Saturday, December 27, 2008

GTDAgenda - Goals, Projects, Next Actions and More

Since I have recently been looking around for a replacement for my original web implementation of David Allen's Getting Things Done, or GTD, I took up the invite to review and try another online web based 'cloud' solution. An online solution is still the best method of implementing GTD for me, since a web solution allows access to my GTD system from anywhere I have a net connection. With web enabled phones, Windows mobile and iPhones and near ubiquitous connectivity, there are no drawbacks like having to be at a particular computer to "Get Things Done".

One online solution that has gained attention from many over the past several months is Recently I was provided an opportunity to review the site.

GTDAgenda offers all the standard GTD amenities including Projects, Next Actions, and Contexts which are required to utilize GTD to any extent. However, GTDAgenda takes this one more step and adds some additional features that can be quite useful. Of special interest to me is the Goal Tracking option. Goal setting and tracking is one area of GTD that I have been very lacking in. Obviously not good since setting, tracking and achieving your goals is vital to being productive and enjoying life. Enjoying life and "stress free living" is what GTD is really about underneath all the processes and concepts, so goals are very important.

GTDAgenda Overview
GTDAgenda uses top tabs or links for Goals, Projects, Tasks and Next Actions. By default the Next Actions tab is displayed as your start page, but you can select which tab to start with in the settings area. These areas provide the core GTD concepts that work with each other for emptying your head of all the "stuff" floating around up there, assigning them to projects of multiple tasks if required, and setting the "Next Action". Basically the Capture, Process, Organize, Review, Do GTD commandments.

The 'other' features are pushed off to the top right of the screen which keeps them in reach but doesn't get in the way of Getting Things Done on a daily basis.

As you move up from the 'runway' level, as GTD calls your daily "doing" process, and begin to look towards the future, you need to capture and document your goals in life. GTDAgenda provides a very handy way to do that, and an easy way to tag your projects to those goals so you are working towards them. This is missing in some of the other GTD solutions I have looked at. Goal setting in GTDAgenda is basic, but that is all that should be needed. You trap the name, time line, category, and priority of the goal. You can then tag a project to the appropriate goal but you are not forced to do so for those projects that are not applicable to a particular goal.

Projects are managed on the projects tab by capturing the basic information allowing you to tag that project to a goal during input. Nothing fancy here, just add/edit your projects as needed. On the downside I have found that when I am doing a weekly review or emptying my head, I quickly come up with a task or next action and then realize it is really a project of multiple tasks. Unfortunately this is backwards from how most GTD systems provide for input. Unless I missed something, GTDAgenda does not allow you to add a project on the fly during task entry which would be a useful feature. You can capture the task, go back and add a project and then go back and tag the task to the project, but on the fly project adding would be more efficient.

Task management is simple and straight forward as well, allowing basic entry and tying the task to a Project and Context. Here is where it would be handy to be able to add a project on the fly as you realize this task is really a project. One area where GTDAgenda breaks out of the pure GTD mold, is by providing a 'priority' option. It is a simple 1-5 setting but can be useful when working through your weekly review. Yes, the priority may change but at least you have a capture of your thoughts at the time. For those of you who thought Tasks WHERE Next Actions, read on.

Next Actions
Task vs Next Actions - I have struggled a bit with that since reading and re-reading GTD. In GTDAgenda you can input as many tasks as needed for a project but then have the option to tag one, preferably, but more if needed, as a "Next Action". These then are displayed on the Next Actions tab filtering out all the other tasks. You still have access to the whole task lists on the tasks tab but can easily turn tasks into, and out of, next actions as desired. You also have an option to flag any projects that have not had a Next Action tagged for it which could help weed out any 'lost projects'.

Of course usually you will be living on the Next Actions tab while working your lists so this is an important working area. Tools are provided to filter down the task by context by selecting a context from the right side of the screen. Unlike some other solutions, you can only have one context active at a time. This make sense based on pure GTD level, but I personally have found myself filtering down to more than one context often. Items such as @DESK, @COMPUTER, and @PHONE can usually be grouped together for me to work through. Not a big hurdle, maybe I should just work one at a time anyhow, but I find it easier to see them on a larger list many times.

