Refactoring my GTD system – part 5: the Mobile inbox

I’m using GTD for almost ten years now. I consider myself an advanced user, but I want to simplify my system, my tools and return to the basics to get better at the end. I started refactoring every aspect of my GTD system—digital and analog as well. This is a series about how I did it and why.

Paper is still with us, and we have to be prepared to keep it somewhere temporarily until we process it. GTD says that we have to keep a physical inbox at home and the office, but what about those times when I’m on the road?

The best way to manage incoming, paper-based material when away from my inbox is to keep a folder in my bag: it is my mobile inbox where I can collect stuff when I’m out for multiple days or going to a meeting where I expect to receive papers. I can park notes from my Capture Wallet, contracts, quotes, reference documents, invoices, contact cards, etc.

Following David Allen’s advice, my mobile inbox is a plastic manila folder. I use a plastic one because it’s more durable—a paper folder would quickly fall apart in my bag. I like the manila style because it’s easy to throw stuff into it, which is one of its disadvantages too: I have to be a bit more careful when I lift it because things can slip out.

For some reason, manila folders are not very popular in Europe. I couldn’t find plastic ones in A4 size, so I had to order a couple of them from Amazon. Smead is a US-based company that makes excellent quality manila folders, although these are letter-sized ones. In my opinion, the difference between letter size and A4 is negligible for a folder that I use to hold papers temporarily.

It is vital to treat the mobile inbox the same way as I do my other inboxes. When I arrive back at my desk, I unload the contents of my mobile inbox into my physical one for later processing. When I’m on the road, the folder is my physical inbox, so I process stuff directly from it.


Tot for iOS is on sale, so I bought it, but I’m not sure if I need it when I’m already using Drafts. Tot almost does the same thing, but I like that is very fast. I used it multiple times today to draft Slack messages, store random pieces of information, keep a bunch of temporary links around for a coding session.

It is a better version of Stickies which syncs with my iPhone and my iPad.

I assigned ⌃⇧T as a global keyboard shortcut for Tot, which opens it from my menubar. Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, I like that I can open each slot via ⌘ paired with its corresponding number key; ⌘1 opens the first slot, ⌘2 opens the second one, etcetera.

Right now, I’m tinkering with Tot. I have Drafts running next to it, and I feel like they overlap too much, but Tot is just better for storing random pieces of bits and blobs.

Maybe at the end each of them will have its place in my tool chain.


Reply to hheJhsbjkJb8hhsj:

I’ve never understood why people use high/low energy contexts. For myself, what constitutes a high energy task can change from day to day. Some days I’m in the mood for creative work like mindmapping and brainstorming, and digging into financial spreadsheets can seem like heavy work. Other days Im in the mood for procedural work and creative thinking requires more brain power.

Me neither.

I don’t even understand how you can get an objective filter on being in a “high level” or “low level” state. It’s too black and white, I usually somewhere in the middle.

When I feel tired, I don’t even remember that I use GTD and have a menu of options to pick something from. Even when I do remember to review appropriate context lists, I don’t start to think about energy levels. I’m tired, I just naturally pick something easy from my Computer or my Home list, or just don’t give a damn and watch something from my Read/Watch list (or start scrolling RSS/Twitter/Reddit)

I’ve collected my GTD contexts for Reddit:

I mostly use the default contexts list. It’s not a coincidence that David Allen still recommends these. Sure, you have to remix them to your liking, but you also have to define clear edges for each of them so you’ll know which one to use at which time.

Here are mine:

  • Nearcut: my day job, which is mainly development. These tasks require a different mindset, so it makes sense to group them.
  • Freelance: yet another computer context. I have a bunch of freelance projects that I do as a side job.
  • Decoding: I write a blog, record podcasts, and such. Next actions that require a deep work mindset, but not related to work, go here.
  • Computer: I can do general things (admin, web browsing etc.) at my MacBook Pro or my iPad Pro. Sometimes I have specific next actions for a specific device, but it’s rare.
  • Crafting: next actions related to keeping a Zettelkasten system maintained (kinda like my Budget context). These actions usually link to notes (and sometimes project plans, mindmaps) that I want to develop further and add it to my slipbox which I keep in Craft.
  • Budget: a helpful one when I’m doing YNAB, or I have to do something on my bank’s web app.
  • Calls: calls (and sometimes messages).
  • Home: to have something to do when I’m not at any of my computers.
  • Errands: well, errands to run.
  • Groceries: a shared groceries list with my wife.
  • Agendas: I keep people and meeting related agendas here.
  • Waiting for: Stuff I’m waiting on from people. I add the date as well to each of these reminders and review them every other day.

