Simpletask uses the todo.txt syntax, but has sufficient differences and quirks of its own to be worth describing in detail – at least, that’s the story I’m going with. I actually began this guide as an exploration of my own trusted system. Personal workflows are by definition eccentric; I have included only what seems to me to be broadly useful.
This implementation of GTD covers the “standard” classifications: next actions by context, projects, somedays, agendas by person and meeting, etc. In a departure from strict GTD, each entry in these lists is also tagged with an area of focus, interest or responsibility. I find that the ability to slice the system by this extra dimension is worth the additional complexity at the processing and organizing stages. Limitations, issues and workarounds are discussed at the end.
– Alex Armstrong, the author of original guide.
Your system has to be easy enough (and complete enough) that you will be motivated to work it even when you have the flu. The system is only as good as what you’re willing to maintain when you don’t feel like it.
– David Allen, “Let the Lists Fall Where They May”
I refer to every line in your
todo.txt as an “entry” to differentiate them from tasks. Simpletask takes a broader view of what constitutes a
In this implementation the
todo.txt format provides a large chunk of your trusted system.
Entries may belong to one list (
@something) and they may have one or more tags (
+something) assigned to them. They may also utilize due dates (
due:2014-04-2), thresholds (
t:2014-04-3), recurrance (
rec:1w) and priorities (
Simpletasks collects all
@somethings in your entries and calls them lists.
Lists hold all entries on the first four Horizons of Focus: from Runway to 30,000 feet, or Next Actions to Goals & Objectives. If you find this format appropriate, you could feasibly include items from the remaining two altitudes: Vision, Purpose and Principles.
Lists are mutually exclusive! If an entry can be placed in more than one list, you need to clarify either the entry or your lists.
Simpletasks collects all
+somethings in your entries and calls them tags.
Tags specify areas of focus, interest or responsibility, as well as agendas for people or meetings.
The inbox consists of all entries that have not been assigned to a list. They are typically not tagged, either. Although I will often revise entries before tagging and assigning them to another list, I generally preserve the original creation date.
You don’t need a list called
@Inbox! First of all, it will just slow you down at the collection phase. If you want to view just your Inbox, filter by
- in the left drawer.
Next Actions / Contexts (Runway)
Next actions are filed in lists that begin with an at-sign (
@), one for each context. The at-sign is an established shorthand that reinforces the idea that the context (place or tool) is required for the action to be performed. More importantly, the at-sign makes these lists sort above the others, so you can find them more quickly.
The examples of GTD contexts are:
@@agendas @@anywhere @@calls @@computer / @@laptop @@errands @@home @@office / @@work
Уou may (and must) define your own contexts! By example, I like to have context
@@buy - for any optional triffles I’d want to buy during accidental shopping; and also context
@@ingame - it’s just like
@@computer, but when you use it for fun.
Next actions are tagged with an area tag and, for entries relating to communication, an agenda tag (either a person or meeting).
Agendas may be listed under
@@agendas (for face-to-face and impromptu communications) or required context (e.g.
@@computer, etc.) but not both.
All tags that begin with a capital letter refer to agendas – that is, to people or meetings.
+Mom +JSmith +StaffMeeting
Place agenda entries in the appropriate context list and then tag them with an area.
Tell +Bob about the party @@agendas +fun Email +DevTeam re: new client @@online +work
People and meetings you refer to often can be added to a hidden entry (see below) for easy access.
Projects (10,000 ft)
A list called
@Projects with an entry for every multi-step outcome you are committed to completing within the next year. Each project entry is tagged with an area and, if applicable, an agenda.
For code-related project you could think of each milestone as of GTD project.
Clean out the garage +household @Projects Release R7.Documents module v1.11 +work @Projects
Someday/Maybe (Incubate Runway/10,000 ft)
A list called
@Someday with an entry for every project (multi-step outcome) or single action you are incubating – i.e., that would like to periodically review but are not committed to moving on, yet. Each someday entry is tagged with an area and, if applicable, an agenda, allowing you to view potential commitments along with your current ones.
