Trello! Its Impact on GTD, ADHD, the Universe, and Everything

Screenshot 2015-08-11 10.30.12“…Or, The Silver Dragon Discovers Kanban…”

Indeed, I have not been living under a rock for the last three decades. The term “kanban” has entered my ears, mostly in connection with my husband’s factory (he’s plant manager for a (small? medium?) manufacturer.) It never occurred to me that it could simplify my life.

I came across Trello when looking for something to help me collaborate with my son, Andrew (also a writer, also ADHD) on a story. We needed something that was visual because both of us aggressively filter auditory signals and distractions and/or quickly learn to ignore them. We needed something that didn’t look or smell like specialized email (I’m looking at you, Asana, and you, Evernote Work Chat) because email almost never gets Andrew’s attention (if I want him to see an email message, I text him to look at his email.) Messages had to look and smell like specialized texts, be controllable so that the level of interruptions is minimal (for me), and the project management had to be very visual for either of us to be able to work with it.

It also had to be cheap or free.

Trello met all those criteria. The fact that it is the tool the many collaborators of Habitica (formerly Habit RPG) use to coordinate their efforts is an impressive endorsement. After all, many of those who find Habitica useful have attentional challenges…

I set up my current writing project rather easily using the project management information I’d already captured in iThoughts (another post for another Tuesday.) While researching Trello, I’d come across references to it being a kanban-style project management app. So, I researched kanban, kanban for knowledge workers, personal kanban, and picked Hubby’s brain.

Net result: I now have a personal kanban board (On Sandra’s Plate), separate from my writing projects. New stuff I put into my writing projects is automatically pushed into my GTD collector column, “Unprocessed,” with an IFTTT recipe. Reminders from Siri — another IFTTT recipe, straight to “Unprocessed.” I can still use Evernote to collect, because I’ve automated that with a Zapier script to stuff everything in my ToDo notebook into, you guessed it, “Unprocessed.”

Once a week, I go through the Unprocessed stack and categorize the stuff therein more or less as in “The Secret Weapon” and move it to the “Unscheduled” stack. I look at my Google calendar (via Pocket Informant) where my periodic non-daily items live, and move things from “Unscheduled” into “Scheduled,” with due dates that don’t overload any one day with more than 5 things to do (appointments count as things.)

Yet another Zapier script moves all those periodic non-daily items into my “On Deck” stack on the day they’re due.

Every morning, I move anything left over from the “Doing” stack yesterday to “On Deck.” I pull stuff due today from “Scheduled” into “On Deck.” Periodic items due today have already landed there courtesy of Zapier. I look at the pile, reschedule if I need to in order to limit the “On Deck” items to five (change their due dates and move them back into “Scheduled.” Or maybe delete them if I decide they’re not that important after all…)

I then pull ONE item out of “On Deck” into “Doing.” I do that. I move it to the “Done” stack. Then I pull another item out of “On Deck.” There’s never more than one item that I’m “Doing” at any time. Even when I get distracted (never “if” I get distracted. I’m ADHD; distraction happens) it’s hard to avoid that glaring one “Doing” item. It never gets lost in the visual murk.

For those of you who were wondering, yes, I still use Habitica to provide myself with incentives, more for daily routine checklists (I loathe their non-repeating ToDo handling.)

So, more detail on iThoughts, and possibly more detail on how I automate recurring tasks to show up in Trello, next week.


GTD — Streamlining Efforts With Swipes Lead Me Home to HabitRPG

It’s like a . . . challenging romance. No matter how many times I try to leave, HabitRPG woos me back with its charming rewards, its earnest whimsy, its promises that integration with the rest of the productivity universe will happen Real Soon Now… 

Let’s face it — like many others with ADHD, I am an immediate gratification junkie. And nothing else I’ve found says “immediate gratification” like an 8-bit musical flourish announcing a pile of gold, a bunch of experience points, and perhaps a juicy item landing in my inventory every single time I finish a task. 

