GTD for Web Project Management Revisited – Tracks & GTDify

- February 8, 2010 - by , in Web Project Productivity, with 57 comments -

UPDATE: GTDify is shutting down as of March 24th 2012. But fear not, here are a a few alternative hosted Tracks services:

In this article I’d like to simply let you know about the tool I’m currently using for my GTD system. It’s called GTDify – it rocks, and here’s why…

  • iPhone app? No
  • Stunning user interface? No
  • Ten million options? No
  • Auto-sync with PC or Mac? No
  • Does exactly what I want from a GTD tool right now? Yes

But first, in case you’re new, haven’t heard of GTD, a quick refresh I think…

Quick GTD refresh

In an article I published back in April 2009, imaginatively entitled GTD For Web Project Management, I explained the very basics of David Allen’s amazing productivity methodology / cult called Getting Things Done, or as followers call it, GTD.

If you haven’t read that article yet, or heard of GTD, I suggest you do so, so that this one makes a little sense.

But if you can’t be bothered, essentially I just talked about the parts of the GTD I personally use to help me manage my workload, web projects and digital account management tasks:

  • Next Actions
  • Waiting For
  • Someday
  • Inbox Zero

Next Actions, Waiting For and Someday are simply categories, or ‘contexts’ as per GTD terminology, that I arrange all my workload tasks in so that I have absolutely everything I need to do in one central place.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a small internal task my MD asked me to do, a critical decision I’m waiting for from a client or a project schedule I need to put together – everything is immediately captured in the To Do list and the right context.

As I complete a task I will mark it as Completed and then perhaps add a Waiting For, for example, if I send a first version functional specification to Client Y, after hitting send I’ll create a Waiting For item called “Get feedback on first version of Functional Specification from Client Y”.

Many people are good at keeping To Do lists, but few keep track of things they’re waiting for. Instead they keep this information in their head, which means their mind is always working when it could be resting.

Inbox Zero simply means processing all e-mails in your Inbox so that you’ve deleted, stored or captured any actions you need to in order to have that magical number of zero e-mails in your Inbox.

An on purpose bad illustration of a man sat at a computer with the screen saying you have no fucking e-mails

A surreal take on Inbox Zero

Aside from the psychological benefits this brings, achieving Inbox Zero also means you have succeeded in getting your whole task list into one centralised place and can now process any new e-mails that arrive very quickly.

In essence, GTD is all about giving you a productive way to work that puts focus on getting all your tasks captured in one place, a system to get through those tasks and all while keeping you as stress free as possible by having nothing inside your head – a natural state for Jeremy Kyle addicts.

As I always state, I only use a very small portion of the full on GTD system, but it works for me.

However, last time I wrote about GTD I was using 37Signal’s excellent Backpack tool to implement GTD. It was awesome at some things; list ordering and ease and speed of use, but didn’t have a few things I felt were important in a GTD tool (not that it ever claimed to be a GTD tool)

Well, my search could be over.

My weapon of choice – Tracks & GTDify

Introduced to me by Branden Faulls of Clockwork Robot, I initially got a colleague to setup a version of Tracks, an open-source Ruby on Rails tool, on my VPS and began to use it – it was perfect, except for one thing, it kept crashing my VPS – my heart was broken.

But then suddenly, in a last act of desperation I Googled and found a free hosted Tracks solution called GTDify – my heart was mended and for the last six months I’ve been happily using GTDify – I’m so happy with it I thought it was worth sharing.

So why do I love GTDify and Tracks so much?

Tracks makes me happy

I love GTDify simply because it allows me to have a free hosted version of Tracks that never falls over on a n00b (me) VPS.

I love Tracks because it seems to cater for all the things my version of GTD requires:

  1. It’s free
  2. Web-based solution
  3. Add projects
  4. Add contexts
  5. Add tasks
  6. Set due dates for tasks
  7. Auto-sort priorities
  8. Very quick and easy to add and edit tasks
  9. Intuitive user interface

Reading that list I’m sure many of you are thinking of tools you know of that satisfy all these requirements, but I’d bet you a million squids that I’ve not only heard of them all, but tested each and every one. Please leave the names of tools you thought of in the comments!

They all seemed to do 70% of what I wanted, but never everything, and if they did most of what I wanted, the user experience was poor and managing tasks became a chore rather than the effortless exercise it should be.

