I tend to wander from one toolkit for Getting Things Done (GTD) to another. Some of the tools I’ve tried include:

  1. Outlook Tasks
  2. Outlook with the NetCentrics Add-in
  3. TiddlyWiki
  4. GTD TiddlyWiki
  5. Bonsai (outliner)
  6. Plain text files
  7. jazzmasterson's coin envelopes and index cards
  8. handwritten index cards

I hope you see a problem.

What seems to happen is that once my list reaches a certain size (i.e. becomes difficult to tackle), I ‘clean it up’ into a new system.  This means I waste too much time in transition from one system to another.  Ineffective.

I tend to have lots of projects in various states of incompletion.  A really big, cringe-worthy pile.  I also tend to pull the, "Ohhhh…. Shiny…" stunt on new tools/technologies.

Here is a partial set of my current axioms:

  1. Many incomplete projects
  2. Blackberry 8700c
  3. Microsoft Outlook email at work
  4. Moderate degree of 'lock-down' on client's network and computers, including don't-install policy and blocking of POP, SMTP and webmail
  5. Business-supplied laptop running Windows XP
  6. Desire not to over-fill my pockets or to carry a 'man-bag' (i.e. a purse)

Update (11/15/06)

At the moment, I’m carrying a TOPS Royale (item 25229) hard-cover, 3x5 lined journal ($5 at Office Depot at Perimeter Pointe). It is about the same size as the Moleskine lined 3x5 ($10 at Barnes and Noble outside Perimeter Mall).

This morning, I had the urge to move back to the computer, due to difficulty in finding the things I want to get done *today*.  I'm going to try adding a fresh 3x5 card listing the day's priority items to mark my place in the TOPS notebook.

Update (11/25/06)

Bounce - I miss being able to shuffle pages. Tried a spreadsheet with tabs for Actions, Projects, Someday, and Reference. Wrote some macros to highlight Projects without Actions and Actions with misspelled projects.

Update (12/4/06)

Bounce - Oops! I'm trying to stay with paper, for simplicity. Going back to index cards. Using them pretty much like I was using the 3x5 journal, but I can shuffle the pages. Carrying them in a leather Franklin-Covey 3x5 holder ($15 at Office Depot -- look near the other small-format Daytimers). The FC holder is attractive, but it is too thick for carrying just 3x5 cards, and I've got 7 must-carry cards (driver's, credit, ATM, transit, health, pharmacy, business cards) and the FC doesn't have room.

Somewhere at home I have a 3x5 leather cover I ripped off a calendar. When I find it, I'll carry the index cards in it. At least it fits my shirt pocket.

I'll retain the Someday worksheet in my Excel GTD workbook. I can still capture Somedays on 3x5, but I'll file them in Excel for long-term. MAYBE I could put my Projects into Excel too, with just active Actions in 3x5?

Update (12/20/06)

Bounce - So I'm not actually using my index cards. I also feel like they don't really allow me to organize my stuff very well. Outlining seems like it would allow better organization.

Outlining Candidates

  • Google Docs - really deals in HTML documents. Could make it appear as an outline, but no ability to expand/collapse outline segments.
  • Microsoft Word - Put it into Outline view, and expand/collapse outline segments via the outline toolbar.
  • Microsoft Excel - select the rows you want to indent; from the menu select "Data/Group and Outline."
  • Bonsai - specialized outliner.
    • How to do Projects?
      • Separate outline for Projects?
      • Just another entry in my GTD outline?
      • Put each project into a separate outline, and link from tasks to their Projects. (Note: an item can have 0 or 1 links.) This looks slick from the item-to-project link, but how can you find links to a project from items?
      • Put project name in Contact field, or a custom field.
    • Hey! Just noticed it can associate icons with Keywords. Using Keywords for GTD contexts instead of Category could have some benefit.
    • Can color text by Category.
    • Has some maddening gaps.
  • Outlook tasks can do a simple outline-by-category
  • Remember the Milk is really slick, but doesn't do outlines

I’m going to try using Bonsai:

  • Context in Keyword
  • OUTLINE (not Item) Category of Projects, with an outline per project, with links from action items to project outline

Update (1/22/08)

Used paper for a while.  Then I stopped referring to it.  Maybe it was because the list got too long.  Took a look at ThinkingRock (2.0 epsilon).  It felt too slow at first, but after using it for a while, I discovered that it can do capture and processing quick enough.  However, the list of action items doesn’t include due date, and I can’t put items in the sequence I want.