Evernote remains my GTD “trusted system” for collecting. I really haven’t messed with my simplified version of “The Secret Weapon.” But for tracking tasks once I’ve decided to do them, Evernote reminders don’t work for me. Very little does. I’ve tried Toodledo, Pocket Informant, BugMe Stickies, Remember the Milk… Going back in time, there was the Franklin Planner, and DayTimer. After a few weeks, sometimes even just a few days, I’d start ignoring my “prioritized list.” Then I’d stop bothering to make a list, because after all I was obviously not going to look at it, and then it was back to no planning at all.

HabitRPG has motivated me to dig in a little harder. I have a hard limit, now, of six things to do besides daily routine (which, by the way, I dare not take out of HabitRPG lest it vanish.) Four is more likely do-able. And if I have a meeting or appointment (rare) I have to put that in my list as one of my six maximum things.

But still, it is a royal pain to manually transfer my tasks from Evernote to HabitRPG. And then there are the inevitable tasks that recur on strange schedules. I have a task that has to be done every month on the Wednesday before the third Friday of the month. And a related task that has to be done on the first Monday after the third Friday of the month. (I have yet to find a task manager that will automate that completely, by the way, but I can set alarms two days before and three days after that nasty little third Friday.)

HabitRPG won’t handle directly any recurrence on a period longer than a week.

My latest affair was with a sexy task manager called Swipes. Its main claims to fame are that a) it will pick up tasks directly from Evernote automatically, and b) it will automatically take checkboxes from an Evernote note and make them subtasks. Also, you can snooze tasks from your list for later so that you only have one thing to do on your list.

The Evernote integration worked pretty well and cut some time out of my week. It was nice to see a short list, but the things I snoozed came back (loudly) before I was ready for them, and I had to snooze them again. Either that, or I ran out of things to do, and had to go rummage among the snoozed items. There was no penalty for deferring things. And while the friendly “ding” sound was nice when I finished a subtask or main task, it couldn’t compare to getting gold, experience points, occasional items and a little tune (see above.)

So, I’m back home with HabitRPG. I’ve implemented my own little tracking system for oddball recurring tasks. I’ve also implemented a tag system to cut down on how many things I’m looking at in my list at one time.

And if they implement Evernote integration (Real Soon Now!) I’ll never go a-wandering again.

NaNoWriMo’een (A Halloween Horror Story)

Image courtesy of bandrat at
Image courtesy of bandrat at
NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow.

I know.

You haven’t done any prep work.

Welcome to my world. I’ve done NaNoWriMo seven times, including this year, and haven’t prepped once.

You have time before your shift this evening! Get your lazy butt out of bed!

Okay. Do I get to skip making breakfast, doing dishes, blog posting, accounting, working out, email responses, and the six gajillion other things on my to-do list over on Habit RPG?

Of course not! You must do all you’ve committed to, and more!

I think I’ll go back to sleep.

Camp NaNoWriMo — Not What I Had Planned . . .

Screenshot 2014-07-19 16.46.09 . . . But then, when is it ever?

I was making some progress, if only by dropping in scenes from the last draft into my new structure. But then — first, taking HabitRPG out of my daily task management — that bit me. Badly. I wasn’t able to keep up my daily routine at all. Then, when I was near admitting that I had to put all my repeating events back into HabitRPG and live with the GTD difficulties . . . I became ill. I haven’t finished all the antibiotic yet.

I have, though, put HabitRPG back as my daily task management. I decided that it’s better to have an occasional to-do fall through the cracks than to have entire days do so. Now if only I can make my weekly review more efficient.

Meltdown / Reboot

Screenshot 2014-07-08 22.16.29It’s hard to tell on this tiny graph, but I did manage to write a few words both on the 1st and on the 3rd of July, as well as some more today.


I have a hundred excuses. The truth is that I looked at 100K of revision and my brain tripped out as badly as it did at my first NaNoWriMo at 50K. At the same time, I found that I’d gotten so involved in HabitRPG as to make it almost as big a time-waster as video games.


I also found that my planning system was so elaborate, with some repeating events in HabitRPG, some in ToodleDo, and non-repeating events kept in my Evernote GTD implementation (to be transferred to HabitRPG as they were scheduled) that it was taking an hour and a half just to do a weekly GTD review — and even then, things were slipping through the cracks.

