Managing areas of focus with Remember the Milk

Lets kick off with explaining what areas of responsibility are? In the GTD methodology your primary focus is on next actions and projects. These two elements reflect the tactical level of the productivity system i.e. the things you do now or as soon as possible.
A one level above that sits areas of responsibility which define different aspects of life. Rather than show a specific outcome, they point to an ongoing activity or quality that you want to achieve like job responsibilities, family, health, finances etc. Their main purpose is to act a reminders for all the different strands of life that you’re engaged in. Because they rarely reflect finished state they help with spurring ideas about things so each may spur new project or action ideas. Regular review of areas of responsibility can assist in bringing some balance or surface a need to look at an area that was neglected for a while.

Depending on your choice you can either track your areas of focus more intuitively and keep them on a list in your notetaking application or you can embed them right into your system. I happen to go for a mixed solution where I have list of areas of responsibility created in Evernote but I also like keep an eye on where my attention goes and for that purpose I’ve leveraged Remember the Milk. This approach allows me to analyze my tasks and really see what has my attention and where my time goes.

For the tactical element of my task management I rely on tags and smart lists to create context based next action lists as well as keep track of project and waiting fors. For monitoring of the areas of focus I’ve decided to use static lists.

If you haven’t defined your areas of focus now might be a good time.

Simply pick up a pen and piece of paper or open new document in your program of choice and start thinking about different areas of your life. Think in broad and generic terms, what are you responsible, how depends on you etc.

Jot these down and refine further, look for emerging common themes. Most likely you will have between 8-12 items but less is ok too. A higher number might be too big and you may need to refine things further or seriously reassess your commitments and obligations.

Static Lists

Static lists are the foundation of RTM application. They allow for creation of all the different lists that you may need. You can create unlimited number of lists, any task can only belong to a single static list i.e. if you add task to your HOME list than it will not show up in the WORK list.

This is significantly different from smart list which can show you any task that meets the search criteria regardless of the static list it belongs to.

Once task is assigned to a static list it’s in a separate silo which makes it excellent tool for analysis of how many task are created/completed in list. If you name list your lists based on your areas of focus you gain immediate access to understanding what has your attention. Simply the more tasks you have in any given list the more important the area it represents.

Managing static lists happens through the Settings panel and the Lists tab where you can create, archive, merge or delete lists. Because of the additional steps required to manage them they are less likely to be useful at the tactical level where a more rapid list creation occurs. Yet this makes them good tools for managing areas of responsibility as these don’t tend to change very often.

A small note on deleting lists, even if you delete a list your tasks will remain intact and they will simply be added to your default list. This is useful if you are still in the process of redefining your areas of focus and things are yet to settle.

How it works for me

My system relies on three primary static lists of which two reflect the focus of my personal system (Note I have a separate system for work tasks).

INBOX – this is my default list which mean any new task added which is not assigned to a static list will be in my inbox. When I’m in the processing mode each task in this section will be looked at assigned to one my other two lists.

ME – this list reflects all the actions and project related to my personal life and will include pretty much anything that is not related to my BLOG list.

BLOG – this is my third list that I heavily rely on and it reflects all of my endeavours related to this very blog, anything that is related to work that I put here will be assigned to this list.

I always make sure that tasks are processed every couple of days. At that stage I apply relevant tags, due date etc which define which smart list will pick it up. I also assign the static list name to indicate where a given task belong to.

This setup allows my to keep an eye the primary areas of my life. Every time I’m completing a more in-depth review of my stuff I look at the number of tasks and projects completed under each list. Since I use A bit better RTM extension I can see this number right next to the list name.

You may ask, so where are the other areas of focus? As I mentioned a more detailed list is included in Evernote which I review on regular basis. However in my personal experience these two are enough.

You circumstance may be different and you may prefer a bit more granularity. It that’s the case simply set up additional lists which reflect your areas of life in greater detail.

Finding focus with Remember the Milk

Couple weeks ago I was listening to a Mikes on Mics podcast episode 43 Routines where both Mikes shared their daily routines. I wholeheartedly recommend subscribing to this weekly show. Omnifocus is the key task management tool in their arsenal and it’s supplemented with 2-3 satellite apps and tools which include Asana, 30/30, Clear, Emergent Task Planner by David Seah. They use these tools to generate focus throughout the day by helping to define the tasks that must and should be done in first place.
This got me thinking about my process of setting Most Important Tasks and focusing on the key items using just a single tool.

