Dave Pollard asked a question that many of us have asked (or should ask):
 Shouldn't unanswered email, to dos, & calendar items be a single application?:
I gave up on Getting Things Done methodologies when I realized that, by saying no to urgent but ultimately unimportant tasks, I could keep all my "to dos" in my head.
Or so I thought. I've discovered that I have a lot more "to do" lists than I realized. Here are some of them:
  • My work "to do" list, which I keep in a Lotus Notes task list because it replicates to my Blackberry
  • My personal "to do" list, which I keep in various formats, including scraps of paper and the new Google task list which integrates with GMail.
  • My blog "to do" list, which I keep in a separate GMail e-mail folder, because most of these "to dos" originate from e-mails
  • My GMail personal e-mail inbox, which consists of (a) e-mails to which I have yet to respond and (b) e-mails which are actually "to dos", and which should probably be with list 3, except that they are more urgent so I want to keep them in front of me.
  • My "books to buy" list
  • My "music to buy or download" list
  • My work Lotus Notes e-mail inbox, which consists of (a) e-mails to which I have yet to respond and (b) e-mails which are actually "to dos", and which should probably be with list 1, except that the e-mail provides a lot of detail on what needs to be done, so I can't be bothered to transcribe it to a "to do" list).
  • My work Lotus Notes Calendar, which consists of both (a) scheduled work and (b) personal appointments
  • Gmark Google Bookmark "to dos" consisting of (a) links to include in my next Links of Week, (b) links to pages I intend to read "when I have time" (i.e. never get around to these), (c) links to pages to add to my blogroll (actually belongs in list 3), and (d-e) links to books to buy and music to download (actually belong to lists 5 & 6).
  • My blog post ideas "to do" list
  • My "to read" hard copy piles
  • My voice mail "in-boxes", for my work and home numbers.
I could write a chapter on how I would organize this. For now, I'll share a few quick thoughts and invite my readers to share how they would tackle Dave's problem.

Some quick thoughts:

1. Dave makes a compelling case for what David Allen calls a "Trusted System."  The ideal is to have single place that you can consult to survey the horizon of all of your goals, roles, projects and actions and make trusted choices about what to do (or not do) at any moment.

2. Recognizing that there are a variety of systems/tools involved, it is possible to have a trusted system that spans multiple subsystems; however, as Dave has demonstrated,  it is a lot of work

3. Something Dave did not mention is the cost of unconscious resistance on knowledge work when we
  • don't trust our systems,
  • don't have a single system we can trust to give us a picture of our world,  
  • find that the steps to enter information into or maintain our systems subconsciously repel us from the process, thus sabotaging the system.
4. A clear distinction between what's actionable and what's not and getting those separated into project & action lists vs reference or action support will make a big difference, too. A reference database Finally, a system of managing checklists and integrating those into the workflow would help, too.

5. The Weekly Review is the glue that holds all of the above together and ensures that things won;t fall through the cracks.

Dave is not alone.
I run into many people that are trying to manage myriad sources of information across work and personal sources and using company and external tools.

How would you handle the above? What advice would you offer him?

Discussion/Comments (6):

Jens Bruntt (http://www.jens.bruntt.dk): 3/23/2009 1:07:15 PM
Cut down on To Do Lists - definately

Having several Inboxes is not necessarily a problem. Especially if the list of inboxes is documented and re-visited at regular intervals.

But one needs to have very few to-do lists.

Dave needs to start shovelling more of his to-do's into fewer lists.

Keith Brooks (http://www.vanessabrooks.com): 3/23/2009 1:55:29 PM
Shouldn’t Unanswered E-mail, To Dos, and Calendar Entries Be a Single Application?

What does he want is the question.

Everything in Notes? Or Gmail? Or just his Blackberry?

My view point is to have a centralized/universal inbox, with tasks, to dos or whatever he needs, including calendar.

Naturally one lotus notes client can do it all for him.

I have a few to do items, lotusphere is always listed, but then so is marketing or documentation or blog posts. Plus my contacts get synched.

Also in this way he can synch it to his blackberry and always have it with him.

Not sure if you can push it all back to google, but this could address having so many listings in so many places.

Or just put it all into 1 database in notes which pushes it all to his blackberry and it be an app on his BB, just like any other integrated application.

Caveat, I have not yet read or been through GTD.

Jim Casale (http://www.jimcasale.net): 3/23/2009 4:32:52 PM
Shouldn’t Unanswered E-mail, To Dos, and Calendar Entries Be a Single Application?

I am working my way through having just one trusted system as we speak. I have my home personal email which I use for consulting work and I have my office email. The problem is I am not able to change the mail template at work so I am stuck with working with one system. Initially I felt it would be too much work but so far I have a workable system. think the key is that you have to be able to access it almost any where.

So yes, all your "stuff" should be in one system but that doesn't mean you can't have multiple systems fopr email, etc.

MiGrant (http://globalocal.blogspot.com): 3/23/2009 7:18:51 PM
Sounds like Chandler

As I commented on Dave's blog just now, what he's describing sounds a lot like <a href="{ Link } I'd definitely recommend taking a look if integrating tasks into a single list is a priority.

Adam B (): 3/24/2009 5:16:23 AM
Shouldn’t Unanswered E-mail, To Dos, and Calendar Entries Be a Single Application?

I think David needs to consolidate his to do list into a few major project lists, a short term list, a midrange list, and a long term (someday) list. Then what changed my life is the idea that you need next actions on every project on the list and those next actions become their own list according to where they are to be done. But I don't think anybody can avoid having multiple inboxes. But to really trust the system your inbox can't be your list manager. What happens, if your like me, is every time you run through you email your brain intuitively processes the priority of each email and the tasks associated with that email. So if you leave something in the email you have to think about it every time you look at your inbox, when for 90% of that stuff it could have been done in 2 minutes or filed in mid range or long term project list and only reviewed weekly or monthly and any urgent tasks would have already been done or on a next actions list somewhere.

I by the way am no expert, I am just firing out what works for me.

Suggestions that aren't really GTD related:

Consolidate into one list manager. Even if you need to separate personal from business, both should be kept in one place. It's quicker, more reliable, and it makes it so much easier to figure out whats on "on your list". I use outlook synced with my phone and palm. But use what you have, just make sure they all sync.

Abandon Gmail Tasks, its seems like the greatest thing ever invented, in reality its fairly none functional and impossible to integrate into any other task management system including your google calendar.

Use google calendar, it syncs with everything. This with added bonus of gmail pulling important dates fairly accurately out of you email make it a really quick calendaring tool. It really is tech that moves almost as fast as you can think. The other benefit is those time dependent, single action tasks that usually get fired onto the Gtasks, can be fired onto the calendar almost as fast and can now be synced.

Hope this wasn't too redundant or off base. Just my thoughts.

Yow (http://a-place-for-my-thoughts.blogspot.com/ ): 3/24/2009 9:45:53 AM
Shouldn’t Unanswered E-mail, To Dos, and Calendar Entries Be a Single Application?

Just am curious how anyone is successfully using Remember the Milk with Google Calendar.

What further features would RTM need to let it function as a great GTD tool? Does it look like RTM is evolving?

Thanks for all the great comments.

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