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Author Topic: MyLifeOrganized - a journey in search of the perfect GTD software  (Read 39397 times)
m_s
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« on: April 20, 2006, 06:09:55 AM »

Although Superboyac posted a link to his review of MLO in this discussion - http://www.donationcoder....um/index.php?topic=2623.0 – and Nudone posted there a link to another good review, as far as I can see there’s been no mini-review originally here on DC.  I intended to write one about six months ago, when I first came across MLO, but it’s not what I am going to do now.  In fact, I’m not going to say much about it at all, except for describing my path from using it to not using it, and now back to using it again.

I thank DonationCoder for my discovery of Getting Things Done, because way back in September Mouser made LifeHacker.com the site of the week/month (http://www.donationcoder....um/index.php?topic=1048.0).  Reading LH, I kept coming across this odd acronym, GTD.  Eventually I Google the letters, and soon found myself at http://www.43folders.com, http://www.diyplanner.com/, http://www.ericmackonline.com/, http://gtdwannabe.blogspot.com, http://www.lifehack.org and all the other sites I now read daily (along with http://www.lifehacker.com and DC, of course!).  I read David Allen’s book, ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’ (http://www.davidco.com/st...one-Paperback-p-16175.php), was suitably blown away by it, and quickly changed the way I work. 

My job of the last three years has been very pressured most of the time – now it’s cooled down a bit, and I’m also hopefully leaving in the next month or so.  For long periods I have felt overwhelmed in this work.  But, in a strange way, GTD took the challenge out of my work (although other circumstances changed around the same time I discovered GTD); David Allen’s methodologies helped me to tame and work with the many disparate elements of my work and life, which was a very good and necessary thing.  (I had also just started a psychotherapy training and running my own little computer-support company - to pay for the training, of course – so I really did need to get things organized and done.)

I did quite a bit of research and playing-around with various tools to find the best fit.  I started with Outlook, since that was what I had used for awhile – not much good, I felt (although Outlook 12 is apparently built around GTD, so I’m looking forward to trying that).  I tried plain text files and Excel files, which both have their strengths.  I tried WikidPad (http://www.jhorman.org/wikidPad/) and OneNote (http://office.microsoft.c...en-us/FX010858031033.aspx) and Evernote (http://www.evernote.com) and TaoNotes (http://actitrend.fre3.com/) and KeyNote (http://www.tranglos.com/free/keynote.html) and several other note-based systems.  I tried MyLifeOrganized and didn’t make much of it.  I kept trying other things.

I posted a query on David Allen’s company forums asking about alternatives to Outlook (http://davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4742).  I wrote: ‘Am I wasting time in trying to find alternatives…’ and had a good response from TesTeq: ‘Yes. I think that most people are wasting their precious time searching for the ideal GTD implementation. They are testing, trying, converting data back and forth instead of just doing stuff (the real stuff - not the GTD implementation stuff).’  That was a fair cop.

But I didn’t give up yet, oh no; I kept trying to find the perfect GTD software.  I went on to GTDTiddlyWiki (http://shared.snapgrid.com/gtd_tiddlywiki.html), which is a brilliant browser-based tiddlywiki implementation built around GTD approaches. 




For awhile I carried this on a USB memory-stick, and that worked well.  However, I found after a while that using Wiki style markup was slowing me down.  I really, really like GTDTiddlyWiki, and I find myself looking back at it every once in a while and wondering if I could make it work for me…  I went on to playing with NextAction Wiki (http://trimpath.com/project/wiki/NextAction), which is a similar project (not quite as handsome, but in some ways easier to work with).  And then I found my way back to MLO.

The fundamental thing to say about my work setup is that I am constantly switching between two laptops – I work from home, so I have my own machine on my desk all the time, and because I use Gmail for work emails, I actually end up doing quite a lot of the day-to-day work on my own machine (it’s faster, prettier, has a bigger screen, and it has my music collection so I can whistle while I work).  But this means that I need an organising option that is easily transferable between the two machines. 

What I took to doing was carrying my MLO data file on a USB stick and just plugging it in on whichever of the two machines I was working on.  Chaos quickly ensued – I overwrote the most recent version of the data files quite soon after starting working this way…  But: I had now had a good experience of using MLO, and I really was sad to stop. 

I decided to test a few online services, starting with Backpack (http://www.backpackit.com). 




On a free account you can only create 5 pages, which I found too few to be really useful.  If you’re willing to pay, you can get up to 1,000 pages ($14.99/month, which is pretty good value, isn’t it?).  I find the free account’s page a little cluttered – this changes when you upgrade.  I only tried a pay-account for a month, and might have continued were it not for RememberTheMilk (http://www.rememberthemilk.com). 




