Should You Be Using Gubb Instead of Remember The Milk?

I recently came across another task/list management web application called Gubb. Now, as you all know, I’m a hardcore Remember The Milk fan. I’ve written extensively about it’s Smart Lists and Tags, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore a good thing when I see it. Also, it seems there are some core features lacking in Remember The Milk, that are pretty important to some people. Here are a few features that Gubb has that are missing from RTM:

Continue reading “Should You Be Using Gubb Instead of Remember The Milk?”

Remember The Milk: Posting Directly from Your Desktop

In a recent post, we talked about 6 Ways to Add A Task to Remember The Milk. While the methods discussed were varied and useful, I was not satisfied with any of them. This post will show you another quick method to handle this.

I have very simple criteria for being able to add tasks to my ToDo list:

  • It must be quick
  • It must not disturb my current work flow
  • It must be reliable

I had almost satisfied all of these using the solution involving Launchy, Curl, and Twitter. Launchy is probably the fastest desktop launcher available for Windows. So the procedure went like this:

  • Launchy pops up instantly when I hit ALT+Space
  • I type in “rtm<TAB>Task Description<ENTER>” (rtm is just a batch file in my path)
  • The task is added to my Remember The Milk Inbox list via Twitter

If we review the last item on my list of criteria, we see that our posting method needs to be reliable. Well, Twitter shouldn’t even be in the same sentence. I have actually been burned before using this setup, as you can read about in my post How Twitter Keeps Me from Getting Things Done.

So, how do we make it better? I had to find a way to get Twitter out of the picture. If you recall, You can add tasks to Remember The Milk via email. All I needed was a way to shoot off an email to RTM from within Launchy. Problem solved, right? Well…not really. GMail apparently makes this slightly more complicated.

This is about to get pretty technical, but I will try to break it down as simple as I can. If I don’t do a good job, please leave a comment and I will be happy to help 🙂

Download, Install, and Configure “Stunnel”

We need Stunnel so that we can communicate with the Gmail server securely. From the website:

Stunnel is a program that allows you to encrypt arbitrary TCP connections inside SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) available on both Unix and Windows.

So, here is what we need to do:

  • Download Stunnel from the Binaries Page. The version I used is 4.25 (direct download link)
  • Run the installer and hit “Close” once complete
  • Now, edit C:\Program Files\stunnel\stunnel.conf
  • Replace the “Service Options” section with the following:

[SMTP Gmail]
accept = 127.0.0.1:1099
connect = smtp.gmail.com:465

[POP3 Gmail]
accept = 127.0.0.1:1109
connect = pop.gmail.com:995

  • From the same directory, run the command “stunnel -install”
  • Then run the command “net start stunnel”

Download, Install, and Configure “Blat”

We need Blat so that we can send email right from the command line.

Blat is a Win32 command line utility that sends eMail using SMTP or post to usenet using NNTP.

  • Get Blat from here: http://www.blat.net/
  • Open the archive and stick “blat.exe” into C:\Windows\System32\ or somewhere else in your path
  • Run the command: blat -install smtp.gmail.com yourusername@gmail.com

Configure Launchy

You already have Launchy, right? If not, you are probably not working very efficiently, you are on a MAC, or both. Go ahead and fire it up now.

  • Open Launchy’s Options dialog (click the gear), go to Plugins and click Runner.
  • Hit the “+” button to add a new command
  • Enter something nifty for the Name (“rtm”, maybe?)
  • In the Program field, Enter the path to the Blat executable: C:\Windows\System32\blat.exe
  • In the Arguments field, Enter the following:

– -body ” ” -subject “$$” -to [Your unique RTM Email Address] -u [Gmail Username] -pw [Gmail Password] -f [Your Gmail Address] -server 127.0.0.1:1099

  • Hit “Ok,” we’re done here

Make sure you include the preceding “-” and the space between the quotes for the body argument. To find your unique Remember The Milk email address, login to RTM and go to Settings->Info. You want the Inbox Email Address.

