Hunt for your thoughts or be hunted by them!
The cover photo I have chosen for this article it was quite suggestive for me and it perfectly represents a very common situation that you too are probably experiencing every day of your life.
Are you familiar too with that wild whirlwind of thoughts sparkling endlessly on the backgroud of your mind?
All that “stuff” that quickly get scattered all around and that could generate a quite endless chain reaction of to-dos, reminders, errands, ideas: a wildfire that continues to self sustain and that leaves you often overwhelmed and confused at the end of the week?
You look back tired at the days that have just passed by: you have been busy all day long and you feel you have accomplished so little and still you are constantly hunted down by something you have forgot or that you absolutely need to do tomorrow.
Or maybe you just had that idea you know you need to catch now, because you fear that tomorrow, when you will get out of your bed it will be gone forever!
If this does ring a bell to you this first story of my GTD® Life Development series is right for you!
What is GTD®?
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.® — David Allen
I consider David Allen and his book Getting Things Done: The art of stress-free productivity one of the milestone discoveries that really was a turning point and had so much impact that changed my life forever. But what is the GTD®?
“GETTING THINGS DONE®, or GTD® for short, is a personal productivity methodology that redefines how you approach your life and work.”
If you still don’t know anything about it, do yourself a favour and go here on the GTD® official website to discover the five pillars of this methodology: just one of two tips of the system I have implemented in the early days really had an immediate and positive impact on my career and personal life too.
I am quite confident that you will thank you me in the near future as I am forever grateful to the person that pointed me out to GTD® some years ago!
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning was created Pen and Paper…”
You have many different ways to implement GTD® methodology in your life, from fully analog with just pen and paper, to hybrid physical/digital or to digital-only one.
When David Allen started to implement his productivity methodology as a consultant for senior executives in the 1980s, the digital world and what it could offer was quite limited:
Smartphones didn’t existed, the paperless and cloud based platforms didn’t existed, Google and search engines didn’t existed and a 29 years-old Steve Jobs had just changed the concept of personal computing once forever launching the first Macintosh in the 1984.
But less than 40 years later the panoplia of opportunities had become quite unlimited.
And here, at least for me, it comes the hamlet dilemma:
What system/platform/software/app is the best and most effective today for GTD®?
David Allen himself in this post explains that after decades and more than 2 millions peoples successfully implemented his methodology, he just can’t point out to something specific when people asks him “What’s the best software tool with which to do GTD®?”
Today you can try between numerous options with all kind of business and price models: free to use, one time purchase, multi platform apps, annual or monthly subscription services.
Believe me when I say that I have almost lost track on how many I have tried in the last 10 years of my GTD® journey.
But going down to the basics, the tools you really need to start with the GTD® methodology are indeed very simple:
- 📥 Inbox: where you capture anything that has your attention.
- 📆 Calendar: to track down Events and due dates.
- 🗄️ Archive: for Filing and Reference materials you need to retrieve.
- ✔️ Task Manager: where you organize and plan your next actions.
It could be really anything ranging from a Moleskine pocket notepad, a physical tray inbox on your desk or fully-digital tools like Apple Notes, Microsoft OneNote, a simple Excel or Google Sheets file going to some more complete capturing system like Drafts, Evernote or Notion. The key here is that it has to be easy to use and always available and ready.
You can choose from a Baronfig full-year notebook Agenda to one of the most used digital calendar software like Apple’s iCal, Google’s GCal, Microsoft’s Outlook, Fantastical 2 or the more sophisticated SaaS like Calendly that, for example, let other people choose when to book events with you only in the time frames you make yourself available.
From a full-size furniture vertical file cabinet to a library with multiple ring binders, filing and referencing systems have really upgraded and they had finally become ubiquitous with the flourishing of all the cloud-based archiving services: similarly to digital calendars here you can choose between Apple iCloud Drive, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox. Apps like Evernotes and Notions can also be used for very quick referencing for later use with the use of tags and smart filters.
The Task Manager:
And finally we finish with the basic tools, going from a Leuchtturm1917 bullet journal or a simple monthly/annual Planner Notebook to their most fanciest and powerful digital counterparts: starting with Apple Reminders, Google Keep, Microsoft To Do, Remember The Milk, you have plenty of choice:
The best in class for me are without doubt Omnifocus, Todoist, Things 3 and the one that I have sticked the most in the last 5 years before discovering CODA and building my custom GTD®system: Pocket Informant.
They are all really good as task/project management tools.
