GTD Implementation via New Google Keep and Calendar Features

In recent years, Google Keep and Calendar considerably expanded their functionality, what makes it possible to build a more convenient implementation of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology based on them.

Earlier, in 2015, I have already published material with GTD implementation via Google Calendar. The material presented now may be considered as an updated GTD implementation based on the same principles but using more contemporary tools.

In my 2015 material, the same service - Google Calendar - was chosen as a single basis element for all five stages of workflow of GTD control aspect.

Now, on different stages, two different services will be used as basis elements - Calendar and Keep - in accordance with the applicability of their functionality for a particular stage.
  • Calendar now will be used as a basis for Review-Reflect and Do-Engage stages.
  • Keep will be used as a basis for Collect-Capture, Process-Clarify and Organize stages.

GTD implementation in Google Calendar, “on week” next actions list is unfolded:


Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
(a brand-new edition, read by the author) audiobook - free with Audible trial:


GTD implementation in Google Keep, next actions category:
(view full-size image)



Most of the elements of the self-organization system will be stored in Keep notes. At the same time, many of them will also be integrated with Calendar via reminders. All items that in my previous 2015 material were recorded in Calendar “event notes” will now be recorded in Keep.

Keep will also be used as the main in-basket for Collect-Capture stage (except when the source of information has its own in-basket). As will be shown below, Keep provides convenient tools for organizing non-time-specific and non-day-specific actions and, especially, simple projects.

Using Calendar as another base is caused by the fact that Keep does not provide tools for a convenient overview of time-specific actions (reminders and events).
At the same time, as shown below, it is quite easy and convenient to organize a review of Keep notes for most priority actions that are not tied to a specific time from Calendar. That will provide complete coverage of Do-Engage stage from Calendar.
Thus, all the actions to perform (time-specific and non-time-specific) will be chosen only from Calendar.

Hereafter in this material, it is assumed that the term "time-specific" includes "day-specific", and "non-time-specific" includes "non-day-specific".

The convenience of using Calendar as a base for the Review-Reflect stage is also improved by the fact that its desktop version (after its spring 2018’ update) provides displaying Keep notes in Calendar’ right sidebar. And Calendar mobile app provides displaying of much more reminders for actions (around 10-15 reminders per screen) as compared to Keep mobile app (about 4-6 notes with reminders per screen).

Hereafter in this material, it is assumed that the term “app” means “mobile app”.
Everything that is written here about a smartphone applies to a tablet also (It just should be noted that tablets often provide mouse and keyboard connection, which would significantly boost work productivity when processing large amounts of text).

Setting up Calendar


Create in Calendar two recurring weekly events on the nearest Sunday:
“weekly” (at 11:30-12:00) and “on week” (at 12:30-13:00).
Also create a recurring monthly event “on month” at 12:30-13:00 on the 30th day of the current month (for February create such an event “on month” on the 28th).

All these newly created events will be used as headers to group reminders about actions, linked with corresponding Keep notes in Calendar (below these events).
The time intervals were chosen so that to remain on the screen when scrolling desktop version of Calendar on a week all the way down.

Setting up Keep


Create in Keep labels for categories and subcategories of GTD control aspect, it is also explained immediately what categories of GTD they correspond to:
  • Actions - “Next Actions” outside subcategories
  • Actions/Recurring - “Next Actions”, subcategory for actions that are repeated regularly
  • Actions/Waiting - “Waiting For” - considered as a subcategory of “Next Actions”, the reasons for this are explained below
  • Inbox - “Inbox”
  • Maybe - “Someday/Maybe”
  • Projects - there are two categories combined here: “Project LIst” and “Project Support”
  • Reference - “Reference”
Also, create Keep label for GTD perspective aspect:
  • Perspective
The purpose and implementation of this (often neglected) element of the GTD are described below.

