Getting Things Done setup for Remember The Milk

Getting Things Done (GTD) is the time management method I follow, and Remember The Milk (RTM) is the task manager I use. Here’s how I have set up RTM to follow the GTD methodology.

This article supposes that the reader is familiar with both GTD and RTM.

Static Lists

Static lists are where your tasks live. They are mandatory and exclusive: in RTM each task must belong to one and only one static list. The static lists I use are:

  • Actions. Most tasks go here.
  • Waiting For. Things that I am waiting on someone else for. Each should have a due date, to remind me to follow up if needed.
  • Someday/Maybe.
  • Projects. Each project is represented with a placeholder task. A note briefly describes the project and where any project reference material is found. A tag is assigned of the form `p.name`, which is also assigned to all tasks related to the project.

Smart Lists

Smart lists are views that show which actions can be done now in different contexts. They are optional and inclusive: a task may appear in any number of smart lists, or none at all.

Contexts define what you need in order to carry out an action. For example, before I can deposit the rent money online I need (1) to be at home (2) a day or two before the rent is due. The task “Deposit rent” is in the Actions static list, but that’s a big list. It is among the many tasks at the Home location, but that’s a big list, too. It is the At Home smart list that shows me exactly what can done then and there, nothing more and nothing less.

Some of my smart lists are permanent; they are:

  • At Home: Tasks that can be done now at home.
  • In Town: Tasks that can be done now in town.
  • Without Location: Tasks on the Actions static list that are not assigned a location. This is to catch any tasks that should have been given a location but were not. The RTM web app is set to show only those smart lists that contain incomplete tasks, so this list’s appearance is a visual clue that I may have made a mistake when adding a task.

Here is my At Home smart list:

  • location:Home
    • Show tasks that can be done at home
  • AND
    • that have any of the following:
  • (
  • (start:never AND due:never)
    • …no start or due date, or
  • OR
  • startBefore:Now
    • …a start time in the past, or
  • OR
  • (dueBefore:"Tomorrow")
    • …are due tomorrow or earlier
  • )
  • NOT
    • But not any task that is:
  • (
  • list:"Projects"
    • …a project placeholder, or
  • OR
  • list:"Someday/Maybe"
    • …on the Someday/Maybe list, or
  • OR
  • (list:"Waiting For" AND (dueAfter:today OR due:never))
    •  …on the Waiting For list that either is not yet due for follow-up or that does not have a follow-up date
  • )

Putting it all together we have:

location:Home AND ((start:never AND due:never) OR startBefore:Now OR dueBefore:"Tomorrow") NOT (list:"Projects" OR list:"Someday/Maybe" OR (list:"Waiting For" AND (dueAfter:today OR due:never)))

That’s complicated, but I only had to craft it once. To create a new smart list for a different location I only have to change “Home” in `location:Home` to something else.

The Without Location smart list is more straightforward: isLocated:false AND list:Actions.

Temporary smart lists are created as needed, again making a simple change to the basic query. Most commonly I do this for any non-trivial project so I can see at a glance everything that can be done now to advance the project. For example, for a family vacation tagged #p.seattle2017 and related packing lists I changed (location:Home OR isLocated:false) to (tag:p.seattle2017 OR tag:p.carry-on OR tag:p.checked_bag).

Tags

Tags help to define contexts and topics. They are optional and inclusive: in RTM a task may be given any any number of tags, or none. The permanent tags I use are:

  • Beginning a tag with “a.” tells me that it is an agenda item to discuss with the named person. Example: #a.adam.
  • Beginning a tag with “p.” tells me that it is an action to perform as part of the named project. Example: #p.seattle2017.
  • Other tags are self explanatory. Example: #car is an action related to car maintenance or repair.

Temporary tags are created as needed.

Locations

Locations are another context, defining where you must be to perform a particular task. They are optional and exclusive. A task need not have a location if it can be performed anywhere, but in RTM it can have no more than one. The permanent locations I use are:

  • Home
  • The name of the city where I live. The whole city, not any particular store or destination.

Temporary locations are created as needed for upcoming travel.

Checklists

I have three ways of handling checklists. The first two are for when the checklist is to be revisited at regular intervals. The last is for a checklist that is ready to be used at some future unknown date.

  • If everything on the list can be done at once, then the checklist is in a note in a single repeating task. For example, the repeating task “Monthly car inspection” has a note with a list of items to inspect. I inspect the items, mark the task as complete, and a new task with that note appears per its repeat interval. This is the easiest way to handle checklists.
  • If not every item on the list will be done at once, but the list and each item on it will repeat on a regular schedule, then I treat it as a project held in Someday/Maybe. When it’s time to begin work on it, I will see it in Someday/Maybe during a weekly review and move it to Projects. From there it is handled like any other project. It has a tag that each task is given, one task per checklist item. The project and each task are given appropriate repetition, and start & due dates. Smart lists hide the tasks until their start dates. For example, the repeating project “Holiday actions” holds a checklist of things to before the December/January holiday season (buy Christmas cards, etc.).
  • For a checklist that is ready to be used on an as-needed basis, see How to Add a Task via Email. For example, I use this for travel checklists (notify my bank of travel plans, apply for needed visas, etc.). This is the most complicated way to handle checklists but is also the most flexible.

References

RTM Help Center: Advanced search syntax that can be used in creating smart lists

All RTM forum posts mentioning GTD. Especially useful posts include:

All GTD forum posts mentioning RTM. Especially useful posts include:

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About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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