In search of focus and building clarity

Everyone has a different approach to building focus in their work day. However the underlying goal is to find a way of defining where do you want to put your attention and making sure that you do accomplish the selected items. Whether you call it daily to-do list or defining MITs, setting few tasks that you consider critical helps make progress. Skipping on this and trying to wing it is a sure fire way to burnout and focus on what’s loudest and most recent. This may work for a while but if you really want to create something either at work or at home with out setting attention your aspirations and goal will never materialize.

I think the process of defining MITs is particularly helpful if you’re following the GTD methodology which helps you capture and organise various action and projects into lists. Overtime these list can grow substantially and present you with dozens or hundred of opportunities to choose from.

How to select MIT?

The process of defining MITs or your small daily to-do list can be painful. You need to say “NO” to all other tasks that sit on your lists and say “YES” to a selected few. I don’t think there is any science in deciding what you should focus on. The key is that whatever you decide to select is in line with your aspirations and these can only be defined by you. Being clear on where you want to go can make things easier. Although it’s nothing concrete I have couple criteria that I use in my own process:

  • you can accomplish it in one sitting i.e. 45-60 minutes of focused work
  • the task will progress a specific project or a goal
  • you will feel good about completing the task
  • I get “reminders” from various sources about the task to do i.e. someone mentions something, I see something related on the news etc.

When reviewing your list allow yourself to add only 4-5 items only. This may sound like a small number but if completed daily for a month or a quarter it can amount to sizable chunk of work and noticeable progress. Going after bigger number of tasks can be tricky and set you up for disappointment if you skip on too many items.

My approach

My personal approach to setting daily tasks and MITs is to stick with a single app. As I mentioned here before, Remember the Milk is my tool of choice and I try to make the most out of it. Usually, on daily basis I will review my context lists and select the tasks that I want to accomplish in a given day. Then for each selected task I assign priority level of 1. Once I’ve done that these actions are automatically added to my @MIT list in Remember the Milk. The list is a so called smart list which is updated dynamically so any time I flag an item as priority 1 it get added to my @MIT list. This is a very efficient way of allocating items and putting them on the right list with out a hassle of dragging thing around.

If you are interested this is the search syntax I’m using to generate this list and make sure it auto updates.

priority:1 and status:incomplete or due:today or dueBefore:today and status:incomplete

You will notice that list also pull up item that have due date set to today. This is intentional so that I can see what I’m already committed and I don’t put too many items on my plate.

 

For added impact, accountability and ease of reference one of the screens on my Android smartphone has a widget which displays all the important tasks that I should be looking at today.

Note on frequency

Although through out this post I’m referring to a daily to-do list and daily review things are not always that simple. Ideally you want to complete this daily to make sure you take time to reassess and refocus. Yet some weeks are busy with pre-scheduled items that leave very little time for any additional work. In those weeks I treat my list as a weekly focus list. Rather that punish myself for missing on items I will try to accomplish them in a given week depending on available time and energy. Making this allowance helps to keep momentum on those important items even if the time is tight.

23 tips for a Remember the Milk user

Few weeks ago Remember the Milk (RTM) has celebrated 7th year anniversary. I’ve used this web app for almost three years both as free and paid user. I think it’s a good time to look at it again and get a reminder of all the different features available to RTM users that can take the app to the next level. I hope you will find some useful ideas.