That is the core of GTDAgenda in a few short... okay, maybe not so short, paragraphs. Fully functional even at the free level, powerful enough to Get Things Done from any connected device, but easy to learn.

What I like...

Next Actions AND Tasks

I like the way you can list numerous tasks for a project and then tag one or more as "Next Actions". This is how I usually work in that I like to dump all the thoughts or tasks for a project while they are in my head and then filter down the full list to just the next action for that project. This may step outside of pure GTD to some degree where just the next action is captured but I like the clear my head when I can and can never just think of the next action on major projects.

Mobile Access - a GTDAgenda Strength

Mobile access via a Windows Mobile phone or iPhone is critical to me for an online GTD solution and GTDAgenda provides a clean, clear and concise mobile display. You can filter down tasks or next actions by context such as @Errands and check them off as they are completed via your mobile device. You have access to all the areas in GTDAgenda and can add task items as needed. You can't edit a task beyond Mark as Done or Delete from what I could find, but that would not be overly common besides cleaning up your list or tagging a task as a Next Action. The most lacking item in this area appears to be the inability to view the Notes attached to the task and/or next action. This is an issue to me since that is where I usually store information such shopping or errand lists instead of making each item an action itself. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that the site worked well even on my old Moto Razr phone's web browser as well as my Tilt.

What I'd like to be Different...

One pet peeve I have with websites in general are those that use fixed width formats and GTDAgenda does indeed use a fixed width layout. I know there are arguments on both sides in regard to fixed vs fluid layouts but I always hate using a site that is fixed at 1024 or smaller and I am viewing on a 1920+ pixel monitor with all this wasted space around the app. Not a deal breaker by any means, just annoying to me.

Adding projects on the fly and the ability to view notes from the .mobi site would really help the usability of GTDAgenda but are not deal breakers.

Also it is difficult for me to justify a pay per use site with all the free or ad supported options available on the web. Although the free version of GTDAgenda does allow you to use it, you have to limit your goal, project, and contexts decisions. It is nice, however, to be able to review the options and look and feel of the solution. Of course even the unlimited version only comes out at $5.82 per MONTH if you pay annually and I blow more than that in change each month so why wouldn't one pay that to improve your productivity?

The Other Stuff
Beyond Pure GTD
GTDAgenda offers some features beyond the Getting Things Done methodology that could be quite useful and have been covered in other reviews.
GTDAgenda offers Checklists, Schedules and a Calendar option. The Checklists is included in the free version while I believe the Schedules and Calendar are only available in the paid versions. The Checklists are available in weekly, monthly and yearly views and allows you to setup ticks for things that need to be done repeatedly but that you do not want to include in your tasks or next actions. Pretty handy for items like exercising, paying bills, or those annual items that are easy to forget.

Email Notices and Additions
Just recently added to GTDAgenda is the ability to turn on or off a daily email of your Next Actions. Looks like it's an all or none option without the ability to select which actions but that is not necessarily a bad idea, you should likely be reminded of anything you have deemed a true Next Action anyhow.

You can also send email to GTDAgenda to create a task, project or a context using the unique email address that is created for each of these items. The email address is displayed on the bottom of the screen for that project, task or context. Possibly handy but a little messy keeping up with the email addresses. I didn't test this option out but I can see where it could be useful if you use GTDAgenda as an incident tracking system allowing inbound emails to be stuffed into a 'pending' project or context.

GTDAgenda is a feature rich Online GTD solution, but straight forward and easy to use. There is quite a bit of power available if you take time to learn the options, but one can easily sit down and be setting up projects, task and goals within a few minutes of logging in.

GTDAgenda also has a forum for customer support and interaction and appear to be constantly reviewing and adding features or enhancing existing ones if they are warranted. I believe Dan Baluta from GTDAgenda is dedicated to building a quality GTD solution for online users and adding some nice options to help boost productivity of his customers as well.

