Reading time:
3 min. | 584 words

Dave Lee explains an alternative GTD system for knowledge workers:

The most important thing for the creative innovator is not a ton of tasks to do but rather the ability to see what’s important to focus on and to focus on that deeply. The creative innovator needs to go deep on a feature or issue, and the deeper they go the more creativity they unleash.

My current task system is much more basic than I’ve tried to do in the past. I usually plan out the tasks I need to complete for the week, and from there decide what I need to get done each day at the start of my day or the evening before. These are my MITs and are stored as a text file in Notational Velocity.

Each project has it’s own todo list. I have a directory for each project I’m working on at the moment (Cody Archive, dissertation, scripts, etc) that contain their own todo.txt files. This might sound completely unmanageable, but it works for me. When I’m focusing on a specific project, my task list for that project is available in one spot. This lets me avoid a massively cluttered master todo list. If I’m not at my computer I have a master “inbox” todo list that is usually updated through Todo.txt on the iPhone that I will later process, assign to specific projects, and delete from the app. For projects that are not necessarily based on a directory (such as personal todos like errands or chores) I keep in a personal.txt in Notational Velocity.1

In the rest of my environment, I keep everything clean. My desktop is empty except for an “inbox” directory where I will throw PDFs, downloads I intend to keep, text files, code snippets, and anything else I might generate throughout the day and want quick access to. These are processed and placed to their appropriate folders at the middle and end of the week. I also keep a folder called “code” on my desktop for any in-progress scripts and coding I might be doing at the moment. Again, these are moved to more permanent locations either when they’re completed or at the end of the week. My physical desk is mostly clean and my email inbox is empty. It keeps clutter away and allows me to better focus.

This sort of daily focus and weekly goals keeps me on track for the things I need to complete. I find my current system emphasizing minimal tasks on a given day keeps me quite productive. Rather than fiddle with a task management tool like Things or Omnifocus (which usually just prevent me from getting my work done) I streamline my focus with basic text files organized by project.

The current system works well for me. I’ve thought about making a few changes (for example, moving all the individual todo text lists in individual project directories into their own text files in Notational Velocity to allow for faster searching) but for the time being this works.

(Via Shawn Blanc.)

  1. I also keep a text file in Notational Velocity called “qq What was I doing” where I’ll make a note on what I was working on so I can pick it up the next day. I also have a bash script I use to track git commits that I store in a universalgitlog.txt that I access from Notational Velocity so I have additional notes on work I completed with version controlled projects. Nerdy, yes, but fantastic. [return]


Greetings! My name is Jason Heppler. I am a Digital Engagement Librarian and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a scholar of the twentieth-century United States. I often write here about the history of the North American West, technology, the environment, politics, culture, and coffee. You can follow me on Twitter, or learn more about me.