I also keep a list of lists that collects all of my next actions list, my Read/Review lists, my video, and audio-related lists as well (Apple TV, Netflix, Prime Video, Podcasts). Why do I have this? Because I want to keep track of which list is for what, so I keep clean edges in my system (and easily create posts like this).


Where to go after 1Password 8?

After this week’s news on 1Password forcing users to the crappy experience of being an Electron app, I started to look for alternatives. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m considering the following options.

  1. Elpass: subscription-based, native iOS and macOS apps, looks good.
  2. Secrets: one-time payment, native iOS, and macOS apps, also look good.
  3. iCloud Keychain: free, built-in to iOS and macOS; also, it will have a couple of new features this autumn, like two-factor authentication.
  4. Update on 2021-08-14: Minimalist: I got this recommended in the comments, looks pretty cool as well.

I’m leaning toward iCloud Keychain because, nowadays, I like to use the built-in tools of the Apple ecosystem.

The only question I have with iCloud Keychain is where to store passwords of my servers and a couple of app licenses? I think the built-in Keychain app on macOS will be OK for this. It can store arbitrary username/password pairs (great for servers), and it has secure notes which can hold the small number of serial numbers I have.

Right now, the next step is to clean out my old passwords from my 1Password and iCloud Keychain databases before starting the migration process.


Refactoring my GTD system – part 4: using Apple Watch as a safety net for capturing

I’m using GTD for almost ten years now. I consider myself an advanced user, but last December, I wanted to simplify my system, my tools and return to the basics to get better at the end. I started refactoring every aspect of my GTD system—digital and analog as well. This is a series about how I did it and why.

I already talked about the various capture tools I use in my GTD practice. I wanted to expand upon my Apple Watch usage a little bit more.

Since I have my Apple Watch with me (almost) all the time, it makes sense to use it as a secondary capture tool. I have two watch faces set up so that when my primary capture tools are not with me, I can still easily have a mechanism for capturing.

It’s best to use the Apple Watch for dictation or writing with its Scribble feature, but these methods are not made for lengthy talking/writing—although I never had a problem with that. I usually jot down or dictate a couple of quick thoughts here and there.

I use Drafts at night by capturing my notes with Scribble and Voice Memos for dictation when driving or walking. Each of these contexts has a corresponding watch face set up: a red Modular face with a Drafts complication used during the night, and an X-Large watch face which has a big, easy-to-tap Voice Memos icon in the middle for driving and walking.

I try to automate when these watch faces should show up. When my Apple Watch switches into sleep mode, Shortcuts changes my active watch face to the red Modular one. I also get a notification to change my watch face to the Voice Memos button when I leave home.

When I don’t have my phone or my notepad with me, the Apple Watch still can be used as a safety net for capturing. Like the old saying of “the best camera is the one that’s with you,” I can also say that the best capture tool is the one that’s with you.


Refactoring my GTD system – part 3: keeping capture tools everywhere

I’m using GTD for almost ten years now. I consider myself an advanced user, but last December, I wanted to simplify my system, my tools and return to the basics to get better at the end. I started refactoring every aspect of my GTD system—digital and analog as well. This is a series about how I did it and why.

I have to prepare because I’ll run into things through the day which has a potential meaning to capture either via writing or dictation. Therefore, I have to keep capture tools in those places where I frequently show up.

By default, my preferred ubiquitous capture tool is the Capture Wallet, but there are contexts where I can use tools that are more appropriate and convenient.

At my desk

I can take notes slower and easier at my desk, so I use a Baron Fig Confidant notebook. I use a journal format: each day gets a header, I keep everything in a list annotated via Patrick Rhone’s Dash Plus method. I can capture ideas, track my time using timestamps, write down what I did; sometimes, I even use it as a regular journal.

My Baron Fig Confidant is a versatile tool. Since it has pages with a dotted grid, I can use it for mind-mapping, diagramming, and wire-framing. I can keep the digital noise away by using an analog tool for thinking.

In the car

It’s essential to use a capture tool that is quick and doesn’t need much attention while I’m driving. I found that the easiest to use capture tool is my Apple Watch and the Voice Memos app.

I also keep a notepad here to capture ideas (sometimes even groceries lists). When I’m driving, I’m asking the person sitting next to me (usually my wife) to write stuff down for me. The notepad is shared, so my wife can capture her stuff as well. Since we’re frequently discussing agenda items in the car together—which always triggers new stuff to capture—it’s convenient to keep a shared notepad at hand.

