By Leo Babauta
The ideal for anyone interested in Getting Things Done (more on GTD, and more)– or just being productive and organized, for that matter — is to be able to quickly add things to your to-do lists without interrupting your work; to be able to see what you need to do right now, without worrying about everything else; to be able to organize stuff without too much work.
And of course, GTD fans like tools that are just cool.
Since switching back to the Mac OS a couple months ago, I’ve been playing around with GTD apps for the Mac. I’m looking for something very simple, something nice to use, something that I don’t have to play around with a lot, something where I can add stuff instantly. And what did I find? The are some amazing GTD apps for the Mac. Seriously.
When I used a PC, the only real desktop GTD app I saw was for Outlook, which I do not like at all. So I used online apps (recommendations at the bottom). But the Mac GTD apps are just great! It’s super hard to choose — you basically have to play with all of them and figure out what works for you.
What did I end up with? I like iGTD a lot, but I’ve settled (for now) on a custom setup that is the height of simplicity. More about that in a few. For now, let’s look at some great Mac GTD apps — remembering that you don’t need to actually do GTD to use them.
1. iGTD. While all the apps below are great, this is my personal favorite. It’s simple, and you can add tasks and other items very quickly through Quicksilver (my all-time favorite app) or other methods. It’s easy to organize stuff, and you can just look at what you need to look at. Plus, the interface is really nice. It works pretty much exactly how you’d want a GTD app to work, and the clincher is that there’s some cool integration with Mail.app so that you can email tasks to iGTD from anywhere. This may be the most popular GTD app for the Mac (though I’m not sure, so don’t quote me). The current version (188.8.131.52) is donationware, and there’s a free alpha version of iGTD2 (which I think might require payment once it’s officially released).
2. Kinkless GTD. If iGTD is the most popular GTD app for the Mac, then for a long time that crown was held by Kinkless. It’s an ingenious workaround for OmniOutliner, a popular outlining program for the Mac. Using a well-written script, Kinkless automatically sorts and updates stuff. This simplicity and automation makes for a lot of power, once you get used to the system. Takes a little bit of learning, but it’s a great system. The Kinkless script is free, but you have to own OmniOutliner to use it.
3. OmniFocus. If you liked Kinkless, you’ll love OmniFocus. The creator of Kinkless was hired by the OmniOutliner folks (The Omni Group) to create a true todo list and product-management app, a la Kinkless. It looks and works great, but the drawback is the high price: $79.95. It’s a must-buy for Kinkless fans, probably, but for the rest of us there is free or cheaper software out there (like the other things on this list) that work great.
4. Things. Things caused a bit of a splash in the Mac GTD community when it came out a few months ago, mostly because it looks so cool. A preview version has been out that works pretty nicely, although it was a bit limited when I tried it a little while ago. The full version (for $49) is scheduled to come out sometime this Spring, and it’s something to look out for. It’s not a strictly GTD program, so it can be used for a variety of setups. Really slick.
5. Midnight Inbox. While there’s a version 2 coming out soon, version 1 is already pretty great. It has an interface that’s just as slick as Things, works great, and is perhaps the easiest to understand of all the apps on this list, right out of the box. You don’t need to learn GTD or try to figure out the interface — it’s readily apparent. Definitely worth a look. Has a free 14-day trial, then costs $35 for a single license — which will get you free upgrades to versions 2.o and 3.0 and everything in between.
My Custom Setup
While I love the apps mentioned above, I personally look for super simple. So I’ve settled on a setup taken from Gina and Adam’s articles on Lifehacker (read the tutorials: Geek to Live and Hack Attack).
Text files: Basically, I organize my tasks in a series of text files. That’s because they’re super simple, easy to manipulate, and small. My four files:
- @today: my three MITs for today, along with calls, batch tasks, and an inbox for new things added to the list.
- @ideas: any ideas for projects, posts, or anything really.
- @errands: includes regular errands and my shopping list.
- @todo: my list of 3 projects I’m working on and any other todo items I’m not going to do today.
Quicksilver append: I use the glorious program Quicksilver to quickly add things to any of my lists with the “append text” command. So let’s say I think of a task or errand or idea to add to my list. I call up Quicksilver (Cmd-Space), type the text of the idea or task (hit period first), tab to the next pane and start typing “append to” (it pops up as soon as I type the letter “a”), tab to the next pane and start typing the list I want to add it to (@today, for example). Basically takes just a few keystrokes, and then Quicksilver disappears and I continue whatever I was doing. It’s simple and super fast.
Geektool to display: For myself, I forget to use whatever to-do list program I’m using unless I see it all the time. So I wanted a way to see my lists easily without having to open a program all the time, or go to a website just to see what I need to do or add something. So I use Geektool to display my files on my desktop — always available, and I never forget them. It updates every 10 seconds. See the Geek to Live tutorial mentioned above for more.
How I work: In case you’re curious, my basic workflow: I set up my MITs every morning in my @today list. I add smaller tasks and stuff to this list as the day goes on, but the only things I really care about completing are the MITs. If I have an idea or errand or other todo item, I’ll quickly add it to the appropriate list. I’ll take my errand or shopping list with me if I go out. If I need to write a post, I’ll check my @ideas list. Anytime I want to check my lists, I just minimize whatever program I’m using (usually either Firefox or a text program) and look at my desktop.
Recommendations for non-Mac users
If you don’t use a Mac, I recommend an online GTD or todo program. There are many good ones. Some of the best, that I’ve actually tried: Vitalist, Nozbe, Backpack, Tadalists, Tracks, SimpleGTD, Mojonote, Tasktoy, Todoist, Remember the Milk, GTD Gmail.
- For more on Getting Things Done, see David Allen’s excellent book: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- For an alternate method of productivity, organization and simplicity, try my ebook, Zen To Done.