Projects and Remember the Milk

Managing Tasks in Remember the Milk is easy. You simply input one, add necessary meta data, like context or due date and you’re done. Item will appear on you list waiting for you to do it.However if you’re a practitioner of GTD methodology you know that projects are very important element of it. In fact per GTD any item that takes more than two actions steps is a project. If you follow this definition then you have a lot of projects to work on.
It would be ideal if you could use Remember the Milk to manage this aspect too. Unfortunately that’s not possible out of the box. But don’t loose your hopes! There are two solutions which can help you maintain integrated project and task system within RTM.

Fixed list

Firstly there are lists, with each representing a single project. This way all your specific projects are separated from other tasks thus making it easy to see the full scope.
I don’t recommend this approach as it’s cumbersome and requires setting up list via settings panel. It also makes the page quite crowded with different tabs. Perhaps it’s not a big thing but I prefer to keep things as clean as possible.

Project tags

The second solution, which is my preferred, is to use tags to indicate whether a task is part of a project or simple next action. The way it works is very easy.  When I’m adding a new project I create a tag which looks as follows “p_name” where “p” indicates project and “name” a short name to indicate what’s it about.

The reason I prefer this approach is that the list view remains minimal and clean, letting me keep the key list in front of me. Also having all projects starting with “p” I can clearly see them and access them via the tag cloud on the right side of the screen.
With tags it’s much easier to create a project, as all I need to do is create a new “p_xxx” tag. Adding new task to your project is easy too, thanks to the auto tagging which adds current list’s tag automatically.

Where tags are provide more flexibility over a fixed list view is a creation of different views via smart lists. This way I can create a list based on very specific set of tags and have all relevant tasks displayed there regardless of project they are assigned to. Very handy when looking at context or areas of responsibility across your system.

Project list

In order to see all of my open projects I have a project list which shows any task with a “@project” tag. This way I have a handy reference point to see whether I’m not overburdening myself.

Here it’s how it works. When I’m due to file taxes for 2011 I will open up a new project and add task called “File taxes 2011” and add two tags @project and p_tax11.
Now this task will appear on my project list as an active item then when adding additional task related to this project I will use p_tax11 to keep things organised.

Large projects

For larger projects you may want to organise your tasks in sequences, unfortunately this requires another little hack as RTM can only sort using priority, name or due date.
My suggestion is to use numbering sequence to make task appear in a certain order. You can use various formats for that purpose from simple 1-10 to more complex 1.1.1, 1.1.2. It all depends how you want to organise your projects.

I hope this gives a good overview of how you can manage project using Remember The Milk. If you have any favorite solutions please share them in the comments.

GTD series: Part 2 Organise & Review

This is a second part of GTD series describing basic elements of Getting Things Done workflow. Part 1 available, Part 3 coming soon.

Getting things done diagram(DIY Planner)

ORGANISE

Third element in the GTD workflow is Organise.

At this stage you’ve made a decision about the stuff that’s taking your physical and mental space.Now you need to put it in to right categories so those things can be retrieved when needed.

The easiest way to organise all of the collected items it to make a record for each of on a list. List is the most versatile, easy to use and accessible form of record keeping.

As you may remember from the processing stage there were to types of items actionable and non actionable.

It is important to keep in mind that categories should have had edges so projects go to on project list, next action on next action list etc. At times it may be difficult to maintain this division but sticking with it improve the reliability of the system.

All of your actionable items can be put on one of below lists:

Project list – project is any outcome that takes more than one step to complete. If one action won’t mean an end to something project list will act as a reminder of things to complete. Key thing to remember about project your really don’t do them you do the actions that form this project.

On the side note it’s worth mentioning project support materials. It often happens that you have some notes, plans, drawings, research that relates to a particular projects. It’s best not to mix this with your projects list and to keep it separate. Projects support information should be reviewed as often as it’s necessary. Perhaps initially you will need to look at support documents quite often to pick up any relevant actions and things to do. Then as the project nears to completion the there is less and less need to review them.

Next action lists – lists of actions  that need to be done as soon as possible, meaning they need to be done but they are not time/day specific. If the number of actions you have on your list exceeds one page it might be useful to divide it in to separate lists. Recommended split is based on the context which describes the place where the action takes place. Most basic contexts include home, work, phone, computer etc.

Calendar – this is another form of a list. The main purpose for the calendar is to act as reminder for time/day specific actions  so things like meeting or things that need to be done on a particular day. Calendar might also contain days specific information like booking number for your flight, directions, activities of other people. Usually it acts as first point of contact during a work day.

Waiting for – this is one of the most useful lists. It’s list designed to keep track of other people promises. You can keep track of books you’ve lend, actions you’ve assigned, confirmations you need to receive etc. Maintaining this list makes less likely that you miss something because someone didn’t deliver and you can always remind people about the stuff they haven’t done.

These are key lists used for your actionable items. Now your non actionable items also have their place.

Trash – this is self explanatory. Anything you don’t need or don’t want goes into trash. It’s an important category to remember of and in many cases it’s best solution for overgrowing and overflowing archives, inboxes, stacks of paper and other stuff. When looking at those it’s necessary to ask if you really need any of it.

Reference – This category is includes various types of information that does not have any action attached to them but needs to kept. Reference material can include paper based stuff like receipts, payment confirmations, bills, articles worth saving as well as electronically stored files, folders and pictures, etc. Information stored should be easily accessible so a proper filing system is necessary. For starters you could approach this simply by filing things alphabetically or by topic.

Someday/Maybe – This category of stuff is some what in between actionable and non-actionable items. This bucket is designed to store things that you would like to achieve, do, see at some point of your like. It acts as parkin space for dreams, ideas, plans projects that aren’t priority at the moment but you don’t want to forget about them. As this category can grow quickly in size it’s good to create a number of subcategories. For example you could have a list for music you like, books to read, places to visit, food to try, business opportunities to try out etc.

REVIEW

Reviewing pieces of your system is necessary to keep it functional and up to date.

Certain elements of your system are more important than the others so there is a sequence you should follow when looking at your commitments. Also it makes sense to review list that cover day to day activities more often than those meant to keeping track of your goals and dreams. First is prone to more rapid changes.

There are two main types of reviews that help keep the system running.

Daily reviews – this helps to make sure the key actions and meetings are properly scheduled. It also allows to give any day a structure and purpose. Daily review is focusing on the immediate elements like calendar, next actions and waiting for’s.

Weekly review – Allen suggests to do a complete review of the content of the system once a week. If your week was very heavy in changes and priority shifts it might be needed do a through review even more often. As weekly review should look at the whole system: calendar, project list, action lists, someday maybe etc. In addition to that weekly review includes exercise called “brain dump” which aims at clearing your head from all the items floating in it. The result of brain dump is good indication of what needs your attention in first place.

Daily review is usually quick scan of various lists and it can be done in not time. However weekly review is more complex and for most part it requires good bit of time and focus. This review covers much more in depth look at your system it will take a while to complete it. Finding the right time and place to complete weekly review can be a significant factor contributing to the success of weekly review. Basic suggestion point to Friday as most suitable day to complete such review. This day of the week is relatively slow but it still allows for follow up and contact with people when necessary.

It’s worth mentioning that there are other reviews which focus on looking at your goals, visions, life plans and other so called "higher altitude” elements. These are usually happening once a quarter or once a year to check for progress and adjustments. Higher altitude elements will be covered in future post.