My Current Getting Things Done Setup

In early 2008, I started down the path of using David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. I noted the start of my GTD journey in early February 2008, and then posted an update later that month after I’d settled in to some of the tools. This weekend I spent some time tightening some AppleScripts I’d written and it made me think again about how I use various applications and tools in my methodology. I thought it might be useful information to share with other Mac users.

There are two primary applications in my setup: OmniFocus and Yojimbo. I use OmniFocus for organizing commitments—those things that I’ve committed to do for myself or someone else. This would include projects at work, deadlines for my publisher, tasks to complete at home, calls to make, e-mails to send, or anything else that I need to do. I use Yojimbo for organizing information—the URL that I need for an upcoming project, the contents of that e-mail message that gave me some information I have to save, or that JPEG image that has useful information in it. I would say that together, these two form the basis of my GTD system. Let’s call them the organization layer.

There are two other “layers” of applications that I use: the consumption layer and the creation layer. The consumption layer are all those applications that help me consume information and generate commitments. That would include the built-in Mac OS X mail client (with the MailTags add-on)for e-mail, NetNewsWire for RSS feeds, Camino for browsing web sites, Twitterrific for tweets, Colloquy for IRC, Adium for instant messaging, and Unison for Usenet newsgroups (to name a few). At the other end are the applications in the creation layer; these are the applications that help me create new pieces of information or complete my commmitments. Obviously, some the applications I mentioned already also play here; other applications would include MarsEdit for creating blog posts, or Microsoft Office 2008 for generating documents.

In my opinion, the only way to be truly successful with GTD is to make it quick, easy, and seamless to get information into your system (whatever that system is). In other words, it has to be quick and easy and non-intrusive to get information from your consumption layer to the organization layer. In my case, I need to be able to get information into OmniFocus and Yojimbo easily. To do that, I turned to AppleScript.

I wrote a series of AppleScripts that do the following things:

  • Capture the URL from the frontmost Camino browser window and create a new bookmark in Yojimbo
  • Capture the URL from the frontmost Camino browser window and create a new action in the OmniFocus Inbox with the URL in the notes (I also have a Safari version of this script)
  • Create a new note in Yojimbo from the content of a selected e-mail message in Mail
  • Create a new action in the OmniFocus Inbox that contains a summary of the selected e-mail message from Mail
  • Create a bookmark in Yojimbo from the currently selected NetNewsWire RSS headline
  • Take the URL from the selected headline in NetNewsWire and create an action in the OmniFocus Inbox with the URL in the notes
  • Capture the currently selected tweet in Twitterrific and create a new note in Yojimbo with the contents of the tweet
  • Create an action in the OmniFocus Inbox with the text of the currently selected tweet in Twitterrific in the notes of the action

It used to be that I invoked these scripts via Quicksilver, but I recently re-discovered FastScripts, by the developer of MarsEdit. FastScripts allows me to bind an application-specific hotkey to these scripts, so that a quick key combination pushes data from NetNewsWire, Mail, or Twitterrific into Yojimbo or OmniFocus. It’s quick, easy, and seamless, and allows me to capture information without really requiring a change of focus or without really interrupting my workflow.

Once the information is captured in either Yojimbo or OmniFocus, then I organize the information as needed—assign tags in Yojimbo and place OmniFocus actions into the appropriate projects and contexts. I also have recurring actions in OmniFocus to review the content in Yojimbo. This system also greatly facilitates an “Inbox Zero” approach, since whatever information I need is either a) archived in Mail for long-term reference, b) captured in Yojimbo for use later, or c) pushed into an action in OmniFocus. There’s no longer a need to use my Inbox to help remind me of what I need to do, so it’s easier to keep my Inbox empty.

While it’s tremendously easy to get information from the consumption layer into the organization layer in an automated fashion, it’s not quite so easy to automate getting information from the organization layer to the creation layer. (I suspect if it were easy to automate then many of us wouldn’t have jobs!) Nevertheless, I did create a couple AppleScripts to automatically post URLs from either Yojimbo or Camino to Pukka (and thus to my Delicious.com bookmarks). NetNewsWire already had that ability, so no AppleScript was needed there. Beyond that, it’s a simple matter of using the information stored elsewhere to do my job, create documents, write blog posts, prepare (and deliver) presentations, and so forth—to complete my commitments as noted in OmniFocus. As my commitments are completed, they are marked as completed in OmniFocus and then archived monthly. And, of course, there are the weekly reviews of all my actions, projects, and contexts; this is a key component to making sure that my system is “trusted” and that I can focus on this one task without forgetting about all my other tasks.

So, in a nutshell, that’s the state of “Getting Things Done” on my Mac today. I’d love to hear from other Mac users on how they are using various applications and tools to help them be effective; perhaps I can learn a few tricks! Feel free to share in the comments.

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8 comments

  1. Antti Makinen’s avatar

    I have quite a lot same kind of approach that you have, but I’ve replaced Yojimbo with Evernote (works with my iPhone too, I love also the functionality that allows you to email things to Evernote).

    I found OmniFocus to be a bit too complicated for me (even though I like it a lot), so currently I use just Zenbe Lists for my commitments.

  2. gguglie’s avatar

    Interesting post, I didn’t know the GTD methodology but it seems useful.
    I’m a “casual” mac user (I own a Mac Mini but I use it as my media center, not as my work pc) so I cant really tell how the app that I use works on it.
    Nevertheless, my application of choice to collect and organize information is Evernote: it’s multi platform (pc, mac, iPhone, Android, iPad), it’s really simple to add url, images, notes and also screenshot and allow you to capture something in one place/device and then access it from another.

  3. Jason Boche’s avatar

    I just started reading the book Getting Things Done by David Allen last week. When I’m finished with it, some of the things you’re talking about should make more sense. I’m hoping for great things because I feel like I have 48 hours worth of tasks to accomplish in a 24 hour day. Every day. The month of May is my busiest month.

  4. slowe’s avatar

    Antti, Gguglie,

    I tried Evernote for a while as well, and I loved the multi-platform/sync aspect of Evernote. Unfortunately, using Evernote just seemed forced—I can’t really explain why, but Yojimbo just felt natural and easy to use. Either way, I think that using a program like Yojimbo or Evernote is a key part of a GTD setup.

    Jason,

    I’m sure there are still lessons that I could learn about Getting Things Done, but what I have learned and what I have implemented so far I have found extremely helpful. Good luck!

  5. Antti Makinen’s avatar

    One important tool which I forgot to mention for my GTD (or I think is more likely ZTD these days…) approach, is Ommwriter http://www.ommwriter.com/. Ommwriter is the ultimate tool for me to get things done while flying etc. because it creates very distraction free working environment to outline presentations, draft emails or write anything else you need to write.

  6. David Robertson’s avatar

    Scott,

    I have been using LimeChat for IRC, its free, and the developer has been doing quite a bit of work on it lately. check it out http://limechat.net/mac/

  7. Rodos’s avatar

    I use Evernote and like that I can use it for content plus tagging. I use the checkbox feature with search to create categories. It is a discipline of Zen like nature to keep at GTD. It does not take much to slide off the rails. Its important for good knowledge workers to not be driven by inbox priorities (which are other peoples priorities) rather than your own work agenda. Its is a mistake that I need to constantly remind myself of.

    Rodos

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