Getting Things Done using TaskPaper

I’ve been been a keen convert to GTD since reading the book by David Allen about two years ago. Since then I’ve been a daily visitor to 43Folders and found a lot there to help guide me, there’s a very well informed community of productivity heads all of whom seemed to be working their way though similar issues.

In GTD, there were things I got very quickly - the overall process, ubiquitous capture and adopting a structure to an file system that really matched what I had to do. And of course, Allen’s emphasis on the right tools. This alone is why all the geeks out there love GTD.

Central to my practice was a set of digital tools, KinklessGTD, a bunch of add-ons to Mail, and iCal. When OmniFocus entered beta, I signed up in a hearbeat. And let me tell you, I love it, it’s satisfying and rich, a really flexible piece of software which readily adapted to the complexities of producing a feature film. Now, the film is complete, bar tidying up details, and as the workload grew simpler, I found that my productivity lessened. Sure I was tired, just burned out... but hey, I still was at my desk, still running the system, but I found myself exploring dependencies and time allowances, finessing the structure of my work... rather than actually doing anything...

I’ve had an eye on other GTD apps and downloaded a bunch over the years, usually dismissing them as requiring a bit too much adaptation to their system. I already knew a system, a really good one in OmniFocus, and I’d no interest in exploring another. But still, recently, I’ve come to accept that something has to change.

I returned to an old paper system I’ve used prior to having software for this purpose, post-its with single tasks obscuring my work window, do a task, clear some window space. Gets me up from my desk and there was some simple pleasure in taking up a piece of paper and trashing it. There was something about having your work up on a large public window that put a bit of pressure on me. But still it was hardly portable and obviously very limited.

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Enter TaskPaper from Hog Bay Software.

Hog Bay have always produced quality software, their Mori was one of the better outliner/note taking software offerings prior to them selling it on. Back in the day, if you visited the Hog Bay site, it was refreshing to read on the Mori page, frank recommendations of DevonThink and OmniOutliner, two competing products. And today if you visit the TaskPaper section, you’ll read an endorsement of OmniFocus. All very evolved indeed, it speaks well of them, I wish other software producers were as generous. They also produce WriteRoom, which I own and love too. The original of the full-screen wordprocessors, also worth checking out.

To launch TaskPaper is to get it.

Its model is of a blank piece of paper, using it is like grabbing a pen and quickly drafting a list of stuff to be done. As a result it feels really fresh. Punch in your Projects and Tasks, assign Contexts/Tags on the fly, sort your lists by project or by context/tag. That’s it. No Futzing. My productivity soared.

For all its simplicity it has a lot of admirable qualities, not least of which is that the file is plain text, you can load it up into other software should you need to. TaskPaper’s internal workings enables it to sort it and format it.

It’s got tabs which I use for handy clicking to commonly used views. Like everything in TaskPaper, it’s simple to do and simple to remove, so you feel flexible and responsive, you don’t think too much about it, you just do it.

Again a sign of flexibility, It permits on the fly addition of multiple contexts. For me contexts, as defined in GTD, always were tags, as usually understood. Beyond the usual applications for context, I use them to add complexity, when needed, to the straightforward TaskPaper approach.

In OmniFocus I used to have a complex structure of projects and sub-projects, nested several layers deep in some instances. TaskPaper could be used to create subprojects in the use of names only like ‘Film-distribution’, ‘Film-marketing’ and so on. But I’ve not done that. It felt wrong, like the path I’d taken in OmniFocus that ended up with a huge matrix of projects which frankly triggered my procrastinating sorry-ass self to emerge. So now, if I have to designate a series of tasks to relate to a sub-project, I simply tag it with ‘design’ or ‘marketing’ and all the tasks with that tag appear in their own list. If I need that.

I really appreciate the simplicity of this software, it’s almost unspoken encouragement to just put your words down and move on. I’m keenly aware that I may find myself in the throes of a large complex project and TaskPaper may struggle to match it, but hey, I know I can pick up OmniFocus again for that period in my life. For when I’m not, TaskPaper is more than capable and like a good draught of cool water, just might refresh my understanding of my own productivity.

Taskpaper from Hog Bay Software. Highly recommended.

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