GTD and Reminders

Posted in GTD, Productivity on October 13, 2011 at 11:45 am

It’s pretty sad (and telling) that the iOS5 feature I was most excited about is Reminders. Like millions of others, I installed iOS 5 last night. Like a handful of others (hopefully it isn’t just me), I’ve spent my morning combining my weekly review with transferring my GTD system into Reminders.

Since becoming overwhelmed by the amount of tweaking and fiddling that I was doing in OmniFocus, I’ve been on a quest to find, or hack, the perfect minimalist GTD system. For the last several months, my trusted system has been based in Simplenote, used in conjunction with ResophNotes (like Notational Velocity, but for PC) and iPhone list-making apps that integrate with SimpleNote, such as Listary and NoteTask. This ubiquitious-capture-capable, cloud-synced, text-based system has worked pretty well for me, but it isn’t particularly inspiring. I’m hopeful that Reminders will be the silver bullet that kills my compulsion to experiment with task management software and actually get things done.

What I Require in My Trusted System

I’m a notebook and pen geek, but I don’t use a paper system for my GTD because I’m screwed if I lose or forget my notebook. For me to really enjoy the GTD’s benefit of stress-attenuation, I need to know that I can access my lists anywhere at any time. There are tons of beautifully designed (visually) task-management apps for iPhone that don’t sync with anything, not even a proprietary web service. This is the ultimate deal breaker for me.



If you have an iOS 5 device, you already have the app. You don’t have to shell out $40 for an app with a ton of features you’ll never use.

Visually Appealing

Reminders isn’t the most attractive (to my aesthetic sensibilities) list manager out there, but it’s not at all ugly. As a graphic designer and artist, I simply can’t use an ugly application, even if it’s extremely functional.

Idiot-proof Syncing

If you have an iCloud account, your lists sync automatically. You don’t have to worry about manual backup. Since I use Outlook at work (calendar and email only, not for GTD), my empty Outlook task list was available the first time I opened the app. You can select which task lists are visable in iPhone settings.


There is no tweaking do be done here. There are no subtasks. No folders. No assigning tasks to projects. These are the things made me waste so much time in OmniFocus, so I consider their absence features rather than omissions.

I’d like to point out that Getting Things Done was designed for whatever tools are available (including paper) and canon GTD, as written, doesn’t require subtasks and pre-planning every action for a project, but relies on what David Allen calls the Natural Planning Model.

Ubiquitous Access

I can view, add, and remove items from my iPad, iPhone, and web browser. If my two-year-old drops my iPhone in the toilet, I can wipe away my tears and still access my list.

Moving items across lists

It’s easy enough to move items from one list to another. There’s one too many taps involved, but it’s something I can live with.

Listary does this with SimpleNote lists.

Rearranging Things

It’s very easy to rearrange the order of items in a list, or the lists themselves.

EDIT: Unfortunately, you can’t rearrange the order of items in a list. This is kind of a silly omission, because all you’d have to do is tap and hold to enable reordering.

Due Dates & Repeating Tasks

Yep. It does this.

This is the thing Reminders can do that my SimpleNote/Listary system can’t.



As I mentioned earlier, there are no subtasks, no folders, and no assigning tasks to projects. Some people really need these things, or think they need them. If you do, I strongly suggest OmniFocus.

Too Much Leather

I don’t really need my list manager to look like a real leather organizer. I’d prefer access to the real estate to be able to see more items on my list. This is really only an issue on the iPhone.

Web App Interface is Clunky

The iCloud calendar is so slow as to be nearly unusable on both my work machine and my laptop.

Difficult to Manage Lots of Lists

I gave up on importing all of my lists from SimpleNote because it’s difficult to add new lists on the iPad once you fill up the initial window. I’m thinking of keeping my non-actionable lists in Pages.

3GS Omission

Location-based reminders aren’t enabled for 3GS iPhones.


For the moment, I’m using a 3GS, but I’ve been told that Siri integrates into Reminders. Depending on how well this works, this could be the feature that David Allen has been waiting for all these years.

What I’d Change

  • Get rid of the leather “chrome” around the app.
  • Make it easier to move items across lists
  • Make it easier to add new lists

Creative Nutrition

Posted in Art & Design, Inspiration, Productivity on June 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Athletes don’t eat the same way regular people eat. The food they consume is carefully considered for the effect it will have on their performance. An athlete’s body is his medium, and if he wants to compete at their maximum potential, he has to treat his body like it is as important as it is.

The artist doesn’t consume media the same way regular people consume media. The artist knows that the quality of work he produces is directly proportional to the quality of media he consumes, so he chooses carefully the things that enter his brain to fuel his imagination. The writer who only reads inside his genre and the songwriter who only listens to the music on the radio won’t be able to produce important, vital art.

The gradual, unintentional sacrifice that I’ve made as an artist is that I no longer seek entertainment. When I watch movies, read novels, or listen to music it is with the singular purpose of fueling my imagination. There are few best sellers in my reading queue. If I, as an artist, am to compete at my maximum potential, I must fill my imagination with images, mythology, and philosophy that will ferment in my subconscious, then randomize and recombine as inspiration.
I must treat my imagination like it is as important as it is.