If you have not tried out GTDAgenda and are looking for an online solution that is simple, yet powerful withou a big learning curve, GTDAgenda serves up GTDers quite well. Even with the limits of the free version, those starting down GTD path will benefit from the integrated solution and structure while power GTDers will enjoy the add ons such as checklists and schedules from the pay version.

In any manner, you should take a look at GTDAgenda and make your own decision. for either $3.28 or $5.82 per month you will benefit from goal tracking and easily tagging your projects to those goals which will help you achieve them and just using the free version will get a GTD "system" working for you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Productivity is Dead. Long Live Productivity"

"Productivity is Dead. Long Live Productivity." That quote is from one of Dustin Wax's latest post over at Stepcase Lifehack. In his post Dustin discusses the various backlash movements against "productivity" and Getting Things Done (GTD) in particular. He talks about 43 Folders Merlin Mann's movement away from what he calls "Productivity Pr0n" earlier this year, Glen Stansberry of LifeDev's redefining of the site and Leo Babauta's Zen To Done (ZTD) ideas from a year earlier. The post is titled "Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 1: Transformation" and is a good read. There are to be twelve different installments of this series so it will be very interesting to follow along for the next few weeks and should be a must read for all the GTD productivity hacks around the world.

What seems odd to me, however, is that many are seemingly pronouncing the end of productivity and all the blogs, news, hacks, and more that have become the staple of "productivity" over the past few years. It's as if the big dogs have burned out and thus the rest of us must follow. That the end of productivity is near and we all must find something else to obsess over.

Actually, it appears the main issue is the focus seemingly has been on productivity for productivity's sake, and not for the main purpose of the by-line of Getting Things Done - "The Art of Stress Free Productivity". Like the humans we are, everyone seems to have focused on the easy part: the process, the system, the structure, and not the rest of the book. From my read of the book, a big point of getting all the stuff and 'things to do' organized in a 'system', was not to prove how productive we are or get a more done, it was to get all that stuff organized and out of your head so you concentrate on those things that ARE important such as the things that have meaning. That 50,000 foot concept that Allen talks about in Getting Things Done - the looking at your purpose of being on the planet type of thought.

In reality that is the HARD part of life - the thinking part that makes us stop the busy work and look at where we've been, where we are going, and what we are looking for out of life. Getting Things Done was never meant to be the panacea of life to me, it was meant to be one means of getting past the "busyness" of the day to day life and on towards the end meaning of life which I feel is enjoy living and living what you enjoy.

Zen To Done, which I personally favor, expands the core GTD process steps of Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do, adds some to cover other items outlined in Getting Things Done and put them into basic 'habits' which are easier to understand than how it is outlined in the book. Honestly that concept was very helpful for a simple someone like me. If you look at GTD in general you see the first three habits of Covey to Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind, and Put First Things First right there inside GTD - it's just a process for doing so.

So is Productivity Dead? Hopefully not but maybe Productivity for Productivity's Sake is dead. No loss there for sure. Mann says “If you’ve crossed the river, you should quit carrying the boat.” but there will be many different "rivers" in life that you'll need that productivity boat so I for one will not be selling my productivity boat just yet.

Check out Dustin's series and post your own comments here and there - it should be an interesting start for 2009.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What we have...

It's that time of the year to over spend, over eat, and under appreciate what most of us really have in our life. It seems the gifts get bigger and more expensive every year - or maybe that is just having a kid growing up to be a teenager? I know I am over eating again this year since the scale tells me so. I also know I am under appreciating my life since I have not stopped to think about my blessings in a while.

It gets so confusing when you mix in the fantasy world of TV where stars compare TV sizes and how many "whips" they have on Cribs or where a 16 year old gets a $350,000 "Sweet 16" birthday party to the realities in the world where kids do not have Christmas presents or a new bicycle because the parents do not have a job or other reasons.

In the offset of the TV world last week, I had the honor of helping a local church, Faith Christian Outreach, hand out 414 bicycles to kids around our area for Christmas. We donated money for a bike and my wife was asked to bring cookies for the snacks they provide for the kids and parents receiving a bike, so we thought we would go out and help the process. With at least 100 church members already there I really didn't know what I could do to help.