I love RTM’s clean and simple interface, and that it’s free and you can make as many lists as you want.  It’s got easy keyboard shortcuts and, like Backpack, all kinds of Ajaxy goodness.  I particularly like its smart lists function, which can compile a list based on criteria you choose (the ‘This Week’ list showing in this screenshot is a smart list).  An important thing you can’t do is hierarchical lists (which you can do using Textile syntax in Backpack – but see my remarks on using formatting syntax re GTDTiddlyWiki).

I also tried Voo2do (http://voo2do.com/) and TaskToy (http://www.tasktoy.com/) and Zoho Planner (http://www.zohoplanner.com/ ) other online services, but I kept coming back to RememberTheMilk.

So RTM and I have been living happily ever after for the last few months.  It’s easy to use, it’s minimal and easy on the eye, it’s quick, you can subscribe to your lists in RSS, printing from lists is straightforward and clean and well laid-out, you can email yourself tasks (as you can in Backpack, but it seems not in Backpack’s useful little brother, Ta-da lists - http://www.tadalist.com). 

But then the unthinkable happened: I had to go somewhere without an internet connection – North Wales to be precise, to my boss’s new farmhouse in the wilds of Gwynedd.  And then I discovered two limitations of RTM: first, you need an internet connection to use it properly (though it does have RSS feeds as mentioned, so it is possible to work offline); and, secondly, its very neat tagging functions are not as useful as I thought, because it’s impossible to print a particular tag.  So though you can use tags for GTD contexts, and access these easily through the tag-cloud on the Overview page, you can’t print a particular tag/context list.




So I had to copy and paste into Word to have a take-away list for the particular context.  That’s a drag.

So I’m buddying up with MLO again, because it really is the most powerful To-Do list manager/life organizer I have found – and I’ve tried a few…  Others have already sung its praises and described its many excellent features, so I’m just going to say that I agree with all that’s been said – it’s capable of much more than I understand, but does absolutely everything I need.  And it’s possible to turn off displaying all but the features you actually want to use, meaning less visual distraction.  But, I hear you ask, what about the problem of synchronising data files?  Well, I’m going to give a try to using FolderShare (https://www.foldershare.com/) and keep the data synchronised in cyberspace; I think that’ll work well.

So here’s another vote for MLO - of all the many programs I’ve used to organize my life, this is the one I keep coming back to.  It simply does the job much better than anything else I have found – it’s lightweight, it’s easy to work with, extremely powerful, and it looks good.






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mouser
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« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2006, 06:13:52 AM »

what a great mini-review! (some donationcredits coming your way btw)
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mouser
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« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2006, 06:42:59 AM »

more resources on GTD:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gtd
http://www.listible.com/list/gtd-software
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momonan
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« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2006, 08:05:57 AM »

Thank you for this mini-review -- and for sharing the process so I don't have to go through it all myself.  Some credits coming your way.  ('Bout to run out; gotta get me some more. ohmy)
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brotherS
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« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2006, 08:17:29 AM »

Thanks for the review! I need to read it in detail later (talk about GTD!  Wink ), but it looks great!
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m_s
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« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2006, 01:26:11 PM »

Okay, I'm at a loss.  Does anybody have any suggestions for keeping files synchronized between two Windows computers without both having to be online simultaneously?  It seems both BeInSync and FolderShare require simultaneous connections, and in my environment that's just impossible.  This is so that I can share my MyLifeOrganized data file between two machines, so that I can access it on my work machine during the day and on the home one in the evening.  Any ideas?
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Rover
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« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2006, 04:57:45 PM »

I'm confused... how can you sync files without both systems being connected?  I guess you could save your data to a removable storage (USB Stick or USB HD), but they have to "talk" to get sync'd.
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m_s
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« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2006, 05:02:05 PM »

Another way of doing what I need would be to sync the files on a remote FTP site - so each machine would need to check on the remote files, but they wouldn't need to 'talk' to one another.  I need something that I could be sure would never overwrite the most recent version, and I would prefer it to be automated, so that I rarely have to think about it.
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jeff.kowalski
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« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2006, 11:43:36 PM »

Okay, I'm at a loss.  Does anybody have any suggestions for keeping files synchronized between two Windows computers without both having to be online simultaneously?  It seems both BeInSync and FolderShare require simultaneous connections, and in my environment that's just impossible.  This is so that I can share my MyLifeOrganized data file between two machines, so that I can access it on my work machine during the day and on the home one in the evening.  Any ideas?

I use FolderShare to synchronize files between three machines so I can work at any of them.  Not all of them are online concurrently.  I found some interesting, impressive behavior:  when a machine is off, it will get updated when it is started (and foldershare is running); and, interestingly, the updates can come from any machine in the group.  Both of these add up to a valuable service:  you need only two machines running at once among several - at least the "source" machine, and any other machine set to share the same files.  When any other device powers up, it can sync from any other machine with the files.