I could use Remember the Milk, but I got sidetracked with its Twitter interface.

I’m thinking about going back to Bonsai, due to the flexibility in displaying the items I want in the sequence I want.

When work tasks come in fast and furious via email, Outlook tasks are quick capture.  I’m going to try using Outlook Tasks again.  Projects go into Task subfolders; I’ll use Smart Folder (search) to get the top-to-bottom view of all Tasks, regardless of location in Task or sub-folder.

Update (12/13/08)

I used index cards for awhile.  One task per card.  One project per card.  Then work got very, very busy, and I wasn’t able to keep up, and the index card stack got to be so big it was tough to carry.  This was one of the longest stretches with a single system that I’ve ever had.

I’m going back to Search Folders in Outlook.  You can’t create a Search Folder that searches for Tasks via the user-interface, but I’ve got a little VBA code to create search folders for my contexts.  I wonder why I stopped using this system before?

Search folders:

  • .All Tasks
  • .Completed Tasks
  • @category-names
  • someday (category name)
  • today (category name)
  • waiting (category name)


<br /></strong>   <br />There are at least 4 ways of handling projects in Outlook.&nbsp; There's the list-of-projects in a Note (or in a special Task); I think of this as the &quot;just like paper&quot; method.&nbsp; You can use folders within the Tasks folder for projects; this method necessitates the Search Folders, so that you can get a cross-project Next Action list. You can use Contacts as projects, linking Tasks to these Project-Contacts in order to see the tasks for a project.&nbsp; There is the Category-project (name something like [project-name-here-including-square-brace]).

List-in-a-note Projects

  1. Simplest to implement
  2. Resistant to tinkering
  3. Easy to export to Excel via copy/paste
  4. Highly resistant to Microsoft cutting features from Outlook.


  1. Can't list all tasks associated with a project.
  2. No good place to store project notes (unless you go with one Outlook Note per project, effectively making Note = Project).
  3. Extra work required to associate a Task with its project (e.g. enter project name in the Task body).
  4. No good way to convert a Task to a Project.

Conclusion: I don’t like it because of the non-linking of Tasks with their projects.

Folder-as-project Projects

  1. Easy to group all tasks with their project.
  2. Projects can have sub-projects.


  1. You have to use Search Folders created via VBA in order to list Next Actions across all projects.
  2. Hard to print a list of projects.  (You could write VBA to export a list of folders/projects to a special Note or Task).
  3. Hard to export to Excel.    (You could write VBA to export a list of folders/projects to a special Note or Task).
  4. No good way to convert a Task to a Project. (You could write VBA.)
  5. No good place to store project notes (unless you use a specially named task such as ".readme").
  6. Highly dependent on Microsoft retaining Search Folders and VBA in Outlook.

Conclusion: All of the current problems can be worked around at set-up time (i.e. not cumbersome after implemented).  It is workable.

Contact Projects

  1. Groups Tasks with their projects.
  2. Easy to export to Excel via copy/paste.
  3. Good place to keep project notes (in the Contact/Project).


  1. Projects can't have sub-projects. (You can actually do this with Contacts in obsolete editions of Outlook.)
  2. Dependent on future editions of Outlook continuing to allow you to associate Tasks with Contacts.
  3. Poor aesthetics unless you use a custom form.
  4. No good way to convert a Task to a Project (unless you use VBA). 
  5. Some of the time you'll get "Bla1 Bla2" and other times you'll get "Bla2, Bla1"

Conclusion: It is workable, but the Lastname, Firstname issue is ugly.

Category Projects:


  1. Group Tasks with their projects.
  2. Highly resistant to Microsoft cutting features from Outlook.


  1. You'll have to use VBA to export a project list to Excel.
  2. No good place to store project note.
  3. I find [project-name] aesthetically displeasing.
  4. Mixes project names with context names.

Conclusion: I really don’t like [project-name].

Current overall conclusions:

Contact-projects and folder-projects are both workable.  I don’t like seeing "Contacts" in a Task for the project link, and I really don’t like the Lastname, Firstame showing up in the Contacts field of a Task.

I’ll use project folders, with VBA to generate a project list into a ".Project List" Note, VBA to switch between Task and Project, and store project notes in a ".notes" Task as the first folder in a project (when I have notes).  Flag Next Actions.