In the GTD implementation presented here, project-related categories - Projects List and Project Support - are united into a single storage, so that projects list (as the set of notes’ titles) and pointers to projects support materials (in notes’ bodies) are stored under a single label “Projects”. But each of them is easily distinguishable because they will be recorded in different parts of Keep notes and in different fonts.
A Keep note’ body is understood as its main text, between the title and the list of labels.
With a small number of characters in a note’ body, its font size automatically increases. To more clearly distinguish such short texts from headings, it is possible to add at the end of the body symbols “_______________” (15 underscores in a row) - then the font size will be reduced to the minimum.

“Waiting For” category (“Actions/Waiting” label) is considered here as a subcategory inside “Next Actions” (“Actions” label) - this allows later, if desired, to combine two GTD subcategories related to a person (“Next Actions/Agenda for Person A” and “Waiting for/Results from Person A”) into a single subcategory (under “Actions/Person A” label) which will be convenient in the context of communication with this person. This approach will also help to more reasonably organize next actions for projects that have encountered a Waiting For (delegated) item - this will allow not to archive such projects because of the absence of next actions.

But such introduction of new categories for a person should be practiced only if there is a steady flow of tasks related to the person.
There are also other approaches, the choice of the most appropriate of them will depend on the specific format of interaction.
It is also possible to combine such tasks for a person into a Keep note with the list of actions (see below).
If all these tasks for a person are linked by one goal, it is possible to make a separate project for this goal and write them in a Keep note for this project (see below). The important point is that the goal of this project should be truly your own goal, although considering the goal of the person with whom the interaction takes place. Do not merely mindlessly copy someone else's goal for the project, even if it comes from supervisors or clients.

Names of main categories (labels) are reduced from two words to one for brevity. To repeat what they mean, a brief description of GTD can be used.

It is quite possible that Google Keep already has some notes made earlier. There is no need to remove them, just mark them for now with “Reference” label, and unpin them, if they are pinned.

Next, fill Keep with notes with elements of the self-organization system under labels just created.

Inbox


Write out into separate notes, with “Inbox” label, ideas about actions (single-step and multi-step, time-specific and non-time-specific) - all in a row. To do this, you can use your old time-management and self-organization tools and GTD incompletion trigger list.

While doing this, the notes should not be immediately classified, this will be done in the future.
It is also not necessary to write them all out at once. For a start, it is just needed to write out just 20-30 such notes to build some backbone of the system, which can then be supplemented.

Further, when using the system, this label will be used for saving incoming items (if its source does not have its own “in-basket”) - thus Keep will be used as the main “in-basket”. To do so, open Keep app, select “Inbox” label and add a new incoming note with the new information to save - the application supports its recording via several options:

  • type (or copy/paste);
  • sketch;
  • speak;
  • photograph.

Actions


This label will mark notes for one-step next actions and for projects containing them. But “Actions” label will only be used for items that not belong to “Actions/Recurring” subcategory and other subcategories (which may be created later for adapting the system to a user's specific needs).
It would be methodically more correct to apply here (as for a general subcategory) a label like “Actions/General” instead of “Actions”, but this would make such a general subcategory less distinguishable among other subcategories.

To more easily distinguish “actionable” elements from “non-actionable” ones, begin all records about them from small letters - actions ("Actions" label), projects names ("Projects" label) and someday/maybe items - as possible actions ("Maybe" label).

Entries here mean both notes titles (for projects) and elements inside notes bodies (for actions). 
Someday/Maybe category ("Maybe" label) is considered in this material as “actionable”, although in the “classic” GTD it is considered as “non-actionable”. Such an approach allows to more smoothly activate its elements - to easily transform them, as needed, into next actions and projects. At the same time, the category is securely separated by using a separate label for it.

Fill the category with suitable inbox items - choose from the label “Inbox” a few notes about one-step non-time-specific actions, clearly formulate this action in the note body and replace the label “Inbox” with "Actions". Do not record such one-step actions into notes titles, these titles will be further used for projects goals.

For notes about actions to deal with (most likely) before the nearest weekly review, create reminders at 13:00 on Sunday next to this review (i.e., if planning a weekly review on nearest Friday, choose Sunday immediately after this Friday, at the same weekend). Also, pin Keep notes about these actions. But, in case of a further decrease of these actions priorities, these notes should be unpinned back.