Conclusion

Now, you can hit ALT+Space (or whatever key you have it set to), type “rtm<TAB>task<ENTER>” and you have just added a task to Remember The Milk without even breaking stride.

Being able to quickly dump tasks/ideas out of your head and into your organization system of choice is pretty important. Without doing this, you will never get anything done because you won’t ever know what to do.

More often than not, you are going to be in the middle of something when an idea strikes you for something else that you need to capture. As we all know, if you get interrupted, it takes about 10 minutes or so to find your place and get back into the groove.

This is why I have been so anal about this specific facet of my system. I don’t believe there is a faster way, short of direct brain-to-computer communication, to capture your thoughts to your to-do list.

How do you make sure you can capture things at all times? Do you have a better method than me? I’d like to hear about it. Leave me a comment.

How to Keep Your To-Do List So Fresh and So Clean…Clean

It’s amazing how the little things make a difference. Especially when it comes to your To-Do list. I found that I had a few items on my list that just kept getting pushed back. It’s not as if they were impossible feats or anything, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why they wouldn’t go away. Then I realized why they seemed to insurmountable: They were Projects, not Tasks. I was making things look harder than they actually were and my brain was automatically disregarding them.

It seems silly when I think about it now. Here are some examples of the things I had on my list:

  • Clean the bathroom
  • Burn Movies to CD
  • Design a new Workout Program

At first glance, this list looks fine. If we look closer, we can see where I ran into problems.

Break Things Down

Let’s look at my first item, “Clean the bathroom.” This seems like a pretty innocuous thing to put on a To-Do list. I look at this item and I think to myself, “All I gotta do is go in there and clean the mirror, wipe the sink, scrub the toilet, sweep/vacuum the hardwood floors….Wait a Minute! This isn’t as simple as I thought!”

I automatically bypassed this task every time I saw it because it was too complicated to wrap my mind around all at once. Now, when I broke this down into a smaller steps and set it up as a project, it was much easier to deal with. Let’s say we take these steps as what’s needed to clean the bathroom:

  • Clean the mirror
  • Wipe the sink
  • Scrub the tub
  • Scrub Toilet (is there an official smily for “I’m gonna hurl?”)
  • Sweep the floor
  • Mop the floor

Now, I stick these into my Remember The Milk To-Do list and tag them with “.bathroom” so they all show up in their own little Smart List. Now, I tag one of them with “-next” so it shows up in my Context list named “@Home.” (If you have no clue what I’m talking about, check out my series “Supercharge Remember The Milk.”)

Instead of seeing “Clean The Bathroom,” I now see a simple task that won’t even take 5 minutes to do: “Clean the mirror.” I do a small review every-so-often, so at that time I can label another task from this project as “-next.” I sometimes even label all the tasks on the list as “-next,” assuming they don’t depend on each other.

Make Sure You Have What It Takes

Burning movies to CD is a simple task for most, but not for me. I can’t burn to a DVD because my laptop is old. I can play DVD’s, but not burn them. The movies have to be converted to VCD, SVCD, or KVCD first. The software I was using to take care of this before had stopped working for some reason.

Whenever I thought about getting this done, I remembered these facts and kept putting it off. I didn’t have the tools I needed to complete the task. I even further confused matters by giving myself too many choices internally: I have an XP laptop that I needed to find software for, or I could try and transfer the files and figure out how to do it on the MAC Mini.

Yeah, I know: Analysis Paralysis, but if I had broken down what needed to be done and added a task to “Download Software to Transcode Movies,” I would have the tools needed to complete the task and could have avoided the whole mess:

  • Find & Download software to convert movies
  • Convert Movies
  • Burn Movies

So much simpler.

Think Things Through

The final item in question here is “Design a new workout program.” I am not a personal trainer, nor do I play one on TV, but I do actually have enough knowledge to design a basic workout program. The problem here is that, at the time I put this on my To-Do List, I had no clue what my goals were regarding working out. I was already doing a basic program and was just bored of it.