By chance I thought I would stay at the exit door and help the kids and parents get the bikes out of the building and in their vehicles if needed. That ended up being one of the best seats in the house in my opinion. By then the busy part of the initial presentation and the 'cheer leaders' that were hailing each recipient as they moved through the line was over but the emotions were still there.

I must have said have a Merry Christmas and have a nice holiday 400 times that day but seeing those kids from 3 to 13 with wide eyes of amazement and joy and parents with teary eyes of appreciation and thanks was something I really needed to wipe away some of the blindness I have to appreciate what we have in our lives. Many told me thanks and that without this their kids would not have a bike at all. An amazing number of the kids were saying thanks on their own without that nudging that is usually needed by a parent. Kneeling down there and watching those happy little faces as they were still in awe of pushing their new bike around brought up the teary feeling and itchy eyes many times that day.

I suppose it is the normal 'American' concept anymore - more is good - bigger is better - cooler is required and spend, buy, and feast our way through the holidays but at least for a short period of time I have stopped, looked around, helped just a little and tried to appreciate what we have.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Discussions with Mr. Will Power

I had a good talk with Mr. Will Power the other day... no, not the actor/educator but the real Mr. Will Power. He's a tough old man in my world, sometimes being the most tenacious guy around and others the laziest. Sometimes he shows up when he's least expected and other times cannot be found when you need him most.

Will, we're on a first name basic anymore, is great to have around and is full of good intentions but sometimes hard to motivate. Maybe it's a communication issue. Will needs to know what the goals are in order to do his best job but sometimes *I* don't even know what the goals are myself so how do you communicate that?

My biggest concern with Will Power though, is the reliability factor. Even when we both know what we're trying to accomplish, it seems Will likes to disappear when things get tough or there are important decisions to be made and leaves me all alone to take care of things. I really can't do some of those things on my own and need Will Power to help me out.

I've tried many of the old ways to improve Will Power. I've tried pep talks, setting those small goals and making sure he makes it to them, and other ways as well. I'm sure I can change Will Power if I really want to right? I just need to find that right angle or that special seminar that I can use to say "See, I told you so".

Will and I are trying harder to get along with each other though. I try to give him a pep talk daily and he has promised to be more reliable. Time will tell as new challenges arise if Will Power sticks to his word or not. In the mean time I guess I need to check in with Mr. Hard Work and Ms. Persistence and see how they are doing since it does take a team effort to get things done.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Twittering Away Local Government

How should a local government use Twitter, the micro blogging service that has gained so much popularity? Should it be 1.0 broadcast only? Should it be totally 2.0 interactive or should it be somewhere in the middle? Or should Twitter even be in the mix for local governments?

Some time ago I setup a simple Twitter account for the local government I work for to use as a test for keeping people up to date without them having to check our RSS feed, sign up for a notification system, or visit our site. Right now it is a test, no publicity, no front page story, just testing the waters. The @CityofShawneeOK account picked up a few followers just based on our location but we haven't done much with the account yet. The long(er) term plan is to use the account for notifications when formal meeting Agendas and Minutes are posted, when local news is updated on the main website or when general information needs to be sent out to concerned citizens.

More recently I added some code to an internal notification program I wrote that is used to update key people inside our local government via email, when certain types of Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) or 9-1-1 calls come in, to allow posting to a Twitter account. The accounts @ShawneePD and @ShawneeFD push out certain Police and Fire related calls and updates. This is basically the same process used at the Charlette NC South police department. My solutions builds on the CADCOM (Computer Aided Dispatch COMmunicator) program I build a few years ago but never fully implemented.

Then I read THIS ARTICLE and now I question the initial concept, or at least the total concept. Obviously push only is not what Twitter is necessarily about, although it is often used that way. I like to see the activity come up in my Twitter window better than email and I can easily determine if mobile notifications are desired through my Twitter profile setup for those accounts.

However, my current concept seems to break all the rules of Top 5 Ways to Screw up your Corp Twitter account so is the solution useful at all?

Comments anyone - Should we Twitter away Local Government or not?

What else in a local government could Twitter be used for?