The best GTD tool is still a Wiki – part I

Did you notice that there are seasons for software as well ? Similarly as with other merchandise, there are times during the year when many more people suddenly decide they need that one application X. Luckily, this trend is not as extreme as with e.g. Santa hats or carved pumpkins, which are impossible to find in stores outside of the narrow window around Christmas and Halloween (I am grateful for that :-)). In software world, the most seasonal category is tax preparation software, for obvious reasons. Taxes, like the dentist checkup are not something you will be crazy even thinking about, unless it is that time of year ….

Less seasonal but still quite tied to the “New Year’s Resolutions’ Season” is the personal productivity software. Every year in January, big part of the population starts to work on their time management skills, weight loss, healthy eating or personal productivity in general. I personally cannot wait until this wave fades and the gyms are at normal mostly-empty state – I hate waiting in line to get to treadmill just to listen to next episode of the TWIT. But back to the software.

After reading a lot (and I mean a lot) of articles about the best way how to do GTD (if you are not familiar with the cult of the GTD, see the 43 Folders, listen to the Merlin Mann’s interview with David Allen or buy The Book – ideally all of these), I have decided to review my tool selection from about 2 months ago. I am informally following the GTD approach with mixed success – I am about 10% more productive, but at least 50% less stressed, which much more important.

The GTD tools come in three categories: online-only, desktop based and something in-between. Hardest decision was deciding between whether go online only or not. As with GMail, having all your data in the cloud is so convenient and it eliminates problems with backups and synchronization. But what makes sense for email, does not necessarily work for the task management as well: quite often you want to go offline, free from temptations of RSS newsfeeds and distraction of the Web, just to think and plan. So online-only did not work for me. I did look into and tried out some online tools – if I get to it, I may write about the experience.

Non-web based tools give the maximal user comfort, as long as you have your notebook with you. This was a problem for me before, but since I have unified all platforms on the Macbook Pro, it became so indispensable that I hardly ever part from it, so this was less an issue. Also synchronization was not too important, for the very same reason: the notebook is portable enough to be taken with me anywhere I need. The last issue was the data format: with something so important, I was careful about keeping my data in proprietary format (more so after experiencing two occasions of Outlook PST file corruption and data loss during past 10 years).

The solution I have selected was Wiki-in-File, based on idea of TiddlyWiki. First – Wiki-In-A-File is Wiki system, implemented as one large HTML file, which stores both the data that is displayed in the browser as well as the code driving Wiki – in JavaScript. Unlike in case of a server based Wiki, you need neither Web server, nor the database – just open the .html file and after editing the content, save it back to disk (most W-I-A-F will create backup of the old file first).

In traditional Wiki’s, the information is structured into pages that are interlinked. In the TiddlyWiki, the unit is a page segment, named tiddler. The actual page consists of some subset of tiddlers, that are dynamically opened, added to page or closed by JavaScript code. The result is much more dynamic and less “webbish” – very Ajaxian.

TiddlyWiki offers all features that one would expect in a Wiki – such as automatic interlinking of tiddlers (pages), difference and history of a tiddler. It also has few great features that you normally find only in better products such as automatic timeline (list of tiddlers edited on a date), full text search, tagging of tiddlers and search by tags, macros. One features that is lacking is security and access rights – being a single user personal Wiki, it is not really a problem.

There are many flavors of TiddlyWikis out there: see this, this and this – or read the comparison. What is special on the MonkeyGTD (the one I am using) is predefined set of tags and content for the GTD specific application and also possibility of saving file both locally, or uploading it to the “cloud” on the tiddlyspot. The uploaded version is protected by password and can be used as emergency copy. You can also edit the online copy and save it both to local disk to the cloud. The only issue that I have found out is that it takes some management to keep track where is the latest version and whether to start with remote or local to avoid overwriting some changes.

This post starts to get too large, so better split it in few parts. In part II I will describe how the GTD works in MonkeyGTD. Stay tuned.

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2 Comments on “The best GTD tool is still a Wiki – part I”

  1. Martien Says:

    Hello,

    Could you go a little bit further into details about why a wiki is the best gtd tool?

    Some of the software I found quite useful are:

    – online:
    Google Calendar
    Zoho Projects
    Basecamp
    Mindomo

    – desktop/intranet:
    Outlook
    Exchange
    Thunderbird

    – offline:
    Todolist++
    Freemind
    Tomboy

  2. sandrar Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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