Every time I sat down or even thought about sitting down and designing a program, I ended up deadlocked because I wasn’t sure what to do. What should have happened was this:

  • Evaluate likes/dislikes about current program
  • Decide what results new program should produce
  • Pick exercises that I enjoy
  • Find/Design new program

This is not exact, but at least I end up with a better idea of what I want to do with myself. I can now either pick a new program based on my research, or just design one based on my goals.

Conclusion

Break things down. If you think about a project as several small and easy tasks, it will get done a lot quicker. This even works on others. Instead of telling your kid to “Clean up Your Room,” break it down into smaller steps and give them a piece at a time. Watch how much easier it gets completed.

Make sure you have what it takes. Don’t commit yourself to completing a task if you don’t even have the tools necessary to do it. Break the task up into a project. You may need to delegate some tasks to others to get what you need.

Think things through. Doing a brain dump is part of getting yourself organized. Get all those random thoughts, tasks and ideas out of your head. Just make sure that you think before you convert those things into full-fledged Next actions.

The key to getting things done is to make everything easier to deal with. Breaking everything into small, bite-sized chunks will help you to accomplish this. If you’ve ever moved or helped anyone move, you can understand how that entertainment center would be a lot easier to lift if it was in small pieces.

Have you run into situations where you bit off more than you could chew? How do you go about breaking down tasks into projects? Tell us about it in the comments.

Super-Charge Remember The Milk Part Deux

In the first part of my Super-Charge Remember The Milk series, we discussed a method of organizing and processing tasks based on a simple system using Tags and Smart Lists. After reading the post, my mother pointed out two important facts:

  1. I spelled “Super-Charge” wrong
  2. She had no clue WTF I was talking about and she has a CS degree

Since I would like my blog to be understood and helpful to all, I would like to extend my apologies to anyone I managed to confuse (sorry mom). In this installment, I will start off first with a brief introduction to “Getting Things Done” (GTD) and “Remember The Milk” RTM.

This post is the first in a series on Super-Charging Remember The Milk including:

What is Getting Things Done (GTD)?

Don’t worry, we’re not going to get too in-depth here as my good friends over at Black Belt Productivity have already provided an awesome primer with videos. Just to give you a very quick overview:

“It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things
to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive
sense of relaxed control.” — David Allen

  • GTD is a book written by David Allen
  • It allows you to get organized by following very basic steps
  • It keeps you from being forced to remember things
  • It makes sure you are moving toward your life goals
  • According to David Allen, a Context describes the tool, location or person that is required to be able to complete an action. We have been starting our tags with “@” to show that it’s a Context.

What is Remember The Milk (RTM)?

Remember The Milk is an awesome To-Do list application. You can access it from their site at http://rememberthemilk.com. Go ahead, sign up for an account. I’ll wait.

All set? Good. Not only is RTM an awesome To-Do list, but it’s flexibility allows you to take care of most of your GTD needs from one place. This makes staying organized even easier.

The two primary features that we’ve discussed so far are Tags and Smart Lists. Here are a couple of definitions from the RTM FAQ:

What Are Tags?

Tags are like keywords or labels that you can add to a task to make it easier to find and organize later. For example, you can tag a task with ‘phone’, and then later when you’re looking for tasks that require phone calls, you can just click on that tag and see all the tasks that have been tagged that way.

What Are Smart Lists?

Smart Lists are special lists that are created based on criteria that you define, and are automatically updated as your tasks change.

RTM and…Twitter?

Now we have RTM set up quite nicely. You have tagged your Tasks, your Smart Lists have automatically organized your Projects and Contexts. You can easily view your Context lists to see what you should be doing Right Now.

One of the basic ideas regarding GTD is that your system has to be portable. You have to be able to track what you’ve completed and also store those important tasks and ideas that pop into your head at any given moment.