Setting such a reminder does not mean that the action must be done before the end of the week - it is not a deadline, it should rather be considered as an expectation (with a 60-70% probability) that this action will be completed during this week.

For actions to be performed (most likely) before the end of the month (the month that includes the second Sunday after the nearest weekly review), create reminders on 13:00 of the 30th of this month (or the 28th of February).
Do not make such reminders to the 28th day of all months, or switch them from the 30th to the 31st day in accordance with the number of days in the month. As in the previous case, remember, that such a reminder is not a deadline, it does not mean that the action must be completed during this month.

While performing a weekly review, reminders (at the end of the week and end of the month) are reviewed regarding their completion and priority. Reminders of completed actions and completed projects can be deleted, and their notes in Keep can also be deleted or archived (all existing labels are replaced by single “Reference” label and the note is marked as archived in Keep).

For all reminders at the end of the week regarding uncompleted actions - the priority is evaluated, then the reminder itself is rearranged either at the end of the next week, or at the end of the month, or deleted.

At the beginning of a new month, the priorities of reminders at the end of the month are rearranged in the same way.

For reminders of uncompleted projects (their structure is described below), where have been completed (to the full or significant extent) their next actions (listed in the body of the projects Keep note) - mark the completion of related entries (list items), and also introduce new entries with new next actions.

Next actions with deadlines should not be recorded in Calendar directly, because their implementation is not tied to a specific date - they simply have a deadline and should be collected together with the other non-time-specific next actions.
For such actions, it is convenient to write their deadline at the beginning of their Keep notes titles (“til DD.MM ...” or “til DD.MM incl ...”), and set reminders for the notes to the end of the week or the end of the month depending on when expecting to perform the action.
It is rational to group next actions of the same type that do not constitute a single project by themselves (do not have a common goal) into a single note, as a list of items - for example, list of small purchases or list of attractions to visit.

Designate such notes by a title starting with a pair of curly braces {} followed by the description of this typical action. Placing such a description in the title allows getting rid of its repetition for individual actions (list items) in the note body. Designation through curly brackets is applied here because it is commonly used for sets.
For such notes with actions lists (as for projects that described below) set reminders for the week and for the month as for notes with single next actions - in accordance with the nearest action from the list (or from the project).

Projects


The structure of Keep notes allows using almost the same format for single-step next actions and multi-step projects, as well as to convert next actions into projects and back. The convenience of working with projects is one of the main advantages of my GTD implementation.

Many progressive GTD implementations, for example The Secret Weapon (TSW) and its modifications, suggest the introduction of unique labels (tags) for projects, but in my implementation, this was avoided, at least for simple projects.

Notes with the following structure will be used as reminders about projects - the project name (project goal) is placed in the note title, next actions (including Waiting For category items, considered as a subcategory of next actions) and support materials (including links to ones outside Keep) are placed in the note body (as list items).
Thus, projects list (list of notes headers), next actions for projects and projects support materials will be consolidated under "Projects" label in Keep.

Need to be careful with projects names in GTD - names of objects, processes, roles, etc (as itself) are not suitable for this. In GTD, a project means a more specific thing - a goal. This point is more clearly explained in the new 2015 edition of David Allen’s book. Therefore, a projects name must necessarily explain its goal, its desired outcome.

If confused, whether an activity is a one-step next action or a multi-step project, the following approach can be applied - if it is expected to do everything in a day, consider it as an action, if not, as a project. But this approach is not universal - for example, reading a book is most likely an action (although it takes many days) and organizing an event for several people, about which its participants do not yet know - is most likely a project (although everything can be done in a day).

Designate Keep notes for projects by a title starting with a pair of round braces () followed by the project name - this means that there are other elements in note’ body of the project below - next actions, it is also possible to add in these brackets letters corresponding to different subcategories of the next actions. For example, letters r and w here correspond to the presence of actions from previously created subcategories “Actions/Recurring” and “Actions/Waiting” in note’ body of the project.
To distinguish such items in a note’ body of a project, write these letters before the list elements corresponding to them.
To distinguish list elements of the list corresponding to projects support materials, write letter i before them (it means “Info”).

