Update on GTD v. ADHD #amwriting

A heavily modified version of Getting Things Done is still my go-to system, and I still have it tied to Habitica, the gamified to-do system I’ve been using for several years.

My calendar after GTD processing

GTD principles I ignore or simplify:

From my point of view many of GTD’s classifications are complications that I avoid or simplify lest I stop using the system. The ones I either don’t use or simplify greatly are related to categorisation and prioritisation, which ADHD folks are notoriously bad at (I am no exception):

  • Roles: Classifying things to do by the “role I play” while doing them. I don’t bother. The details of why I have to do a thing are things that are too nitpicky to record. Because I’m a writer? A wife? A housemate? Because I damn well please? It doesn’t matter.
  • Contexts:
 Classifying things to do by the location in which I do them. Again, I don’t bother.
  • Projects: Classifying things to do by the project of which they’re a part. If I have more than two projects going at once, I’m in trouble anyway. So I have essentially two projects: Writing-Related and Not Writing-Related. That’s fine enough categorisation for this ADHD person.
  • Priorities: GTD has four of these: Now, Next, Later, and Someday. For me, it’s either Now or Later. I can’t cut this any finer.
GTD principles I retain:

But there are things that are core to GTD that I’ve taken to heart and have heavily automated:

  • Collecting: I’ve set up automations via IFTTT and Zapier for this. Whether I add reminders in Evernote, in Siri, in the iOS Reminders app directly, in a (rarely-used) iOS app called Daily Notes, or by forwarding emails to Evernote as to-dos, they all get funnelled to a Google calendar I call “Unprocessed”, as all-day events due the next Monday after the events are added.
  • Processing: The hard part. I have it scheduled for every Monday; about half the time I actually do it. This is where having the tasks disguised as all-day events becomes useful. “Unprocessed”, “Processed”, “Scheduled” and “Appointments” are the four Google calendars I have on the same account—so that they all appear on my week’s calendar in neat little day-based columns.

How I process things to do:

I look at the unprocessed events, and delete those that I, upon reflection, don’t need to do. I then transfer the remainder to the Processed calendar.

On the Processed calendar, I start looking for places to put the most important to-dos on my calendar. My rule is that I never schedule more than five items on a single day. Writing is always scheduled, as is exercise. Appointments count as items. As I schedule to-dos, I move them to the Scheduled calendar. Left over items get moved to the next Monday’s Processed calendar. (Or possibly deleted if I decide that Later has become Never.)

From here my automation takes over. Via Zapier, all the Scheduled calendar items and the Appointments calendar items get inserted into my Habitica to-do list on the appropriate date. I either do them, or my fellow Habitica party members will chew me out.

Finally, a GTD user is to regularly review whether a thing-to-do is needful, and if the categorisation and prioritisation is appropriate. I don’t do this regularly; instead I do this when I feel like chucking it all. Usually this means either I need to prune my daily checklist (which isn’t tracked through GTD) or I’ve over-complicated my GTD variant. Again.

But still, the GTD paradigm remains useful so long as my automations still work—heaven help me if IFTTT or Zapier goes out of business!

Time for a Progress Update #amwriting

Focused Writing Time
Focused Writing Time

I’ve gritted my teeth, and started using RescueTime. I didn’t want to; as a (failed) employee, I hated bosses who actually kept track of how much time I worked because — well, because I spent so much time off in my head in the stories I never wrote down.

But now, I’m a boss with an employee (me) who spends her time off in her head in the stories she doesn’t write down — or rather, the stories she hasn’t yet written down. What I thought I would get when I started using RescueTime was a picture of how I “wasted” my time, and ways to help me stop doing that.

What I got was rather different.

I’ve told RescueTime which websites and apps are actually tools I use to write. I’ve set up Beeminder to automatically suck down how much time I spend writing (on my Mac only; RescueTime doesn’t support iOS). I’ve set a very gentle goal of (currently) 12 hours per week. When I started, it was only 6 hours per week.

Look at the graph to see how far I’ve come — despite my anxiety hiccup last week.

I never look at how I’ve “wasted” time, or even at how much time I’ve “wasted.” I pretty much know; always have. I’m gaming, or shopping, or reading. If I’m on my phone or on my iPad, it’s pretty much a given that I’m “wasting” time these days; if I’m actually writing, I can post it in RescueTime as “offline time.”

