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Nimbus Note is one of the best note-taking&organizing products around, so that it convinced a picky productivity freak like me to switch all of his notes from Evernote.
Beyond organized notes, its flexibility allows you to combine knowledge base with productivity, maybe in the form of Getting Things Done, as we will see in this article. Combining tasks and reference material in the same product is especially convenient for personal productivity.
However, implementing a productivity system may not be obvious, especially in aspects like projects. Personal productivity is often a matter of the right compromises between completeness and simplicity. So, let’s see how to effectively and precisely implement GTD on Nimbus Note, a tool particularly suitable for the purpose.
A quick overview of GTD
GTD is a very popular task management methodology (created by David Allen) that allows you to free your mind from the need of constantly reminding tasks, organize them in a clear workflow, and focus on actionable tasks. It doesn’t depend on a specific product, so it can be implemented in any suitable system. However, it gives its best on versatile tools.
We won’t dwell into the GTD philosophy here (more in David Allen’s book), but let’s recap its fundamental five steps, the workflow that our implementation will have to support.
- Capture. Anything that needs to be reminded should go out of your mind and enter into your productivity system. Nimbus Note is born exactly for that.
- Clarify. You give an identity to what you captured: immediate action, actionable task to be put in queue, project, reference material.
- Organize. Enters our implementation, giving place to any item. That’s where we setup Nimbus Note for the purpose.
- Review. You frequently check the elements in your system to make them match the present context and priorities, to be able to focus on the next actions.
- Engage. Guess what, at some point you need to do things. That’s what all the aforementioned is made for.
We start our implementation by giving a place to our GTD system.
It’s important to keep the GTD system distinct from the rest of the notes because you’ll have to address it in a specific planning-oriented way, organizing and reviewing often.
Since Nimbus Note offers workspaces as separate spaces, with independent folders and tagging system, the best possible way to implement your GTD is to reserve a whole workspace to it.
Tags at hand will be all and only the tags used for the implementation and folders will all be relevant to it.
If you have very separated areas in your life, like personal and work, you can think about two different workspaces. It’s not what GTD would recommend, but it’s a clean and viable solution. However, I’d recommend it only for very separated areas. If you’re a freelance, for example, part of your schedule is likely going to span across different areas of your life, and a single productivity system may again be the best. Unless you clearly have reasons for separate systems, a single system is better. Better to separate areas in other ways, as we will see.
The core item of GTD is indeed the task. A to-do item – an actionable work item – is a task. And a task can be a note. Simple as that.
GTD wants to free your mind first (1. Capture). So, anytime a new task pops up, you create a new note into a default folder. Guess what, the default folder will be named InBox.
Organizing actionable items
If something is a task (2. Clarify), GTD suggests specific destinations for it (3. Organize). For now, let’s simplify and say that we create a Task folder with three subfolders inside, where you’ll put your tasks from InBox:
- Next, for the to-do queue, where we fish for next actions (5. Engage).
- Waiting, for tasks waiting for events or specific conditions, to be checked periodically.
- Someday, for tasks that can be postponed for a later review.
We already have the core of GTD in place, actually. Frequent reviews (4. Review) of our InBox and task folders are all we need to maintain the GTD system at this point. And drag&drop of the notes is particularly helpful in that.
Your Next folder may get crowded soon. So, when reviewing your tasks, an indication of priorities is golden.
That’s very personal because it depends on how packed or schedule-oriented your life is. Also, priorities are a mix of urgency and value. Things should be kept as simple as possible, so priorities should fit your habits and needs.
Staying on an urgency basis, you may use the following subfolders of Next: Urgent, Asap, Queue.
Not strictly GTD, but you’ll have to deal with priorities anyway and subfolders are probably the best solution in the case of Nimbus Note.
A good alternative folder structure for more crowded scenarios, also more schedule-oriented, is Today, Tomorrow, ThisWeek, NextWeek, NextMonth. This requires more movements during your reviews, but it can also handle complex schedules.
Of course, you can experiment and adapt with your own separation into folders. Just one rule: keep it simple.
If possible, resist the temptation of using tags for priorities and elaborated searches on urgency and importance. As we will see, you need tags for other things, and priority tags would add too much complexity to your system.
If an exception makes sense to you, just tag the important items with one or two exclamation marks. That way, you will be able to quickly pick important tasks independently of where they are.
Also, you can put reminders on notes.
You may need a precise schedule, apart from the dynamic Task container.
Bringing true calendars, with all of their features, in your GTD system can be overly complicated, and even not possible for the most part. My advice is to keep calendars outside Nimbus Note, for use with the tasks/events allocated on specific days and hours. If you’re using a public Google Calendar, you can embed it in a note.