The screenshot also shows how to add more notes to a project. To track notes connectivity in a project, square brackets [] are added before titles of each of such additional notes. A link to additional notes is also added in the main note of the project. Also, links to the main note (backward) are added from all its additional notes.
Designation through square brackets is applied here because its shape resembles a rectangle, a note.

Actions/Recurring


This label will mark recurring (regularly repeating) actions. Also, the description of this subcategory can be used as an example of dividing a category into subcategories.

Usually, recurring actions are arranged within projects - the same action is repeated every week, but it all has the same goal.

To indicate that there are repeating next actions in a project, the letter r will be added in brackets in front of the project name (note title) and, also, below in the note body - in front of the list item for corresponding repeating next action.

Notes with such repetitive actions can be highlighted with color. In general, it is reasonable to highlight in similar colors all types of notes that constitute self-organization routine - for example, recurring actions, perspective aspect, lists of external storages. This selection makes it easier to find these frequently used and rarely deleted notes.

The next actions, which are included in this subcategory, will be excluded from the general subcategory under “Actions” label.
For example, a project note that includes only repeating actions would be labeled only with “Projects” and “Actions/Recurring” labels (without “Actions” label).

Actions/Waiting


This label will mark Waiting For category items - delegated items which are waiting for someone else - actions or results that are not implemented by yourself but you control its implementation by other people. But waiting is only a part of control, control can also include your own actions. Therefore, in this material, delegated items are considered as a subcategory of next actions. It allows to group delegated items together with next actions (for a person) or use them also as next actions in the projects.

Methodically, this can be justified by the fact that delegation can be reduced to a simple algorithm consisting of actions:
If implemented by the expected date (condition for selecting one of the actions), check the correctness or implementation (action), if not, remind the implementer (action).
It is all very similar to choosing the next action according to the current time (time-specific actions) or upon the occurrence of a suitable context (context-related actions).

To indicate that there are delegated items in a project, the letter w will be added in brackets in front of project name (note title) and, also, below in the note body - in front of the list item for corresponding delegated item.

For notes with delegated items, it is possible to set reminders in Calendar in the same way as for next actions - if you expect to wait for implementation (and, possibly, initiate a reminder for the implementor) on next week or next month.

Maybe


This label will mark ideas about actions and projects that would be good to implement, but there is no yet definite decision to implement them.
It is even possible to additionally distinguish possible projects from one-step next action by structuring the note title and list items for individual actions in the note body. But it is also quite possible not to structure this, just store them all as plain text records in notes bodies.

Reference


This label will be used to collect all the information that should be available offline on a smartphone outside the workplace - as plain text notes or notes with pictures.
There could be, for example:
  • public transport schedules
  • addresses and schedules of local businesses
  • copies of paper maps
  • copies of documents
  • users manuals
Keep app (unlike Evernote app on its free plan) provides offline access to notes, even without Internet connection.

Also, a note with links to other storages of reference information should be created and pinned under "Reference" label (as for “Perspective” label, see below) - so that you can view all these storages from a single base.

It is also possible to save here notes for completed next actions (see above), but such notes should be archived (“Archive”) in order to be separated from the rest. Another approach for this is to create a separate label for such archived notes.

When writing this material, I thought about replacing “Reference” label with “Info” label which would combine both reference information and support materials (since the latter differ from former only its association with a project and often leave Reference category only temporarily, while the project continues).  But, finally, for greater clarity of this material, I decided to use Keep labels structure more corresponding to the “classic” GTD category structure - because there are already a couple of such deviations, to avoid adding more of them further without essential need.

Perspective


This label does not correspond to some categories of GTD control aspect. It corresponds to the entire GTD perspective aspect, it combines everything related to GTD model of six horizons of focus. https://gettingthingsdone.com/2011/01/the-6-horizons-of-focus/ 
This label is also convenient for integration with other time-management and self-organization methodologies.

Many existing GTD implementations completely ignore its perspective aspect, dealing only with implementing its control aspect - but this is wrong, since they are not a substitute for each other, they solve different problems - https://gettingthingsdone.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/3dim_self_management.pdf - if the perspective aspect of GTD is ignored, self-organization simply slips into micromanagement and improvement of the control aspect cannot help here.

