Getting Things Done on a Macintosh
May 20, 2005 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Having recently finished Getting Things Done (and after following 43 Folders for some time), I'm inspired to organize my life. I've gathered supplies and plan to organize my physical life this weekend. My on-line life (based on a Mac) needs help, though. How do you stay organized on your Mac? Do you use iCal? (It still seems so buggy to me.) What e-mail program do you use? Is Microsoft's Entourage all that? I know about Quicksilver, but can you recommend other little apps to keep my digital life organized and worry free? (Tips on physical GTD organization are welcome, too.)
posted by jdroth to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I currently use Apple Mail and Address Book. I paid for Mailsmith, but deeply regret it. (It's awful. The search capabilities are lame, and the thing bogs down under the weight of a few thousand messages to the point of near unusability.) I've downloaded Quicksilver, but haven't done anything with it yet. I'm looking at Entourage, and wondering if it's worth the money. (I'll download the demo.)

I guess I'm really looking for anecdotes and advice about how you get things done on a Mac, how you keep things up-to-date so your mind can stay worry free. What do you use for a calendar? For tracking next actions? Etc. Etc.

(And, again, I welcome advice regarding the physical world, too.)
posted by jdroth at 8:47 AM on May 20, 2005

re: physical world - file folders. i have a crate with a bunch of color coded and labeled hanging file folders that i don't know how i ever lived without. it's perfect for organizing and keeping track of all of the daily pieces of paperwork (at home or work) that you can't throw out but you don't want just sitting around taking up space.

re: mac - it's not mac specific, but i'm experimenting with Backpack for organizing my online life and on-going projects. it's a great place to write down all of those little things that need to get done that you have constantly floating around in your head. the reminders are really neat and useful too.

depending on your needs, you may also want to look into Ta-Da Lists and Basecamp.
posted by geeky at 8:59 AM on May 20, 2005

I've struggled with Mac email clients for awhile; I really haven't found anything I've loved since the late, lamented Claris eMailer disappeared years ago.

Right now, I use by default, but only because other apps have not satisfied: Entourage, besides being ugly, is bloatatious to the extreme; Thunderbird was buggy and not intuitive; Mailsmith was not adequate for power use. I'm looking forward to installing Tiger to try the new version of which is supposed to have some new sorting features that look good. If only could manage my mail as effectively as iTunes manages my (completely unreasonable) 20,000+ tracks music collection.
posted by docgonzo at 9:18 AM on May 20, 2005

I use and Backpack right now for GTD. In the past I used iCal and was actually very happy with it; now I keep my calendar on paper. Backpack + paper calendar + file folders just about does it for me.

If you are a serious computer user--i.e., if your whole life is lived on your computer--then you should look into Quicksilver, TextMate, and all the stuff the guys on the 43F wiki and google group have done to get to-do lists working with cron jobs and perl and all that stuff--it's pretty cool. For me, at any rate, all I need is a few lists and a weekly review. My 'collection bucket' is a stack of index cards.... Depending on what you're doing, a Palm Pilot can be a really good solution too.
posted by josh at 9:22 AM on May 20, 2005

I use iCal for scheduling events that are more than a day or so out, and I rely on the email notifications for reminders.

I like OmniOutliner for my to-do lists (and there are ways of setting it up as a mini-project manager as well). Since my to-do lists are often fairly long (the result of juggling multiple projects), I'd really like it if there were a way for items to 'bubble up' to the top as their deadline starts to approach. AppleScript possibly could make this happen, but I haven't looked into it.

Really, though, I've found Pester, an alarm clock app, to be the best way to keep me productive in that I can set it to go off every hour or so and remind me to get back to whatever priorities I've set for myself earlier in the day.
posted by kimota at 10:07 AM on May 20, 2005 has an OSX page, which is pretty helpful. Hell, the whole wiki is very good.

More than anything else, you should consider a switch to a Hipster. Going back to analog feels good.
posted by unixrat at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2005

And, wildly enough, this very question has made it to 43Folders, which links back to here, which links back to...
posted by unixrat at 10:12 AM on May 20, 2005

I second Backpack. It's simple, the free account has all I need, and I can access it anywhere. I use it for basic lists and reminders.

I use Instiki for notes and project. I have it running locally on my Powerbook. I actually like the fact that Instiki adds a menu item. Some people don't.