30 Steps to Mastery

Posted in Art & Design, Inspiration, Productivity on January 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I found this list (posted by commenter Onjibonrenat) over on Ben Casnocha’s site:

  1. Start
  2. Keep going.
  3. You think you’re starting to get the hang of it.
  4. You see someone else’s work and feel undeniable misery.
  5. Keep going.
  6. Keep going.
  7. You feel like maybe, possibly, you kinda got it now.
  8. You don’t.
  9. Keep going.
  10. You ask for someone else’s opinion–their response is standoffish, though polite.
  11. Depression.
  12. Keep going.
  13. Keep going.
  14. You ask someone else’s opinion–their response is favorable.
  15. They have no idea what they’re talking about.
  16. Keep going.
  17. You feel semi-kinda favorable and maybe even a little proud of what you can do now.
  18. Self-loathing chastisement.
  19. Depression
  20. Keep going.
  21. You ask someone else’s opinion–they respond quite favorably.
  22. They’re still wrong.
  23. Depression.
  24. Keep going though you can’t possibly imagine why.
  25. Become restless.
  26. Receive some measure of praise from a trustworthy opinion.
  27. They’re still fucking wrong (Right?)
  28. Keep going just because there’s nothing else to do.
  29. Mastery arrives, you mistake it for a gust of wind.
  30. Keep. Fucking. Going.

…and that’s about what it’s like. Every. Single. Day.

Thou Shalt Not

Posted in Productivity, Things to Ponder on December 5, 2010 at 1:52 am

Don’t release anything that wouldn’t go into your portfolio.

Don’t stop working (practicing) until you are proud of yourself.

Don’t forget the fundamentals.

Don’t play it safe.

Don’t succumb to your insecurities. That’s the Devil sloshing around in your head. If you give up, he wins.

Don’t skip breakfast.

Don’t drink caffeine after 8 pm, unless you’re pulling an all-nighter.

Don’t leave the house without your pen(cil) and notebook.

Don’t be so damned sensitive.

Don’t be so jaded.

Autodidactic polymath

Posted in Art & Design, Inspiration, Productivity, Things to Ponder on April 25, 2010 at 4:37 am

Todd Henry, over at Accidental Creative has come up with the 7-word bio as a way for artists to describe themselves. After much twisting of phrase, I’ve come up with the following to describe myself:

Autodidactic polymath, cultural enthusiast, and transdisciplinary artist.

What is your 7-word bio?

Getting into Getting Things Done #4: Contexts

Posted in GTD, Productivity on March 23, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Look at your Next Actions.  Where do you need to be to able to do them? At the computer? At the hardware store? On the phone?

Those are your contexts.

You should have a separate todo list for each context. The idea is that there is no need to worry about what to do on the computer if you aren’t near a computer. Don’t be distracted by buying milk if you’re at the hardware store.

Here are mine:

  • @Errands, which is broken down into @Hardware Store, @Art Supply Store, and @Grocery Store.
  • @Home
  • @Computer, which is broken down into @Online and @Email
  • @Studio, which is my creative haven, but since I do most of my creative work on the computer most of the stuff on this list pertains to cleaning up soda cans and shelving books.
  • @People, which is mainly @Sarah for when I need to tell her something or have her help me make a decision.
  • @Phone

The idea is that when you have discretionary time, take out the list for the proper context and do whatever you feel like doing.

Don’t prioritize things. You’ll know intuitively what you need to do and what you feel like doing.

If something is time-sensitive, put it on your calendar instead.

Getting into Getting Things Done #3: Putting stuff in Buckets

Posted in GTD, Productivity on February 19, 2010 at 1:49 am

We’re going to take the massive piles of stuff you generated with your brain dump (which in GTD terminology is called the In Box or In Basket) and sort it into buckets.

Since you can implement GTD with anything: cocktail napkins, bits of birch bark, tar paper and chalk, you could use real buckets for this, but I personally use the virtual folders in my ToDo application. You could use folders on your pc, nodes in an outliner, branches on a mind map, or whatever, as long as there are distinct boundaries where you can separate one thing from another.

Official GTD implementation suggests that you use these buckets at a minimum: Next Actions, Calendar, Projects, Reference, Someday/Maybe, and Waiting For.

Next Actions

This category is for things you know you have to do, whether it’s a one-off or the next step toward completing a larger project. It’s important to write these using action verbs that command you  to take a single specific physical action: buy new shoes, clean the litter pan, fix the porch light, decide on dice mechanic for The Flowers of Evil, buy Buttermilk to make Paneer, call Mom about dinner Thursday night. If there is more than one step to the action, or it has to be done at a certain time or on a certain date, it belongs in Projects or in your Calendar.

Just because it’s on your next action list doesn’t mean you have to do it immediately, but it feels really good to click that little check box and watch it fade to gray.