In the past I have chosen Pocket Informant because it was natively supporting the GTD® workflow, it is cross-platform as it’s available in Android, Windows, MacOS and iOS versions that syncs together. You can also manage and sync with Outlook, Apple and Google services and their contacts, calendars and reminders. And they also offer a very convenient and affordable cloud service, Informant Sync, that gives you the peace of mind of not losing years and years of data and work if something goes wrong with your device.
Believe me that it was a really bad day for me when my BlackBerry 6200 decided to pass away beyond repair and I lost forever one year and a half of locally stored records, as cloud based backups still wasn’t available for the task management software I was using at the time.
There can be only one…(really)?
So what’s the catch if the market is offering so many solutions?
Well, the catch at least for me is that in zero time you can find yourself clueless with a bunch of open apps that not always works so well together and where, the most of the time, you are inexorably losing your focus and momentum in all the come and go between different devices, calendars, emails, tasks and the single domains of your life.
And how can you choose ONE TRUSTED SYSTEM (using David Allen’s own definition) in which you can put all your personal and professional projects and the single actions you need to perform in order to achieve your goals in the most effective and stress-free way?
If you are a freelance or a self-employed professional or maybe the CEO of your own company, your GTDer life could be really more simple than mine.
But if you are working in a corporate environment just like me, it’s quite possible you must use the company-only-approved systems (software and hardware) provided for contacts, calendars, emails, etc etc.
Because of the security and compliance policies, I can’t use or install any app/software of choice on my laptop or company mobile phone, that currently are using Microsoft and Android OS; I bet it may be the same scenario for many of you too.
However in the personal/family domain I’m totally an Apple-ecosystem believer, where I seamlessly switch from Macbook, to iPhone to my iPad Pro that rapidly had became my election device, especially since the release of PadOS.
The PadOS 14 just released, allows me to fully experience the “phygital” (physical/digital) interface I have always dreamed of: I can write with my pencil to sketch quick drawings, notes or journal entries, use my fingers to scroll and launch apps while on the couch and work on split screens or eventually using a full keyboard/mouse input system while writing an article just like this one sitting at my desk with my iPad or work laptop plugged to my 30" Apple Led Cinema Display monitor.
And what’s really amazing is that what I start something on a device I can continue to work on that exactly from where I left whenever I switch to another device, thanks to iCloud document and files sync.
But what if on a Sunday morning, as I am walking outside, I need to capture something pertaining my professional domain but I left my company phone at home?
I rapidly get annoyed and frustrated by duplicate tasks in different systems that so easily gets out of date or even worst, gets totally lost and out of my radar, falling through the cracks just to come back to my attention like hungry and howling wolves haunting my sleep and eating away my mental energy.
Yes, maybe it’s a too vivid picture, but how can you happily marry together two so different domains and approaches that in addition are living in completely different ecosystems without feeling like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
A truly complete an holistic approach to the GTD® Workflow not only requires to have some kind of correlated Professional|Personal Calendar and Events management and a trustable referencing and filing system, but it also demands for an easy way to rapidly changing your focus based on the context you are, the time you have available to work on single actions and the mental and physical energy you can spend in that specific timeframe.
And what about the first pillar of GTD® methodology, that is capturing your thoughts whenever they come to your attention?
You can’t really know or guess in which direction your mind will drift: maybe you are writing an important and urgent draft report for your boss and suddenly you remember that you must change your cat’s litter when you go back to home. You need some quick solution to put that “stuff” away for later clarification, to let you immediately refocus on your previous high priority work.
And last but not least your GTD® system-of-choice should easily keep track of any task you have delegated to someone else or you are waiting for feedback independently if it’s something personal or work-related.
Any of these tools I mentioned above had their pro and cons: some are truly specialized like Pocket Informant, Omnifocus or Evernote and really excel in their field of competence. All the GSuite applications like Google Docs, Google Sheets, GCal and Google Drive (if you are allowed to use them in your professional domain) are really easy to use and share among your team, your friends or your extended family.
In 2019 as a more collaborative and project oriented tool, I also have started using multiple Trello and Microsoft Teams Planner boards with my work team and my family. We were all using different mobile and personal computer OS and I really loved their kanban-style customizable cards that you can easily move and assign to specific people, filter to keep track of multiple projects and drastically reduce the follow-ups email exchanges for updates.
This positive experience with Trello and Teams made me ultimately cross the border and I started to get more and more prone to a full GTD® implementation on one of the SaaS online tools like Airtable, Zapier and finally Coda, especially for the new automations features they are offering and the ability to easily change and customize their interface when switching device or ecosystem.