I use the small Moleskine Volante notebooks for notes and ideas, which I transfer to the Wiki to capture and refine.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:18 AM on May 20, 2005

I use, address book, ical, and a web-based wiki. I've played with instiki, which is definitely the bee's knees, but I wanted something web-based so that it could be collaborative (I'm using mediawiki, which is massive overkill for my needs, but it's comfortable because I'm familiar with wikipedia).

I use isync to update iCal to my phone, which is handy. I've had problems syncing address book, so I copy people "manually" (via bluetooth) to the phone.

Although I use iCal for events and appointments, I try to use for tasks. For each category of task I've got, I have a "pending" and an "archive" folder. If I want to see stuff that needs to be done, I just look at the taskname/pending mailbox. When it's done, I move it to the archive. Obviously this involves training people to e-mail requests to me, but that's worked pretty well (I also rely on filtering based on the sender or my e-mail account to pipe messages into the right folder to start with)
posted by adamrice at 10:30 AM on May 20, 2005

Another vote for Ta-Da lists and the hipster PDA. For the bag-carrying GTD fans, I also highly recommend the Purseket (discovered via the 43Folders Google Group.
posted by ambrosia at 10:35 AM on May 20, 2005

Another vote for Ta-Da lists and the hipster PDA. For the bag-carrying GTD fans, I also highly recommend the Purseket (discovered via the 43Folders Google Group).
posted by ambrosia at 10:36 AM on May 20, 2005

I'm a fan of Backpack as well - you can subscribe to your Backpack to-do and reminders via iCal as well. Also, you can have reminders sent to your phone via text message, which I find awesome.

My next step is to explore iSyncing iCal with my iPod. Anyone have any experience with that?
posted by salad spork at 10:58 AM on May 20, 2005

You have to figure out what you're organizing and how you work. The latter you can adapt a bit to the tools, and good tools can adapt some to how you work. But the answer really isn't in the tool, but more in habits and awareness and then whether the tool faciliates those modes or hampers them.

For me, something like backpack is just a little clumsy/slow. It comes off excessive for something like a todo list (though a communal project might benefit from it). I've stuck with omnioutliner 2.x for the speed I can work with it, and for the very simple organizational structure. I do use iCal for dates, but keep todo lists off it. And then of course quicksilver really is great, but some people hate it. They're more visual. I guess my point is some people would never consider the working the way I do, just as I might find their ways of working tedious or silly or jumbled.

Finally, I find that a lot of GTD and tool discussions fail to make distinctions between the stages. I would tackle your organizing along those lines. For example, take "capture." The index cards are what I use for portable capturing. I won't use them for keeping and organizing next actions, though. Now at the computer, I use other methods of capture -- personally I like working with one big bucket I can throw things in at the moment they occur to me (so I option+tab* to stickies and type away, then get back to what I was doing before I was interrupted by myself).

* yes, option+tab, if you use that alternate application switcher, "witch" which rocks in lets you move through the windows of applications, even minimized ones, and not just apps.

sorry for the rambling, but really, think about how you work, and work with a tool long enough to learn it so you and it meet each other halfway.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 11:06 AM on May 20, 2005

I use LifeBalance as a dynamic to-do tracker. It does nearly all I need for a "Getting Things Done" approach. There's also a Palm app that syncs with it.

The main drawback to LifeBalance is that it focuses on, well, keeping your life balanced. That requires tracking a lot more than is feasible, so I ignore that part.
posted by stoney at 12:28 PM on May 20, 2005

Lifehacker just featured a new site called TaskToy that might fit your need.
posted by DandyRandy at 1:18 PM on May 20, 2005

Voodoo Pad, a desktop wiki, is great for keeping track of projects, todo list, next actions, you name it. easy to use, not frustrating like an overly-structured outliner can be. no waiting for pages to submit like a web-based wiki, etc.
posted by libertaduno at 2:20 PM on May 20, 2005

Mulberry, from Cyrusoft, is the best mail program I've used; been using it for years. Works on Windows and Linux too. I use stunnel on my local machine and remote server to encrypt IMAP traffic. Can handle thousands of messages in a box, decent search capablity, etc. (It now has calendaring too, but I haven't tried that aspect.)