  • use a bit better RTM – this browser extension adds three nice features to the web client. First you can drag and drop items between lists, second you can create new static lists straight from the main view, third see the number of tasks in each list – handy for getting a better picture of where you are. I covered this on my blog before.
  • use smart add – is one of the best features of RTM, not only you can add new tasks but you can specify all the necessary meta information like the list it should go to, tags, location, duration, due date etc. If you already know where the tasks goes, smart add greatly reduces time required to manage them. Learning the few special characters is easy and if you use mobile client you can even see handy tip with each character explained. RTM site has a good overview of this.
  • use smart list – are you familiar with smart playlist in you iTunes or other media player? This is the same but done for tasks. Rather than painstakingly move tasks between lists make sure you put relevant attributes to them and then setup a list based on those elements. You want to see all your @home tasks simply type @home into search and then save it as your list. This functionality goes beyond that. If you spend some time understanding the syntax you can create a much more powerful lists based on multiple criteria e.g showing tasks due today and those overdue, showing items with specific context and priority. The number of different combinations is astounding and would fit everyone’s needs. I will be posting bit more about this in near future but you can start on the basics here.
  • use smartphone client – having access to your tasks on the go is an important aspect of staying productive and effective. throughout every week there are unexpected moments of downtime, meetings are cancelled at last-minute, trains are missed etc. These are perfect opportunities to pick up your list and review what’s there. RTM has excellent smartphone apps for both iPhone and Android. They provide offline access to all of your current tasks and lists. Plus if you use location feature they we alert you if you are near the store or other place you have assigned your tasks to.
  • use email to add tasks – when you setup your RTM account you are given two email address where you can send your tasks to. One for adding individual items and one for bulk import. Add them to your contact list so they are handy. If you receive an email that you need to do something about simply send it to RTM and put the task name and corresponding meta information in the subject line. RTM will add it to your task list. To import multiple tasks via email put the list name into subject line and list all your tasks in the message content. Don’t forget to add any tags, due dates and location as they can be added too. Frankly thins is what I did when I use Evernote to manage my project support material. Once my project was ready I would email the note to RTM and have all of my task there.
  • pin in browser – Remember the Milk does not have a native Windows client which I find lacking.  In order to keep easy access to your tasks make sure that the RTM page is always there when you open your browser. One way to do that is to simply pin the RTM tab in your browser so every time you open your laptop and go online the RTM will be one of the default tabs that are launched.
  • learn keyboard shortcuts – using mouse is the default way of pointing object on the screen yet it isn’t most effective. A much better and faster way is to use keyboard shortcuts. Many people know CTRL+C or CTRL+A ect but rarely go beyond that if you learn few additional shortcuts to make respective actions easier it will appear almost magical. Thing will and people will be stunned. Every time you find yourself navigating through menus and icons more than few times check if there is a keyboard for it or create one using Keyboard Maestro or PhraseExpress. Over the course of months you will save hours of menial mouse navigation. A handy list of keyboard shortcuts is here.
  • print weekly plan – this very neat feature lets you see how many tasks you have planned for a week. Although as primary I check the website or rely on mobile reminders to keep on top of my tasks a printed list adds visual representation to my commitments. Often it’s easier and quicker to see what are the commitments and where is the focus. Print the weekly plan, put it somewhere where you can see it and look at it regularly.
  • use locations to power the reminders – unless you have a good habit of referring to your lists you can forget to check that hardware store list that you’ve just left. Remember the Milk mobile client offers you a location-based reminders so once you set a location of your tasks RTM will give you a prompt once you’re in that place. You can set the triggers to act when you’re exactly on the spot or with in few miles making it easy for you to decide if you want to detour to that place. It’s yet another example how technology can help offload remembering things and free up that space for more important items.
  • share or publish your list (only for a fixed list) – we rarely live is social vacuum and more often than not we work with other people whether they are co-workers or wife  husband, kids etc. If you have items that you want them to-do you can easily share the list or sent it via email then simply track the completion. Sharing works best if both people use RTM but if they don’t you can’t provide email them tasks or provide a link for reference. This feature is perfect for maintaining agenda lists with family and co-workers so they know what are you expecting them to do.