From the Foldershare FAQ:
"As a member of a library, what happens if file changes take place while my computer is offline?
When your offline computer comes back online, it will be automatically updated with all changes."

In my setup, I have a work laptop, a home laptop and a home desktop.  The latter is always running, but the laptops are on and off.  All three stay in sync, magically, sometimes indirectly through the desktop.

You're right that you can't directly sync between machines that are powered off, and that between only two machines you'll need them both on for a period long enough to sync after a change, but those seem like very reasonable (physically bound) limitations.  Short from synching to a intermediate device like a USB stick, then resynching at the target machine, I can't see a way around it.

Now it may be that Foldershare actually caches the files on their reflector server, and could store them between two machines until the target powers up.  I don't know about this, and I haven't tested, but you might check to see if it solves the problem mentioned above.

Note too that Foldershare can work across firewalls.  I mention this because sometimes one's work computer can be inaccessible (a form of "off") from home, if you work in a firm with even reasonable firewalled security.  The reverse is true if you run a firewall at home or use NAT.  Foldershare handles these instances.

Hope this helps,
jeff
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gwynevans
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« Reply #9 on: May 12, 2006, 05:23:17 AM »

One alternative option with GTD is the Hipster PDA

You may initially laugh, but also take a look at things such as the D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition 3.0 templates before 'writing' it off!   It also fits in with the GTDWiki mentioned by the OP. :-)

/Gwyn
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m_s
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« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2006, 07:06:43 AM »

I've recently started blogging over at D*I*Y Planner (http://www.diyplanner.com/node/860), and this week made myself a hPDA - look out for my next piece there, which refers to this thread...  I'm coming around to using all paper and no digital after all this hunting for the perfect software!
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brotherS
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« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2006, 08:54:57 AM »

At first glance the D*I*Y site looks a bit strange, but seems to be worth a more careful check.
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nudone
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« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2006, 01:28:47 AM »

if you are using paper instead of a pda you might like this...

http://www.pocketmod.com/

i've not got around to trying it but i have to say the idea of having a 'flexible' bit of paper stuffed in my back pocket seems like a better idea than carting a chunk of metal around with me all day, i.e. my pda. not really sure what to do about the 'flexible' pen bit - i suppose a small stubby pencil/pen will do.

(it's been mentioned before on this forum.)
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« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2006, 05:26:42 PM »

great review
I'm struggling with GTD and MLO myself.
Lately I just don't even open it, I know more or less what's pending...
But MLO is really great for keeping long term projects from falling 'out of mind'... it works for me as a suggestion maker, not so much as a TODO list.
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gravity
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« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2006, 04:59:48 PM »

May I suggest ADB Idea Library? (http://www.happyjackroad....etpc/ideaLibrary/idea.asp)

It has both a Pocket PC and Desktop programs and they can be synched with each other.  Its incredibly simple but powerful.
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brotherS
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« Reply #15 on: June 22, 2006, 02:56:26 AM »

I'm struggling with GTD and MLO myself.
Lately I just don't even open it, I know more or less what's pending...
That's not exactly GTD-style Wink

But I have the same problem... I let AutoHotkey open a specific txt file twice a day that I need to review/edit, maybe I should use that solution also for todo GTD lists.
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« Reply #16 on: June 22, 2006, 03:23:00 AM »

This is the thread I've been waiting for for two years. THANK YOU!

I've tried about 90% of all the products you mention in your review, and while you only mentioned some and described the use of others, I must say that I could never befriend RTM as much as you. It's interface just doesn't speak to my soul. I don't like how it splits everything up into separate lists, dividing them up by tabs. I'd like to see everything on the same screen and be able to drag and drop and move stuff around, not to mention, use labels and tags the way GMail uses them. I guess you already can do the latter, but something about the tabbed interface really bothers me in RTM. I've known RTM since it's early beta stage. I was right there with it from the day it was born, so I know it well, and while I loved the design and the people behind it from the start, somehow it's magical in a special way, to me. Once I start using it, the UI drives me away, but once I'm gone from it, I keep coming back, that is, until I decide the back and forth isn't worth my time. The UI is incredibly pretty. The graphics artwork is awesome as is the implementation of AJAX on all fronts.. I suppose what doesn't really convince me is the LOGIC of the interface structuring. Guess my brain's just not wired that way.

I've been looking at and testing all sorts of PIMs for as long as I can remember, never finding the right one. And boy have I tried a lot of them.. is there any chance you saw all the hype about Active Desktop Calendar (hype = great reviews), then tried it out, and just thought to yourself.. HUH? If so, that's what happened to me.