As for to-do lists and such, I just use the Palm Desktop integrated with my Treo. I think people concentrate too much on software features and fancy tools, too little on personal process.
posted by mistersix at 4:40 PM on May 20, 2005

I would hurl myself in front of a bus if I lost my Hiptop. Every time I look at 43 Folders, or these other apps, I see the problems they solve as ones I solved with my Hiptop. If you get one through Amazon and set up new service with T-Mobile (the only provider that carries it), you can get the phone for free usually.

The thing to note about the Hiptop is that it's a thin client of sorts. Additions to your calendar, notes, contacts, etc. are all uploaded to their servers in real time. There's a web interface to that which gives you access to all that data wherever you are. If you set up the mail client on the phone (to check your own POP or IMAP mail as well as T-Mobile mail), you can use this as a webmail system too.
posted by autojack at 5:15 PM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Note to future visitors:

So, tonight I'm going through my initial physical "collection bucket" phase. My first few items I wrote on full pages of 8-1/2 x 11 paper. Then I wrote items on index cards. Then I wrote four items on an index card and cut them up. Then I found a box of old business cards that needed to be purged. These business cards seem to be the ideal size for jotting down individual items for the collection bucket.

Must go. I'm not supposed to get distracted during this phase.
posted by jdroth at 6:49 PM on May 20, 2005

I've struggled with Mac email clients for awhile; I really haven't found anything I've loved since the late, lamented Claris eMailer disappeared years ago.

Speak for yourself. I'm still running eMailer and loving it--and I've upgraded to Tiger, too.
posted by notclosed at 7:22 PM on May 20, 2005

I've used Eudora for email for 10 years. It's not the prettiest application in the world, but it is incredibly fast, simple and easy to organize multiple mailboxes. I get email from several addresses and check them all (including Gmail) right through Eudora. I have 5 mailboxes open on my desktop at all times:
- Inbox (where every message I receive will land first. I either immediately respond to it, archive it or file it into one of my other open folders.)
- Waiting (for personal things I've replied to and am waiting on a response for.)
- Business (For messages that relate to current clients/gigs)
- Business - Waiting (For business-related "Waiting Ons")
- Junk (Where my Eudora spam filters send junk mail... I like to double check for false positives before emptying once a day or so.)

By having all those mailboxes/folders open all the time, I get a constant 'bird's eye view' of my email communication. Every few days, I go through each box and archive messages I don't need on the desktop anymore. I try to empty my inbox every day and keep the other boxes clear enough that they don't get scroll bars.

I started using iCal about two months ago as my exclusive calendar application. I love it (It's almost replaced my paper calendar.) I use phpicalendar to publish specific calendars to the web so I can check them when I travel and I just started using isync to sync my iCal with my Palm Phone AND my iPod. (I don't ever use my iPod as a calendar, but I sync it just because I can. However, syncing with the Palm is GREAT.) I just use iCal on my desktop every day and make sure everything goes there first... then I can do a sync and instantly have my calendar on my Palm. And one little FTP session and my calendar is also published on the web. If I add a new event or todo, I can do all of this syncing and publishing in about a minute before I leave the office.

For critical appointments, meetings, or things I REALLY need to remember, I use BugMe on the Palm Phone.

For a similar experience on the Mac, I use Sticky Brain, which is a really cool application, but I just never really integrated it into my work style to use it that much.

I also use index cards to plan out my week. On Sunday night, I lay out 5 cards on the table and label them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Then I write out all my little todos, goals, meetings, appointments, and things I want to accomplish on each appropriate card. So when I wake up on Monday, my list of actions are sitting right there staring at me. As I do each thing on the card, it's really satisfying to cross the items off. At the end of the day, if everything has been done... rip! Ahh... what a feeling. If something WASN'T accomplished, I write it on the next day's card and keep moving it forward until it's done. And since I hate re-writing a todo over and over each day, stuff usually gets done a lot faster than if it was just a todo listed on a board in the office. The goal is to not have to keep re-writing things to do.