GTD implementation in Google Keep, perspective aspect:

It is also reasonable to put here notes describing daily and weekly reviews procedures. They control and describe the entire GTD workflow - and are not objects of control, therefore they can be considered as elements of the perspective.

Mark Keep notes for daily and weekly reviews with “Perspective” label. Next, create reminders for them.
To create a reminder for the daily review note, select any time on the current day, then edit the reminder in Calendar - remove time from it (make it all day), so the reminders will be on top of the day calendar. Then do not mark it completed - and in the following days it will automatically move to the top of the current day - and it will do so day after day.
For the weekly review note set a reminder at 11:00 of nearest Sunday and its weekly recurring. Thus, this reminder will be placed in Calendar close to reminders of the remaining actions for the week, but a little bit higher.

To describe different elements of the perspective aspect, different software tools can be used that store data in different places, links to them can be placed into one special note under “Perspective” label.

As a part of GTD perspective aspect, it is possible to integrate, for example, OKRs (Objective and Key Results, goal setting and communication methodology used by Google) - I guess, Keep can provide much better focusing and communication as compared to Google Sheets.
OKRs is also a good approach for implementing average levels (20,000-30000 feet) of the perspective aspect (six horizons of focus model).

Linking Keep to Other Storages of GTD Categories


There is no need to deliberately push all data on self-organization into a single universal storage. Many Evernote-based systems are trying to do so, but this approach cannot be fully implemented, there will always be something outside of such a storage that needs to be taken into account. It is better just accept the fact that data will be stored in different formats - digital and paper, in different cloud and local storages. It is enough to simply arrange links to all these services into some basic directory.
Will use Keep as such a directory. Сreate in Keep, under each of just created GTD category labels, which have external storages, a note with links to these storages, pin these notes and highlight all them in a single color. Thus, it would be easy to switch from a Keep label to the continuation of the corresponding GTD category outside Keep.
An example of such a note is presented above on the screenshot for “Perspective” label. Similar notes can be created for other labels also - “Inbox”, ”Reference” etc.

Review-Reflect Stage - Daily and Weekly Review


Both reviews, in terms of their technical implementation in the system, are carried out similarly. A daily review is not a creating of a daily to-do list. Rather, it is going thru a series of reminders of things to be done daily, something like rituals from book Loehr, Schwartz - The Power of Full Engagement.

When conducting review on a desktop, first open Calendar in the browser. Then open the review reminder in Calendar and, then (thru the link from the reminder, in a new tab) open Keep note with the list of actions for review. Then, sequentially performing these actions, open more new tabs to access the corresponding storages.
While doing so, it is important to maintain the Keep note with the list of review actions open all the time - to maintain your focus on it. All links from it should be opened in new tabs.

While conducting review on a smartphone using Calendar and Keep apps, it is harder to implement a similar functionality because the apps do not support multiple tabs.
To achieve similar functionality on a smartphone, you can open the original note with the list of review actions in the smartphone mobile browser and then work with the rest of the notes in Keep app, switching, as necessary, back to the original note in the mobile browser.

Do-Engage Stage - Choosing Actions to Do


On a desktop - open in browser Calendar for this week, review events and reminders for today and consecutively review “weekly” and “on week” lists.
If there is now nothing suitable for implementation in them, open the 30th of this month through the left sidebar with the nearest “on month” list and review this list also.

On a smartphone - open Calendar app, it is initially displayed as a calendar for a day, look there for reminders and events for today. Then simply turn the smartphone to horizontal (landscape) orientation and the app automatically switches to display in the form of a calendar for a week (do not even need to tap anything). Then (as well as in a desktop browser), consequently click on the “weekly” and “on week” lists and choose the action to be performed. If still not found what to do, scroll Calendar sideways 1-4 screens further, up to the week with the 30th of the month and look at the “on month” list there.

Such functionality of Calendar app allows arranging the mobile implementation for GTD Do-Engage stage very similar to the desktop one. There is no way to achieve this in Keep app because it displays a much smaller amount of items (notes) per screen.