In the bed at night

I can have ideas in the bed in three contexts:

  1. Before sleep, when the lights are still on, and we’re talking about something with my wife (or I’m reading).
  2. In the dark when I wake up in the middle of the night.
  3. In the morning when I’m reading.

I keep a small notepad next to the bed, which I use when the light is still on or in the morning. I wear my Apple Watch during sleep for sleep tracking, so it’s natural to take notes using Drafts digitally. I use the Scribble feature to write in the dark: usually, I capture no more than just a couple of words to remember the idea next time.

On rare occasions when something still bugs me, and I wake up because of it in the middle of the night, I have to grab my iPad to write down longer forms of thinking. Usually, I can sleep well after I captured what was on my mind, but it’s more important to capture these things during the day, so I can go to bed with a clear mind and sleep well.

Keeping a checklist of capture tools

I have a pretty extensive set of capture tools, and it can be dangerous if I forget to dump stuff I collected into my inbox. Before I start to process my inboxes, I go through a checklist of these tools to make sure I gathered everything into one place to continue to process them.

Habits are also essential to form: I do drop things into my inbox on my own from my more frequently used capture tools like my wallet or Drafts. But I still use a safety net in the form of a checklist, so nothing lays around unprocessed at the end.


Weirdly, I do this “interstitial journaling” for years now, without calling it anything. Although I don’t track tasks in it, just for the current session; those get captured in my GTD system.

What I don’t do habitually yet is the mindfulness journaling aspect, which could be another excellent use for Craft in an outline format. I like how Roam formats daily notes, which can be reproduced in Craft as well, but Day One and Drafts are so much quicker for capturing quick posts. I could look into how Craft can be automated, but I kinda like that Day One stores the location, weather, and so much more enhancing my journal.

Seems like this a recurring idea of mine.


Drafts is a digital Hipster PDA

  1. Drafts is an app optimized for taking quick notes and sending them to other places instead of storing them in the long term.
  2. Each Drafts note has a unique ID which can be understood as a digital index card linkable from anywhere.
  3. These notes are temporary, so I’m not keeping them in the system. After I processed one, it can be thrown away.
  4. Notes in Drafts don’t need much organization; everything is on a simple list. When I’m done with a note, it can be trashed or archived.


Refactoring my GTD system – part 2: the Capture Wallet

I’m using GTD for almost ten years now. I consider myself an advanced user, but last December, I wanted to simplify my system, my tools and return to the basics to get better at the end. I started refactoring every aspect of my GTD system—digital and analog as well. This is a series about how I did it and why.

I like to use my iPhone as a capture device, but the elegance and simplicity of the David Allen Notetaker Wallet is something I wanted to explore for a while now. I prefer paper for capture and general note taking because:

  1. it doesn’t notify me about anything,
  2. it doesn’t have a battery,
  3. there is no way to multitask on paper,
  4. and it’s the classic example of tools that do one thing well.

You can’t buy the David Allen Notetaker Wallet anymore, but I found a good alternative called Capture Wallet which copied it almost as-is, but it’s a good thing. There are two versions: “Artisan” and “Business.” I use the latter one because it’s more minimal and also cheaper.

It is way more convenient to use perforated notepads for the GTD capture process because I can tear pages off. Each page contains one (maybe two) notes, which makes processing stuff easier—I can deal with one thing at a time, then throw it away. Because I regularly tear-off notes and drop them into my inbox, my notepads are always fresh and clean; I don’t carry around old stuff as I do with notebooks.

I still use my iPhone as a secondary capture device. I have Drafts installed (which I consider as the digital version of the Hipster PDA), so I can write things down when I don’t have my Capture Wallet around, although I prefer it over my phone.


Refactoring my GTD system – part 1: list managers are overcomplicating our systems

I’m using GTD for almost ten years now. I consider myself an advanced user, but last December, I wanted to simplify my system, my tools and return to the basics to get better at the end. I started refactoring every aspect of my GTD system—digital and analog as well. This is a series about how I did it and why.

The initial version of GTD is based on more straightforward tools than most digital list managers. It is essential to learn how to do GTD in the default way because each step and tool has a purpose; there are no unnecessary things. We’re doing something wrong if we can’t keep our GTD system up and running with just the tools and ideas mentioned in the book.

Avoid having a connection between projects and next actions

Many list managers connect projects with the next actions, but in the original GTD approach, there are no connections between them. Everything is on a different list. We’re the ones who connect everything when we do the Weekly Review.