  • add to your Google calendar – in GTD methodology calendar is primary tool to track time and day fixed commitments like meeting, flights, dinners etc. It’s the so called hard landscape. Each day comprises of those fixed commitments but there are times when you have and opening and can focus on anything. This is a perfect opportunity to look at you some of your task. Integrating Remember the Milk you not only can see on your calendar tasks that you planned for but also jump to your master list and pick something else to do.
  • sync with Outlook – Microsoft Outlook is a corporate standard yet if you’re allowed to use RTM for task management you can use MilkSync to merge the two together and access your home task at work and your work tasks at home. You can also use Outlook as a front end for your RTM account to keep both cloud and local copies of your tasks.
  • use twitter to interact with tasks – a tweet that you just read reminded you of something to do? Great you can add a task to your RTM task list simply by typing a tweet. Link your twiter account, then send a direct message to “@rtm” and press sent. Remember to include smart tags like @ # or !. New item will appear shortly on you list together with relevant details.
  • use RSS feed – to make something more with your tasks, leverage Yahoo Pipes or IFTTT to create additional interactions and automation. Not sure what that means have a look at the RTM forums for ideas and inspiration.
  • use a desktop app – if you don’t like to work in the web interface and use Mac or Linux you can try one of the few available desktop apps. These provide offline access as well as local backup of you tasks. You can take a look at list of apps. Unfortunately Windows users are out of luck at this point.
  • use notes to store extra info – for best results task should start with a verb and include necessary detail like “call Bob 12345678”. This way you can see the action and relevant information necessary to complete it i.e. the phone number. Sometimes however putting this extra details is not feasible  in such case you can rely on notes section of your tasks. You can put there any information that is relevant to the action that you need to accomplish. Once you add the extra info the task will have a little text file icon indicating there is a note associated with it. Although I don’t use this feature extensively it does come handy on regular basis.
  • use lists and tags – you can keep one long list of all your task but then you don’t really need RTM. If you however follow GTD methodology or like to keep your task nicely organised RTM will cater to almost all of your needs. You can assign tasks to lists which help creating silos that can divide work tasks from home, someday maybe from next actions etc. You can also apply tags which means items can be grouped based on a tag regardless of the list they are assigned to. This way you can collate all your @computer @call @person x actions in a single view with out a need of looking through all the different lists. It’s one of the more powerful elements of RTM and the reason it’s so flexible to-do manager.
  • link RTM and Evernote – for me Remember the Milk is for tasks and Evernote is for notes. My project list sits in RTM but all reference Material is in Evernote so the best way to gel the two is copy link note from Evernote and paste it into Remember the Milk. When I comes to reviewing my project list or adding new tasks I simply clik on that link and Evernote pops up with all my project notes. Then it’s just a matter of establishing where I’m and defining next set of action points and adding to RTM.
  • Add RTM tasks to Gmail – email client is one of those applications where we spend a ton of time. It’s also a major source of work and updates that come in our way. Adding RTM widget to Gmail makes it easy to see your tasks as well as to add new items quickly based on the incoming emails.
  • add tasks from Launchy – if you’re keyboard ninja and rely on applications like Launch to open programs, documents and websites you will want to do the same with your task manager. Launchy and FARR (it’s competitor) both have plugins allowing you to add tasks straight to RTM. When the inspiration strikes or you simply want be reminded of something you can open your launcher window and type relevant command and the task will be added to your master list. You will have to refer to web client to review those items.
  • use browser bookmarklet to add tasks – capture is one of the most basic habits that help you stay organised and effective. The easier it’s to capture things the better. If you live in your browser you can take advantage of RTM bookmklet which allows you to add tasks simply by clicking the icon on your bookmarks bar. Then populate necessary info and press ok. Your task will be added to your master list.
  • visit the forums – once you catch the RTM bug and decide to use it on regular basis you will inevitably look for ways to enhance the application and make it even more useful. User forums is great place for that. There are plenty of people sharing their experiences, tips and trick. Visit it regularly to see what’s new was posted.
  • buy a subscription (extra features + support your app) – by default Remember the Milk is free which may be sufficient if you are happy to use the web version only. However if you would like to take the full advantage of the mobile clients, instant sync and other features it’s worth becoming a premium user. You not only get those extra option but you also support the service so it can continue to exist.

