All new Remember the Milk

Last week my favorite task manager seen a really big update. New smartphone and tablet versions have been released for the Android platform.

This is very welcomed update as although I grew accustomed to the previews look of the app on my phone the tablet version was really non-existent.

The update is a complete re-design of android clients and after couple days I really like it. It added a vertical bar to the left side of the screen which gives very quick and easy access to lists, tags, due dates. The lists of with tasks now slide from the right showing all relevant elements. 

Viewing and editing of  task notes has been improved which makes it easier to take the advantage of this rarely used feature.

By default task show up with out check mark and once you press edit in the top right corner you can check off more than one task. I haven’t decided whether it’s good or bad as on one hand it’s forces you to select one task and focus on it but on the other hand you need extra taps to manipulate it.

Overall I really, really like this new version and big thumbs up for creating tablet version too. I’m yet to do it but I can already see that doing weekly reviews on a tablet will be very pleasant and effective experience.

You can check the details of this update on the Remember the Milk blog site.

The updated version is now available on Google Play store too.

Last but not least Google+ has a great number of commentators chipping in with their opinions on this update. It’s well worth checking it out and what users have to say.

GTD workflow with Remember the Milk

The beauty of Getting Things Done methodology is that it can be used with any tool whether it’s a paper notebook or digital application sitting on your laptop or mobile phone.

In the center of GTD sits a workflow model which helps you deal with incoming information, requests, ideas and task. This model is based on the following five stages:

  1. capture
  2. process
  3. organise
  4. review
  5. do

It’s a very simple process, yet very powerful as it allows you to make decisions about the things that enter your space and whether you are willing to do them and if so when. As I rely on this model on daily basis I thought I would share how my current task manager of choice Remember the Milk helps me apply it on daily basis.

Capture

Capturing ideas, thoughts, tasks, requests etc is the basic element of well functioning GTD implementation. All the things that have your attention should be routed into an Inbox for later review and assessment. David Allen says:”Your mind is for having ideas not for holding them”. Remember the Milk offers a multiple ways of capturing your information

  • use the input panel on the web
  • use bookmarklet to quickly capture ideas in your browser
  • on the go use smartphone app and the new task widget (Android only)
  • send emails to RTM using subject line to define the task
  • send tasks via Twitter using @rtm account.

These options allow me to capture information very quickly and efficiently regardless of where I’m or do and have it in a single place waiting for me to process it.

Processing

Processing is the stage where you need to decide whether the things you’ve captured are still worth pursuing, should you delete them or put it of for later. This is important stage as not everything you captured will be completed. Having ideas does not mean we need to pursue them all. This state allows to weed out things that we don’t want to spend our time on. Processing focuses on determining whether I want to accomplish the task or idea that I’ve captured. If the answer is “NO” I delete the task or move it to someday maybe list for later consideration. If the answer is “YES” it means the task enters my system permanently and at this moment I apply things like tags, due dates, time estimate, list name etc. These elements will define the context of the task like @home, @computer or the location in the static lists that I use. Adding all these elements means that the organising stage is very easy and almost automated.

Organise

There is so much flexibility there that I could spend months discussing different ways you can organise the tasks using Remember the Milk. Best approach is to keep this simple and relevant and build up from there. For me organising tasks very easy and I heavily rely on smart list which effectively act as a self organising mechanism. Let me explain. I use a static list to manage my areas of focus and at this moment use two list. This is the only time I have to manually assign tasks to a specific list.

For my context, project and waiting for lists I rely on smart list. These list are dynamically generated list that display tasks based on the selected criteria. So if at the processing stage I add tag @computer then my context list “@Computer” will display that task too. Simple no dragging and dropping no moving around etc. Relying on smart list reduces a lot of friction and steps necessary to make sure that my list are up to date and include all items. I also have a “no tag” list which shows me items which don’t have a tag, this is little security net so I can pick up on lost items.

Review

Once you’re tasks are nicely organised it is time to review the relevant list and pick few things that you really want to put your attention on. I have a special list called MIT (thanks Jason Womack) which I update on almost daily basis. The list will include my critical tasks for a given day or a week. The process of adding items is simple, I scan my list and assign selected task a priority level 1 which mean any item of this type will be added to the MIT list. If all planned items are done I look through my context and pick something from the relevant one.

Do

For the doing phase make sure you have easy access to your Remember the Milk account and pick the first task you planned for today. To make sure I get to seem them I have RTM pinned in my browser and a widget set on my phone to display these. Then all it’s left is to do the work.

RTM is so powerful that you can create a very complex list structures and workflows which will involve a lot of steps. My preference it to keep things simple and as close to GTD model as possible while still retaining some of my personal preferences. From experience I can tell that the more elaborate structure/system the less likely you will be able to sustain it. Keep it as simple as you can it will pay off.

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.

Tasks Events and Android home screens

Not that long ago I used to use Filofax planner to keep tabs on calendar and tasks, now my android phone has replaced both. Although I still use paper notebook for capturing notes, ideas and general writing, I find that smartphone is much better for staying on top of my appointments and task list.
For any information to be useful it must be easily accessible and visible. If there are too many steps, clicks it will not be used. There will be too much friction. Some interesting thought about friction can be found on Michael’s blog.

As result this got me thinking on how to setup my phone, so that I can easily see what’s upcoming and what I need to do today.

A great feature of android phones is that they provide ability to create multiple homescreens which in turn can display widgets. In essence rather than refer to actual app on a phone or wait for it to remind you about something, I can quickly scan the latest information on my screen.

I created an addiotional homescreen completely dedicated to my calendar and task information.

For that purpose I decided to use Agenda Widget for Android to show my calendar information. It’s fairly chunky download but it provides very nice graphical representation of my calendars and appointments. It also has a tons of customisation so it should easily fit everyones needs.

As for the tasks, I’m using Remember the Milk which provides a number of wigdets to choose form. RTM has been my task manager of for a number of year so I really enjoy making the most of it. At the moment I’m using a widget to show me all tasks due today but I can swap it for any type of list.

On daily basis I refer to this screen to review what’s coming up next. I also at least try look at it every evening too so I can prepare for next day and see where I’m.

What do you use to stay on top of your daily agenda? Do you have any way of keeping your appointments and tasks visible?

Celebrate

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An important part of being productive is acknowledging the effects of your work. You need a time to enjoy the progress you’ve made or the number of tasks you’ve completed. To put it simply you need to celebrate your success from time to time.

Enjoying your success is not about showing off how much stuff have you completed and how productive you are. It’s about noticing the progress and change that you’ve made by completing those actions.

I think many times we are selling ourselves short by focusing on all the outstanding items. This does not serves us well it creates more negativity and does not improve our wellbeing. As success breeds success taking time to look at your successes makes it easier to repeat them. You can see your self that you can do it and what are you capable of.

Your @Celebrate list. If your are using any electronic system to manage tasks creating ‘Celebrate’ list is very easy. In Outlook you can create a new view. Remember the Milk (my current tool) allows you to set up a smart lists where you can define the task to be displayed. Set them to show you tasks completed in last seven days.

If you prefer paper perhaps you could enjoy the number of tasks that have been crossed off.

Enjoy your success weekly. Take couple minutes on Friday and review your list. See how many tasks have you completed. You might  spot  some important projects or things that were long overdue and they are now done.

Get your self a treat like a good coffee or something you like and use this opportunity to enjoy it while reflecting on the stuff you have accomplished.
I’m pretty sure this will help you finish work week on a positive note and set you up for good weekend.