Notes on FacileThings

I wanted to try out some GTD-oriented tools as part of my "get back on the GTD wagon" goal. A few appeared frequently in my searches:

Each one supports a varying degree of GTD-ness, but FacileThings stood out as the most GTD-oriented. I've been using it for a few weeks now and have some initial thoughts on it. Overall I've been very happy with it.

What I like

  • It's heavily designed around GTD. The full process of capturing, clarifying, organizing and doing is built right into the software.
  • It supports the more high-level parts of organization, such as goals and "areas of responsibility". Tasks can be assigned to a goal and/or area, and can then be filtered appropriately.
  • The weekly review tool is a huge time saver. Each step has instructions, along with the tools required to complete them. For example, the "review your projects" step lists all projects, and each one can be checked quickly from the same page.
  • There are integrations for Evernote, Twitter and several cloud storage providers. Reference material can also be stored in Evernote and accessed from projects.
  • The dashboard lists reminders, calendar items for the day and all appropriate next actions. It can be filtered by tag (e.g. `work` or `personal`), along with time, energy and urgency. It also has a graph of tasks completed for the current week. It will remind you if items have been sat in the inbox for too long without being clarified.
  • There are keyboard shortcuts for accessing each part of the app.
  • Projects can have sub-projects. Projects can also be put into "waiting for" status, which is very helpful when working on client projects. Projects are highlighted when they are missing a next action.
  • Has a tickler file.
  • Has an "analytics" section that contains a lot of statistics. Things like how much is being collected, how much is being processed and how much is being done. It's a good way to find stuck projects and things that may be better suited to the "someday/maybe" pile.
  • The "Focus On" button in the top right can be used to quickly filter everything to goals and areas of responsiblities. So you can say "I want to work on goal X right now" and it will filter tasks and projects accordingly.
  • Can send emails have them go straight into the inbox.
  • Can be set up to email daily and weekly reports.
  • Shows you estimated time to complete projects and lists. So you can get a rough idea of how much time is needed to clear your entire next actions list (assuming you set estimated times).

What I don't like

  • Overall appearance isn't quite as polished as other tools out there.
  • Jumping to projects is done via dropdown menu, rather than a dedicated button, which isn't as smooth as I'd like. However, there is a keyboard shortcut to jump to the projects page.
  • It's not as keyboard-friendly as other tools. For example, Nirvana has keyboard shortcuts for adding projects and next actions from any page.
  • There isn't a way to import data from other platforms or via CSV/Text file
  • It's very expensive compared to other platforms. The current price is $84 a year (if paid in one go) and there is no lifetime option. For comparison, Nirvana is $50 for a lifetime subscription.
  • It's a little sluggish in places. Closing a task can sometimes take 5-10 seconds.
  • There's a Ruby API client, but there's very little documentation. I'd love a more complete API, and would especially like some webhooks for when tasks/projects are completed and weekly reviews are finished.
  • Not free/libre. I like to own my data and prefer self-hosted solutions.

GTD Step 2: Processing

In the GTD methodology, processing is the act of deciding what to do with each item that has been captured. It's fairly straightforward: take each item, and decide whether to do it, defer it, delegate it or dump it.

Most importantly - nothing goes back in the in tray.

Processing steps

Take each item from the capture pile, and ask yourself "is this item actionable?". In GTD, an item is actionable if you need to do something about it.

If the item is actionable

Decide on what action (or actions) are required. Depending on the item this can take some time. Once there's a clear picture on what to do:

  • If it will take <= 2 minutes, do it immediately
  • If it can be delegated, delegate it to someone and track it on a "waiting" list
  • If it will take more than one action to complete, add it to the "projects" list and add the first action to this project
  • If it takes a single action, add a single and well-defined item to the "next actions" list and attach an approriate context where the action can be done (e.g. "at store" or "at work")
  • Otherwise, defer it:
    • If it HAS to be done on a specific date, put it on the calendar
    • Otherwise put it on a context-appropriate todo list

If the item is NOT actionable

  • If it is something to possibly be worked on in the future, add it to the "someday/maybe" list
  • If it is reference information, file it
  • Otherwise, discard it

Processing an item should take around 30 seconds.

Initial processing

I had so much stuff during my initial processing phase that I decided to do a fast triage to make it a little easier. It's not an approach I recommend, but I didn't want to miss any tasks that due in the next few days.