I spent yesterday rebooting Sandra and her GTD circus. I’ve got all my repeating events back in Toodledo, and my one-off events in Evernote/GTD, with no duplication in HabitRPG. Both ToodleDo and EN events are linked to Pocket Informant on my iPad, which is my central console. HabitRPG is no longer a part of my tracking system; instead, I intend to use it simply for a reward, updated at the end of the day. If it’s taking me more than 15 minutes, I’ll simplify further by eliminating it entirely.

And I am tempted to tell the next health care professional who tells me that “You REALLY need to do this and it will only take 30 minutes a day” that he can fold the directions for whatever until they are all corners and insert them into his own anatomy where the sun does not shine. Thirty minutes here and thirty there, and soon you’re talking about the whole freaking day. (I’m looking at you, Dentist from Hell. And at you, Physical Therapist Drill Instructor. Don’t get me started.)

Making Self-Employment ADHD-Friendly

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /
Not ADHD-Friendly #1 (Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /
Like many ADHD adults, I have problems with Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (OOSOOM.) If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. This leads to a tendency to leave objects out and clearly visible as reminders. If not checked (especially in a house with two severely and one mildly ADHD adults,) the tendency to use objects as reminders can lead to vistas like the one in “Not ADHD Friendly #1.”

(That is not my house. I never took a picture of my house when it was that bad…)

The Tomb of the Action Items
Not ADHD Friendly #2
Helpful non-ADHD friends and many organizing books from the past would advise getting rid of objects that were no longer useful (I heartily endorse) and putting needed items into filing cabinets or other closed opaque containers (see “Not ADHD-Friendly #2.”) I called it “The Tomb of the Action Items” because, without a visual reference, anything in there that needed something done was destined to be completely forgotten until the Highway Patrol stopped me because my registration had not been renewed since 1992, or the city sent my business taxes to a bill collector, or…

I use it now to hold office supplies, tools and small bits of electronics that I don’t use on at least a weekly basis. Periodically, when I can’t shove anything more in there, I’ll go through it and toss anything that has decayed beyond usability or has become obsolete (Apple Desktop Bus mouse, anyone?)

Evernote and GTD have helped me to convert my home office to “ADHD Friendly.” I didn’t even realize that I was doing this until I looked around me this weekend and realized that my office area is MUCH less cluttered than the rest of my home.

My top shelf contains my artist’s mannikins, a collection of plush toys and bobbleheads from local minor-league sports, and my Kings and MIT pennants. The rest of my desk contents are 90% used in my current work at least once a week. The rest will move elsewhere or be tossed when they become an annoyance.

See all that wonderful bare desk area? It didn’t exist in January. Every square inch was covered with object “reminders” of things to do, few of which were work-related. As I put all that stuff into Evernote, and put a weekly review item into Habit RPG, the backlog has cleared out. I have a credenza which is similarly cleared, and a smaller work table I use for art and for charity projects, same story.

As I put more and more of the old paper into Evernote, paradoxically it becomes more accessible. I can usually think of something that a document might contain, and Evernote can find it regardless of which “drawer” I stuffed it into online.

Maybe I will achieve “Mind Like Water.” At least the stuff that slid off Mind Like Teflon is sliding into Evernote now.

It’s Just ADHD. Nothing to See Here, Move Along

20140520-133554-48954857.jpgI’ve mentioned that I have ADHD before in this blog. I’ve spoken of having Mind Like Teflon ™, and made jokes about it. I’ve ranted a bit about how GTD proponents (and I’m one of ’em) often have no clue how impossible their suggestions are for someone with my disability.

But yet, I am so imbued with shame from my upbringing, that I will seize the concept that I’m Blocked with Fear (Artist’s Way, Write Every Day) or that my novel has Problems (2K to 10K) rather than face the simple fact that ADHD is messing me up here in my efforts to revise and finish a massive project.

Yeah, I’ve picked up both those sticks and beaten myself with them over the last two weeks. It’s not that any of the above authors particularly is insistent upon the fear block or the bad writing block or whichever, it’s just that I would rather think myself neurotic or undisciplined or as having written badly than accept being ADHD.

