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One way to use Geetasks for the iPhone

In my last post, I reviewed Geetasks, a portable version of Google Tasks for the iPhone, and I promised an example of how one can use Geetasks to organize one's tasks. That's what I'll do now. I should note that there are other iPhone apps that can accommodate this method with few, if any, changes. I'll mention some of them at the end of this post.

Google Tasks and Geetasks are so simple that they impose virtually no structure on how you organize things. This is both a benefit and a problem. It's a benefit because they're very flexible as a result, and able to accommodate a wide assortment of task management systems. It's a problem because users have to take the time to figure out their own way to manage tasks, which is something not everyone wants to undertake (which explains the popularity of websites and services offering complete predefined systems for task management). While I'm the sort of person who likes to work our my own way of doing things, I'm also the sort of person who likes to share those sort of things (which explains why I do what I do). Hence the DFW blog and website.

So here's how I use Geetasks. Your mileage may vary. I note that this method is inspired largely by Mark Forster's AutoFocus system and, to a smaller degree, GTD.

I think of lists as contexts, which are logical groupings of tasks. I created a Geetasks list for each context. Then I created one special list, which I called "Action," that holds the tasks I want to do next.

When using apps as simple as Geetasks, it's important to limit the number of lists you keep. A single long list is as unmanageable as dozens of very short ones, but having multiple lists can make it easier to search for tasks to do next. Since Geetasks doesn't (yet) have an integrated view of multiple lists, I prefer to err on the side of fewer longer lists than many shorter ones. This is why thinking of them as contexts rather than projects (in GTD-speak) makes sense.

Obvious lists include: work, home, personal, and someday - the latter being for storing things that you just want to think about rather than tasks you'll actually have to do anytime soon. You might add extra lists if you have other, particularly intensive projects. For example, we're renovating our house, so I have a separate list just for tasks relating to the reno.

At the start of the day (in my case, usually while I'm riding the subway to work, or while I'm reading the morning paper), I go through each context list, choose tasks I want to do next, and move them to Action. I pay particular attention to tasks that are actually due that day. It's better to do this at the start of the end rather than the night before, so that you can catch any tasks that have due dates of that day.

During the day, I keep working on the Action list. Whenever a new task comes up, I just add it quickly to Action. Since new tasks are added at the top of the list, they're front and centre. If I know I can't get to them, I manually push them down the list, out of the way. If I run out of things to do in Action, I take a few minutes to pull some more items from other lists into Action (or, sometimes, I just take a rest).

Then, at the end of the day, during commercial breaks, or before turning in for the night, I go through the Action list, which now has the day's leftovers in it. For each task, I decide if the task is really worth doing. If it is, and if I want to do it the next day, I just leave it in Action. If I don't expect to do it soon, I move it to some other list, or delete it altogether.

Finally, I make sure I sync Geetasks with Google Tasks at least once a day, preferably first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

While this is a standard pattern for me, I'm not fixed to it. Sometimes, for example, if I'm waiting in line at the supermarket, or in a really boring meeting, I'll take a few minutes to review one list or another. Most of the time, I find nothing that needs tweaking - and then I go back to playing Sudoku. Sometimes, though, I'll find reason to reorder some items or add notes or delete some once-brilliant idea that I now realize is utterly stupid.

The greatest shortcoming of the current version of Geetasks and Google Tasks is that tasks that are overdue or due "now" and not pushed anywhere that will attract my attention. So I have to pay particular attention to make sure those tasks are in the Action list. I'm also disappointed that Google Tasks (and therefore Geetasks) doesn't yet support repeating tasks; still, I find this not more than a minor inconvenience.

I find this process very lightweight and effective. It does take a little more hand-holding than more structured processes like GTD, but it's also far more flexible, which means I have the freedom to explore different ways of staying organized, and adapting to circumstance. And that's just fine by me. Another thing this method does is force me to reflect upon my tasks - and that helps me sort out, in the cognitive background, whether tasks are really worth doing and how they connect together.

Hopefully, it may be helpful to you too.

POSTSCRIPT: I should mention that there are other apps that implement similar functionality to Geetasks.

Voodo is one interesting app that uses tags for everything and has no notion of folder, list, project, or context - you can "fake" them all with tags; and it syncs with Google Calendar. One can easily simulate lists and moving tasks between lists with tags. Voodo's developer says that repeating tasks will be added in a future version.

Toodledo for the iPhone is another useable app because you can hide task fields that you don't care about, so you can strip it down to the bare minimum and get something pretty close to Geetasks. (This particular trick will be the subject of a separate post.) The benefit of Toodledo is that it can provide an integrated view of multiple lists, implements repeating tasks, and supports different and useful ways of ordering tasks. And it syncs with the Toodledo web service. The problem with Toodledo is that it doesn't support subtasks like Geetasks does (unless you get a premiumToodledo account).

Slimtasks is another very nice and simple app. Its interface is perhaps the nicest and most usable of all the simple apps, but it doesn't sync with other services. It would be trivial to adapt the method sketched above to work on Slimtasks. But if your iPhone is damaged or stolen, your tasks are all history.

The very well regarded Things for Mac comes very close to this, with only slightly greater overhead. Things certainly has a better look and feel than Geetasks, but it's not quite as simple to use either. And it can only sync with your desktop version of Things, not with a web service. I find that problematic because web services are universally available whereas your desktop/laptop is not necessarily so.

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