I ended up with three separate piles:

  1. Items I knew were going to be filed. This included things like utility bills, tax forms, insurance documents, receipts older than the current tax year etc
  2. Items for current or recent projects went back into the in tray (I know I broke the most important rule)
  3. Items that belonged to other projects or didn't really have a set place went to a third pile

Anything that would take under a minute got done during triage. This was mostly small things like "I need to this address in my address book" or "I need to put this receipt in my 2019 my tax folder".

Everything else went straight into the recyle bin.

During normal processing I would not take this approach, but after my initial capture I had over a year's worth of items and it was quite overwhelming. It made sense to batch things up to me, as I'm usually in a creative mood when I'm filing items.

One surprising thing was just how much ended up getting discarded. Around half of the items I processed were either already done, or were things I didn't want any more.

Other things I noticed:

  • The two minute rule is a huge help. There were so many things I'd put off that could be done quickly, and getting them all out of the way was a relief.
  • It's worth putting time into thoroughly deciding what to do. Sometimes I'll get lazy and add a next action that isn't well-defined. This means I have to spend extra time when going through my actions list because I'm having to process items twice. I always end up procrastinating on tasks that aren't well defined.

I was expecting a huge list of next actions after processing, but ended up with around 50 projects and maybe 200 next items. A good chunk of items also went on my "someday/maybe" list, but I think if I was being realistic I could ditch 50% of them.

Groundhog Day Resolutions - April 2019

Here's how March's GHD goals went:

March's Primary Goals

1. Run a total of 18 miles

I expected to be a little sort from playing football, but ended up with some heavier injuries that impacted my running.

Important lesson learned - don't play sports for a week or two before race day.

2. Continue bodyweight exercises and track my workouts

I reduced my workout to once a week whilst injured but didn't track anything. To be honest I didn't really know what to track, although that's not a particularly good reason not to do it.

3. Release a playable game

Total failure here.

4. Write every week

I wrote 5 short notes for, along with a brief post-mortem for Tiny Tactics. A small victory.

Primary goals for April

1. Put my goals somewhere visible

A big contributor to March's failure (and February's too) was that my goals aren't in a system that I regularly see. Ideally I'd see them during my weekly review, and probably more often than that. I'd like to set up a system to make sure they don't get pushed aside.

2. Research half marathon running plans

There are 6 months until race day. I'd like to have a better plan in place than just "run a few times a week".

3. Publish a new post on this site once a week

Writing helped a little in March, so I'd like to continue the streak.

4. Release a project

There are 12 "release something" goals on my other goals list. I need to start actually checking them off if I want to get them all done this year.

Groundhog Day Resolutions - March 2019

February was not great. It wasn't a total bust, but compared to January it was a bit of a downer.

Here's a rundown of February's goals:

February's Primary Goals

1. Run a total of 20 miles

I managed just over 16.5 miles before suffering from some minor knee pain. It wasn't too serious, but I didn't want to chance doing more damage so I took a few days off. The cold weather didn't help either.

Even though I'm calling this a fail, I was pleased with how everything went. My longest run was 3.4 miles (nonstop), which isn't bad considering I could only manage 2 minutes straight in August.

2. Add bodyweight training to my running workouts

I added bodyweight exercises once a week. I didn't track these workouts so I couldn't really measure any improvements. Even the lowest level exercises were quite difficult at first, although things did get easier after a few weeks.

It's definitely something I want to keep doing.

3. Release a prototype of Tiny Tactics

Not even close on this one.

I only worked for around 10 hours over the course of the month. I got a very basic map working along with some gameplay elements (mostly menus), but nothing even remotely playable.

At this point I'm not sure I can turn things around in time to get a demo released. I may end up releasing a tiny game in March just to get something positive done.

4. Write 1,000 words of my book

This one is 50/50. I only wrote around 500 words in February, but I spent some time researching the topic in more depth. I have a pretty good idea of how I want to structure the book and what I want to cover. More importantly, I have a better idea of the stuff I don't want to write about.

5. Finish setting up my GTD system

There's still a small pile of things left to process, but I got a basic system up and running. My inbox was finally emptied after two years, so I can't call this anything but a success.

February's Secondary Goals

1. Finish adding items to my "other goals" list

Given how badly February went, I think this list is long enough for now.

2. Release IFTTT version of Garlic Spy

This isn't a project that's particularly important to me, but I wanted to experiment with Ruby on Rails and this seemed like a good start.

I built a few bits and pieces with ActiveJob, set up integration with IFTTT and tidied up the deployment process. There's always more to do, but I'm happy with what I managed to get done.

3. Add new backend to crypto-ticker-mode

I started writing a basic API layer but never got around to finishing or integrating it.

