Getting Things Done (GTD) in Wunderlist
Going Digital With GTD
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You are busier today than you ever have been, and the lines between work and home are irrevocably blurred. You have countless things to do and there never seems to be enough time to do even half of them. Your brain is full of things that you don't want to forget and you have little time for original thoughts or spontaneous acts of creativity. So, you make lists, but more often that not, the lists that you create to ease your anxiety simply add to it.
Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. This was me before I started my journey with a life-changing system called Getting Things Done, (GTD). It is a system that was created by David Allen to fix all the above problems, and for many people, including myself, it is nothing less than a godsend. The book was originally published almost 15 years ago, and was very much based around a paper-centric system with physical files and folders to help you organize your life. A new edition has recently been released to bring it up to date with the latest advances in technology.
However, for me, the new version of the book did not quite go far enough. Why? The system is rock solid, and works as well as ever, but I use very little paper on a day-to-day basis so I needed something to help me implement GTD in a purely digital environment. In short, I needed to be paperless. There are lots of digital tools that are capable of facilitating this, but after much deliberation, I settled on Wunderlist.
What follows is an explanation of how I use Wunderlist to implement GTD in my workflow. It's not a summary of how to get started with Getting Things Done. Instead, it is one example of a digital implementation. Yours may look different. This is, in many regards, a personal take on Getting Things Done, but it's faithful to the original concept.
Why Wunderlist? Why Now?
I have been using Wunderlist as a task manager for a number of years now, but it is only recently I decided that it would be the perfect fit for my GTD mission. Why? My criteria was short, but at the same time, demanding. Here's what I wanted:
- Ease of use
- Great design
- Reminders/Due Dates
- Free to use
I looked at a lot of tools, but only Wunderlist was able to meet the majority of my needs the majority of the time. I love that I can access it anywhere, and on any device. However, equally important is that it just works. There are very few, if any, bugs or problems with syncing between devices. For me, that means I trust it 100%. That level of trust is key to any GTD implementation.
An Overview of Wunderlist
Making Lists for a GTD System
I used to have a large number of lists in Wunderlist. Now, I have seven. Each list is in some way based on the lists that are recommended by David Allen in his book. They are:
- Next Actions: Work
- Next Actions: Other
- Waiting For
- Read/Watch Later
If you have used the GTD system, the lists above should look familiar to you. I split "Next Actions" in to Work and Other, which essentially means work and home, but I have a lot of things going on outside of both home and work, so I decided to name this list with a suitably generic label.
The "Read/Watch Later" list is something I considered using Pocket for. Pocket is a free, cross-platform bookmarking tool that lets you save things to read later from almost any device. So in many respects, this would be the ideal tool but I wanted to keep this list of links closer to home base, and a visible part of the weekly review, so I made a list for them in Wunderlist. Most of the items in this list are pages from websites, but you can add PDFs and other files as you need to.
I did, however, resort to one outside tool to complete my GTD setup. For project support materials I use OneNote, mainly because this often consists of web links and the Add to Wunderlist browser extension only lets you add things to a list, as opposed to a task. I also couldn't think of a way to organize everything I needed in Wunderlist without compromising the next steps mantra that is associated with ongoing projects. OneNote lets you add notes, web clippings, data files, audio recordings and more with ease, and it works on multiple devices.
Collecting Tasks With Wunderlist
There are many ways to capture your thoughts, ideas and resources in Wunderlist. If I am on my smartphone or tablet, I use the Wunderlist mobile app. Wunderlist has apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Kindle Fire, so there is an app available for each of the most popular mobile platforms. There is also an app for Macs and one for Windows too. Chrome and Chrome OS users can take advantage of the packaged Chrome desktop app that works offline as well as online.
Another great way to get things into your Wunderlist is the Add to Wunderlist browser extension that is available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. With just a click of your mouse, you can quickly add web based content to your Inbox. You can also use Add to Wunderlist on iOS through the sharing menu if you have iOS 8, or later, installed on your device.
Lastly, the Mail to Wunderlist feature lets you send an email to your straight to your Wunderlist Inbox. Once you enable Mail to Wunderlist in your account settings, you can send any email to your list by forwarding it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you send it from the email address that is associated with your Wunderlist account, it will magically appear in your Inbox with the subject title of the email as the task, while the body of the email will be added as a note. Mail to Wunderlist can be great for forwarding emails that you want to turn into tasks.
Outlook users can also use Wunderlist for Outlook. This simple add-in does very much the same thing, but gives you a lot more control over what list your add the email to. Wunderlist for Outlook is available for Outlook 2013 or later, as well as Outlook on the web. Learn more here.
How to Use Add to Wunderlist
Organizing Tasks in Wunderlist
All tasks, thoughts and ideas that I add to Wunderlist start my Inbox. This is my "catch all" bucket. Everything goes in here, no matter how random the thought. The Inbox items are then sorted into other lists when I have time. Some tasks are trashed if they are no longer relevant or actionable. Project materials rarely make it to my Inbox because I add them straight to OneNote instead.
I use the sub-tasks in Wunderlist to add next steps for Projects. Occasionally I will also use the notes section to give more detail or explanation about the nature of the project, but this is not something I do a lot. If you want, you can add files to tasks in Wunderlist. The free version limits you to a maximum file size of 5Mb, but Wunderlist Pro removes this restriction.
Reminders and due dates can be added to tasks or projects that need it. David Allen talks about keeping time sensitive tasks exclusively in your calendar, but mine end up in both places due to the Wunderlist Calendar Feed URL that can be used to add your tasks to Outlook, iCal, Google Calendar or other web based calendars automatically.
In the GTD system, contexts are the ability to sort your tasks by type, depending on the mood, location or time you have available. In Wunderlist, I use hashtags to designate my contexts. At various points I will have contexts like #mileage, #phonecall, #email, #blogpost, #hubpages, etc. All you need to do is add a hashtag to the task that you input, and Wunderlist will let you sort by a specific hashtag simply by clicking or tapping on the one you want to see. This displays all the tasks with that hashtag and lets you work on a targeted group of tasks. It's quick and efficient.
A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place
Wunderlist was recently been acquired by Microsoft, but it's business as usual for this popular productivity app. Microsoft have stated that they are committed to keeping the app running and to update it with new features in the near future, so that is definitely good news given how much time and trust you need to invest in a GTD app.
Wunderlist is a natural fit for GTD, but at the same time I realize that something this important will always be a matter of personal preference. Other options are listed in the poll below, but I would love to hear what works best for you in the comments section.
- Wunderlist Help Pages
Help and support for Wunderlist users
- GTD in 15 minutes – A Pragmatic Guide to Getting Things Done
A quick crash course in GTD methodology
- Getting Things Done - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A brief history of the Getting Things Done system