Digital list managers connect only subsequent actions to projects; they skip calendar events, project plans, etc. We have to find these on our own, but doing it can be confusing. When we do the Weekly Review, we can be under the impression that all we have about a project is the next actions connected to it, forgetting other activities like events on our calendar. We have to get the pieces together of all the remaining stuff for ourselves. It is way easier if the software can connect everything to us, but there is no technology capable of doing this, so we have to find the logical connection between things. Having seen the entire picture is the only way we can relax our minds.

Connecting subsequent actions to projects can result in unnecessary steps when adding a new to-do. Using simple lists is straightforward: we add a new item, and we are done; on the other hand, having a connection between projects and next actions is meta-information, usually yet another field to fill, which makes adding things slower.

If we don’t expect to see the title of related projects in our next actions lists, we will be more considered about how to phrase our actions. It results in a more precise next action which we can imagine easier, thus doing it without much thinking later.

Having many features is distracting

Professional task managers have many features which have to be set up and maintained, which takes a lot of time. These features can be helpful, but GTD doesn’t need more than having simple lists. We can even do the right thing at the right time with GTD on paper where advanced features are absent.

Before we try to solve a problem with advanced tools, we have to consider using something simpler which can yield the same result. For example, we can use paper to think, but store the result of that thinking in digital tools. Having many features can distract us from work by fiddling with the tool. The importance of a project is not defined by the tool we’re using to administer it.


Sequential projects

Here’s a couple of things regarding sequential projects:

  • Keep future actions in your project support. You don’t want to keep them in your head. It feels nice when you can open an outline or a mindmap (or whatever), and you can effortlessly add the next action on the project.
  • Get into the habit of capturing. When you complete one next action, you should grab the next one into your inbox since some part of your world changed. You have new information that you should pay attention to.
  • Weekly reviews are the safety net for still need to capture things.

I know some apps like OmniFocus let you add future actions that magically pop up in your next actions lists when you complete a previous one, but they do more harm than help. Almost every time, the next step needs processing anyway, so these subsequent half-baked actions that you add in advance are going to create less trust in your next actions lists.


The readability of GTD list managers

There was a subreddit I saw a couple of days ago on /gtd, where Redditors discussed which GTD app is the most good looking. It reminded me of a problem I wanted to write about for a while now: their list design’s readability. I know OmniFocus, Things, and Reminders well, so I concluded my experience about their typography below:

A lot of people would say it’s Things. It has a friendly UI, but from a readability point of view, it is one of the worst.

In my daily work, I have two problems with Things:

  • It only displays one line per task, which means, if you have longer task titles, you’ll end with a bunch of text clipped out, which is annoying on an iPhone. You have to open each task to see the full title, which is no fun when you quickly want to review your errands list.
  • Things displays every task list grouped by project. If you like me, you’ll usually have one next action per project, so having each project being this prominent is making your lists very noisy.

I stopped using Things because of these issues, and I switched back to OmniFocus, which displays full task titles, and has nicer list readability overall. Apple Reminder is also good at showing lists, which matters the most at the end, so I would go with OmniFocus and Reminders.

Let’s see these apps next to each other. From left to right are OmniFocus, Reminders, and Things.

As you can see, Things overflows the text and group actions by projects which makes the readability of a typical next actions list much worse. It was the main reason I left Things after using it for two years and switched back to OmniFocus.

I also made a switch from OmniFocus to Reminders in December, but that’s a topic of another post.


Remote work is not local work at a distance

Jason Fried wrote a post about doing remote work, with the expectations of local employment. This post resonated with me very well since I had a couple of weird interviews lately. Just a side note: yes, I quit my current job as a Ruby backend developer at TerraCycle about three weeks ago, and I’ll start working as a frontend developer/product designer at Nearcut on March 10th.

There are still companies that refuse to accept that remote work is a viable alternative. They want you to be in the office because “this is what we did before the pandemic, and everything should be back to normal soon.” No, nothing will be like before, and companies should embrace that, not deny it.

Not everyone’s like that. Even big ones consider remote work a viable alternative but don’t have the hiring process and experience to work like that, so they’re relying on old habits.

The enlightened companies coming out of this pandemic will be the ones that figured out the right way to work remotely. They’ll have stopped trying to make remote look like local. They’ll have discovered that remote work means more autonomy, more trust, more uninterrupted stretches of time, smaller teams, more independent, concurrent work (and less dependent, sequenced work).

I’m interested in what COVID-19 will do to remote work because, seriously considering remote work is one of the positive changes of the pandemic that happened in many workplaces. People were forced to work from home. Many companies figured out how to do this successfully, and they don’t want to throw out this knowledge because “everything will be back to normal.”