But there is a subtle push now, that if I’m off in my head in storyland, I really need to be putting it on the page, or saving the research, or starting a new project, or documenting my backgrounds. Something productive, because I’ve known for a long time that if I don’t record it, it doesn’t count. So, I open up my Mac and I do that. The results are obvious.

Most of the time I don’t think about the fact that RescueTime is “looking over my shoulder.” I asked it to, just as I’ve asked Beeminder to crack the whip. But these subtle little changes in my attitude, as a result of deciding that I want to be more focused, get more work done, get a freaking story out the freaking door, are adding up.

I don’t know if it impresses you, but it impresses the hell out of me.

The Beeminder and the Misfit

Screenshot 2016-01-07 13.52.35 Now that I’ve set up my Beeminder goals, I’m looking for ways to simplify data entry. There are a lot of automatic data sources listed on the Beeminder website, but many of them won’t work for me. For example, I could track words automatically if I only wrote via Draft, but I’m not about to give up Scrivener.

On the other hand, there was the tempting possibility of purchasing a fitness tracker. Beeminder supports several. After much digging on Amazon, I settled on Misfit’s Flash Link, for its — let’s face it — astonishingly low entry price of $15 for the tracker sensor, and $8 for a third-party wristband, as purchased on Amazon.

The Misfit Flash Link
The Misfit Flash Link

Not that cheapness is without its costs. The reviews on Amazon universally excoriate the durability of Misfit’s wristbands and shoe clips — basically, they have no durability. (Hence the third-party wristband.) And if the tracker goes wonky, Misfit support is reputed to be remarkably unhelpful.

The tracker arrived Monday, January 4. I looked carefully through the minimal manual and the packaging. The word “warranty” never appeared. Eventually I found a warranty page on their website, but the weaseling language and user comments on Amazon made me realize that my only allies in this purchase are those on Amazon and the Apple App Store who bother to publish their reviews.

With those review pages open, I started connecting my Misfit to my iPhone and to Beeminder. Since I use IFTTT heavily and it supports Misfit, I wanted maximum connectivity — and the Flash Link in particular is advertised as being able to connect to many wonderful things, as well as being a wizard fitness tracker.

Well, I got it working. Yes, I now have two Beeminder goals being automatically tracked from my Misfit — Misfit points (Misfit to IFTTT to Beeminder) and bedtime (Misfit to IFTTT to Beeminder.) I’ve convinced the little devil to send signals to IFTTT when I double-click or triple-click it. That’s covering a third goal, my range-of-motion exercise sets. I can set up a direct Beeminder goal for sleep hours or steps, if I want, and yet more data automation is possible via IFTTT. The tracker itself is set up to automatically flick on when I raise my wrist (like the thirty-times more expensive Apple Watch!) and show me its little LED clock and progress display.

This did not come easily. Below is my review for the App Store and for Amazon, republished below for anyone who wants a cheap tracker to do marvelous things.

Now to see if it actually lasts so long that I need to change the battery.

MISFIT FLASH LINK AND LINK APP (**** ) (four of five stars)

I bought this for a fraction of the cost of other fitness trackers, and my expectations are in proportion to price. Nonetheless, I have deducted one star for the challenge level of setting it up correctly.

Firstly, if you only want an activity tracker, the simplest thing is to just use it with the Misfit app, and forget about the Link app. If, however, you’d like to double-click or triple-click the tracker to control some function while still using it as a tracker, read on.

Any one Flash can ONLY be used as an activity tracker OR a music remote OR a selfie button OR a Preso clicker OR a Bolt switch OR a “custom button” at a time. It can’t do them all at once, despite advertising implication. If you set up your activity tracker via Link you can have extra functions, but it’s not going to do them all at the same time. First, disconnect your Flash from the Misfit app if you’ve already connected it (disconnect it from within the app.) After that, go to your phone’s Bluetooth settings and disconnect the Flash there, too.

Be sure you’ve downloaded both the Misfit app and the Misfit Link app. Now open the Link app. Go ahead and connect your Flash to it, and select Activity Tracker. The Link app will automatically connect your Flash to the Misfit app as well as to itself. Yay! You now have the function you probably bought the Flash Link for. Now you can set up the double-press or triple-press functions to a) send a “Yo;” b) connect to IFTTT.com for a recipe you can program; c) Connect to a Harmony home control system; or d) ring your phone. I use IFTTT extensively — so I have IFTTT recipes connected both to double-press and to triple-press.