It’s quite difficult to explain why I love using Tracks so much, but perhaps by showing you a few features it’ll become clear.

Getting started without vomiting

Unless you’re a Ruby freak and can download, install and configure a copy of Tracks on a server, get yourself over to GTDify and sign-up for a free account.

Once you’ve got your account and logged into your hosted version of Tracks, start by avoiding the temptation to vomit and the laugh at me for having the nerve to suggest a tool to you that looks so basic – don’t be fooled!

The user interface isn’t stunning or glossy, but as you’ll learn if you give it a chance, it’s highly functional and intuitive, to the point where you don’t have to think when using it – perfect.

Tracks setup

In this section I’ll go through my typical Tracks / GTDify setup steps so you can get a feel for the app.

Preferences

Not the nicest preferences screen you’ll interact with, but it has the options I need and is generally a ‘visit once only’ part of Tracks and GTDify so screw it.

A screenshot of the GTDify Preferences menu

The GTDify Preferences screen, a mere blip.

Create Contexts

Next create the Contexts you want. Personally I go for only three.

A screenshot of the GTDify Contexts menu

Three Contexts that encapsulate my whole working life

GTD purists will probably use a more Contexts than me, including ones that allow them to process work by, well, ummm context, for example @E-mail, @Phone and @Office etc.

If it works for you, go for it.

Create Projects

Tracks and GTDify allows you to create Projects in two ways; using the Projects tab, or defining a new project when creating a Task – happy days.

A screenshot of the GTDify add Project UI with a spoof creation of Star Wars as a project

The Rebels used GTD

A screenshot of the GTDify view Projects UI

Tracks has a lovely interface for managing your projects

So that’s it, a quick setup and you’re ready to start adding tasks.

A screenshot of the GTDify Dashboard full UI

Screenshot it! Your To Do list will never look this empty again

Adding tasks

To me, adding tasks, more importantly how quick and easy it is to add tasks is a critical success factor of any GTD tool; if it takes longer than a few seconds or requires any more than a couple of brain cells then chances are the tool won’t work.

A screenshot of the GTDify Dashboard Add Task UI

Never buy droids from Pikeys or Jawas

As you can see from the screenshot, Tracks provides you with an intuitive live suggestion or UI element for each field, thus making adding a task a breeze.

A screenshot of the GTDify Dashboard Add Task UI

Date pickers were all the rage on Tatooine

And that’s it, Next Action added.

A screenshot of the GTDify Dashboard Add Task UI

An action you should keep secret from Uncle Own and Aunt Beru

Once you’ve added all your tasks you’ll begin to use Tracks as it was intended and the dashboard will be your new favourite screen.

A screenshot of the GTDify Dashboard Add Task UI

Run web projects and bring down the Empire with GTD, easy

Other useful features

As well as the basic features you’d expect, Tracks also has a couple of other useful features, for example:

  • In-line task editing
  • Repeating To Do items (like Inbox Zero for weekdays)
  • View tasks by Context or Project
  • Subscribe using RSS, Plain Text Feed and / or iCal

Tracks and the iPhone

If there’s one thing, other than a little UI polish, that would make Tracks the ultimate solution in my opinion, it’s an iPhone App.

A screenshot of the GTDify iPhone UI as per it's CSS styling

GTDify iPhone stylesheets are currently a little lame

Currently there is a mobile stylesheet, but as with most, it’s not great. It does allow you to review and manage your task list on the go, but its slow going and not something I use very often.

Tracks Reporting

Tracks also comes with a reporting system that is collecting data from the minute you start using it. Although I haven’t found much use for it, boy does it look cool!

A screenshot of the GTDify Reporting capabilities

I literally shit statistics with Tracks reporting

Hopefully, if like me you’re just looking for a nice web based GTD tool that does the simple things well, this review will encourage you to try Tracks and GTDify.

It works amazingly well for me and just maybe it will for you too. But I’m curious, what’s your To Do list tool of choice?

Related links:

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- Comments -

  • Scott Griffiths

    Have you used intervals? http://Www.myintervals.com. It is what I use to run our agency and (mostly) worksfor us. I’d be interested to hear your review of it as a GTD tool.

  • I’d love to go back and re-read your original article with this new context but it seems your link somehow resolves to the new one. A WP glitch?