Jason also writes about native platforms:

Porting things between platforms is common, especially when the new thing is truly brand new (or trying to gain traction). As the Mac gained steam in the late 80s and early 90s, and Windows 3 came out in 1990, a large numbers of Windows/PC developers began to port their software to the Mac. They didn’t write Mac software, they ported Windows software. And you could tell – it was pretty shit. It was nice to have at a time when the Mac wasn’t widely developed, but, it was clearly ported.

When something’s ported, it’s obvious. Obviously not right.

Stuff that’s ported lacks the native sensibilities of the receiving platform. It doesn’t celebrate the advantages, it only meets the lowest possible bar. Everyone knows it. Sometimes we’re simply glad to have it because it’s either that or nothing, but there’s rarely a ringing endorsement of something that’s so obviously moved from A to B without consideration for what makes B, B.

Maybe Basecamp should create a Catalyst version of HEY for Mac from their iOS app, which is quite nice, instead of having a cross-platform Electron thing on the desktop called a “native Mac app.”


OmniFocus quick-entry iOS 14-ben

Tegnap megjelent az iOS 14, amiben van egy Back Tap nevű funkció. Ezzel a telefonunk hátulját kétszer vagy háromszor megtappolva lefuttathatunk különböző actionöket. Az Apple leírásából:

Back Tap lets you double-tap or triple-tap the back of your iOS device to automatically perform a range of custom tasks — from opening your favorite app to taking a screenshot. Choose from 24 different actions or create your own automated shortcuts to simplify your everyday tasks.

Mivel shortcutok is beállíthatók, így létrehoztam egy, a desktop todo menedzser alkalmazásokban látott quick-entry funkcióhoz hasonló shortcutot, ami bekér egy szöveget, majd azonnal elmenti azt az OmniFocus inboxszomba. Az egészben az a legjobb, hogy ehhez nem kell kilépnem az adott alkalmazásból sem, helyben lerendez mindent. Nagyon hasznos például telefonálás közben.

Az alábbi videóban megnézhető az egész működés közben és a használt shortcut felépítése is.


Befejeztem a napokban Sönke Ahrens – How to Take Smart Notes c. könyvét, ami legalább annyira fontos a mentális munkával foglalkozó emberek számára, mint a Getting Things Done könyv David Allentől.

A lényege számomra az volt, hogy felismertem mennyire fontos a külső eszközök használata a gondolkodásunk támogatásához, felszabadítva az agyunk kreatív kapacitásait. A másik big takeaway pedig, hogy mennyire fontos definiálni, szeparálni, majd rutinként beilleszteni egy munkafolyamat különböző lépéseit. Így kézzelfoghatóbbá válik minden bonyolult dolog.

Két jegyzet a könyvből:

Elkezdtem összegyűjteni és kiválogatni a jegyzeteimet a külső eszközök és a gondolkodás kapcsolatára. A későbbiekben ebből tervezek majd kitenni ide is egy hosszabb blogposztot.

Screen Shot 2020 05 24 at 14 29 21


Gyors tipp: sok webes alkalmazás billentyűzettel is irányítható.

Ha kiváncsi vagy ezekre a parancsokra, akkor nyomd meg a kérdőjelet. Az esetek 90%-ban meg fog jelenni egy panel, ami listázza az adott alkalmazásban elérhető billentyűparancsokat.


Replying to: Steve Jobs fotói a macOS-ben:

Még annyit az előző poszthoz, hogy a zöld növényes háttereket kifejezetten szeretem. Gondolom a zöld szín nyugtató hatása is közreműködik, de inkább amiatt, hogy munka közben nem látom a természetet, viszont egy rosszabb “emulált” wallpaper változat segíthet ebben.


I just grabbed out two old friend from the bottom of the drawer. I have a couple of projects running parallel, so it could be helpful to schedule which client I’m dealing with on which day.

Also capturing notes using analog tools is still the best (I love the smell of that pencil).


A Mac-based miracle

Apparently, you can create multiline text replacements on macOS:

It’s possible to use multiline text replacements on Mac, iPhone, and iPad, though you would need to use a Mac to create these text replacements.

On the Mac:

  1. Open System Preferences. Click on the “Keyboard” pane then click on the “Text” tab.
  2. Click the “+” button to add a new text replacement.
  3. Enter the shortcut text in the Replace column.
  4. Paste some multi-line/multi-paragraph text into the With column.

This text replacement syncs across all of your device using iCloud.



Replying to: rmondello:

I’m using Typinator (because it syncs via iCloud Drive and don’t nag me to use a 3rd-party sync service), and the built-in substitutions.