Why most apps fail at GTD, including ours.

Hi Lifetickers,

Quite recently my day to day organisation has been completely transformed as a result of a very simple app, underpinned by a powerful philosophy. When I say transformed, I certainly don’t intend to sensationalise. However, the cold hard fact is that when I think back to all the various “personal process improvement initiatives” I’ve undertaken over the years, none has been as effective, enduring or liberating as what I’m about to describe. But let me take you back a few steps.

Throughout its short history, Lifetick has been many things to many people – a project management tool, a task manager and most importantly a goal setting and achieving tool. We’ve always maintained that it was designed for goal setting, but understood the need customers had for it to be a tool for GTD (Getting Things Done) or simply managing day to day tasks and errands. At the time, we wrote a blog post discussing whether it was useful as a GTD app and what the limitations were. Furthermore, I went so far as to say I was going to start using Lifetick again for GTD and not just my goals. I did. And after a short while, I stopped. Like many other applications, I just felt it wasn’t right. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but it always seemed too much effort and not enough convenience. I’d pretty much given up on task management via apps after that and my general organisation suffered as a result.

However, sometime later I was introduced to Calvetica by my business partner, Tim. Calvetica is a front end for the iPhone’s calendar application. In an instant I was won over to its amazing ability to manage appointments. It was simple, quick and thoroughly integrated (using a gmail calendar meant I had iPhone, MacBook and browser access all the time without the slightest hint of some form of manual synchronisation). In fact, Calvetica put Apple to shame on it’s own device. Suddenly, appointments became easier to deal with because I could be bothered to actually enter them in when the appointment was created. (And no I’m not referring to business appointments that MUST be entered into a calendar regardless of how painful the experience might be at the time, but the day to day personal ones that we get tempted to leave to memory.)

It got me thinking about how I wished there was something like Calvetica for managing “To Dos”. Perhaps these guys had made something similar. I searched around for awhile and after about 30 minutes came across what I can only describe as the Holy Grail. In one short article, one of the founders of Calvetica distilled to perfection the very philosophy of what makes a good GTD app (but mostly what doesn’t) and how Calvetica itself could be used for such. In fact, it was one of those revelationary moments that seems so obvious and so crystal clear you are left wondering how you never came to that thought yourself. Whilst I strongly encourage you to read the article (if this topic is of interest to you), let me share some brief points that really struck home:

“They (GTD apps) all have four fatal flaws.

  1. They all require management
  2. They all require that you spend time reviewing what’s there
  3. They are all too slow
  4. They suffer from bloat”

If you just read that with a nodding head, then you are just like me. How often have I categorised to do items and why? How often have I filtered the list of items in countless ways in a bid to demoralise myself with the sheer volume of “yet to dos”. And why? Surely I only need to see what it is I need to do, when I need to do it. Unless it is a goal or project, then what value does any of this extra information add? For me it equated to a grand total of zero. Nevertheless, it gets better: The Criteria.

“There are five things  that I’ve found have to be in place for this system to really work well

  1. It has to do the remembering and reminding for you
  2. It has to go everywhere you do
  3. You have to be able to get something into it in less than 10 seconds
  4. Everything you enter must have a date and time
  5. You have to be able to defer reminders”

And so, for iPhone users, the answer is there before us. In short, you enter your tasks as appointments with reminders. Of course, many people probably do this already (since the dawn of Outlook), but has anything ever done it as well and integrated as Calvetica? I highly doubt it. Hence why it works. The true test of a GTD app is whether we can stick with it. So far, everything has failed for me, except Calvetica.

Check out nimbledesign.com for the full article. You may be wondering why I felt compelled to share this on our blog. The simple reason is that it profoundly changed the way I manage GTD. Therefore, I owe it to readers to revise my blog post on the suitability of Lifetick for GTD. Some of you may argue to the contrary on the importance of using Lifetick or other apps and if so, I’m genuinely glad they work for you. I for one though will be keeping Lifetick for goals and the odd project here and there. When I need to buy some stamps or pay a bill, then Calvetica is my be all and end all.