  • @Scott, I’ve heard of My Intervals but not tried it, I may take a closer look

    @Luke, resolved now, thanks for the spot :)

  • Rob Smith

    Being a bit of a lover of GTD myself I have always been looking at different tools to help. Right now I run things on both my mac and iPhone to keep tasks in but it’s hard. I sometimes find myself once again using my Inbox as a task manager which is a bad sign of trouble. Some days I don’t open up Things and so they get lost and as an iPhone app it’s not the best either.

    I’m going to give this one a go Sam and I’ll let you kow my thoughts on it. Far too many apps are overly complex for my needs and not very good at anything, this is looking good so far.

  • GTDify looks good – I’m a fan of GTD so I’ll have to check it out.

    I’ve been using Thymer: http://www.thymer.com/

  • Ben

    My GTD process currently involves an a4 note pad and a blue bic biro. Every morning I copy over tasks that were not completed the previous day. This refreshes the mind on want needs to be done and to certain extent the sub-conscious prioritises the list. However, on occasion (especially low priority tasks) it has let me down. If it is not on the list, it disappears into the PM ether. I am going to give GTDify a trial starting tomorrow morning. Very exciting it looks.

    Thanks for the article Sam.

  • Geraldo

    I’d like to know if you tested MonkeyGTD and your opinion about it, in a comparison with GTDify. I think it’s hard to find some simpler than that. Would you mind taking a look?
    Tks

  • Geraldo

    And I’d like to try GTDify but links to it are broken!!! Any tip?

  • Dan

    Great review.

    For implementing GTD you can also use this web-based application:

    http://www.Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

  • @Rob Smith, hope you’re still using Tracks Rob!

    @Aaron, I’ve tried Thymer before. I found the interface a little clunky.

    @Ben, defintely try to ditch the pen and paper in my opinion. It works, but there’s nothing like being able to access your list from anywhere. And I dont know about you, but my To Do list is pretty big!

    @Geraldo, I’ve no heard of MonkeyGTD, will take a look! But the GTDify links seemed to be working when I tried them.

    @Dan, I have tried GTDAgenda and thought it was ok. Very similar to Tracks / GTDify in places, but with a slightly less polished UI. However I did love the Checklists feature!

  • Geraldo

    I finally found GTDify and I’m trying it, but still think MonkeyGTD is simpler. Although if there’s no MonkeyGTD I’d use GTDify for sure. It’s pretty good! It only fails to help on project’s next actions streams, that mGTD do so good. Try it!

  • Alamo

    THANK YOU! At last a proper tool to organise things. Beats using an ever-expanding, disorganised notepad doc. Keep up the awesome work Sam.

  • @Geraldo, I sure will take a look.

    @Alamo, if it works for you, welcome to To Do list heaven :)

  • David Rhodes

    Hi Sam, Have you ever come across a tool that allows you to track tasks you have assigned to others? I find that I assign a lot of tasks to other members of the team and I want to see their progress without having to keep pestering them for updates. It would be great if GTDify had a team view!

  • @David, I havent no, the only thing I try to do is get others using GTD! When successful its nice to hear after Ive given out a task it moves from my @NextAction to @WaitingFor, and they create a @NextAction item.

  • Myles

    Dude, v. impressed, trying it out now for my non-work stuff. I like your constant StarWars references, makes perfect sense especially for people like me, who watched StarWars every night until the tape heads wore the VHS out. Old school.

  • @Myles, hope it works as well for you as it does me! And Star Wars all the way, nothing else is worth referencing – but kudos for being specific about VHS… my era, true old school.

  • Tracks chases the long tail « interWeb – The next Generation

    [...] Review by a GTD user [...]

    May 3, 2010  | 
  • Gareth Watson

    This article was both informative and hilarious (Star Wars references are awesome)! I was in the airport one day waiting for a flight when I came across David Allen’s book and took a punt on it! It wasn’t a bad decision at all.

    Much like yourself I take those elements from it that I feel work best for me and apply them to my daily routine as I see fit. Inbox Zero is a big priority of mine and the first portion of everyday is spent emptying it.

    I stopped using ‘flavour of the month’ GTD apps a long time ago as I found them to be a constant nuisance to use – which goes against the core of GTD. However I am going to give GTDify a try this week to see how I get on.