What is Coda?
COda (specular word for A DOC) is a company co-founded and directed by Shishir Mehrotra former Spotify, Google and Microsoft Senior Director that since May 2019 offers a truly mind blowing cloud-based document editor that promises to let anyone create a document as powerful as an app; after one year of full use I can publicly say that not only it delivers what it promises but it exceeds by far what I expected was possible doing with that.
The Coda platform provides advanced word-processing, spreadsheet, and relational database functions that you can customize in almost anything you can ever imagine: It’s a canvas that blends spreadsheets, presentations, apps, and documents together and that let you choose how to see and display the data inside it. The software also seamlessly integrate with third-party services like Slack, GMail, GCal, Zapier, Dropbox and many other tools among the most popular ones. You can also directly import Google Docs, Excel sheets or Trello boards inside it so you don’t have to start from a totally blank page.
Just think about a LEGO® box in which you can copy other people’s docs and follow the examples and instructions or totally start from scratch and build, rebuild, adapt and delete and modify quite everything at your will.
Within what it starts like a one white page online document, you can build a CRM, an online collaboration document, a project management system, an editorial calendar, an onboarding company Wiki or for example a simple crowdfunding projects tracking database.
This was my start with Coda, when I have builded it one for myself to keep track of all the projects I am backing on platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Here above you can see how my crowdfunding Coda doc is rendered on my iPhone screen and how the doc sections are represented as buttons in the bottom interface.
These completely different views of the same table’s data gives me a nice visual overview on the status of the different projects I have backed, a GAANT style timeline calendar view and some useful insights and statistics for future reference for budgeting and platform reliability score and not last, a very quick and easy way to add one new or update an existing project.
If you want to give Coda a try you have just to sign up at this link and you can start your free journey in this amazing tool!
I just want to inform you that this is my personal referral link, but the folks at Coda are simply amazing: you don’t have to subscribe to any of their paid Pro tier services and you can go with the free version forever. But if you decide to sign up now using my referall link we will both earn 10$ in credit to spend on their platform!
So finally… Why I have elected Coda my personal GTD® system-of-choice?
I really can list many reason and many specific GTD® use cases that anyway I will share in the next series of articles about my Coda GTD® Mission Control.
But the main reason above all is that Coda gave me Freedom!
Freedom to build a system that it’s perfect for me, that I can build every day upon, that can grow with me. My Coda GTD® Mission Control started just as a Personal|Professional Goals hub; with the time I added an Habit tracking system linked with these goals. In the last months I have added the first 3 of the 5 GTD® Workflow Pillars and I am planning to finish the last 2 in a couple of weeks. In the future I plan it will also become my daily journal as I will be able to easily track, elaborate and retrieve all the relevant data and events occurred during the week and see the trends over time and finally be much more mindful about my goals, habits, and projects I want to complete.
Freedom from dependency in software developers and closed ecosystems that don’t communicate one with each other: I’m not a software engineer, I can’t write in JAVA, HTML, PYTHON or SWIFT coding language but still, thanks to the Coda Help Center or following the example of many brilliant people that populates The Codans Community and Forum always willing to help, with just some intermediate background knowledge of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and Access software, I was able to enroll really fast and go full steam ahead in just a couple of weeks.
Freedom of choice on what you are paying for: your docs can be viewed and modified by unlimited users, you only pay one subscription for every doc maker so if you are expanding rapidly your team or just your family or friend circle, you don’t have to worry about of exponentially growing fees. You can check all the Coda pricing plans directly here.
I stayed on the free version of Coda subscription plans for more than 6 months without feeling the need to upgrade to the first payed tier. I took my time to see if it will be a good fit for me or not, no more 14-days trial versions that expires faster than your learning curve. Only when I wanted to share the doc to other family members for a more collaborative space, add some third parties services like GMail, GCal and Slack and fully unleash all the unlimited tables and controls and drastically rise the automations quotas, I decided to upgrade to the PRO version for the Power Maker Tier Level.
I really feel that I am finally CONFIDENT and FREE to build my own app, my own personal system.
And if you are still wondering if Coda it’s really worth to invest your time and your money on andmore importantly if it will be around for a long time from now, you should check this Forbes article and see by yourself why in less than a couple of years this company is already valued above $600 millions!
It was quite a long run for you reading through this, but I really hope that what I shared on this article can help you to clear the field on what the market has to offer to productivity-eager people just like you and me and that you are now a little bit curious about my next story where I will show you…