Although GTD is merely a process that can be shaped with any tools, most of the people tend to use software applications for that. The main evengelism of GTD emerged in the tech zone also, so we can consider that this software-based trend has a reasonable explanation.

I don’t make any difference from the crowd in this particular aspect, so I admit I tried several GTD compliant applications so far. I will try to write regular reviews in this blog about the most importants pieces of software that I found and test.

For start, the software that I use daily for about 2 months now: ThinkingRock.

ThinkingRock is a Java application designed by a small company, Avente Pty Ltd, located in Australia. The website is rather spartan, and was not so inspiring at the first glance. I decided to give the software a shot anyway and the results were pretty impressive. I basically ended up by using it regulary and, making a general sum of features and flaws, I must say the result is remarcably positive.

In this review I will have several keywords related to the way I actually use the software, and a degree of performance for each keyword, from 1 to 5 (5 being the best, 1 being the worst).

GTD compliance: 5


ThinkingRock has the most complete GTD compliance of all applications that I tried so far. It actually forces you into following the 5 stages process of collecting, processing, organising, reviewing and doing stuff. The home-screen of the application (I don’t use main-screen word because you will actually use the home-screen only when you enter the program) contains also 2 other steps (besides the evident one of creating a data file for your records): creating contexts and topics.

After creating your contexts and topics you can start on collecting data. Collecting is also spartan and, as far as I know, cannot be used outside of the box, by a third-party application such as Quicksilver (no Quicksilver plugin at the time of the writing). After the collection phase, come normally the processing, where the power of the program start to reveal. An item can be an actionable item or not. If not actionable, the item can be filed for later analyse, either as a “information item”, or as “future item”. I think this is the way the authors tried to enable a future use of “tickler” function inside the program.

An item can be directly sent to an existing project or kept in a “Single Actions” list. Also, there is a textbox where you can fill the desired outcome of the action. For each project there is a separate screen in which you also follow David Allen’s indications about how to plan a project (Purpose, Vision, Brainstorming, Organising). All those little things makes you really follow the path of GTD and help you a lot to discipline yourself in the process.

After processing, you start organizing. You can make your own projects using a familiar outline tree. Never tested the depth of the nested subprojects (yes, you can have nested sub-projects) but I guess a 3 levels would be enough for most people. Having a project nested in more than 3 levels means that you either need to split it into smaller separate projects, either you have to use a specialized planning software.

The review process is also quite easy to follow. You have a quick and easy picture of all your actions and projects, filtered through a series of combo-boxes. So you can filter the “Computer” context actions, related to the topic “Personal development”, due today, inactive, scheduled or done, or any other combination you may think of.

Usability – 4.5

The application, for a medium experienced user, is easy to use. Although a good grasp of David Allen’s book can speed things a bit, the program can be used without it. This may feel strange though.

User Interface – 3

My personal guess would be that the authros tried to knock down the market and use a cross-platform language on purpose. The downside of using cross-platform tehchnologies is that you may loose some important nitty-gritty fancy-shmancy interface elements that made the user actually in love with his computer. You sacrifice a little of the beauty in favor of portability. This is exactly what happens with ThinkingRock too. I must say that if a Cocoa-based application would be made exactly the same as ThinkingRock, I would instantly switch to it.

Speed – 4

The software is moderately fast. The data source is a plain XML file (that you can carry on a USB stick, if you want, and use it, along with the application itself, on every computer you have access on) and the processing of a large file may be time-consuming in some circumstances.

One other thing that I want to write about is the Report feature. I don’t use printed materials often – I guess it’s just a habit, nothing spectaculous behind this behaviour – so I don’t actually tested this functionality until this review. The report generation – to PDF – is awesome. You can print your actions by contexts, you can print an outline of all your projects and you can even have a PocketMod version of this. Printing is made separately, by sending the generated PDF’s to the printer (although obvious, I felt the need to stress it out).

Pluses: very GTD compliant, forces you to entake the GTD behaviour, portable across OS’s (Java).

Minuses: no Quicksilver integration, somehow ugly interface, sometimes slow, printing done via intermediary PDF creation.

If I would have to make an average, that would be:

GTD compliance: 5
Usability: 4
User interface: 3.5
Speed: 4
Rough average: 4.125

Later edit:

As Pascal suggested, a new criteria would be helpful, and that would be value for money. And since ThinkingRock is free software, it’s obvious that we would have another 5 here.

Updated Rough average: 4.3

But behind a rough average there is more. ThinkingRock is a pretty solid application. For a GTD follower is a must. And if you don’t care much about the way it looks, as long as it does the job, ThinkingRock might be the final solution for you. A very important note: the software is free. As in free beer.

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[tags]GTD, MAC OS X, java, ThinkingRock, GTD software, review[/tags]