Learn to play the piano +creativity @Someday
You could feasibly have multiple Someday/Maybe lists like
@Someday-Soon or even
@Someday-Never, if you need the additional granularity.
@Someday-Never to RIP things that you strongly doesn’t want and have strong reasons to not to do, but still need to remember sometimes.
Tickler (Incubate Runway/10,000 ft)
A list called
@Tickler contains all tickled items which are not actions. Tickled items are all entries with a threshold date.
Tickled actions are not included in this list; they are placed under the appropriate context.
Waiting For (Runway)
A list called
@WaitingFor with an entry for each delegated action, tagged with both area and agenda.
+JSmith re: conference +consortium @WaitingFor
Areas (20,000 ft)
A list called
@\_Areas with entries identifying all your areas of focus, interest or responsibility. There is overlap between this horizon and the area tags (described below), but a 1-to-1 correspondence is not obligatory. How you set up this horizon depends on how you think about your life and how it makes sense to carve up your commitments.
Note: the underscore in front of this list is merely to have it sort to the bottom of your lists.
All lowercase tags refer to areas of focus, interest or responsibility. These generally relate to the 20,000 feet horizon, but will probably be more granular. There’s no rule here; you will need as many areas as you need.
A word of warning, however: avoid making area tags too specific (so that they basically map to your projects). Most area tags will be somewhere between projects and areas (or approximately 25,000 feet)
+gtd +blog +health +household
Family +family @_Areas Health, Vitality & Well-Being +health @_Areas Profession, Self-improvement +profession +gtd @_Areas Finances +finances @_Areas Household +household @_Areas Hobbies +blog +painting +rpg @_Areas
To make sure that these are always available, define them in your
@_Areas entries or add them to a hidden entry (see below).
Goals & Objectives (30,000 ft)
A list called
@\_Goals with an entry for every outcome you are committed to completing within the next 2-5 years, tagged with an area and, if applicable, an agenda. Goals are treated basically as long-term projects.
Attain some promotion +career @\_Goals
The Left Drawer
The left drawer allows you to view your system by any combination of horizon, area and agenda. This is a rough sketch of how your left drawer should look:
- Higher Altitudes
The most frequently used ways to slice your system – contexts and areas – are the quickest to reach, being at at the top and bottom, respectively. Less used stuff – higher altitudes, agendas – is in the middle.
You can choose multiple lists and tags to slice your trusted system in various ways. For example, you can see all the
@@calls you have to make for
@Projects relating to your
+family or all the
+fun things you might do
These can serve as placeholders to preserve your lists and tags when they do not contain any items.
h:1 Contexts: @@agendas, @@anywhere, @@calls, @@computer, @@errands, @@home, @@office h:1 Other Lists: @Projects, @Someday, @Tickler, @WaitingFor, @_Areas, @_Goals h:1 Contacts: +Mom, +JSmith, etc.
Hidden entries can also be used to store some private entries which you wouldn’t like to be shown on your phone screen in public accidentally – while it’s possibly better to have separate todo file for that.
Per GTD, I only use due dates for the “hard landscape”, such as appointments, rather than estimations of when I’d like to do something. I also add them to projects to indicate deadlines (after which completion becomes moot).
For time-sensitive actions you could use prefix times like so:
[10:15] Taskname. Or suffix times so:
due:2019-06-20 T10:15 - this looks almost like an ISO datetime (
That said, I find Simpletask’s calendar integration to be really clunky, and I have begun adding items straight to the calendar, which I find problematic.
Threshold dates allow you to incubate actions or reminders (tickled entries). Tickled actions are filed under the appropriate context. For reminders, you can use the
GTD does not (and should not) have a priority system. But I found useful to utilize the
todo.txt priority syntax to help me filter several kinds of entries.
