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BlackBerry Hacks by Dave Mabe

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Hack #13. Get Things Done with the BlackBerry

Kick butt and take @names.

The David Allen Company has a fantastic productivity system called Getting Things Done, also known as GTD (http://www.davidco.com/what_is_gtd.php).

I will say this: Getting Things Done is a remarkable way to restore some balance and control over your life, and not just in the office. It works great for all occasions, and has managed to bring my stress levels from catastrophic highs to a much more reasonable pitch. It is easily the best system that I know of for chaos reduction.

Everyone implements GTD a little differently. I don't think I've ever met a purist in this dark art, with the full set of tickler files, folders, and all the other paraphernalia. It is a system that can be tooled up to work pretty well with the BlackBerry, however, and it doesn't even have to be painful.

This is a system that I cannot resist fiddling with a little bit, and most GTD nerds with an engineering and tinkering background do the same thing. These days I'm using a BlackBerry 7290 on T-Mobile, BES and BIS, and Microsoft Entourage. I am also using Microsoft Outlook 2003.

Set Up Your Categories

In both Outlook and Entourage, I have created categories for various contexts that I use in GTD. This includes but is not limited to:

@home

Things to do when I'm at home or in the home office.

@office

Things to do when I'm at the work office. The one with the bad lighting and a parking shortage.

@calls

Things to do when I'm able to make phone calls but nothing else, or just calls I need to make.

@anywhere

Things I can do anywhere, any time. Example: Think about ideas for BlackBerry Hacks.

@errands

Things that I need to do when I'm already out and about. Example: Buy Silk Chocolate Soymilk at Whole Foods.

Tip

Geeks tend to prefix their GTD categories with letters that cause them to sort first in file listings. Hence, the @ in all the names. It lets you sift out the GTD stuff from all the other detritus in your PIM and on your filesystem.

Organize Your Notes

In the Notes application on the BlackBerry, I also have a few lists of things I want to talk to people about. I flag those agenda items by titling them as #Name, so that #BBKing is a note that has things I want to talk to BB King about should I run into him in the hall.

Decide When to Create a Task

If it is something more pressing, that becomes a task. If it has to be done on a certain day, it becomes an all-day event on the Calendar. If it has to be done at a certain time on a certain day, it becomes a traditional appointment with a real date, time, and reminder.

The BlackBerry does a good job at facilitating this as long as you're using BlackBerry 3.8 or 4.0, since these versions support categories.

Since I have created all those @contexts in my PIM, I must use them on every single individual task I have in my Big List of Tasks. If you don't do this, you can easily lose track of what you should be doing!

Search and Sort

I also have a lot of projects assigned in the Entourage Project Center. It watches folders, links items to relevant data, and otherwise gets out of the way from me trying to get things done. What PocketMac for BlackBerry [Hack #61] does here is pretty neat: it calls projects in Entourage categories and syncs those along, too. This means that I can surf a Task list and filter based on category as expected, but in GTD land, this lets you filter by project.

If I'm at home and I want to know what I have waiting for my attention, I just filter my Tasks to show me everything categorized @home. If I want to work on a specific project, I can also filter on the category BlackBerry Hacks, and see all the waiting tasks assigned to that project regardless of context (see Figure 1-33).

Viewing a project and viewing a task for @home

Figure 1-33. Viewing a project and viewing a task for @home

Some people will tell you that you should include the context in the title of your task, and not create categories for each context. That sounds pretty good in theory, but if you have multiple contexts for a given item, you're going to have items that are called "@home & @calls Call Insurance Company about Flood Damage to Basement" and the BlackBerry can only show you a portion of this information. I choose to maximize my visibility by cutting out the prefix of @context and using categories for each context and the filter to show me what is relevant to my current state.

Don't Interrupt Yourself

It turns out I don't respond well to nagging interruptions from a PIM or handheld device. Go figure. GTD breaks things out into tasks and projects so that you can do micro-tasks on the path to a final outcome of your choosing, which is really nice. It also forces you to work things in smaller chunks, which is even nicer. For example: instead of a task that says "Write hacks for BlackBerry Hacks," I go ahead and scribble that down in a notebook. I think and scribble a little bit about what that means, and those items become individual tasks. I may want to brainstorm about what I think should be in a Hacks book about the BlackBerry. I may have already written a bunch of information already that I can gladly hand over to the editor and author of the book. All of those steps become tasks under one project, and as I do them, I tick them off.

You see? Instead of staring at "Write hacks for BlackBerry Hacks" for a month, I actually had a long list of items that get me there. The tasks were meaningful and relevant and some of them could be done at home, some in line at the supermarket, and others required an errand. The BlackBerry presents me with options when I pull it out, based on things I can actually do depending on where I am. That is quite possibly the most important thing to remember about GTD: You get to pick what you want to do any time you want to do something, and it is always relevant. No more noise!

I don't use the typical GTD "waiting-for" lists because, in most situations, I can note what I'm waiting for in the task detail instead of having a separate list. Your mileage may vary on this, and you may very well decide to keep a waiting-for list in your Memopad.

Everyone uses GTD a little bit differently. It is my hope that this hack will help jump-start your newfound life as a productive and contributing member of society.

For more information and tips on applying GTD to a geek's life, see Merlin Mann's 43 Folders weblog at http://www.43folders.com/.

R. Emory Lundberg

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