Many of you will know David Allen's famous book "Getting Things Done -- The Art of Stress-Free Productivity". It discusses a number of techniques that should help you to stay focused on your work and avoid being sucked into mental clutter and physical chaos.
Many of his tips are plain simple, but you have to adopt them into your daily working habits nonetheless. This is where the trouble begins.
Getting Things Done -- or GTD for short -- is based on the assumption that you shouldn't use your brain to remember upcoming tasks and things you have to deal with later.
Instead GTD proposes to collect all things you have to deal with in a "trusted system". May it be a bunch of paper folders or a highly sophisticated computer program. After an item is saved, you can forget it for the moment and concentrate on other tasks.
The things collected throughout the day will later be processed -- One item after another and always following a very simple set of rules. Items may be thrown away if they're no longer relevant, they may be deferred to other people, or transfered into a simple list of actions, of which one is always next. That way you'll always know what to do in that moment with just a short look at your GTD-list.
The question is what your "trusted system" might be?
Using a paper-based systems seems to be awkward for people working in front of a computer all day. At least that would explain the huge market of GTD applications. New ones are presented regularly over at tuaw.com and on other sites. I guess you can spend weeks searching for the right GTD application, reading reviews, comparing features... without actually getting anything done.
Instead of searching for the holy grail of stress free productivity applications, I just started to use two almost perfect ones. Journler for keeping files and To Do for managing my personal To Do list.
Let's start with To Do:
To Do is a Dashboard Widget for viewing and entering tasks. It supports multiple calendars (work, recreational, ...), looks very slick and is plain simple. You can add a short comment, an associated event, and perhaps an URL to every task.
[img:1 align=center title="Screenshot of the To Do Widget"]
The best thing is: It's basically an interface to iCal, albeit iCal doesn't have to be open when working with the Widget. So every task added via To Do shows up in iCal, and vice versa.
Journler for managing notes and files
Storing files in a hierarchical filesystem is just plain stupid. We all learned from gmail, flickr, and youtube that tagging is a great way to classify and retrieve huge amounts of emails, documents, and pictures.
Journler lets you collect your notes and ideas in an interface similar to a mail program, except that every entry can be edited and tagged. Using the search bar you can do a fulltext search over all you entries in just a fraction of a second.
[img:2 align=center title="A screenshot of Journler's slick interface"]
Like in iTunes or Mail.App you can create Smart Folders, which show all entries matching a specific search query. You may filter for just some tags ("todo" & "website"), or build more sophisticated queries that might show you all articles marked with "todo" and are older than 2 weeks.
The best thing is, every entry can be used to collect additional relevant stuff like documents, images, movies, URLs, or even links to other Journler entries.
So if you're preparing a new blog post, you may use Journler to write the actual text, collect stuff like referenced websites, images you want to use, etc. That way you don't have to hassle around with creating a complex and confusing directory structure. Just search for it and I'll find what you're looking for -- and all documents that belong to it.
And rember: Journler does fulltext search over all your entries - including contents of websites or PDFs added to your notes. Wow.
Journler also supports a Drop Box to automagically create new entries just by dragging and dropping files.
The downside: Journler is shareware and costs money (20$ resp. 30$ bucks), but has a rather long trial period of 2 months.
Interested in GTD?
Personally I'm a huge fan of zenhabbits. It not only covers productivity tips, but also ways of getting happier, and more healthy. Maybe not every tip applies to you, but skim through Leo's site and you'll probably discover a lot useful stuff.
Maybe you want take a look at David Allen's world famous book, too.
Know something better?
Feel free to drop a comment if you can recommend different tools to manage your files or your to do lists.