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My Getting Things Done Setup, Circa Early 2016

Almost six years ago I shared my (then) current Getting Things Done (GTD) setup, in which I described how I used various tools, techniques, and applications to try to maximize my productivity. I’d been toying with updating that post, but I wasn’t sure that anyone would find it useful. However, a recent e-mail from a reader indicated that there probably is some interest; with that in mind, then, here’s an update on my GTD-like setup, circa early 2016.

Before I dive into the details, a couple quick notes:

  • First, I call this a “GTD-like” setup because it doens’t necessarily strongly adhere to all the tenets of Getting Things Done. I’ve adapted the system to fit my particular role and responsibilities, which is something I strongly encourage every reader to also do.
  • Although I’ve previously discussed moving away from OS X (and this is something that I continue to evaluate and explore), this is—for now—a decidedly Mac-specific system. It’s probably possible to emulate a similar system on other platforms, but I leave that as an exercise for interested readers.

If you read the 2010 post, you may recall that I think of my workflow as having three “layers” of applications:

  • The “consumption” layer: This is where information to be processed enters the system (i.e., is consumed). Applications in this layer are things like Apple Mail (for e-mail, obviously, but with the invaluable MailTags plug-in), NetNewsWire (for RSS feeds; I run an older version that still supports AppleScript), Textual (for IRC), Tweetbot (for Twitter), Adium (for instant messaging), and Safari (for web content).
  • The “organization” layer: This is where things get organized. I say “things” here because there are two distinct types of items: commitments and information. I believe this distinction is necessary—an incoming e-mail from your boss may result in a commitment (something you need to do) or may just be information (that you need to save and make available). These things need to be handled differently. I’ll discuss this in a bit more detail shortly.
  • The “creation” layer: This is where I create output based on input arriving via the consumption layer, directed/assisted/guided by commitments and information in the organization layer. Applications I use here include Microsoft Office 2011 (when I have to exchange documents with other people; I haven’t upgraded to the latest version), OmniGraffle, or Sublime Text 3 (for writing Markdown, ASCIIDOC, reStructured Text, etc.).

There is also a class of applications and tools that don’t fall into these broad categories, but rather serve as “helpers.” This would include things like TextExpander, OmniOutliner, MindManager, FastScripts, etc.

The consumption and creation layers are pretty straightforward, so I won’t talk too much directly about them, with one exception: e-mail. It’s critical that you take control of your e-mail, and—as I’ve said before—stop managing e-mail and start processing e-mail. In other words, an e-mail message generally isn’t anything important in and of itself. Rather, it’s what the e-mail message generates: an action (commitment) or some information. That’s what really matters, not the e-mail message itself. OK, enough about that…

Instead, let’s focus on the organization layer. As I did in 2010, I still use OmniFocus to manage my commitments. (I did try a plain-text based system as well as re-visit Things, but moved back to OmniFocus.) To make getting commitments into OmniFocus (hereafter just OF) easier, I still use a set of AppleScripts bound to a hotkey (using FastScripts) that will take information from the current application—an e-mail message in Apple Mail, or the current web page in Safari, for example—and create an action in OF. Obviously, some of the scripts I mentioned in the 2010 article are no longer applicable: Camino died a long time ago, I ditched Yojimbo (more on that in a moment), Twitterrific killed its AppleScript support (and I, in turn, moved to a different client), etc. However, the basic idea is still the same: use OF to keep track of all the various projects and actions (commitments), and make it as easy (frictionless) as possible to get stuff into OF.

Managing information is a bit more challenging in that there are many different types of information. For e-mail messages, I tag them (using MailTags) and file them away (using AppleScripts and hotkeys to streamline the process). For files, I use the file system. (Amazing concept, eh?) In 2010, I used a tool called Yojimbo. Yojimbo had a few quirks that I couldn’t work around, so I switched to EagleFiler. EagleFiler was nice in that it leveraged the underlying file system, which then caused me to ask: why couldn’t I just leverage the file system? That led me to a file system-based approach using a defined naming convention (based on the ISO 8601 date format) and OpenMeta tags, which I described a bit here. When OS X Mavericks came out and I finally upgraded, I moved away from OpenMeta tags to native Finder tags, but the underlying approach remained the same: use the defined structure and naming convention, along with tags, to store information, then use Spotlight and/or LaunchBar (a recent addition to my portfolio) to find the information I need later. This is a process I’m still optimizing through the use of tools like Hazel (to automatically apply tags based on predefined conditions or triggers).

For note-based information, I tried (multiple times) to use a tool like Evernote, but it just didn’t/doesn’t fit into my workflow. Instead, I use a series of text files stored in a Dropbox folder (using my naming convention and tags, of course). For URLs, I capture the URL as a .webloc file (using an AppleScript bound to a hotkey, of course!), which can be opened on OS X or iOS (and, as it turns out, is an XML file so it’s not that hard to extract the URL on other OSes as well). Since it’s then a file, then it falls back under the guidelines for organizing files (I store these on Dropbox as well).

There you have it—an update on my organizational/productivity setup as of early 2016. If you have any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear them; feel free to e-mail me (my address is on this site) or hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for reading, and I hope you find something useful here!

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