The best GTD tool is still a Wiki – part II


Continuation of this post.

As every TiddlyWiki, the main building block of the MGTDTW (MonkeyGTD TiddlyWiki, if you are wondering what kind of monstrous acronym is that) is a tiddler. And the only one building block because everything is a tiddler. How does this map to the GTD approach ?

The GTD workflow works with projects, contexts and actions. Action (or task or todo) is smallest building stone. The actions in GTD are really small actions. Every goal that requires multiple steps is a project – thus project has multiple actions. Context is an environment for executing the actions – e.g. Office, On-Line, Errands. Action can be in of the the state: “next” – ready to be started, waiting-for (something else needs to happen before you can start), future (something you may want to do later but not really a task right now) or done. OK, this is slightly oversimplified – for real explanation check the resources in Part I.

Everything GTD related in MGTDTW is done using tags on tiddler and “special tiddlers”. Because tiddlers are all there is, all your actions are tiddlers. So are all your projects and context. What makes “action tiddler” differrent from “project tiddler” is that action tiddler has tag “Action” and tiddler representing the project has tag “Project”. The Wiki is smart enough to provide an easy UI to assign the tags and to create the tiddler. For example, inside the “project tiddler”, you have links to add new next action, new waiting action, new future action. Each of this create new tiddler, tags it with “Action” tag as well as with appropriate action status tag.

Some tags have graphical representation rather than verbal. Clicking on yellow start will assign/unassign the tiddler Starred tag. Starred items are quick reference list for wide variety of the usage.

If you read The Book, you will learn about other concepts such as reference file and ticklers. Good news is that the MGTDTW implements both. The tickler is special UI for the tiddler connected with the year-month-day – an activation date. The reference is simply a tidller tagged as Reference. Simply use subject matter tagging in addition to that to properly categorize it. But whether you tag it or not, you can always find it using fulltext search as well as see it in the timeline

The MGTDTW has also few extensions above the “canonical” Allen-ist GTD (if such thing as cannonical GTD exists at all). These extensions are Areas – something similar than projects and Realms – something even wider. By default, two realms are defined: personal and work, which pretty give an idea how they can be used: separate world or zones of responsibilities. The areas are trickier: they can be used as groups for projects (for the control freaks ;-)). The UI design of the project suggest this usage and makes it very easy. In one of the Mac programs (I believe it was Things) I have founds different explanation for area: it is kind of project that is never done – like house maintenance. MGTDTW does not directly support this semantics, because the action UI does not offer the Area, only Project. But nothing prevents you in the edit mode tag the action with the area tag. It will show properly in the Area view as the Next Action, even if it is not assigned to a project.

Many of these concepts are actually much easier to see and experience than explain. So why not donwload the MGTDTW and play with it ?

The best GTD tool is still a Wiki – part I


Did you notice that there are seasons for software as well ? Similarly as with other merchandise, there are times during the year when many more people suddenly decide they need that one application X. Luckily, this trend is not as extreme as with e.g. Santa hats or carved pumpkins, which are impossible to find in stores outside of the narrow window around Christmas and Halloween (I am grateful for that :-)). In software world, the most seasonal category is tax preparation software, for obvious reasons. Taxes, like the dentist checkup are not something you will be crazy even thinking about, unless it is that time of year ….

Less seasonal but still quite tied to the “New Year’s Resolutions’ Season” is the personal productivity software. Every year in January, big part of the population starts to work on their time management skills, weight loss, healthy eating or personal productivity in general. I personally cannot wait until this wave fades and the gyms are at normal mostly-empty state – I hate waiting in line to get to treadmill just to listen to next episode of the TWIT. But back to the software.

After reading a lot (and I mean a lot) of articles about the best way how to do GTD (if you are not familiar with the cult of the GTD, see the 43 Folders, listen to the Merlin Mann’s interview with David Allen or buy The Book – ideally all of these), I have decided to review my tool selection from about 2 months ago. I am informally following the GTD approach with mixed success – I am about 10% more productive, but at least 50% less stressed, which much more important.

The GTD tools come in three categories: online-only, desktop based and something in-between. Hardest decision was deciding between whether go online only or not. As with GMail, having all your data in the cloud is so convenient and it eliminates problems with backups and synchronization. But what makes sense for email, does not necessarily work for the task management as well: quite often you want to go offline, free from temptations of RSS newsfeeds and distraction of the Web, just to think and plan. So online-only did not work for me. I did look into and tried out some online tools – if I get to it, I may write about the experience.

Non-web based tools give the maximal user comfort, as long as you have your notebook with you. This was a problem for me before, but since I have unified all platforms on the Macbook Pro, it became so indispensable that I hardly ever part from it, so this was less an issue. Also synchronization was not too important, for the very same reason: the notebook is portable enough to be taken with me anywhere I need. The last issue was the data format: with something so important, I was careful about keeping my data in proprietary format (more so after experiencing two occasions of Outlook PST file corruption and data loss during past 10 years).

The solution I have selected was Wiki-in-File, based on idea of TiddlyWiki. First – Wiki-In-A-File is Wiki system, implemented as one large HTML file, which stores both the data that is displayed in the browser as well as the code driving Wiki – in JavaScript. Unlike in case of a server based Wiki, you need neither Web server, nor the database – just open the .html file and after editing the content, save it back to disk (most W-I-A-F will create backup of the old file first).

In traditional Wiki’s, the information is structured into pages that are interlinked. In the TiddlyWiki, the unit is a page segment, named tiddler. The actual page consists of some subset of tiddlers, that are dynamically opened, added to page or closed by JavaScript code. The result is much more dynamic and less “webbish” – very Ajaxian.

TiddlyWiki offers all features that one would expect in a Wiki – such as automatic interlinking of tiddlers (pages), difference and history of a tiddler. It also has few great features that you normally find only in better products such as automatic timeline (list of tiddlers edited on a date), full text search, tagging of tiddlers and search by tags, macros. One features that is lacking is security and access rights – being a single user personal Wiki, it is not really a problem.

There are many flavors of TiddlyWikis out there: see this, this and this – or read the comparison. What is special on the MonkeyGTD (the one I am using) is predefined set of tags and content for the GTD specific application and also possibility of saving file both locally, or uploading it to the “cloud” on the tiddlyspot. The uploaded version is protected by password and can be used as emergency copy. You can also edit the online copy and save it both to local disk to the cloud. The only issue that I have found out is that it takes some management to keep track where is the latest version and whether to start with remote or local to avoid overwriting some changes.

This post starts to get too large, so better split it in few parts. In part II I will describe how the GTD works in MonkeyGTD. Stay tuned.