A few weeks ago, I responded to a Craigslist ad asking for a Mac Genius. Thomas was on the other end looking for ongoing help with various issues that come up for him with his Mac and iPhone. The first was a major frustration with Reminders, Apple’s todo list app, and led to some research into other apps in the wide “Getting Things Done” (GTD) arena named by David Allen in 2002.

In his 2012 TEDx Talk, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Allen proposes a paradigm shift in how we stay productive. He suggests a focus on “appropriate engagement” by first listing all the steps of a task or project, even though this preparation may feel awkward, unnatural, and unnecessary. Using a system to organize all of this stuff prevents us from having to store all of these logistics in our brains.

Time vs. Space
We are now in an age when people do a great many more behaviors, activities, and tasks in their day to day lives, and with the Internet the whole world is both more accessible to us and constantly beating down our doors for our attention. But time is not what we need more of.

Rather, Allen says we need more space to think about the world we are creating. Also, we need to be able to focus on each task fully when we are working on it, even if there are many and we alternate among them quickly. To get there, he offers three keys: (1) write stuff down; (2) identify outcomes and actions; and (3) use good maps to keep it all together.

Is There an App for That?
Since smartphones came of age, a slew of apps have been developed to help us enable appropriate engagement by providing the framework in which to document the stuff of our lives and focus as necessary to achieve success. For a while, Thomas has been using a clever Mail plugin called MailHub to make it easier to file email messages and create action items for himself based on them.

MailHub can create an entry in Reminders on his Mac with the subject of the email in the entry’s title and the body in its notes section. With iCloud keeping Reminders in sync on both his Mac and iPhone, Thomas easily created his todo list on his iPhone.

However, Apple changed the design of Reminders in iOS 7 so that the entirety of a note in a reminder item appears in smaller text below the title. As a result, Thomas’ short list of reminders became extremely long and difficult to scroll through and manage because many of the entries had long notes (containing details from email bodies).

Keeping Our Lives in Sync
Thomas tasked me with recommending a new GTD app that would both automatically sync with Reminders via iCloud including notes and require him to enter a specific entry to reveal its notes.

I often use AppShopper to search for iOS apps because it offers a better browsing experience and more thorough search ability than Apple’s App Store. I also used Google for this research project.

I came up with very few apps that sync with iCloud. Even Things, which I have been using for several years, only offers a manual import of Reminders but neither automatic nor two-way sync.

The first app I recommended to Thomas was Tick, which seemed to capture the main needs without breaking the bank. At $2, it was worth Thomas’ attention for a moment, but a moment was all it got as he quickly found it poor at syncing his notes for every item.

Then I suggested 2Do, a $10 iOS app that competes more directly with Things. I watched a YouTube video comparison of the two and learned about the developer’s exciting new design update coming soon.

2Do is a complex app with a lot of choices that could easily lead a user to decision anxiety just in setting up the app. (The developers are even working on a new featured that enables multiple task list views, as described in a recent blog post.) However, Thomas found it easy to enable iCloud sync and 2Do immediately became the ideal replacement to Reminders on his iPhone.

Guided Ways also makes a Mac version of 2Do, however I don’t see Thomas as an immediate customer of this $50 app because the Mac version of Reminders suits him just fine for his specific use case. If in the future he starts using any of the other features of 2Do that enable users to add all kinds of metadata to their tasks, then he might consider the Mac version so he can sync the additional data between his devices.

How do you do?
What systems do you use to keep track of all the things you need to do? Do you follow the human default and try to keep it all in your brain? Do you write lists on scrap paper and keep them in your pocket? Do you use one or more apps on your phone and/or computer to organize the stuff of your life?

(Chris Breen published in Macworld an excellent comparison between analog and digital organizers—back in 2000!)

Let me know if you would like to discuss this space of Getting Things Done and create new systems of productivity for yourself. I can help you ask and answer useful questions about your life that lead you on a worthwhile journey to make more space for creativity.

I offer both local and remote coaching and support, so we can have this conversation in person, on the phone, or in another virtual meeting area. (I resolved Thomas’ issue with an hour phone call and a series of emails afterward.)