GTD + Basecamp = ???

I am trying to use this trendy, new-ish organizational methodology called Getting Things Done (GTD). It’s been growing in popularity among geeks that I respect. I first discovered it through 43 Folders, a really great site for Macintosh and GTD geeks.

For the past 6 months, I have also been using a web-based tool called Basecamp that is pretty good for organizing projects and group communication. (And it’s free for very small accounts.) I really like Basecamp, and it has been especially helpful for tracking information so that my clients and I can both see it.

But Basecamp is not set up for GTD-style organization. And I am wrestling with it to make behave it how I need (more on that below). My other dilemma is that so much of my work happens via e-mail. And then there are a few stubborn things that exist on paper. The key to the GTD method is having an organizational system that you can trust so that your get ideas documented and filed away in the right place so you know nothing will fall through the cracks.

There are so many different ways to do GTD, I’m just not sure which will work best for me. Some do it on paper, some use index cards, some use a wiki, some use their e-mail, some use special software, and so on. So the important thing is that I really need to get everything in one place – should I consolidate it in my e-mail (send to-do’s to myself and then save them in IMAP folders) or in Basecamp (copy and paste e-mail messages into web-based notes)? Oy!

Here is my concept for making Basecamp work for GTD. (This will only make sense to GTD geeks, so if you are not one, skip the rest of this post and go read this to learn about GTD and this for the Zen approach.)

In Basecamp you can assign tasks to various people, and you can view a list of all tasks assigned to each person. So I made a bunch of “people” who are all different contexts for tasks, ie: @ PHONE, @ INTERNET, @ LAPTOP, @ WAITING, etc. So now it’s easy to see everything by context, but a little harder to see the big picture for myself. I can still see each project’s tasks by going to the To-Do section of that project, though.

I think I will make a parallel set of folders for each context in my e-mail. That’s not too hard. But I am really resisting doing stuff on paper. Boy do I hate paper!

Is anyone else using similar tools? How do you make it work?

13 comments:

  1. Oh my god Ruby, who have you become?! No really, this makes perfect sense, but sometimes it’s weird when the people I know also know about the stuff I know, and I didn’t know they knew that stuff.

  2. As you noted: “My other dilemma is that so much of my work happens via e-mail.”, I was wondering whether using another 37signals product, http://www.backpack would not be worth considering ? I use it for implementing GTD and the ability to handle emails is quite fabulous.

  3. Pascal, I used Backpack for a while (because I wanted to play with it) and I found it couldn’t even handle one of my projects. It’s great if you need something more wiki-style, but it wasn’t structured enough for me. I found myself building systems into it that Basecamp already has. It would be great if Basecamp added the cool e-mail tricks that Backpack has.

    Justin, where you been! :) No seriously, you’re one of those “geeks I respect” so it doesn’t surprise me much. Do tell: if you’ve been on this track, what did you figure out?

  4. BTW, anyone interested should go visit this post at Sonny Cloward’s blog. He pretty much wrestles with the same questions as I do, but answers them as well. Complete with flowchart! http://cvnp.typepad.com/blog/2005/06/toolbox_workflo.html

    Also, I have been trying to figure out a way to integrate invoicing. If I track my hours in Basecamp, my clients can see it anytime, but then I have to copy each line item over into my invoicing database (that I built 5 years ago in Filemaker and still works great) to make and print an invoice. One blog recommends the very Basecamp-looking http://blinksale.com so I may check that out…

    Oh and also http://www.dotproject.net looks like a cool way to do GTD.

  5. This thread is becoming the repository for all my GTD ideas!

    Another problem I have is that the standard “contexts” (@OFFICE, @PHONE, etc.) don’t work for me. Almost everything I have to do requires being at my computer and/or online even making phone calls. It’s more a matter of which applications I need to have open, or which computer to be at.

    Does anyone have an alternate set of contexts they can share?

  6. Ruby, good thread here. I’ve been using Backpack, and I like it, though I’m struggling, like you, to make it make me more efficient in my work. My problem is, as much as I like to make lists and coordinate projects, my brain is still the ultimate repository of all that I’m doing. I’d like a web-based tool to mirror that repository, but I’m loathe to stop challenging my grey matter.

  7. i’m on dial up so i don’t use web based project management… however, i did create my own solution that i i’ve made available for free download. one version requires filemaker pro 7, the other is a stand-alone, runtime solution that runs without filemaker pro. both can be found here.

    i’m always looking for ways to improve it so if anyone checks it out and has an opinion on how it might be improved please get in touch!

  8. Thanks Denny and others for all the great suggestions!

    Well after doing this for about a month, I can say that GTD is not doing it for me. I still think the main problem is that David Allen’s “contexts” are just not relevant to me. Also GTD lacks any system for prioritization. Just because I’m near a phone doesn’t mean that making phone calls is how I should be spending my time right now.

    I am still using Basecamp, but I’m interested in some of the tools that Brian has uncovered in his own quest for organization, such as http://sproutliner.com and http://tiddlywiki.com .

  9. I’ve been using a subset of computer oriented contexts, namely @emailing, @googling, @coding, @writing, @design and @debugging

    Then I schedule blocks of time to deal with those contexts, and I find I’m in the proper frame of mind to deal with them and I get a better flow.

    I seem to get a more consistent flow when dealing with similar tasks for a number of projects rather than dealing with different kinds of tasks for a single project.

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