Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – A GTD episode

About eighteen months ago, I came across a website called 43 Folders, which in turn introduced me to Getting Things Done, which is the title of a book by David Allen, but more importantly it's a work management system, and eighteen months ago, GTD could not have come at a better time – I was up to my ears in work, and struggling to cope.

One thing that I changed was how I was using my PDA (a Palm Tungsten T5). But here I ran into a problem – the T5 works nicely with Palm Desktop, but not much else. My personal choices re software didn't really help – while I like the Mac platform, I don't really care that much for Apple's applications, so I use Thunderbird rather than Mail, and Firefox instead of Safari. As for iCal, I find its tendency to overlap translucent panels a visual eyesore, so I left it well alone.

Of course, this meant that I could not take advantage of the integration that Apple had built between iCal and Mail.

Fast forward six months, and now my Mac-centric workplace has a centralised calendar solution that most of my colleagues subscribe to through iCal. (I'm still resisting iCal, of course, and using Sunbird.)

It comes as a rude shock a little later on to find that iCal can't handle the volume of data being delivered from the calendar. The solution - scale back the data being delivered from the calendar. (Those of you who are shaking your heads at this – yeah, I know, but it wasn't my decision.)

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to improve my work practices, and I've started using Quicksilver instead of the dock and tags rather than nested folders. I've also found GTDTiddlyWiki (by Jeremy Ruston), and using it to manage my projects. Small tasks, however, still live on
my T5. The separation is a bit clunky, but I'm living with it.

But I'm now noticing more GTD-related software appearing. "Kinkless GTD", a set of applescripts for OmniOutliner Pro, iGTD. Time to look into this more closely.

iGTD at first glance doesn't seem to be offering much more than GTDTiddlyWiki. But the devil is in the details, as they say, and there are a couple of key details here - iGTD interacts with two other apps that completely change the ballgame.

The first app in question is Apple's iSync. Naturally, iSync doesn't want to know about Sunbird, but it is tight with iCal, so items in iGTD get synced with iCal. Nice.

The second app is QuickSilver - I can hotkey into QS, switch to text mode, then drop my text into iGTD's inbox, and I'm done and back onto whatever I was working on. Apart from the actual text for the entry, only 7 keystrokes are required.

As nice as this is, the real key to making this work (for me, at least) is getting iSync to talk to my T5. This particular step proved to be the most annoying - what looked like it should work quite easily just wouldn't. I had to dive into Apple's online support forums to find the answer to a very unhelpful message, to wit, that either I had not properly installed Palm's HotSync Manager or I had never run it - wrong on both counts. (It was in fact a permissions problem, but nothing in iSync or its Help files pointed in this direction.)

Having gotten iSync and the T5 to finally talk to each other, I now have a single system (at least in terms of the digital stuff - the paper war on my desk is another matter) that works well.

And yet I'm now looking at an early version of Things, and I like what I see. If Cultured Code add support for QuickSilver and synchronisation that I can make work with my PDA, I may well switch.

So, to sum up: iGTD + iSync + Quicksilver is good; iSync's flightiness with Palm devices and the effort required to find the solution is bad; iCal remains ugly.