Implementing GTD with XPlan

Implementing an organization system, especially at a personal level, is always a matter of compromises. What’s a good fit for someone may not work for someone else. So, your preferred system for time management might be Getting Things Done ®, and that’s perfectly okay.

Some tools specific for GTD are already there but you may want two extras: a Windows application and more support for complex scenarios, especially projects. In that case, XPlan may surprise you.

The basic stages

XPlan is essentially based on a Kanban workflow, which means work items flowing through different states. Practically, it means shifting horizontally through different columns that visually group and sort work items.

You’ll find that this implementation is actually a perfect ground for many specific time management systems, as they usually identify different stages and rely on transitions through them.

In particular, GTD has very defined stages and items, and can only benefit from a clear visual layout of the work items.

So, since XPlan allows you to customize the structure of your system, the first step when implementing GTD in XPlan is configuring the exact stages that you need, starting from those identified by the GTD, but with total flexibility for your specific needs.

The first stage, so popular in many systems, is the InBox, where you can collect all the incoming items. That will be the first column on the left.

According to GTD, the next step is clarifying and organizing the captured material. So, you can move (maybe after some “adjustment”) your items into different stages:

  • Trash: if you want, you can create a stage for it, as temporary storage for deleted items. But, maybe, according to the GTD philosophy, the best is not to create this stage and just delete the items.
  • Someday: This definitely is a needed stage, and it’s going to be the second stage – apart from Trash – at the right of InBox.
  • Waiting: You need this stage to gather what you have to follow up periodically, usually because you delegated it.
  • Next: actionable items go here.
  • Engage: if you want, you can set this stage for the task you’ve currently picked.
  • Done: you may want to keep track of some completed tasks, at least temporarily. As for trash, just deleting them should be the preferred option.

Two possible outcomes of clarification and organization are moving items from the InBox to a filing system or the calendar. In this case, these two “places” are external, since very specific and efficient applications exist for both of these needs. Also, calendar events and reference information are inherently different in nature and management from tasks and projects and deserve specific handling.

So, you now have four stages to start with: InBox, Someday, Waiting, Next.

On XPlan you visually see the items in the respective columns, and you can drag&drop between them, making your periodical revisions super-easy and clear.

But you may already have noticed that two aspects we have still to consider: projects and contexts.

Projects

Some “incompletes” are complex, so they require more actions. We can’t just “execute.”

In that case, you should add a project to your system, define the next action for it and add the next action/s to the system as any other actions.

XPlan is particularly helpful here, because we can define a different type, “project,” and have it as the parent for all the relative actions. We will later see how this can help to get an overall perspective.

We could define a specific stage for projects, just called “projects” or “plan.”

Contexts

Each “next action” should have a context, in the sense of specific place or conditions for it (i.e. at work, at computer, out shopping, etc.)

We could add a specific stage for each context, and maybe this is convenient for a few contexts, or categories of contexts. Anyway, using tags could be a more flexible option.

You could use a few prefixes to distinguish the type of context. As an example:

@ for place-based contexts (@work, @shop, …)

? for person-based contexts (?Marc, ?Jenna, …)

With XPlan you can immediately filter by a specific tag, depending on the current context, or even set multiple preset views for them so that in each context you can focus on the related activities.

GTD tags in XPlan

Priorities

The “next” stage can be a crowded place, so having priorities in place is essential.

Priority is a generic concept that actually summarizes other factors, for example, the value of the action, or its urgency.

In XPlan, priority is automatically calculated basing on other properties of the task: importance, urgency, dates, and effort. So, high-priority tasks will automatically float at the top of the list.

The advantage of this approach is that you both have independent factors specified – which can be used for finer filtering or evaluation – and an automatic calculation of priority. If a due date approaches, for example, the priority will automatically rise. If two tasks have the same factors (importance included), but one of them needs less effort, it will have a higher priority because your time is more efficiently spent on it.

Of course, nothing prevents you from defining specific filters – for example according to your available time -, or scroll through the list, but you can benefit from an automatically sorted proposal.

Perspective

When approaching the planning of your activities you usually need different perspectives at different times.

Horizons, in GTD, define different levels of focus, according to the time horizon. You have short-term horizons (like current actions and projects) and long-term ones (like goals and vision).

XPlan is especially useful in this area, in two specific ways.

You can set different types of work items for different levels of generality, in a hierarchical approach. For example, you can define actions, projects, and areas.

At the same time, you can define different preset views, focusing your workspace with a specific level of generality.

And not only that. Given that you can specify the parent (or more than one) for each work item, you can focus only on the activities of a particular project or area.

The possibility of easy observation of your planned activities from different angles is essential when the number of handled activities grows.

Recapping

Recapping how you can configure a standard GTD setup in XPlan:

As you see, actions could have more specific versions (Call and Post, in this case), at the same level, with custom layout.

GTD task states in XPlan
GTD task types in XPlan

As you see, actions could have more specific versions (Call and Post, in this case), at the same level, with custom layout.

Tags for contexts and a few possible custom views, filtering the items according to your needs, will complete the setup.

Of course, this is only a basic suggestion, and you can extend/modify it at your will, at setup time, or even afterward, when you realize what works best for you.

Now, time to download your XPlan evaluation copy and… give it a try!