(D) priority are just general GTD hints that I like to keep above other entries in the context list.
(C) priority are generally recurring actions with due dates. I use them for things that need to be kept under periodic control.
(D) Check current context lists (D) Plan to complete within the next year @Projects ... (C) Do weekly review rec:+1w due:2020-10-19
(B) priorities reserved for some “hot” actions that I plan (not would like) to do today or very soon.
Projects and higher altitudes never have priorities.
Saved Filters (The Right Drawer)
Saved filters allow you to bring up or review aspects of your GTD system. The ones I’ve found most useful are:
Hide completed tasks and tasks with threshold date in future.
Starts or ends withing a week
Shows any actions with due or treshold dates within 1 week in future from today. This utilizes Simpletask Lua scripting.
- Show all tasks (including complete and tasks with threshold in the future).
- Sort with Completed on top - to avoid scrolling:
x Completed entry 1 Entry 2 Entry 3 ... Entry 199
Completing entry 2 on review:
x Completed entry 2 x Completed entry 1 Entry 3 ... Entry 199
Work+Computer, Calendared, Completed, Groceries/ToBuy, Inbox
Important Components of GTD System
There are times when I clear my Inbox and some entries which do not require any actions, but looks like general information,
while still important (for some project or area) - I just move them to the
When reviewing my
@Notes list, I could decide do I need to delete it or move to the note-taking application.
Currently I prefer Simplenote for that - very nice addition to my trusted system.
Then working on code project, I like to treat the project bugtracker as a public context list for the project,
still having an entry for it (or better - for a single milestone of it) in the
During review, I move entries which should go to the bugtracker, to the
And during review of
@@bugtracker list, I just create issues and remove entries from Simpletask,
effectively “forgeting” about them. But I will certainly will remember them again – then and where I resume work on the project.
|Issue tracker term||GTD term|
“Blue star” email parsing essay - Мanage your email inbox with 1 & ½ simple tricks.
Tips & Tricks
- Simpletask provides an option to automatically generate a creation date for new tasks. Use it.
- You could make copy of entry (or entries) by sharing it. Press “Share” button and then select Simpletask as a target app.
This will produce a copy of entry with the
Issues & Problems
The following are known issues with the GTD implementation in this guide.
Inbox. I enter data straight into the
todo.txtwith Simpletask or a text editor. I haven’t experimented with using emails or other input, which is why I don’t discuss this at all. There are some ifttt recipes, but I haven’t tried any of them.
Calendar. You do not need a calendar with this system – at least insofar as your GTD system is concerned. Integration with an online calendar would be useful, but that is a feature that would need to be provided by Simpletask, or via something that can read the text file and populate the calendar.
Reference System. This is outside the scope of a list maker such as Simpletask.
Project Support. A subset of the Reference System that is related your active actions, projects, etc. There is no inherent
I include these as “notes” (see above). For example:
2014-01-07 Complete Something or Other // Files in Dropbox > Projects > SomethingOrOther.
Tickler. The tickler system does not work all that well when you try and making it into a list. I have yet to see a virtual solution to the tickler system that work reasonably well.
“Must read” items go into the main system at the appropriate context – since I am committed to reading or reviewing them. This works very well for items that you can keep on your mobile device.
Read email from bank @@anywhere +finances.
“Nice to read” things do not go into the main system. You might want to add some of these to your classify
@Somedaylist, if you would like to review them weekly.
Since I don’t care much if anything falls through the cracks, they are housed in various systems: books and movies are in text files (in a custom format, but I might convert these to the
todo.txt format as well), online articles are in a read-it-later service, etc.
Performance. Simpletask becomes quite slow if you are viewing many entries at once (over 200 on my phone). You might want to experiment with breaking off the
@Someday/Maybeentries into their own todo file.
That said, my
todo.txtis over 400 lines and, while not snappy, is still usable.
GTD Russian Glossary (WIP)
|GTD term||in Russian|