Finally, you will get the opportunity to set up your Flash to automatically turn on and show you your progress and the time when you raise your wrist (like an Apple Watch.) Think carefully before you turn this on; you can’t turn it off, and it will run down your battery a bit faster.

Now you can edit the tracker in Link to do one of those other functions (selfie button, etc.). It will still track your activity, and you can still sync it with the Misfit app, but you won’t be able to see your progress or the time on the tracker itself (unless you turned on the wrist flick thing) until you edit the tracker back to the Activity Tracker function in the Link App. Also, you won’t be able to tag activities unless your Flash is in Activity Tracker mode in the Link app.

All this is horribly confusing, and not well explained in the apps as you’re doing what you’re doing. Worse, the Misfit app offers you an opportunity to set up your tracker with the Link app from the Device page within the Misfit app itself. Don’t believe it! It lies! Disconnect your Flash from the Misfit app before you start in with the Link app, as I described above.

Trello with Extra Zap(ier)s and IFTTTs

http://Zapier.com and http://IFTTT.com can make repeating tasks in Trello.
http://Zapier.com and http://IFTTT.com can make repeating tasks in Trello.
The problem with Trello (or for that matter, Evernote) as a task manager is that it doesn’t handle repeating tasks. And my favorite task game, Habitica, has its own limits — its repeat schedules are much more flexible than they used to be, but not so flexible as a semi-decent calendar or task-only app (examples: Google Calendar, Toodledo.) In addition to this, I really want ONE place to mark off things as done — I find it enough of a pain to follow a bloody list, even one I’ve made for myself. Having to mark things off two or three times — well, it leads me to sulking for a week or three before guilt and boredom drive me back to my lists.

My previous post on Trello, “Trello — Its Impact on GTD, ADHD, The Universe, and Everything”, promised more detail about my use of Zapier and IFTTT. Both these services follow a trigger–action paradigm: the service watches for a particular sort of event in an app you tell it to watch — the trigger. When the service sees that trigger, it sets off another event in a second app — the action. Here are my current trigger–action pairs:

  • Zapier:
    • Scheduled Trello task -> Google Calendar “For Tasks” (This takes care of the rare case in which I schedule a task directly from my main Trello board.)
    • Credit Habitica with Trello completions (Major coolness! The Habitica “action” is unofficial, so that you have to request access via Habitica. But worth it — I no longer need to copy one-off tasks to Habitica by hand.)
    • Events from Google Calendar “Appointments” to Trello (I treat appointments — rare in my schedule — as one-off to-dos.)
    • Evernote ToDo items to Trello
  • IFTTT:
    • If any event starts on Google Calendar “For Tasks”, then create a card in – Trello, Silvers’s Plate board (This is the core of my repeating tasks list.)
    • If every day at 01:00 AM, then create a card in – Silver’s Plate board (This is just a reminder to look at my Habitica daily lists so I don’t forget them…)
    • If card assigned to me in – Trello, Willow’s Journey, then create a card in – Trello, Silver’s Plate board
    • If card assigned to me in Trello, Manifester, then create a card in – Trello, Silver’s Plate board (The above two put items from my writing projects into my daily tasks so I don’t forget….)
    • If any new iOS reminder, then create a card in – Trello, Silver’s Plate board (So I can use Siri to remind me later of things I think of while driving.)

The truth is, that I’d use Zapier almost exclusively if I could afford it. Zapier is a much more flexible automation tool than IFTTT. IFTTT’s only advantages: it can automate events triggered by things in iOS or Android OS, such as a new iOS reminder or receiving an Android SMS. And it’s free. Zapier, by contrast, costs $20 a month if you want more than 100 successfully triggered actions per month and/or more than five scripts.

Zapier’s $20 per month gets you 3000 (!) successfully triggered actions — far more than I need. I could use about 300. I wish they had, say, a $5 per month option for 500 triggered events — I’d pay that in a heartbeat. As it is, I use IFTTT when I can to avoid being maxed out on triggered actions.

But still, maintenance of my task list is down to a minimum, and my level in Habitica is climbing higher and higher!

I love technology.

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.