In desperation I picked up a book I bought about 8 years ago, ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (AFWTOYL) and started to look at the time management chapters.

Dear Lord. I resemble those chapters. The “before” scenario exactly describes my feelings of helplessness and chaos when faced with a complex task that I really want to accomplish, but off which my brain slips.

It’s not lack of discipline. It’s not fear of success. It’s not that subconsciously I know my novel has problems. (It’s not subconscious; I know damn well it has problems. If I didn’t know that, I’d just publish it and have done.) It’s that I have serious problems with both sustained and appropriate focus.

AFWTOYL has its problems as a guide, starting with the fact that it was written 12 years ago, so that much that is new and shiny is not addressed as possible tools. But once again, I’ve tried to put down blocks of time and expect myself to Just Do It. (Massive blocks! 8 hours straight! I can’t do anything for more than 30 minutes straight unless I’m hyperfocused, and I can’t control when I’m hyperfocused. And if I am hyperfocused, I can’t stop when I hit the end of the two hours. Or eight, or twelve. I really don’t WANT to be hyperfocused; in its own way, it’s as destructive as unfocused.) Even if I have small tasks to do in that time, each written out and rewarded in Habit RPG, it doesn’t much help.

So from now on, I adapt one of the techniques in AFWTOYL and give it a solid trial before I look at anything in an ordinary time management book, or a writing productivity book, or, well, anything that doesn’t assume that I have a thirty-minute attention span, tops.

And if anyone thinks that I’m putting myself down here, I’m not. Facing my difficulty realistically is far better than either denying it or trying to fix something else that isn’t really broken.

I’m sure I’ve convinced you. I hope I’ve convinced me.

ADHD, GTD, and Yet Another Writing Book

2KTo10KBack to GTD, yet again . . .

In a recent post, I complained that if I had an employee like me, I’d fire her. I neglected to mention that if I had a boss like me, I’d tell her to take this job and shove it . . .

Oh, wait. I do.

I’m really good at troubleshooting software. I can take an, er, unexpected result, reproduce it, trace it down, and smash its bug-ridden body better than anyone I know. But I’m kind of slow with social stuff, even when it’s only interacting with me.

Maybe especially when it’s interacting with me.

There are two halves to the self-employment equation. There’s being my employee (I’ve never been especially good at being an employee for any length of time), and then there’s being my boss (I stunk at management so ripely the only time I’ve tried it that I’ve avoided it ever since.) But I need to learn how to manage me, fast.

OK, how does one manage the me? What management techniques are effective? The few bosses I’ve had that I really liked to work for — how did they do it?

To begin with, reprimands don’t work. No criticism of my work habits, no matter how gently phrased, will be effective. I feel scared, and will make tons of promises, but I won’t follow through because I feel coerced. Instead, I just get sullen, and my output curve will drop through the floor. In line with this, the annual or semi-annual review process that almost every business uses — I perceive it as abusive. I can’t focus on long-term goals as such on a day-to-day basis, and setting them has always seemed to me to be equivalent to telling me to go cut a switch for a boss to beat me with. So, forget setting the publication deadline and telling myself that I really need to get to work to meet it. Net result: MORE hours spent in front of the video game, not fewer.

Praise and rewards help a lot. I am a praise junkie, particularly if I trust the praiser to be honest. And rewards — I can’t wait for the fruits of my labor for a year. I need rewards NOW. This is part of my ADHD profile; deferred gratification means a week or two, tops. Wait any longer, and I’ll lose interest.

OK, right. I’ve put HabitRPG back into the GTD mix. It’s a pain in the kiester to mix it in, because HabitRPG interfaces with almost nothing else, but the instant gratification is great. Checking off a task means getting virtual gold and finding hidden treasures, not to mention my avatar looking cool in her new armor. And when leaving a task undone or practicing a bad habit means losing life points and maybe dying and losing a level right now, I’m much more likely to get it done than I would be just by considering long-term negative consequences. Example: Skipping my meds might put me in the hospital next year, but that won’t help me remember them today. Bribing myself with virtual gold to take them, and taking a ten-percent hit to my stats if I don’t, is much more effective than fear of eventual hospitalization.