    Just out of curiosity how do you align your GTD stuff with your project management techniques? For example when you establish the requirements of your project during the discovery phase (or whatever phrase you use to describe this yourself) and build your Gantt chart do you then move to your GTD tool and start to track things solely using GTDify as you go?

    I’m also curious about your inbox zero organisational structure. If you have folders for projects how then do you keep track of non project items for clients (such as your digital account management items)?

    June 7, 2010  | 
  • Thanks for writing this up. Gave me some good tips!

    I’ve tried a few tools too but have now settled on Remember The Milk (http://www.rememberthemilk.com/). Don’t let the name mislead you. It’s a very powerful tool, and it has an iPhone app too :)

    My main issue now is how to synch my personal todo list with todos on other systems that I share with other team members, like items in a Basecamp todo list for example.

    Any tips?

    Farez

  • @Farez, I have tried Remember the Milk and though the features were nice but the interfacem especially the web one, was a little ugly and not nice to use.

    As for syncing To Dos… I’ve not heard of anything that does this natively but with all these systems having APIs it must be possible.

    I’m still just replicating To Dos in my Tracks list, but not all of my project to dos, just what I have to do next, or maybe the next two.

  • tom

    Just started to use tracks and I found a very nice android app that syncs with tracks called shuffle.

    http://code.google.com/p/android-shuffle/

  • @thesambarnes Thanks for the tip.

    July 1, 2010  | 
  • Youre welcome Farez! :)

    July 5, 2010  | 
  • Myles

    ahhhh! just fell off the GTD wagon.

    Project went nuts last week or two, and been doing 60 hour weeks and inbox zero is out the window and so’s most of the rest of GTD!

    How do I get back on?

    When you gonna answer Gareth’s post?
    Gareth, for my part I would only bring things into GTD from the Gantt chart when they commenced.
    A bit like bringing tasks into a sprint iteration on agile I guess, but more flexible as I did this as and when.

    Sod it, this post has given me enough spur to bet GTDifying again. It served me well, and I’ll just have to give up my extended angry-birds loo-breaks during the day.

    p.s. @Sam nice offices at Volume… still a poor second to where I’m currently at! Boy will I get withdrawal symptoms when the contract ends!

  • @Myles, good shout on replying to Gareth, missed him doh! Getting back on the GTD wagon after having a mad week or two… I’ve only ever found one thing to work, to spend an evening (usually a Sunday for me) sorting things out, processing the Inbox to zero while capturing everything I need to, plus updating my NextActions and WaitingFors.

    Get back on top of it Myles!! Although I totally understand the Angry Birds “quiet alone times” ;-)

  • @Gareth, ahhh Gareth… big apologies! Forgive me :) As it’s been a while, did you give GTDify a try? What did you think, you still with it?

    Ok, to GTD and project management – using your example, once I’ve got the stage where I have a decent Gantt chart I’ll simply add the next 3-4 things I need or am waiting for in order to keep the project on track. It defintely isnt some kind of disciplined connection between the two, GTD simply helps me keep in mind what the immediate goals are and when for – the dates being the important connection between the schedule and my tool – but yes, once the schedule is in place, I’ll use GTDify to keep track of my workload and update the schedule as and when something finishes earlier or later than intended.

    As for Inbox management, I have exactly that, folders for clients, then a sub-folder for project, and maybe further sub-folders if a topic could be a big one.

    When going through my mails I’ll simply process each one and decide if it has a NextAction, WaitingFor or SomedayMaybe; if so I’ll add a task to GTDify and move the mail to the appropriate folder. If youre organised enough when you go to work on the task you’ll know which folder to look in (or sometimes i’ll add the folder location to the Notes section of the task)

    As for non-project items, I’ll simply have a folder under the same client but call it something like Account Management, and underneath that I’ll have General and then folders with titles that represent a job that has many e-mails. If a mail conversation turns into a job or topic in it’s own right, I’ll retrospectively create a folder with a descriptive name and drag all the relevant mails to it.

    The trouble with explaining the method is it sounds so time consuming and complicated, but once you get into the habit it really is second nature and you really feel the benefits!

    I hope this answers your questions, let me know if you have any more :)

  • tracks user

    Sam, I have been using Tracks on Gtdify and Shuffle on my Android for several months now. BUT the problem is it is getting slower and slower. Do you experience the same difficulties or do you have any idea on how to improve the situation?

