz is designed to be a full fledged project management system, it is also designed to be fast and easy to use and to stay out of your way. So it’s flexible enough to deal with large projects, yet still very quick when dealing with even the tiniest day to day tasks.
Adding items into the system is flexible and easy. Typically I use the quick add method when using a computer. This little trick was designed to be quicker than adding lines to notepad.
If I’m not at a computer then I use my phone. On of the most clever parts of FogBugz is its ability to sort incoming email into something like 12 categories. So I setup my commonly used categories as areas in FogBugz: At Home, At Work, At Church, Errands, To Buy…Then I can just send an email from my phone with the category in the subject line and that’s it. The next time I check my lists in FogBugz the new item will be there in the proper area, well at least most of the time it’s sorted correctly. I like this method because I always have my phone with me. An alternative solution is to simply keep a notebook with you at all times and use it to capture everything. I just couldn’t figure out a good way to do that. So the phone method works great for me.
When it’s time to actually do things I make use of the filtering capabilities to look at only the items of current interest. You can filter on pretty much everything, and then search after that if needed. Filters can be saved too, so if I have a few minutes to make phone calls before my next meeting then I can just look at my To Call filter. The filters also allow me to view my FogBugz items from my phone. Since I have a Blackberry, which isn’t known for optimal web browsing, this was the part I was most concerned about when I started trying FogBugz. What I ended up doing was saving filters for all of my commonly used categories and then setting up a bookmark to each category page using Opera Mini’s speed dial. The FogBugz site works fine on the mobile browser, but it’s too clunky to navigate the filter menu with the Blackberry. So this little work around lets me view items from anywhere without much hassle.
One of the great new features in the latest FogBugz is subcases. Just select a case and then add subcases as needed using the same quick entry method as shown above. I’ve been surprised at how useful this is. It makes it easy to turn a reminder into actual steps that need to be done. Or to track a small projects like our recent remodel job.
Other handy features include tags to further categorize items (like agenda items for an upcoming work meeting), a full blown wiki to take notes or track larger project info, file attachments on any case or wiki entry, and due dates. I still use my calendar for appointments and anything that absolutely must be done at a certain time, but the due date option is still nice to have. I use it for remembering loose deadlines, things like when I promise to send somebody something by around the middle of next week. You can get a daily email with items due today and overdue items so that’s handy too.
If I hadn’t been so familiar with FogBugz (boy I wish they would change that name, especially after just typing it 59 times), before I started I probably would have just tried using the tasks features in Outlook or Gmail along with Google Docs. But so far it’s working great. If you haven’t read Getting Things Done yet I highly recommend it. And if you’re feeling adventurous sign up for a free FogBugz account and give it a go.