Getting Things Done with an iPhone – total black belt productivity

Later Update: although this is one of the most popular posts on my blog, it become a little outdated, but there’s some good news: you can check out all the posts under GTD and iPhone and you’ll have a fresher insight on this matter. Until then, happy reading!

It’s a fact: the iPhone will be here. Maybe it’s already, as rumors are already spreading about Steve Jobs conspicuously using it. So how this will help us, GTD addicted fellows?

I spent a little time making a scenario about the best usage of an iPhone-centric GTD implementation, so here it is. We’ll start with the first phase out of the five described by David Allen in his book, and then we’ll explore some specific situations.

1. Collect

One of the most neglected applications on the iPhone, equally during the keynote and after the keynote, was the Notes application. It was clearly depicted in the screenshots and presentation movies but I didn’t saw any specific references to it. It’s already on iPods, so why don’t we stick it in the iPhone too, right? I think it deserves a lot more attention, because, believe it or not, my impression is that could be the cornerstone of the collection process in the GTD methodology.

As simple as it may seem, this application could be the next generation Quicksilver. Imagine how easy would be to create, edit and store notes on your mobile device using this. You always have the phone with you, and, inside the phone, you’ll have an extremely easy way of emptying your RAM. And I just can’t think at any memory limitation right now, because 4G or 8G of memory (minus the OS, I agree), is more than enough for any RAM empty session that I could imagine.

On the collection process also, we have several other information streams that could be easily be integrated in a single flow:

  • contacts
  • emails
  • bookmarks
  • calendar
  • geographical maps

iPone already has the Address Book in it, it features a “rich HTML mail client” and also a stripped down version of Safari. You can store events and find locations. On top of it, all of these are capable of syncing, if need will be. So basically you have all the tools you are used to, in one place.

But the collection process doesn’t end here. You have a phone with you, remember? You could record voice messages (this is how I do right now when I have an idea and need to get it out of my head) if you don’t feel like writing. They will be in the same place with the rest of your data. You could regularly empty the voice recording inbox in your daily or weekly reviews. In the same line of audible, another noticeable advantage is that all your voice mails will be stored in the same place too.

2. Process

Being mobile brings you an enormous advantage in the processing mechanism. And that’s because you could process your “stuff” virtually everywhere. Imagine your regular day: in the office, you open your regular GTD software, or place on your desktop your hipster-PDA cards, and start the drill: is this actionable? yes: it is two minutes: do it, and so on… Well, you don’t need this anymore. You can do it on your way to the office, in the park. You can do it in the backyard of your home. You have everything you need in one place. All the pieces. The rest is the process itself.

Processing your information basically everywhere can be a big advantage. It will also impact your overall focusing capabilities. By streamlining the information flow from the outside world to your trusted system you will become more close to the events, more focused and ready to act. Mind like water.

3. Organize

Keeping it together could be a very easy task with an iPhone. Already having a rich HTML mail client, just like the Mac regular, you can leverage your regular email setup by folders. Just like my regular email GTD setup, for instance. You can review your Safari bookmarks, sync them and keep all the surfing information consistent. You can create a hierarchy of your previously inserted notes. You can listen to your voice mail or to your personal pre-recorded notes. You can organize everything from a single insertion point, and I feel that this could be a huge time saver, to say the least.

I can already think at a new context, which could basically overwrite all the other contexts, and that will be @iPhone. Because it will be your @Office, your @Errands and your @Online contexts at the same time.

The Someday/Maybe and the Tickler file situations, could be solved by a combination of Calendar and Notes, I suppose. Creating a specific calendar called Tickler, and sending events to it, or creating a top-level Notes folder called Someday/Maybe should do the trick. At least for me. I like it simple.

4. Review

That’s the point where I start digging in my english list of expressions, how about: the GTD review “it’s at your fingertips”? Literally at your fingertips? Being so used to hit a keyboard for the last 20 years, I think using the iPhone for my first finger-lead review, would be quite an internal revolution for me.

Joke aside, I think the new interface on the iPhone, beyond the media hype, would have a huge impact. I don’t expect revolutionary situations like huge armies of people tapping into their iPhones in the subway each morning, but I don’t completely avoid this possibility either. The iPod proved that technology breakthrough can really change habits and cultural taboos.

The way you can browse your music collection and contacts, from what we all saw in the presentation, can be extended to your to do’s, or events, or errands lists. It looks that context switching will evolve into information browsing.

5. Do

Well, that’s the easy part. With an iPhone-centric GTD implementation one could:

  • interact
    • make phone calls
    • send emails
    • browse the internet
    • travel with google maps
  • store information
    • notes
    • contacts
    • voice mails
    • voice notes
    • events and to do’s
    • bookmarks
    • print copies with bluetooth enabled printers

6. Possible situations

These are just ramblings and ideas about how and when one could use GTD with an iPhone:

  • travel: you are outside your regular GTD system and need a way to stay organized
  • external changes: your initial system is going through some major changes – you’re moving in another town, for instance – and you need a way to stay alive for that period
  • streamlined GTD: you’re not a geek, nor a middle or top manager, but still want to stay on top of your life; for that, implementing the iPhone-centric GTD could be the best thing that happened to you since sliced bread
  • age-centric GTD: you’re a teenager or a maybe respectable retired person; you don’t need anybody to look after you in both cases, because you can take care of yourself with a crash-course on iPhone and GTD
  • introductory courses for coaches: if you want to teach GTD, this kind of approach could give you fast results and a selected base of early adopters; you can switch the level two GTD, when a computer is involved, but for the most of your students, this would be enough

7. Cons

One can argue that all of these are just storage containers, there isn’t yet a consistent mechanism of linking it together, there isn’t yet a real next action list… Yes, you’re right. But there isn’t an iPhone either, this is just a scenario, and in every scenario we could expect a reasonable degree of unexpected stuff. Maybe Apple will give us the glue to link it all together by a secret application layer. Or maybe it will release something like a lightweight scripting environment that will make the gluing of all this a breeze. Or some other company, in the good ol’ tradition of Mac, will release a fantastic product that will tie up all those layers.

The key to an iPhone-centric GTD implementation is not that, but the fact that everything is in one place. And that one place is extremely easy to connect to other environments for exchanging information, creating interactivity or put some order in one’s habits.

And this is all about Getting Things Done, isn’t it?

[tags]iPhone, Apple, GTD, productivity[/tags]

15 thoughts on “Getting Things Done with an iPhone – total black belt productivity”

  1. Hi

    I would like to recommend our new iPhone app MailMe Voice as a collector. It record voice memos and send them to your e-mail inbox with just one tap.

    I use MailMe when I don’t have time to write something down to collect ideas/todo and then Things on my Mac and iPhone as todo/action list.


  2. One solution I’ve found is a program called JOTT. It allows you to literally voice dictate things that are on your mind, it turns them into text, and sends them to your outlook inbox (or any email account) text transcribed for you.. It’s great!!! It’s not a perfect solution, but it does allow me to mentally empty a thought out of my head and know it’s going to end up in my inbox and in one of my trusted system’s collection baskets. It get it out of my head and can carry on with my day immediately. Once i get back to the office or to my computer, I then file it in the correct place within my system. I think there is a free service but even the paid service is very reasonable. I think it was about $3.50 per month. It could be 10x that and I would still pay for it though.

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