You could print out your To-Do list. RTM provides a nifty feature for you to do so, but that is so booooooring! Who uses paper anymore. Even the Gen X guys would probably frown on that solution. So we have two options:

The second option works great for me because I don’t have the web on my phone (long story). There are other features of accessing Twitter this way that we’ll discuss later. In order to get this set up, just go here and follow the directions.

Now, you can communicate with RTM with Direct Messages on Twitter. This means that you will definitely Remember The Milk the next time you happen to be in the grocery store.

Here are a few more examples of talking to RTM via Twitter:

  • Add a Task – “d rtm Subscribe to SheenOnline.Biz”
  • Get Tasks due today – “d rtm !today” (shortcut: !tod)
  • Get Tasks related to your “Blog” project – “d rtm !gettag .blog” (shortcut: !gt)

What Does This Have To Do With Your Cell Phone?

Well, I’m glad you asked! You can add your mobile phone as a “device” on Twitter. This allows you to send and receive Twitter messages via SMS (text messaging). This means you can now text a Direct Message to RTM to access your Tasks.

You will probably want to add Twitter to your contacts. The number is “40404”.

For more details on how to talk to RTM via Twitter, go back here.

But Wait! There’s More!

Well, not really. At least, not right now. There are a few other slick tricks you can do with this setup that I will discuss later. I think we have covered enough for today and the longer I talk, the more incoherent I may become.

A few things to consider with this setup:

  • If Twitter is down, it obviously all goes to hell in gasoline draws
  • Adding a task via Twitter doesn’t allow you to properly tag it, so make sure you check your “Inbox” list or your “!” Smart List whenever you get back to a browser
  • Completing tasks via Twitter means you have to provide the entire name of the task, so don’t make your task names longer than they need to be.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Corrections? Let’s discuss in the comments. That’s what they’re for, after all.

Super-Charge Remember The Milk With Smart Lists and Tags

photo by Franie Frou Frou
photo by Franie Frou Frou

As far as Getting Things Done goes, Remember The Milk is the center of my solar system. At first glance, it’s just a simple TODO list, but it has some serious power under the hood. Using these features, I’m going to show you how to handle most of your GTD needs in one place.

This post is the first in a series on Super-Charging Remember The Milk including:

After reading Advanced GTD With Remember The Milk, I got inspired to upgrade my setup and handle my tasks more efficiently. I decided to do things a little different, though. Everything is handled by Smart Lists to make my life easier in the long run.

Create a List For All Your Tasks

To start, you want to create a list to hold all your tasks. I call mine “Daily.” I chose not to use “Inbox” so that I don’t get my current tasks confused with new tasks I have sent in via Twitter or email. You will never view your tasks directly using this list. It will be one big ugly list of every task that hasn’t been completed yet.

Tags Are Your Friend

Here is where my system is different. At this point, you only have 3 Lists: “Inbox”, “Daily”, and “Sent”. What you do at this point is create some Smart Lists that sort your tasks based on how you have tagged them. Here is how I tag each item:

Tag Format Examples
Projects start with a ‘. .PlanVacation, .Budget, .FriendFeedCommentsWidget
Contexts start with an ‘@ @online, @home, @phone, @work, @errands
Status tags start with a ‘ -next, -someday, -waiting

Project Lists

Here is where you start to see the power of this system. If I want to add a project, I simply do a search for “tag:.NewProject” and Save the search as “NewProject”, or whatever I choose. Now, I can add tasks to this Smart List and they automatically get tagged for this project. All I have to do at this point is make sure to add Status and Context tags where appropriate.

Saving a Smart List

New Task Tagged Automatically

Context Lists

Our Context lists will be the main focus of the system on a daily basis. These are the lists you keep an eye on to see what you should be Doing right now. The items in these lists will only be Next items. As an example, do a search for “tag:@online AND tag:-next”. Now you have a list of all the things you can do while online that don’t have any dependencies. Go ahead and save this list as “@Online” or “@Web”.

