Recording States of Mind

I’ve always been one for keeping lists and writing down anything and everything that comes to mind for fear of forgetting about them a moment later.  In the past when I worked at an office, at the end of the day I would write down everything that I was working on or had to work on the following day.  Then when I left work, I could free up my mind from anything having to do with work and the following day I could review my notes and quickly return to where I was and get to working.

This is a very “Getting Things Done” (GTD) thing to do, to get the tasks one has to do out from the mind and into a trusted system, but instead of recording tasks I need I find the act of writing down these notes as a record of my state of mind. I’ve found that this facilitated both emptying the mind after each day’s work as well as being able to return to where I left off very quickly the next time I was at work.

Only recently have I been doing this kind of note taking at the end of my work sessions on my different personal projects and I have found it incredibly helpful in the same ways as it did for my work life, but in an even more valuable way as it is my personal work. Today I was very excited to be able to review my notes from my last work session on my piece and with only enough mental energy to focus for a short amount of time (15 minutes), I was able to almost fall exactly back where I was last working and accomplish a lot in that time.  (I am remind of Feldman always doing a “day’s work”, whatever that was for that day, and certainly today feel that a “day’s work” was done.)

With so many different projects going on it was always a trick to get sort everything out in my head. Reusing this technique of writing notes at the end of work sessions to other areas of my life has already yielded benefit and I will be looking forward to experimenting with this for all of the projects I am working on.

GTD with KOrganizer/PI

I’ve recently gotten into David Allen‘s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) as well as reading many of the great productivity related blogs out there (43folders, lifehacker.com, lifehack.org, etc.). I’ve really gotten into the ideas of GTD and wanted to share the system I’ve come up with based on the wonderful KOrganizer/PI software.

Ever since college I’ve found that I like to record things down into lists of things to do. Originally I used sheets of paper which I would write down todo’s as well as new ideas as I came across them, later sorting those ideas onto new sheets of paper as I got things done. After college I purchased a Palm PDA to organize things and I primarily ended up using the Todo’s feature there, collecting things to do as I thought of them but largely into just one category. That worked out alright, but I was still using things like Post-It notes, other scraps of paper, etc. It served a purpose but I never felt it was quite right.

A few years ago I purchased a Sharp Zaurus 5600 PDA, thinking it would be fun to write some small programs for it. I originally used the PIM software that came with it, finding it about as useful as the one I used on my old Palm PDA. One day however I saw that people were really getting into KOrganizer/PI and after installing it and getting used to it, I really got to liking it.

At first though I didn’t know really what to do with it. I ended up using it much in the same way I used Palm’s Todo lists and didn’t find it initially was anything better for me. After a while though I really got into the fact that one could create hiearchical todo’s (sub-todo’s) of any level of depth, as well as allow for multiple categories for any todo item which together with the ability to define filters by categories became a very powerful tool.

I had come up with an ad-hoc method of sorts that worked pretty well, but now getting into GTD and realizing how well KOrganizer/PI would work for this, I feel like I’ve moved from having good work habits to really having a real work system. It’s still a work in progress, but so far I’ve been very happy with how it is turning out.

Below I’ll describe my setup and how I’m using KOrganizer/PI to manage my time. I will be referring to some GTD concepts so if you’re not too familiar with it you might want to take a look at the Wikipedia article here.

Note: Most of the things I’m discussing should be usable with the main KOrganizer software. I haven’t found many other organizers that have the same features as KOrganizer, although it looks like Microsoft’s Outlook 2007 is going to incorporate some tasks features that KOrganizer has (see Micorosft blog entry here for more information on that) so some of these ideas may transfer over to that program when it is released.

About KOrganizer/PI

Let me start off with describing a little bit about KOrganizer/PI and highlight some outstanding features. KO/PI has a Calendar, Todo’s, and Journal. The Calendar works like most any other calendaring software and allows for setting reoccuring calendar items, all-day events, and allows for using multiple ICS calendar files at the same time. The Journal feature is alright and I have used it in the past but do not find it easy to navigate to see entries so it currently doesn’t play a part in my workflow.

In my opinion, the really outstanding and unique feature of KOrganizer/PI (and KOrganizer) is the Todo system. Todo’s in KO/PI can be hiearchical, so if you have a project you can list it’s subprojects as sub-todo’s and break down the subprojects into actionable todo’s. The todo system is also very integrated into the calendar, so that when you mark a todo as due by a certain date, it will show up in the All-Day events section of the Calendar for its due date. I can not stress enough how great it is to have the GTD “Hard Landscape” of the calendar really integrated with the tasks and projects system of the todo’s in KOrganizer/PI. (It looks like the tasks/calendar integration is something that will be appearing in Microsoft’s Outlook 2007, but I don’t know if it can do hiearchical tasks, which is a very key feature to me.)

Across KO/PI is the ability to filter all items that are shown by categories, whether on the calendar, todo, or other views. By setting up a system of categories and filters, one can create the GTD “buckets” in which to put all of the incoming reference information and todos. KO/PI also allow for items to have multiple categories tagged to it, which can bring some interesting flexibility. (For example, although I don’t do this myself, one can implement GTD Contexts as category labels, then for each item one can mark it as a project or other type of item, as well as a context category to filter on later.)

