Maximizing Productivity with the iPad, Part II: GTD with the iPad

In Part 1 (Maximizing Productivity with the iPad Part I: A Paperless Office), I basically stated how I’m desperately in need of a productivity makeover and that I’m building my organizational efforts around the iPad.  In this posting, I’m going to cover capturing written notes, and how I’ve setup my hybrid GTD system on the iPad.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same thing.” – Albert Einstein

Before I lay out how I structured my productivity system, let me start buy analyzing the various time management systems that I have used.

In the past, I’ve used just about every day planner in existence.  I’ve used Day Timer’s 1 page per day, 2 page per day, 2 page per week.  I’ve tried Franklin Covey’s planners.  I’ve tried GTD in moleskine notebooks as well as with various digital approaches, from text files to OmniFocus to Remember The Milk.  I even used Levenger’s Circa planner for a few months.  None seemed to work well for me for any length of time.

Day Timer

I was most successful with Day Timer’s 2 page per day format.  It has ample space for appointments, to-do list, expenses and for noting what you did during the day.  No matter which planner system I would try, I would always go back to this one.  It is the gold standard in my opinion. 

One of the best things is that you have a daily to-do list.  You decide each day what you are going to accomplish, and (if you use their system) you prioritize each of the tasks with a letter and number, to order them by priority and urgency.

Unfortunately, they are now using cheaper paper so my ink fountain pens bleed through and the binders are bulky and heavy.  No Day Timer planner app for iPad.

Franklin Covey

When I had fewer tasks, I used Franklin Covey’s weekly planner for about six months, which worked great for tracking billable hours for a single client, but soon it wasn’t enough.  I tried one of the other formats before I gave up.  No app for iPad.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD)

Lastly, I used David Allen’s GTD in various implementation and met with limited success.  GTD focuses on capturing information and turning it into actionable steps, to the exclusion of all else.

The system is simple and yet powerful.  Tasks are arranged not by priority or date, but by context.  You group all of the tasks that have a similar context, say on the phone, so you can efficiently process the tasks based on your context.  If you need to make phone calls, they are implicitly filtered on their own list so you can make all of your phone calls one right after another, making more efficient use of your time.

When processing the tasks, priority isn’t even mentioned, only one rule – if the task takes less than 5 minutes you do it, no matter what it is.  This is great, except if you have dozens of 5 minute tasks and one arduous but extremely important task.  You risk doing unimportant busy work without tackling the important stuff.

Another way GTD differs is the total emphasis on tasks and zero on records or notes.

Capturing Notes

My notes are invaluable to me.  Here are some perfect examples why:

IMG_0005When I worked for a large computer manufacturer, I ended up getting cross ways with a technical lead on the project.  I’m not sure if it was our opposing views on politics, or that I objected to him rewriting the copyright headers to replace the contractor’s account name/initials with his own (making it look like he was checking all of the code in if you just look at the copyright header).  But whatever the reason, the lead made it his mission to get me fired.  A coworker told me that he started slamming me in meetings I wasn’t invited to, frequently.

A short time later, a manager questioned me about my working hours.  I assume the tech lead had flatly stated that I wasn’t coming in to work and fraudulently billing time.  The manager would make comments like, “I heard you didn’t come in on Thursday, but you have hours on your time sheet.”  This went on for several minutes, covering multiple days.

Thankfully, I had my Day Timer and was able to tell the manager on the spot the exact time I started work, left for lunch, and left for the day.  At the end of the week I would pull that information to fill in my time sheet, so I knew the hours matched.  It wasn’t until I suggested that he check the security badge readers that he left and I never heard another word about it.

On another contract, I worked with a bully that played fast and loose with the facts.  One tactic he used was ambush you in a meeting in front of multiple managers, and you would be too embarrassed and angry to be able to coherently correct him or defend yourself properly.  By the time you had you facts straight and remembered what happened two weeks prior (probably after the meeting), you were already wounded from corporate combat in the eyes of the managers. 

He did it with me.  I flipped open my notebook and I said, “let me check my notes.”  I gave a detailed description of why I chose to do what I did, and asked the other developers about what we discussed.  It not only diffused the situation but also jogged the memories of the other developers who rushed to defend me (and themselves).  It turned an attack into a spirited discussion.

In any event, I’m now a student again, and I need to write copious amounts of handwritten notes.  Keying in information using the touch screen keyboard is simply to painful. Carrying around a Bluetooth keyboard wasn’t much better.  Carting around various notebooks, binders, and planners wasn’t going to cut it either. I needed a better way, and I wanted to do it on the iPad.

I already had an original iPad, I decided to re-task the iPad to help me take notes, and become more productive.  I’m certainly glad I did.  It has become a godsend.

imageI purchased a folio cover, a stylus pen, and an app called Noteshelf.  Noteshelf is currently one of the best (if not the best) iPad application for capturing handwritten notes.  With Noteshelf, I can write handwritten notes, organize them, export them via PDF or images, through e-mail, Evernote, or even mail the notes to my Kindle cloud account.

This is especially useful if you have an instructor who wants homework turned in PDF format.  Rather than struggle with trying to type equations into Word, you just write them out and then email them to yourself, make sure everything looks good, then email them to your professor.

Perhaps even better, the notebooks can be customized with various template backgrounds, from standard college ruled paper, to quad paper, to a generic day planner template.

The only downside is that you can’t flag, bookmark, or add tabs to the pages as you would in a real moleskin, or insert typed text.  

I highly recommend this app.

Using Your iPad Like a GTD Moleskine Notebook

I created a Noteshelf notebook to hold daily notes, which details what I’ve done during the day, and tracks my billable work hours. image

Next, I added pages to hold my tasks.  On the top left, I added the context label such as “Inbox” or “@mac/internet,” etc.

After some thought, I started using the format for the tasks shown in the image (left).  Each task is dated to give me an idea of how long a task has been languishing undone.

Next, I add a hyphen (-) to denote a new uncompleted task.  When I finish a task, I draw a vertical line to mutate the hyphen into a plus sign (+) to denote that a task is finished.  I also append the date the task was finished, or if on the same day no date is appended.  If I want to drop a task, I cross off the hyphen, creating an asterisk (*) to show a task is deleted.  If I move the task to another list I append a greater than symbol to the hyphen to create an arrow (->) and a append the task with the context I’m moving it to.  Likewise, if I delegate the task to someone else, I prepend a less than symbol to the hyphen creating a leftward pointing arrow (<-) and I append the name of the person I have delegated the task to with the date.

Just by looking at the list I can quickly see what I have done, have left to do, who I am waiting on, and how long it takes me to complete the various tasks.

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6 Responses to Maximizing Productivity with the iPad, Part II: GTD with the iPad

  1. chris savage says:

    What stylus do you use? the one I use doesn’t write small like your examples.

    • Joe Turner says:

      I’ve tried several so far. Most are terrible to write with, including the rocket fish, primarily because the tip is too big and flexible.

      Wacom Bamboo is the best one I’ve used, as the rubberized tip is smaller and not as flexible. I’m still looking for the best one.

  2. clsav says:

    What Stylus do you use?

  3. aukirk says:

    Try the Addonit Jot Pro….it looks odd with the clear disk on the end, but works well

  4. julie a. says:

    Hi! Have you found an app that allows you to handwrite in a calendar with your stylus, but that isn’t a template? I’d like to be able to click on the date…let’s say, a month in advance, schedule an appointment with my stylus the way I would with a regular paper notebook, and then go right to the date later on. Basically, an app that allows me to plan everything in during the day and take notes alongside of it, but without typing…one that I can use the stylus with. I can’t find an app like this anywhere…have you found one?

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