Someday and Waiting Lists

Last, but not least, we want to go ahead and create lists for our Someday and Waiting tasks. I have a separate Smart List for each. You can create your own by saving the two searches “tag:-someday” and “tag:-waiting” as “Someday” and “Waiting”.

Example Smart Lists

Here are the Smart Lists I currently use. Notice that they all include “tag:-next” to show me only my Next actions:

Smart List Name Search Query
@Errands tag:-next AND tag:@errands
@Online tag:-next AND tag:@online
@Phone tag:-next AND tag:@phone

Putting It All Together

The work flow for GTD is Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do.

  • Collect by doing a brain dump. Add anything you think may be of importance as a task in Remember The Milk. If you already know the Context, Project, and/or Status for this item, tag it now. The shortcut key for adding a task is “T”. Once you add a task, it will automatically be selected so that you can hit “S” to edit the tags.
  • Process any tasks you have not already tagged. If the task has no dependencies, tag it with “-next.” If it’s part of a larger project (even a project you may not have created yet) tag it as such and create a Smart List for it. Break the task down into smaller tasks, tagging each with Context and Status tags where applicable.
  • Organizing your tasks should be done by this point. Keep in mind that you can always modify multiple tasks at the same time by turning on multi-edit mode with shortcut key “M”. This is good if you have a bunch of tasks that need the same tag added.
  • Review each project to make sure you haven’t left any tasks out or forgotten to tag any of them with “-next.”
  • Do whatever you have to do to get rid of all those tasks in your Context lists. Only look at your project lists if you have run out of Next actions for that project.

Final Notes

  • Every Task may not fall into a specific project
  • Every Project does not have to be a list of Tasks towards any specific goal. I have projects of things I need to Review, Read, Write, Research, etc.
  • Don’t get ridiculous with Contexts. Keep it simple and don’t agonize over tasks that may or may not have to go in a specific context, or could possibly go in more than one context (ie. writing a blog post could be @laptop or @online or both, or neither). Just pick one and run with it. Nothing bad will happen.

Bonus Tip

What happens if you forget to tag things properly? Use this search as a sanity check:

NOT tagContains:@ or NOT tagContains:. OR isTagged:false

This will catch anything that’s not part of a Project, Context, or just isn’t tagged at all

Do you have any tips on Getting Things Done or Remember The Milk? What do you think of this system? Let me know in the comments.

How Twitter Keeps Me From Getting Things Done

You probably think this article is about how much time I waste on Twitter. You probably think I’m going to lament about the long hours I spend Tweeting my Tweeps from Twhirl about how we gonna have a Tweetup or whatever. You got me all wrong.

You see, I recently learned all about Getting Things Done. I am horrible at organization, so finding such a simple system for getting it together was enlightening. I started emptying my GMail Inbox mutiple times a day (the Y key is your friend). I started actually putting events on my Google Calendar. I started dumping everything I needed to do into my new TODO list app, Remember The Milk.

I was able to interact with GCal and RTM right from my cell using SMS (I don’t have the web on my phone). I was also able to use a nifty application loader called Launchy to quickly add things to GCal or RTM without missing a beat (the details of this setup are here). All was right with the world. I was Getting Things Done.

What the hell does all this have to do with Twitter? Well, in order to interact with RTM and GCal so easily, I was piggybacking off of the Twitter service (this is actually how I was introduced to Twitter). There are two bots (gcal and rtm) on twitter that allow you to control each service. I had scripts that would use curl to pass messages to these bots directly from my app launcher. When Twitter went away, I had no way of knowing my scripts were failing.

Instead of adding items to my calendar or todo list, I was just throwing them away into oblivion. This is definitely the opposite of Getting Things Done. Now, I am in the process of coding my own apps to make sure this never happens again. RTM has an open API. Just my sad story about Twitter. You probably don’t care, but the recovery is always in the telling.

Has some nifty web 2.0 app wronged you somehow? Tell us about it.