Integration of Keep notes with Gmail, Google Docs, Files and Web Pages


Gmail emails and attached files

This method allows to attach a file of any format to a Keep note, it is also convenient to use it for transferring files between devices.
Enable right sidebar in the desktop version of Gmail (if it is not already enabled) and open the Keep tab from it via the corresponding icon.

Create a new email, attach the file to it and send it to yourself. Then open the email and create its associated Keep note via Keep icon from the right sidebar.

When opening the email in Gmail, the associated Keep note will be automatically displayed at the top of the sidebar, and vice versa - when opening the note in Keep, the associated email will be attached as a link.

If there are many such emails, they can be tagged with special tags to be easier to find later.
Gmail does not allow attaching such notes to email drafts without sending them (this would give the possibility of their subsequent editing). But it is possible to implement such attachment of editable documents via Google Docs.

Google Docs documents

As well as for a Gmail email, open the Google Docs document and create associated Keep note for it from the same right sidebar (it is also available in Google Docs, but only when you open a document itself). Such associated Keep note will be similarly automatically displayed at the top of the sidebar when opening the document.

But this method allows attaching only one document for a note.
To attach several of them, the following method should be used.

Web pages

Simply add links to these pages in the Keep note. This method can also be used for Google Docs documents, but not for Gmail emails.
It will also be convenient, if possible (if these pages are editable documents), to add backlinks to this note (its URL in a desktop browser).

Why Other Related Services and Google Extensions Are Not Used


While implementing the system, smartphone notifications were not used - because they essentially contradict GTD methodology (“mind like water”) - its constant flow defocuses attention, therefore, it is assumed that, as much as possible, they all are disabled or used only in exceptional cases (for example, for emails matching to a filter).

Google Tasks service is also not used - due to the uncertain prospects of development, poor integration with other Google services, and duplication of Google Keep features.

All this implementation was built in a way to work not only in Chrome, but also in alternative browsers.
Consequently, Google Keep browser extension is also not used anywhere - because it only works in Chrome, but does not work in independent browsers, even on Chromium.

I guess it is unreasonable to switch from alternative browsers to Chrome just for using this extension. It provides only keeping of the active tab URL and selected text into a new Keep note in one click - and it’s not worth giving up for its sake of many additional built-in features of such browsers like Opera or Vivaldi. For example, Opera has a built-in VPN, and Vivaldi has its web-panel, which is very convenient for having Keep note in it about the task being performed while working on the task in its main window at the same time - it provides very good focusing.
Of course, Chrome has extensions that promise similar features, but, as a rule, their reliability and compatibility with each other leave much to be desired.

Also, it is not reasonable to install Chrome for exploring features of Google Save To Drive browser extension, which also works only in Chrome. It only saves screenshots, so it is not an alternative to Evernote Web Clipper (but it's hard, on the whole, to find its alternative, considering its versatility and options for simplification, editing and exporting of saved web pages - so I myself still use Evernote to save them).

Such Google' approach to browser extensions for their services generally creates the impression that these extensions are created mainly as a means of promoting Chrome among users of alternative browsers.

Keep and Calendar Advantages over Specialized Products


Every year more and more new software products for self-organization are creating, new features in existing ones are also developing. But at the same time, factors that undermine their credibility are revealed:
  • insufficient or unreliable functionality
  • confusing or incomprehensible functionality (when authors inflate functionality, reducing the availability of basic functions)
  • inoperability of free versions (when free versions are applicable only as a demo)
  • incomplete cross-platform compatibility (including different features and design on different platforms)
  • unreliability of data storing (including incompleteness or inability to export data)
Of course, to a certain extent, such problems also applicable to Google services, but their influence does not seem so negative compared to, for example, Evernote or other specialized products, which are often simply closed, without providing sufficient resources to reorganize work processes built on their basis.

© Oleg Sergeykin, PhD
2018
http://www.sergeykin.com/

1 comment:

  1. a google keep API would be nice too :)
    I mean an official one.

    ReplyDelete