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.

Building Time Maps

Do you have enough time? Do you stress out over the hours that you’ve left out to finish your projects?

If you want to have "more time" or to manage it more effectively I have couple of tips for you. 

Where is my time?

Nothing comes from nowhere and in order to have more time you need to know where it goes. Your first task is to think what are the ways you spend your time. It would be the best if you could track it for a week or so. For starters simply jot down all the regular and irregular activities that form part of your life.

Think of as many as possible.  Then look at your list and check how many hours per day or per week are you spending on each activity.

If you really want to know where your time goes consider tracking it for a week or more if possible. There are countless software packages for doing that, some even allow to monitor your computer usage, used applications and visited internet sites. But remember, it’s not only about tracking your computer  activities, look at your life as whole.

Daily/Weekly chart

Once you have your list of activities ready it’s time to put a map in place. It works best if you use daily or weekly perspective of your week.

Lets start with a simple and easy method that will give you results very quickly:

  1. Take a ruled sheet of paper and some colour pens or alternatively use spreadsheet on your computer.
  2. List all the hours in the day starting from 0:00 to 23:00. Each of the line represent a single hour of your day.
  3. If you need more granular approach, say 30min slots just divide the lines appropriately or find bigger piece of paper. 
  4. Now start on the top and go down drawing a line between each activity. Once you’ve done fill the blocks  with colours you want. 

 

image

[sample day schedule]

What you can see now is the map of day’s activities. By sketching this quick map you can identify any time sinks or simply realise that you have a lot on your plate and there is not much room.

 

If you have listed the number of hours you spend on each activity per day or per week then you can create pie chart. This method approaches your time map from slightly different angle and lets you see all the areas where you spend your time in proportion to the total time available. You can also see how they stack up against each other and what are the areas that dominate your schedule.

image

[sample weekly activities]

It’s worth considering this approach if want to look at things from monthly or even annual perspective.

Analyse

Once you’re done with your map it’s time to look at it and analyse it. There is no point in creating something if you’re not going to use it. Time maps give you an overview of your situation so now you need to look at it and start asking questions.

  • What is important?
  • Is there anything that can be eliminated?
  • Is there any free time?
  • Am I spending time in the right way? etc

 

Next week I will look at time budgeting which aims at re-shaping your current schedule and making space for activities that are important and move you towards your goals and desires.

GTD Implementation – some tips

Today I would like to give you some of my tips on how to implement GTD. This is mostly based on my mistakes that I have done when I started my GTD adventure. Hope your will find some value in this. Here they are (in no particular order).

Brain dump – Write it down. This applies to anything and everything that sits in your head. Write them all, your ideas, things to do, dreams, goals etc. Be strict and consistent. The fewer things in your head the more benefit your will get. Personally I think this is single most important element of GTD implementation that gives the most visible effect. You can literally feel weight lifted from your shoulders.

One thing at a time – Single things out. Focus on one thing at a time and consistently work through the lists and inboxes. Resist the urge to do things and browse through the stacks. The idea is that you pick one examine it, make decision (defer, do, delete) and move the the next one. This might be hard at first but should be easier over time.

Decide on the system – Setting up your system and tools is the most difficult time consuming part. You will probably spend hours trying various different approaches. My tip is asses your needs. Look at the effects of your brain dump and try to think what will be sufficient for you. Don’t try to over do your system, keep it simple i the rule no.1.

Pick your tools – Now when you’ve assessed your needs pick your tools but try to keep things simple and consistent Try to use tools that will support your system and each other. Tools that can easily exchange information and allow you to use them whenever your are and when ever you need them.

Stick with your choice – That’s very hard especially in the beginning. When the new habits have been created yet, when methodology is fresh and unsettled it’s easy to be lured by some new tools. The fact is: "it’s not going to work". Most of us like to play with new things, spend a little time with it and when bored move to another. But in this case you should change your tool only if….

Check if it’s you  – When you find that your system is limiting you and does not meet your needs make sure this is systems fault. Often you consider something as system failure but in fact it’s your fault. You didn’t keep your system current, you have neglected some parts of the process, your haven’t clarified some thoughts. If that’s not the case and your implementation is not sufficient for you switch to something that will better fit your needs But this should be the only situation when you make a change. Otherwise you will spend more time transferring data across different platforms and wont get your things done.

Make notes – This is something that I discovered recently. I didn’t put enough attention on my implementation how it works, where are my in baskets, how do I file etc. so it was kind of loose and unstructured. Making notes on your system gives you an option to see, reflect what works and what doesn’t. I know, system should be simple and at hand and that 100% true but in order to do that your need to see your system form higher altitude, get some perspective.

Keep your system current – That sounds obvious but I always need to remind this to myself. It’s necessary to makes sure that the system is constantly fed with new items. Make sure you log all actions, projects, waiting for’s. Check if the inboxes are empty and calendar is accurate.

I hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you have some more tips and would like to share them please feel free to leave a comment.