Now that I’ve discussed a little bit about the program, I’m going to walk through how I use the system. Hopefully you’ll get a better idea of how these features really work together for me.

Incoming

All incoming information, ideas, and todo’s are categorized as Incoming. I have a filter set labelled “Incoming” that filters to include any item that has “Incoming” as a category. When the Incoming filter is enabled and I create new todo’s, the todo will automatically be tagged as part of the “Incoming Category”.

I use this as my primary input channel into the time management system. When I’m away from the computer, I will write down all ideas and notes to myself in my PDA using the incoming filter and will sync when I’m back at the computer, then proceeding to evaluate the items. While I’m at the computer, I also try to put my incoming information into the Incoming category even if I have an idea of where it should go now so that I can separate really what is currently being done and what I need to look at to do. I’m not so good about that at the moment and sometime directly add items to my Active projects list and schedule them to do now, but I realize that that just clutters up the list of things I already had going on and a lot of the things I do like that are things that can wait until later. I think it’s better to leave them in the Incoming box until I *really* do have time to evaluate it. The current todo’s stay leaner and more managable that way.

Categories and Filters

Once the information is in the incoming section, I will go through and evaluate these items and then recategorize them. The categories which I have setup are:

  • Incoming – Information and tasks which are not yet evaluated
  • Active – Projects which are currently being pursued
  • Non-Active – Projects and tasks which aren’t actively being pursued (Someday/Maybe)
  • Long-Term – Long term projects that don’t really have a finish date, such as those which are health-related or learning-related
  • Seven Habits – Weekly Compass, Values, Mission Statement (ideas from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
  • Checklists – Reusable checklists (Pre-Work checklist, Cups of water I drank today, GTD process list, etc.)
  • Check out – things I’d like to check out (books, places to go, etc.)
  • Book Reading List – Books I own but have not read yet
  • Other – Various other lists of information

The first four categories are the ones related to tasks and getting things done, while other categories act more as information lists and reference. It’s nice for me to have these two things integrated within the same system (as well as all of this integrated with the calendar!) as I can quickly record, organize, and lookup all of the important information that helps me to get things done. I have had other categories in the past but after reorganizing to be more inline with GTD ideology, these are the ones I’m currently using.

I’ve also set up filters for each one of the main categories, each set to only show items labelled with that category. Because KO/PI comes setup with many single-button shortcuts, I can switch what filter I’m using simply by pressing any number between 1-0 (for filters 1-10) and ctrl+1-0 (for filters 11-20).

Shortcuts

The shortcuts in KO/PI are key to making this a quick and easy system to use. For example, if while I’m working I have an idea I’ll press 1 to switch to my Incoming filter, create a new todo which is automatically labelled with the Incoming category, and then press 2 to jump back to my Active tasks.

I often switch between todo view, agenda view, month view, and list view using v, x for next three days view or d for today, m, and l respectively.

Next Actions

So now that things are organized, I’m ready to approach my current work session. For KO/PI, todo’s can have a due date, and if that is set, it will show up on the agenda view as an all day event. So for the day’s work, I’ll mark my next actions as due for today and they show up on the agenda. I switch to agenda view and see on each day of the calendar what tasks I’ve set to be done that day as well as can see the “hard landscape” underneath it which shows things that have to be done at certain times (appointments, meetings, etc.).

If I’m working and find that I’ve really overbooked myself that day with actions, I can easily move that todo’s due date by simply going to agenda view, click and drag that todo to another day, and release to set it.

Working

As I work and finish actionable tasks, I mark them complete and they are removed from the all-day section of the Agenda and get entered into the calendar as a green block showing when that task was completed. As they day goes on, I’ll take breaks and look at incoming and run through the evaluation and organization cycle, and then look for next actions. Things get done, my agenda and useful information is organized, and all is well!

Useful Tip: Modifying Multiple Entries

If you need to change the category or add a category to a number of different Todo items, you can do so by opening the Search box and searching for the item, select the ones to change, and then right-click and choose “Selection->Set Categories” from the popup menu. With this you can either set all items to a new category (the Reset option) or add categories. This also works from the List view.

This above is mentioned in the “Features + Hints” section from the Help menu, but what’s not mentioned in the “Features + Hints” is that if you use “Selection->Set Categories” on a Todo that has sub-todo’s, it will ask you if you want to apply the category change to ALL subtodo’s.

This feature has been great for me when I was migrating my old calendar’s data and category system (or I should say, random labelling!) to my new one. It’s also been great for taking Non-Active projects that have lots of sub-todo’s and making the whole thing an Active project.

Conclusion

That’s the basics of my current approach to time management! I’m currently satisfied with how things are going but am sure there are many things I can do to streamline things further. I’m also still new to GTD ideas and am still in the process of learning so I’m sure that as I get more and more familiar I’ll have more modifications to my system.

Well, hope that article was useful to help illustrate some of the neat features of KOrganizer/PI as well as one system of time management using this tool. Hopefully this will inspire you to figure out the time management system and tools that will work for you.

If you have questions or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment here!

Thanks!
steven