    Its a shame to finally find a good application design but fail to use it because of the sever speed. …

  • @tracks user, since the guys at GTDify had server issues and migrated to new servers I too have notice performance dropping a lot, especially since the migration – however, clicking on things today seems to be very snappy indeed, faster the before – I’m hoping it was just typical teething issues on the new environment.

    Let me know what you think. If it goes slow again I’ll probably mail the guys at GTDify to see what the deal is.

  • Douglas

    Hi Sam,
    I just found your site as I was googling for GTD and web projects. Great stuff here.I’ ve signed up for GTDify and I like it especially the interface and the ability to create different Contexts.What I’ m missing is a reminder of the intended outcomes and the actions required. Is there a way to create reminders?
    I also have a lifetick account for managing my goals.The reminder feature makes it easier to use it as a GTD Tool.
    Please let me know whether you have tried Lifetick as a GTD tool.

    Thanks for the good information.

    Douglas

  • @Douglas, thanks for your comments. I don’t think there is a reminder feature in Tracks unfortunately but I can certainely see how it would be a useful one!

    I’m wondering if you could use Google Calendar sync for this purpose though: http://www.gtdify.com/2010/01/20/exporting-gtdify-tasks-to-google-calender/

    As for Lifetick, I’ve not used it before but will give it a little go as the UI looks really nice.

  • Douglas

    Sam, I wish you a happy new year and hope to read more good stuff from you.Thanks for the tip with the the Google calendar. I will give it a try this year.

  • You’re welcome Douglas, and a happy new year to you too :)

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  • Ewan Donovan

    I have tried a few of the web project management tools mentioned above. Namely RTM and Basecamp. I have now converted to Dooster which suits me and my business needs perfectly. http://www.dooster.net

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  • Kevin Hill

    Great review, except gtdify is unreliable. The calendar has been down for over two weeks now. http://my.gtdify.com/calendar. Emails to webmaster@gtdify.com receive no response. Also as you can see from netcraft here: http://uptime.netcraft.com/up/graph?site=my.gtdify.com the webhost is using WEBrick which is not designed for a production level load (it is only for development). Bummer, I’m still looking for a good tracks host, haven’t found one yet, even when offering to pay monthly!

  • @Kevin, thanks for the comments and I’ve not had any issues recently with GTDify but since their recent server migration there have been a few days of downtime in the last few months for sure… not a terrible record but it really screwed a couple of my days up as I’m so reliant on it – perhaps a flaw of my own.

    However, in these downtimes I too searched for any other providers and found the following page – not sure these are any more or less reliable, but there are options.

    http://www.getontracks.org/wiki/Tracks-Hosting

  • Kevin Hill

    @thesambarnes
    thanks, I’m migrating to tracks.tra.in, and supporting them financially to help with their hosting costs. their tracks instance is blazing fast! hopefully it’s reliable.

  • tracks user

    Kevin, am interested to know how you got your migration going. Does tracks@gtdify got any export? and does Tracks@ .tra.in got import function?

    Your experience sharing please.

  • @Tracks user, GTDify does have an export feature (as does any installation of Tracks), but I’m yet to see an import capability… I would certainly like one so I could backup my entire lists in two places!

  • The CynicalDoctor

    Love Tracks. Install in windows is a pain. I run a personal installation on Amazon Web Services as a micro instance. More details about this on my blog. http://blog.cynicaldoctor.com/post/2011/08/17/GTD-with-Tracks.aspx
    Hope this helps someone.

  • @Cynical, thanks for that, I’m sure it will help someone out there!

  • Christine

    We use Dooster and like it lots. We have had it for a couple of months. The customer service is excellent.

  • @Christine, I had a look at Dooster after your comment and it looks very ‘samey’ – what would you say are it’s stand out features that you believe separate it from others in this arena?

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  • Arie

    At Bitnami there are downloads for different kinds of TRACKS usage installers. One can chose between local windows, linux or Mac install, a virtual machine and a instant cloud solution.

    Works great.

    http://bitnami.org/stack/tracks

    If you you want to try and use more of there applications it is wise to install the RubyStack first, and after that an application module.

  • @Arie, wow thanks, this could be very useful indeed!!!

  • ChrisH

    Omnifocus has been a lifesaver, great for keeping on top of things and the quick entry is a true blessing, really allows for me to quickly empty my head and get back to gtd

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