If tasks are still not scheduled, they can stay in the Task folder. When scheduled, you move them into the calendar.
If scheduled tasks are rare in your life, you might create a subfolder of Tasks named Calendar, with note names prefixed in the form of 2021.05.27 (for proper sorting), likely with a reminder on the note. No need for an external calendar, if you use this approach.
Some tasks are associated with specific places or moments. GTD calls those specific circumstances “contexts.”
We can easily associate tasks to contexts by using tags. We will prefix @ for each context. For example: @Home, @PC, @Work, @Errands, and so on.
A special type of context can be the duration. Maybe some tasks can be done anywhere in your spare time, and you can use the tag @Quick for them.
When a task is associated with a person (contact them, return them things, waiting for them, etc.), this is actually a context. But since people can be numerous, we’ll use a special prefix for people tags (+): +Jennifer, +Oliver, etc.
That way, just click on the person’s tag, and you get all the notes (pardon, tasks) related to that person.
Consider that for delegated tasks, you can use public links, also password-protected.
Of course, some tasks are not actions; they’re complex tasks that involve sub-tasks. In that case, we call them “projects.”
Complex hierarchies of projects and tasks would fall out of a clean GTD system and also outside the reach of Nimbus Notes. However, keep in mind that “reasonably complex” tasks (let’s say “microprojects”) can still be a single note, with Nimbus Note tasks inside it. Not exactly GTD – mainly because you can’t review the sub-tasks along with the other tasks – but it works well.
But when tasks are more complex than a simple checklist, better to switch to the “project” level.
More solutions can be there for handling projects, but I’ll pick what I consider the best compromise.
A Project folder, at the same level as the Tasks folder, with sub-folders in it, one for each project. In each subfolder, all the notes you need for the projects, except the tasks – which remain in the Task folder.
For each project, a tag prefixed by “/” will be put on all its tasks (e.g. /ecommerce).
The double approach – a folder and a specific tag – allows you to gather all the tasks of a project and, at the same time, have a container (the project folder) for all kind of notes for the project.
If you need to share a project plan, or you just want to sketch an overview, it’s a good idea to put a note called Plan in the project folder (and maybe share it). In it, you can also put links to the specific tasks, that you can visually group or illustrate as you wish.
In the perspective of GTD, you shouldn’t do “project management” in a note (it would become a separate “system”, loosing the GTD workflow), but tasks and tables from Nimbus Note can be particularly useful anyway, maybe for sharing your plan with others or picturing an overview for yourself.
Both tags and projects can belong to different areas of your life. Work, Family, Personal can be three common areas.
I suggest using tags with the # prefix for them, to put on each task of the area.
By the way, a task can belong to multiple areas.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, if areas are entirely separated, with no overlapping projects or tasks, you can think about using two workspaces for two distinct implementations of GTD.
We have seen projects and tasks, till now. Anything related with to-dos.
But we also have other types of material to handle, and that also has a specific identity, in GTD, as non-actionable items.
While we can enrich task notes with details and multiple attachments, most reference material – for better organization and searches – deserve its own note.
We can create a Reference folder for those notes. Also, we can create sub-folders for it, one for each type of reference material: Articles, Documents, Registers (by the way, Nimbus Note is a master in tables), and so on.
Reference materials relevant to a specific project will stay in the project folder, because we need to gather all the project material. But once the project is archived or we just don’t need to keep the material in the project folder, we put the note in the Reference folder, with the relevant project tag.
Consider that you can also easily refer to reference notes in a task note, not just getting and pasting their internal links. You can also use @ anywhere in a note to put a link to a specific note or project folder.
At the same time, consider that Nimbus Note can store a lot of material, and not all the material is related to your productivity. Also, you may want to store that material in specific workspaces, with a complex folder structure, or specific tagging. Including that in the GTD system is definitely not a good idea.
So, you can use the Reference folder for material related to your GTD system while putting all the rest in other workspaces, organized as you wish. It’s a compromise. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t work for you, don’t use the Reference folder and keep every non-actionable item in other workspaces.
You may want not to trash completed or archived projects and tasks.
For them, just create a subfolder Archived in both the Projects and Tasks folders.
Getting Thing Done is a powerful productivity framework. But it can be adapted to the specific needs and, most of all, to the specific features and opportunities of the tool used to implement it.
Nimbus Note offers folder hierarchies, tags, note links. A lot of flexibility for a GTD implementation.
Here’s the resulting structure of our implementation:
What’s proposed in this article is a working solution, but there’s room for extension and customization. Experience and experimentation will tell what’s right for you.
And don’t forget that productivity systems work only when most of your time is not spent on them. Put the right tools in place, then… engage!