Another part of the equation is breaking down tasks into manageable pieces. Nothing is worse than a boss who dumps a big undifferentiated job on me with a distant deadline. HabitRPG helps with this; I do best by cutting my tasks into chunks that take fifteen minutes to an hour to finish, tops. I can focus on almost anything for fifteen minutes, and HRPG’s instant gratification takes care of pulling me through chunk after chunk.

But how do I cut novel writing into tiny bits that add up to a finished work? I tried Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Revisions and Rock Your Plot. She has lots of good advice — but I get bogged down in the Goal-Motivation-Conflict paradigm. To be blunt, my ADHD kicks in and I get really, really . . . bored. Mind Like Teflon sets in, and I can’t focus for even fifteen minutes. And I don’t need the internet to be distracted — although it helps.

My latest writing productivity book is Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k. Much of the plotting advice is similar to that given by Yardley, but simpler. But more than that, she has some wizardly advice for managing yourself as a writer.

WritingTriangleShe gives a simple way to make a task list for a day’s writing. Already, it’s working. She also recommends, well, tracking your time and productivity. So did Yardley, but again Aaron’s method is simpler. (Note to self: Don’t plan on writing fiction after 7 PM. The brain won’t crank.) I really respond to diagrams like the productivity triangle (even though she doesn’t draw it. I did…) And numbers. She has lots of numbers. I find numbers comforting.

I’m still taking too big bites of writing, but it’s getting better. And when I can get those smaller bites to a point at which I can dump them into HabitRPG, I’ll really be cooking.

Update: Novel Writing

HabitRPGAvatarFirst: I intend to finish my post series on “Scrivener v. iOS” Real Soon Now.

Meanwhile, friends, I thought I’d bring you up to date with how the novel writing goes.

Right now, it’s going quite well. That doesn’t mean that 2014 hasn’t brought challenges.

At the beginning of February, I came to the conclusion that if I continued with the non-progress I was making on “Leticia,” I was going to be dead before it was published. Said death would be hastened by my complete lack of exercise, poor diet, and extremely poor sleeping habits, not to mention spending more than eight hours per day playing video RPGs.

So I started from, not zero, but about negative fifteen on a scale of one to ten. I started February 2nd. I pulled together a pastiche of techniques I’ve learned over decades and often ignored. Artist’s Way, Franklin Planner, GTD, talking to friends (gasp!), and Seinfeld chains are some of the more prominent chunks. I also started using a variety of tools, including Penultimate, Pocket Informant,, Goal Streaks, and Evernote in no particular order.

Net result: I’ve written Morning Pages (from Artist’s Way) in Penultimate 21 of 25 days this month. That jump-started the whole process. I started using a light visor (which had lain gathering dust for nearly a year) to regulate my sleeping. I’ve cobbled together a Franklin Planner implementation out of Evernote and Pocket Informant. I’m sending all my “to-do” emails to Evernote, and anything else I think of to do, I snap a photo, and put it into Evernote. My novel notes now reside in Evernote (Scrivener has links to them). To work on something like a character sketch, I sync the relevant note to Pocket Informant with a reminder and date, edit the note right in PI, and check it off there.

But the true game changers were:

  1. Talking to a friend, who gave me the needed boot in the butt to make some effort to correct course in late January.
  2. Recording how I really spent my time, which I did for the first week of February.
  3. Making a concerted effort to implement Seinfeld Chains. (For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Jerry Seinfeld famously attributed his success as a comic to marking each day he wrote a joke on a year-long calendar, and then not breaking the chain of marks.)

It seems silly, but the visual feedback of seeing those chains has really helped. I now have 9 days of exercise, 8 days of absolutely clean Paleo eating, and (hardest of all) 8 days of completing a tangible step towards publication.

It’s hard to be a tortoise — slow and steady. I’ve always been the hare, sprinting ahead (usually under fear of dire consequences,) and then burning out halfway to my goal. Moving ahead towards publication, I fight fear every time I take a step. Nonetheless, I will reach publication — by walking there, one day and one step at a time.

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