Adding tasks to Remember the Milk. The smart way.

Smart add is this neat feature that lets you add tasks to your master lists and include all the relevant meta information like list name, tag, location etc. As opposed to normal task manager where you need to input task name in one line and then navigate to different fields to select other meta data smart add let you do all that in single line. Simply start adding new task and then use one of the below special characters to define due date, location or tag as necessary then press enter. RTM will add a new task and populate other fields as you defined them. Here is an example: new task #Project1 #Computer @Home ^monday. Once this is added to RTM it will be displayed as new task added to list ‘Project1’ with tag ‘Computer’, location set to ‘Home’ and due date set for Monday.
Smart add works on web, your smartphone app, Gmail add-on and emails that you send to RTM

list of characters and their meaning:

  • ^ – adds due date
  • ! – adds priority 1,2,3
  • # – adds tag or a list name
  • @ – adds location
  • * – adds repeat cycle
  • = – adds duration

There is also a good smart add guide on the Remember the Milk website which will help you understand how it works.

If I’m capturing something and I’m not sure about it I will type the idea/tasks and let it land in my inbox. If however I now where particular task should go or when should I be reminded of it I will always use smart add to include relevant meta data. Some people shrug their shoulders on this and will consider too much overhead but I personally find it very useful.

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.

Remember the Milk – the most powerful features

Remember the Milk has been my task manager of choice for over two years now. Although I have tried couple other task manager in that period I always came back to RTM as my preferred solution. As any application it has a strong points (you can read about some below) and has a weak points too (mainly the offline capabilities).Since it’s always easier to pick hole sin things rather than look for positives I decided to look at some of the best features of Remember the Milk that keep me organised and help me get things done. This post may appear a bit geeky as I go into the details of things like input syntax and smart lists but believe me it’s actually very simple. This is what makes this tool so powerful and effective.
It also goes in line with the notion that knowing the tools you use makes you more effective and lets you focus on what’s important.

Smart add

This is one of the most powerful and useful feature of the application. Very often people point out that applications like RTM provide so many options that deciding on each of them becomes a task in itself. In my view you can use the application the way you prefer if simplicity is your thing then you simply ingore the features but if you look for a more options to slice and dice tasks than RTM lets you do that.

When inputting a new task aside from the description you can set following attributes for each task: due date, list, context, priority, duration, repeat cycle, URL and location. As you can see it’s a lot of additioal information to input. To make it simpler few years ago the guys at RTM inctroduced a set of characters which allow you to select desired feature using keyboard while entering the task. Here is the list of special characters you can use:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”]

^ – date

# – list and context

! – priority

= – duration

@ – location

* – repeat

URL – simply paste it in[/colored_box]

So here, how this works. Lets say you want to “buy a milk” and you want to have it on your personal or errands list and location is your local shop. Obviously you will buy a milk every week so you want that as a continuous reminder.

Normally you would input the task in to the input panel and then assign relevant attributes manually in the panel on the right. However using the syntax your input would look as follows:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”] buy milk #personal @shop *weekly [/colored_box]

That’s it, no fiddling with settings or navigating with mouse, simple input and a task is properly categorised and assigned.

Two points worth noting here. You can use the same principles when entering tasks on your iPhone/iPad or Androind devices. Also existing categories will auto populate as you type which makes entering even easier.

Smart lists

You may be wondering what is the purpose of entering all those additional details tags, priorities, locations etc. The answer is simple with these attributes set you can slice you tasks in any way you want. This is where the smart list comes into play. This feature allows you to simply create a list of tasks based on a very specific criteria or a combination of such. In my view It’s the second most powerful feature of RTM application and I’m using it quite a lot.
Aside from the standard Inbox list I have only two basic lists Personal and Blog to manage all of my tasks. The rest is done through a set of smart list that display relevant tasks. These include following:

  • Project list – a list of personal and blog projects that I currently work on.
  • Next Action list – task due today or those I decided to complete in a given week. I highlight those by assigning a priority 1 to them.
  • @Computer and @Home, a list for two of my basic contexts.
  • @Waiting for – a list of things I’m waiting for from other people.
  • No tag – task which are missing a tag.
  • Smellers – picked it up form this post and essentially it’s a lists of task that were inputted over 6 months ago.

At first setting up a smart list might be a little bit overwhelming but the learning curve is not very steep. Remember the Milk forum has some great examples of those. You can also check out the support page which includes a list of relevant fields.

Auto tagging

Next very useful feature is auto tagging of tasks. In essence when you are looking at a smart list and add a new task, RTM will automatically append a tag related to that list. This comes very handy when outlining project plans. It works very easy, I select the project tag, I use “p_xxx” to indicate project, then I start typing. Each new item will have a tag “p_xxx” assigned by default. Why this is helpful? Simple when I want to review all tasks associated with a specific project I can click on the tag and simply review them all. This helps me make sure that tasks are in their right place and I can access them when needed.