I've never tried MLO and always meant to, but I had no idea it could be such a serious player in the life organization software market.. I thought it was just some small player in one corner of the web, something not many people know about, even less use. Guess I'm wrong! smiley

I also tried WikiPad and found the concept behind it intriguing but found the interface super intrusive.. in a way that just hit me in the face like a brick when I opened it. Do you remember all the saved "notes" on the left? Wow. I opened it up and I was just like.. "Ooooook.. I gotta look at this later. This is gonna take a WHILE". Ultimately, that's where it failed for me.

I'm surprised Google hasn't given us some kind of to-do list solution.. well, they gave us Calendar, and it's great, especially because it integrates with GMail.. but you know what I mean smiley

Today I'll try MLO. I'll let you know how it went. Anyway.. thanks a ton for an excellent mini-review smiley
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« Reply #17 on: June 22, 2006, 10:53:32 AM »

Hey m_s, I just saw this thread.  That's quite a journey you've been through!  I'm glad you finally found something that kind of works for you and your busy lifestyle.  I'm still using MLO myself, but my schedule is no where near as hectic as yours.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #18 on: June 24, 2006, 12:33:30 AM »

Hm, I could have sworn I read this thread earlier, but it appears I only read the later replies thinking I had read the OP. Anyway, great mini-review! I loved hearing about the journey you went through; I think many of us can identify.

For the moment I am using Outlook for basic reminders and text files for all "to do" lists and it's really pretty cumbersome. I installed MLO a couple months ago now and still haven't gotten around to using it. I think my biggest mistake is basically assuming I need to transfer over all my existing to-do's before I start relying on it. It seems like instead I can just put any new tasks that come up into it and sort of have a split system for a while. It can't be much worse (more cumbersome) than what I am doing now. cheesy

- Oshyan
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« Reply #19 on: August 21, 2006, 05:15:28 AM »

The only thing keeping me from sticking with MLO is price. It really is rather expensive.
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m_s
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« Reply #20 on: August 21, 2006, 11:15:30 AM »

Much as I love MLO, I should update this and say that I'm now mainly using paper.  I've started two new jobs this last fortnight, which have me working in three different locations, which has me thinking again about signing up for Backpack...  But I've not yet decided, and so far neither my notebook nor my calendar (paper both - Moleskine, of course!) has suffered from being unable to connect to the internet. ;-)
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« Reply #21 on: August 21, 2006, 11:47:15 AM »

m_s, there's something about the old analogue ways of doing things that just seem to work sometimes. maybe because they are so simple, so portable and 'switch on' instantly. i would also think that their tactile nature kind of means more - you can connect to a physical object more than a program - i'm sure that must help in associating the right kind of mind state. perhaps there is also an element of 'being in control' of the analogue device whereas a computer program can tend to feel that is has control over you.

it's kind of reassuring to see other people trying the digital way and then going back to the traditional paper and pen - certainly makes me feel less like someone that gives up for no good reason. i'd love to be able to make use of 'mylife organized' rather than just stare at its icon on my desktop - maybe the GTD experiment will make that possible.
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m_s
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« Reply #22 on: August 21, 2006, 01:08:42 PM »

I contributed this short piece over at the D*I*Y Planner planner site a while back - kind of summarises my onward journey from the review that started this thread...: http://www.diyplanner.com/node/906
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« Reply #23 on: August 22, 2006, 01:46:16 AM »

Since the late 80s, I've subscribed to the FranklinCovey/7 Habits approach, which eschews systems and mere to-do lists in favor of a much broader approach to time management. I've read the GTD book a couple of years ago and even spent a year reading the 43 Folders site, but others like Hyrum Smith were writing and talking about this same thing since the 1970s, and it all seemed derivative of the early Franklin content. What I like about it is the shared lifehacker/tech approach to saving time, i.e., take a tip from wherever you find it and see if it works.

If and when you have time, consider reading Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The 7 Habits "Quadrant" approach to prioritizing tasks makes GTD seem thin and overly focused on smaller, "urgent/pay-attention-to-me-now" tasks; that is, do the easy stuff first, and push the larger tasks deeper in the day. Problem is, most people burn too much time; that five-minute simple task took 35 minutes to complete because you got distracted from the main goal, which is to get X done today, not just a bunch of little t's. I can't criticize anything that really works for another. But in my own experience, GTD kept me busy on "urgent" things, but not necessarily focused on the "important" things. FranklinCovey uses a planner and/or software, or if you're really good, your own mind; GTD can use anything, even an index card. And that too is good.
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« Reply #24 on: August 22, 2006, 03:19:02 AM »

Actually, the literature on project management can be useful here too. I just bought Berkun's "The Art of Project Management", and seems really relevant.

Also, Steve pavlina (in his famous blog) advocates that knowing your purpose is the most important thing, and then derive the actions top-down. The thing with GTD is that it can be very bottom-up, I agree. Although Steve uses GTD himself.
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