Thymer and Remember the Milk

I have a pretty strong distrust of anything that claims to automate your GTD process: most of them claim more attention than they relieve and become jobs in themselves. Nevertheless I do need somewhere to park my next actions at home. Work is wall-to-wall Outlook and I synch it down to my smartphone, but at home I use gmail for email and a low-tech wall-calendar for agenda items because the children can use it too. I looked at both Thymer and Remember the Milk as candidates, please do not write in to tell me that there are others...

Thymer has a very elegant interface, uncluttered and fluid and I found it very pleasant to use, but it is not quite my GTD cup of tea: tasks get hung on a timeline, there is an emphasis on timing activities (great if you charge time) and the ability to bump a task onto a later date is a way of setting priorities. You are basically loading a day with tasks off your inventory and pushing back everything you do not regard as urgent and important. That is rather like Michael Linenberger's approach, not incompatible with GTD, but priorities play a bigger role than I like. Projects are nicely implemented and Thymer makes it easy to share a project with someone else. I suspect that Thymer might work very well for time-driven project groups working from a bill-of-work, but it did not suit me. I also missed the ability to synchronize, Thymer is expecting to be your desktop and does not talk to anything else. Thymer is freemium, there is a very basic version for free and you pay a monthly subscription for the full product and group usage.

Remember the Milk has slightly clunkier tabbed interface, orientated around an inbox. It lets you set up task groups any way you like and synchs reliably with my Windows Mobile smartphone and reputedly also with iPhones. Cute, but currently not very necessary for me is the Twitter interface: a well-aimed tweet will insert a to-do into your RTM account. RTM is definitely less fun to use than Thymer, the interface needs two clicks to complete a task for instance, but they win on synchronisation ability:  I like to have the same task list at home and work.


Sorting by shape

Whenever I give a Getting Things Done training course I start with a funny little exercise I developed. I spread out a pack of "e-mail" cards on the table, labeled "urgent", "from your boss", "from a colleague you do not like" and so on on the table. On the other side of the cards is a money amount representing the value of handling the e-mail. People home in on the Boss and Urgent e-mails and find tiny or even negative amounts on the reverse of the card. Naturally, some of the least appealing cards have very high values. , making this a game that is hard to win.

Once a couple of people have failed to "score" by picking random e-mails I show them that the only way to truly win is to turn over all the cards. You cannot choose what to do until you have Once you have found out what something means, to you, you can decide about priorities.

Back when my beloved wife and I were DINKs (Double Income No Kids) we had a cleaning lady called Norma. She was a smart and capable lady but had a tendency to store anything we left lying on a surface in any random, nearby place into which it fitted.  This made things so hard to find that even now, years later, we  we call any situation in which something has been carefully put away in the wrong place "Normalized".  Norma was no dummy, but of course did not know where to put our random items because she did not know what they meant, to us. To give an example, nobody could know where to put the cinnamon away in my kitchen, unless you know I like cinnamon on my raisin-toast in the morning (habit I picked up in Australia).

The point of this is that if you do not know what something means, what action it demands of you, you will be unable to store it correctly, let alone attempt to prioritize it with respect to other things in your world.