This should be obvious, however, this is not the place to put your daily todo list. If it can be postponed at all, it has no business in your calendar. This is a place to put dates to remember, meetings, appointments.


Anything that takes more than one step to do is a project. For instance, clean my studio means that I have to take out the overflowing trash boxes, recycle all the empty soft drink cans, re-shelve any stray books, organize my art supplies, and sort through the multiple boxes of tangled and sticky audio cables to see which, if any, I should toss.

I personally break down my projects into tiny little steps because it’s a useful procrastination method, but I’d imagine that if you just list the name of the project, you’d probably be able to figure out what the most logical next action is anyway.


Reference is stuff that doesn’t really require any action but is nice to keep on hand. I keep a shopping list, books I’d like to read, movies I’d like to see, things I’d like to buy, and online resources for graphic design in my reference at the moment.


I explained this to one of my students today as my Christmas List for Life. This is stuff you’d really like to do, but it isn’t crucial. This could be ideas for projects, classes you’d like to take, vacation ideas, things you want to buy.

Waiting For

After you’ve called Trent about buying the yacht and left a rambling, drunken message. You really don’t know if you should bother scraping off the barnacles until you know if he’s coming to take a look. So you mark call Trent re: Yacht off your Next Action list and write waiting for Trent to confirm appt re: Yacht on your Waiting For List. If he hasn’t called you by the next time you review this list, you can put nag Trent re: Yacht on your next action list again.

Other Folders

I have a folder called Fallow Projects (thanks, Merlin!) where I keep any projects I’d like to work on in the future, but are shelved in the present (like my Haunted House game). I also have a folder called IBNU, which stands for Important, But Not Urgent. This should be pretty easy to figure out on your own.


Set aside an hour or two and sort your In Box (brain dump) crap into the correct buckets. Let me know if you’ve come up with any cool tricks or novel folder ideas.

getting into “getting things done” #2: the brain dump

Posted in GTD, Productivity on February 14, 2010 at 11:36 am

So, you spent $12 on a new moleskine pocket notebook, huh?

It’s time to free your mind.

I wouldn’t suggest doing this in your extended brain (moleskine, pda, iPhone, whatnot), so get yourself a big sheet of paper and something to write with.

Go to a nice quiet spot and start writing down everything you can think of that you have to or want to do. Include everything, whether it’s as mundane as changing the lightbulb in the laundry room or as grandiose as parachuting into the midst of Machu Pichcu. Write down that idea for a movie you want to make, or the game you want to design. If you have one roll of toilet paper left, write that down as well. Don’t worry about priority or importance. Keep this paper with you as you go about your day. You’ll probably be reminded of lots of little things as you live your daily life. Think of it as a scavenger hunt for things to do. Make it fun.

Here’s an excerpt from my own brain dump:

  • fix the flooring in the kitchen
  • band practice on Monday @ 1:00
  • NaNoWriMo this November
  • Mom’s birthday, July 17
  • clean the litter pans
  • record blues cover of “Ace of Spades” aka Son House plays Motorhead
  • Drawing tutorials for Rachel’s drawing tutorial site

Keep in mind that simply writing everything down doesn’t commit you to doing them. The idea is simply to get them out of your head to free your brain up for what it does best: come up with more ideas.

Getting into “Getting Things Done” #1: Introduction & The Extended Brain

Posted in GTD, Productivity on February 14, 2010 at 11:18 am


I’m diving head first into David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology in an attempt to actually accomplish the multitude of things I want to accomplish, and grudgingly finish the things I don’t want to (but am obligated to) accomplish, without having anything slip though the cracks.

GTD seems perfect for aesthetic polymaths like myself who are always in the process of generating ideas, making new connections, and starting new projects. We tend to not be that great at time management or productivity, and I’m guessing that’s because we’ve become accustomed to spontaneity  and inviting chaos and passion into our lives. Most time management and productivity solutions are targeted toward people who live a different lifestyle, and have a personality that is suited to compartmentalizing and ordering their time. I’ve never been good at that, and I’m finding that GTD is great at adapting to me, rather than me adapting to it.

The problem is navigating the seas of GTD materials out there. In addition to David Allen’s three books, there are probably hundreds of thousands of blog posts, hundreds of  blogs dedicated to the practice, and dozens of podcasts about GTD. This can make getting into GTD a little intimidating. Not to mention the fact that reading a book on time management and productivity, even those as well written as David Allen’s, can make one’s eyes glaze over. That’s why I’m writing this series of posts.

The Extended Brain

One of the core tenets of GTD is that the mind is designed for having ideas, not for holding them, and trying to keep track of everything is a major source of stress. The solution is to utilize an “extended brain” which we trust to remember things so we don’t have to. This extended brain can be anything you can write in: a planner, a pda, a stack of index cards, a moleskine notebook, or an iPhone with the proper apps installed. The only condition is that you are in constant possession of this object

Decide what you are going to use as your sacred tome of GTD. If you own it already, great. If not, this is permission to go out and buy yourself a new moleskine (if you’re broke like me), or an iPhone (if you just got that student loan).