So I guess my system is basically Eudora, my Palm phone, iCal and 5 index cards per week. I've gotten it pretty streamlined. Oh, and I've never actually read Getting Things Done. I've just picked up a lot of this stuff by trial and error over the years. Once I heard about GTD and started reading sites like 43 Folders, I realized that a lot of the stuff I do and habits I have had been named. Someday I may read the book, but I've picked up a ton of tips here and there through osmosis in the last six months or so since I first heard of "GTD" right here on Ask Mefi.
posted by evoo at 8:24 PM on May 20, 2005

I'm pretty surprised to hear you've had problems with Thunderbird -- it's the only Mac email app that's been able to keep up with my five email accounts, which each get between 30 and 200 emails a day. (Color coding and sort by sender filters are common in other apps, of course, so it's nothing special in terms of organization, it's just robust and sturdy, I think.)

My state of semi-organization works in four parts, which I don't recommend. The whole idea of Macs is that all the data is supposed to be useful everywhere, and most of us are screwing that up.

1 Thunderbird + Shrook and NetNewsWire for web/email.

2 A quite stupid very very Getting Things Done wallchart of index cards has saved my life. One side says "TO DO" and the other says "DONE" -- and the higher up the card on the TO DO side, the more important it is. It's heaven. It's idiotproof. It gives me an overwhelming sense of security that I'm not missing deadlines and ruining my life. And such satisfaction, to move a card to DONE! Sigh...

3 Palm for calendar, tasks, and addresses, synched with Treo, which is hard as a non-interactive Mac app, but eh, good enough. If you need that stuff mobile, that's the way. And iCal sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks.

4 And that great app that no one talks about anymore, Filemaker. Mmm, good old trusty Filemaker, which I predict will come back into vogue someday. I have to keep a client/personal database, and Filemaker is just a really pleasurable and sensible app to work with.

And now I think I'm adding VoodooPad to the mix. (Though I'm leery: I still have thousands of notes crammed in Stickies that I haven't looked at in months. Scary.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:29 PM on May 20, 2005

In, I reduced my email polling from every 5 minutes to every 30 minutes. If I didn't I'd be answering emails all the time. I'd get a reputation for fast replies, but I'd get nothing done.
posted by timyang at 10:29 PM on May 20, 2005

I've got OS X Mail, iCal, and address book running since Entourage had that 2GB limit bug a few years back and I spent half the summer recovering that database. Bad Entourage.

In Mail, I have rules setup to pull all bulk mail to a "groups" folder (and subfolders) for later threaded reading. I have five initial folders:

* Action
* Archive
* Defer
* Respond
* Waiting

I try to respond to email as soon as I get it. If it's something that will take a lot of time or I'm busy I'll file it to "respond" and do a major catchup at least once a week.

To-do list items that are to big to accomplish within five minutes go into Action.

Things that are waiting on a response go into Waiting

Defer is generally for non list mail that is not mission critical and does not need a response but needs to be read. I probably hit this once a week. It's the least used of the five boxes.

This is completely from 43 folders (not taking credit for this idea at all).

I do time tracking in iCal, since we bill in 15 minute increments, that works wondefully.

I do business development and job tracking in MarketCircle's DayLite, although i find this program to be a bit odd to get into. It's quite powerful, but it's flexible in the sense of "put your own sales pipeline into it". We didn't have a "sales pipeline" so we had to make one up.

SpamSieve has been my saving grace in regards to a readible inbox. Other than that, i'm still trying to figure out better ways to be productive.
posted by eljuanbobo at 7:03 AM on May 21, 2005

I have been using Tasks to manage my todo's for quite some time with some success. I'm surprised it hasn't gotten as much publicity as 37signals offerings have - it's pretty solid software. and it's fairly painless to install.

When I was much busier MarketCircle's DayLite was something I used with limited success. I tried to use it again a few months ago but the database was a problem as it would consistently use up about 80% of my cpu at any one time.

Prior to Tiger Mail, Apple's Mail app was a pig for me. On my older Powerbook it would simply crawl so I switched to Gmail which was a huge improvement. Gmail was the first web app I have used that actually performed better than a client side application. But I find Tiger mail to be greatly improved and have come back to using it.

I'm still looking for an application that I like that integrates todo lists and appointments and integrates fully with MacOSX. ICal todo's doesn't quite cut it. It would be great if this app would sync with my cell phone and publish to the web. A pipedream?
posted by cmacleod at 6:43 PM on May 29, 2005

I'd be lost without Daylite. The brand-new version 3 makes this the hands-down winner for GTD in the Mac-osphere. There's also a nifty add-on for Mail that plugs your messages right into Daylite's database, but I haven't used that yet.
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