Personal productivity, a new experiment

In an ongoing effort to improve my life, increase my productivity, and become a better person1, I’ve been spending a lot of time mucking about with new tools, systems, and approaches towards better managing my time.

Over the weekend I discovered Remember the Milk (RTM). This is a simple, clean, fast, web-based task organizer that has lots of useful features that seems to lend itself admirably to how I tend to do these sorts of things (currently a somewhat personalized/simplified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system2).

RTM’s primary strength is that it works with my Blackberry which simplifies the whole thing a great deal. Its secondary strength is that it’s very flexible, and its combination of simplicity and flexibility is a beautiful thing.

For example, you can feed tasks into RTM in a number of ways:

You can view your tasks in as many ways:

RTM also provides the ability to add tags to tasks and create “smart lists” based on searches. For example, I have a smart list called “Urgent”, the search query for which is (priority:1 OR dueWithin:"2 days of today" OR dueBefore:"today") AND status:incomplete. This means that any task from any list that is either overdue, due within 2 days, or flagged as High priority is automatically included in that smart list. Another smart list I’ve set up is “@groceries” which includes any incomplete task that I’ve tagged as “groceries”. This is a quick way for me to cobble together a grocery list as I think of things between trips to the store.

The mobile web interface is slick and tiny. Here are some screenshots:

Main screen:

My lists and smart lists:

My grocery list:

My urgent list:

I’ve already been fine-tuning the system I’ve set up and will continue to do so as I test it out over the next few weeks. As it stands, I’ve subscribed to my RTM “Events” list via iCal which is then sync’d to my Blackberry3, I’ve set my Firefox homepage to RTM, I’ve set my Blackberry browser homepage to RTM, and I’ve got a Firefox bookmarklet set up for doing QuickAdds.

So far RTM seems like the most promising non-paper-based system I’ve found so far, but we’ll see if I can stick with it for more than a month. The biggest problem with any computer-based personal productivity system I’ve used in the past is that it usually ends up being more painful than valuable and I’ve ended up dropping it in favour of a pen and a notebook. RTM is not without its quirks, unfortunately, we’ll just see how much and how quickly they annoy me.

1 – Can you tell it’s the New Year?
2 – If you would like to know more about GTD, there’s a book and a huge community of fans with a blog, a forum, and a wiki.
3 – Unfortunately either iCal or PocketMac doesn’t like syncing iCal tasks that have no date, so non-dated tasks just break things there. Poop.


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