That brings February to a 50% success rate. Overall it was a pretty disappointing month. Worse still, it's had a bit of hangover effect into March. Even though I'm a week into the month I haven't really been productive.

Primary goals for March

1. Run a total of 18 miles

Football season starts this month, so I'll be down to running twice a week whilst until I adapt. 18 miles gives me a little leeway to adjust distances depending on injuries and soreness. At this point I'm still working on building a base, and I won't start adding more miles until May or June.

2. Continue bodyweight exercises and track my workouts

Tracking exercises (usually) encourages me to exercise more. I like to see how I'm progressing, so for March I want to create a basic system to track my bodyweight workouts. The paid tier of fitloop comes with tracking, but I may end up just using a spreadsheet or text file.

3. Release a playable game

This may be Tiny Tactics, or it might end up being something totally different. Either way I'd like to get something released so I have a win, no matter how small.

4. Write every week

I wrote a lot in January and got a lot done. I stopped writing last month to give myself more time to spend on my goals and ended up getting less done.

I'm not sure if writing helps or not, so for March I'd like to test it and see what happens.

I'm not planning any secondary goals for March. I'm not sure if I planned too much to achieve, or if having such varied plans made it difficult to focus. I tend to work on side projects when the mood takes me, so having a schedule of which ones need completing didn't really fit in with that.

Groundhog Day Resolutions - February 2019

The Year Progress account on Twitter has kept me focused on my goals by reminding me of how much time has elapsed this year. Unfortunately it has also terrified me at how quickly the year is progressing.

Here's how my January goals went:

January's Primary Goals

1. Run a total of 15 miles

Just made this one.

I play soccer on weekends and picked up a couple of knocks that kept me from running as much as I wanted. The cold weather didn't exactly motivate me either.

2. Decide on my first game for #1GAM

Tiny Tactics will be my first game of 2019.

3. Start planning my ebook

The most neglected of the three, but I made a rough outline of what I want to cover and started collecting material.

January's Secondary Goals

1. Finish the hub page

Adding recent runs and mileage totals to the half marathon page were my priority here, and I got both of those completed. I also added a word counter and some basic stats to the ebook page.

I would have liked to have spent more time on the secondary goals page, but I did set up a better system for adding and modifying goals on it.

Primary goals for February

1. Run a total of 20 miles

I've set myself 3 targets for my half marathon goal. Finishing the race is my number one, and is really the only thing I absolutely want to achieve. I also set two finish time goals: 3 hours and 2:30 hours.

3 hours will be difficult for me, but is reasonable. A 13:45 pace will give a finish time of 3 hours, and my current pace (which includes walking) is usually under that.

2:30 is my moonshot goal. It's not something I think I can achieve without training hard. I'd need a pace of 11:25 to achieve it, and my current fastest pace for short runs is about a minute off that.

At the moment I'm trying to build a base without injuring myself, so I'm increasing my total distance slowly.

2. Add bodyweight training to my running workouts

Muscle strength and good posture will be important as the race goes on, so I want to incorporate some bodyweight exercises into my routine.

I used Fitloop a couple of years ago. It recently became a paid service, although the routines and videos are available for free. For February I'll be adding the recommended routine to my weekly regime.

3. Release a prototype of Tiny Tactics

Having three months to create a game is only useful if I actually take advantage of the extra time. I spent over 70 hours creating Mini Shinobi in a single month. So far I've spent less than 5 hours on Tiny Tactics.

When March rolls around I want to have something playable, no matter how basic it is.

4. Write 1,000 words of my book

Writing is not a strength of mine, so 1,000 words seems like a good starting point.

5. Finish setting up my GTD system

I've been getting back into GTD the last few weeks. So far I've collected all of my papers and notes, and I'm now beginning the "processing" stage of the initial setup. I'd like to have everything processed and organized by March.

Secondary goals for February

1. Finish adding items to my "other goals" list

I'm expecting some new (and old) ideas to come up during my GTD processing stage. I'd like to add the more important ones to my "other goals" list for 2019.

2. Release IFTTT version of Garlic Spy

This isn't something I'm particularly invested in, but there are bits of it I want to use for other projects. It's been sat on my hard drive for nearly a year now without much progress, so I'd like to get it finished up and released by the end of February.

3. Add new backend to crypto-ticker-mode

crypto-ticker-mode is the first proper Emacs extension I ever wrote. It used to fetch data from cryptsy, but that site closed a long time ago so it needs a new backend creating.