Email import

Last feature that I wanted this share is the email import. Perhaps it doesn’t sound all exciting as almost every online task manager provides this functionality, nonetheless it proves very useful. The reason it so beneficial is that it greatly fits into my project workflow. What I usually do is get a mind map or a Evernote note to outline the structure and elements of the project. Once this is done I would email the list of tasks into RTM. In addition I would include relevant syntax items so the tasks would fall into right categories or lists. Here is an example for buying a car:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”]

buy a new car #Personal #p_car #project
research car models online #Personal #p_car #computer
call bank and check loans #Personal #p_car #calls
book a test drive with the dealer #Personal #p_car #calls @dealer

[/colored_box]

Once sent to your RTM email address (you got one during the sign up, see settings) all these lines will be converted into individual task and tags. All is left is to start reviewing your lists and tick off items.

 

Are you a Remember the Milk user? I would love to know how you use it. Please share in the comments section.

 

Note of disclosure: I’m not affiliated with Remember The Milk nor received any compensation for this post. I’m recommending it to anyone as a powerful tool to get things done and organise their tasks.

Staying productive with Android

Over the last 18 months I’ve been using an android phone to the greater extent than before. Thanks to all the available applications it became a great partner and assistant in managing my productivity and staying organised.There is a certain amount of applications that I find invaluable.  Let me run down through some of the critical applications.

Remember the Milk – Remember the Milk web app forms a core of my task management, it’s a primary place for storing my next actions, project list, waiting fors etc. The Android app provides a great interface to quickly access, today’s task or specific lists or a tag. The input panel supports RTM’s syntax which make inputting tasks a breeze. Also supported are various widgets and shortcuts which make it easier to quickly glance what due. I use it to see how many tasks are there in the inbox and how many are for today.
A very nice feature is offline support which makes the app fully functional even if you’re are not accessing the network (good for traveling abroad).

Evernote – an app that titles itself as your external brain. Truly remarkable tool for capturing any ideas, notes, links, images etc. I use the application almost daily recording anything and everything that captures my attention either on the phone like tweets or links to interesting designs, patterns, notes etc. I later review those items on my deskop application and categorise them in some way.

Dropbox – cross platform and device syncing nirvana. This is where I store my current drafts and support material for open projects. It’s simple, works unattended and always provides me with the latest version of the document I work on. Recommend that you investigate putting additional encryption software before stotring very sensitive passwords or other info into Dropbox.

Pomodroido – a very versatile timer application that lets me get into zone and focus on an task at hand. There are plenty of different options for setting up duration of pomodoros from 15 to 45min. A nice aspect is climbing the levels which makes you use the application even more.

Dolphin Browser Mini – is my default browser. It’s solid alternative to the default Andorid browser. I’m using the mini version only because I have limited amount of space available so need to keep my apps as slim as possible.

Everpaper – is a solid Instapaper reader app that nicely fits into my reading workflow. It provides support for all basic functions of the service as well as an offline storage to save articles for later. I used to use Read It Later on Androind and Firefox but since Instapaper provides excellent conduit to Kindle I decided to switch.

Gmail – stock Android Gmail client for checking my email accounts. Nothing too fancy but works great and lets me deal with email quickly while on the go.

These are the core productivity applications. There is obviously a bunch more that I’m gradually incorporating into my workflow. Here are some of the other applications that I find very useful:

Google Docs – I’m not a big user of Google Docs but I found it to be a great tool for managing my Editorial calendar. I wouldn’t say it best working.

Keep track – is a progress tracker that I use to monitor couple important statistics. The app is very well designed and easy to use. Best feature are the stats screen and a corresponding graph plotting how I performed.

Keepass – is an Android equivalent of open source password manager with the same name. Best thing you can share you password library with your phone and computer over the Dropbox folder. Excellent for having access to passwords on the go.

Ted – is a small text editor, very handy for creating text files and saving them in Dropbox for further use.

Textspansion – totally new app, which I installed just yesterday. It aims to be the TextExpander for Androind. Although the Android security setting prevent applications from “listening” your key strokes this one provides a handy shortcut through use of search key and then selecting desired phrase. Not most elegant solution but works none the less. Definitely something to look at if you’re into automation.

Hope you find this rundown of apps a useful reference point for your own pursuits. Above list is result of months of trial and error and searching for a better app the serve the need.
Despite the heavy reliance on the smartphone I still use paper as a thinking aid. My favorite combination is using a smartphone with a Moleskine notebook, former allows me to see where I’m at and latter lets me think things through via writing, doodling, sketching.

Please share you’re favorite in the comments I’m always interested in news apps. Do you have any favorite apps?

Projects, Evernote and Remember The Milk

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As many of you may know RTM is not the best project management solution it’s great web app for managing tasks and actions but connecting projects and creating nested solutions is not it’s strength. Sure you can try to hack it in many different ways but none would appear to be too intuitive or straight forward.

Evernote is great for taking notes of ideas, plans, sketches. When working on a project you can gather all backup and supporting documentation in it. Evernote is so versitile application

that its possibilities go way beyond that but I wanted to focus on the implication for projects.

In recent weeks team behind Evernote added new feature called note links. This allows you to create a link to your note which you can share in many various ways. Send by email, tweet include in other application.

My project list and many other action lists live in RTM. I prefer to keep it their so I have a single point of reference. RTM is good for tasks but not very good a project support solution. This is where Evernote comes handy.

When I launch a new project I create a new entry in RTM project list. Then I move to Evernote where I create a note for that project.

Next step is to create a list of next actions that allow me to complete the project. If I want or need I can supplement that with any thoughts, possible ideas, alternative solutions. All this gets saved into my note.

Last element is connect the information collected in Evernote with RTM project list.

This approach lets me do three things.

  1. I have quick access to project support material straight from my task application.
  2. When I decide to work on a project than I can either schedule it in calendar or RTM and simply press the link to focus on those project related tasks.
  3. Having a list of actions ready I can import them to RTM and by adding a proper syntax for tags, due dates, priorities. This is especially useful for project that may have a large number of moving parts and dependencies . So rather than refer to Evernote I can do what’s needed based on the RTM task list.

You can’t call it a deep integration like the one offered by folks behind Zendoe app yet the existing options allow me for creating quite nice and simple workflow.

Big thanks to Dan Gold for highlighting the usefulness of note links in his post.

Easy reviews: RTM and Wall of widgets

Regular reviews of inbox, action lists and projects let us keep the momentum going and have your list handy. Below post which I found on Remember the Milk blog outlines how you can leverage RTM and your Android phone for better productivity:

Remember The Milk for Android features home screen widgets for you to see what’s going on at a glance. This week’s tip, shared by joooc, shows how to se what’s going on at a glance… four ways over.

I use RTM widgets on my Android phone to split the wall to four different areas:image

top-left: Today Smart List
top-right: "To-Do" – my primary tasks list
bottom-right: Inbox
bottom-left: "Buy" list for items like hangers, toothpaste, present for someone … and milk of course 😉

Together, they occupy exactly one of 7 walls available, creating an RTM wall with all the info and controls I need. It’s the first wall on the left so basically once I unlock my phone on the go, I only need to swipe once and voila – all the tasks are instantly visible to me at one glance.

It’s very practical and fast to see what’s there for the day while still having access to all task just a tap away. The "Buy" list is great for checking what I need to buy on my way home or actually when I’m shopping, not to forget anything. Even more, Inbox serves as a perfect Notepad tool for ideas and tasks gathering that I can’t process right now but neither I want them to fly away.

This is a great example of making the most of available features of an application and a phone. I’ve been using this a similar setup for a while but following this post I’ve added two more widgets on my screen. Now my wall includes following items:

  • Next actions for  today and next 2 days (a smart list)
  • Waiting for
  • Inbox
  • Projects (a smart list)

I definitely find this beneficial. Not only I can see what’s is coming up and where should I put my attention but it also reminds me that I need to do a review once one or more of my list are empty. The other plus is that I can display any sort of list I have created. This way, if I’m working on something big and complex I can set up a smart list for it and put it on my wall. Then all relevant tasks are in front so I know what to put my attention on.

Great way to stay updated with your system and keeping it current.

Remember the Milk and Evernote integration

RTM  and Evernote

Couple days ago on Dan Gold esq blog I came across great tip on integrating Producteev todo app with Evernote.
(If you are a user of Producteev app head over to Dan’s blog to see more.)

Since I’m Remember the Milk user I decided to see if this works here too and indeed it is working like a charm.

It’s a very simple:

  • click on your Evernote note to create a link,
  • go to Remember the Milk and press “t” for new task,
  • type the name and paste the link then press enter.

All done, your task has been added and the link available on the panel to the right.
Fantastic! Thanks to Dan for great tip.