Category Archives: Treo


My system is almost ready

Sorry I’ve been posting so little. Things were going so well, several posts a day, then silence.


I’ve been obsessed. Fixated. For the last 6 days, every spare moment I’ve been working on The Perfect System for managing GTD Next Actions. It has (or will soon have) everything I’ve ever wanted in a GTD system. Usable project filtering. Dependent tasks (on an individual basis)! A usable mobile interface. Calendar exporting for items with due dates. Requires only PHP and MySQL. Alas, it doesn’t include any fancy AJAX, only a little javascript.

I moved all of my tasks into it today. I’m still finding quirks. Once I stop finding quirks (and clean up some crufty code — I just learned PHP, MySQL, and the little bit of javascript this weekend, as I went), I’ll set up accounts for a few people to try.

I’ve already got three people interested. Let me know by commenting here if you want to be in on the alpha release.

Here’s a screenshot to tease you with.
phpMyGTD teaser

Warming up to the Foleo

When I first saw the press release for Palm’s new Foleo device, I was underwhelmed. If you read any comments on tech sites discussing the Foleo, you’ll see I’m not the only one. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of info out about the thing. However, after some digging, I’m getting kind of excited.

You see, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Seat-back and Laptop Gambit. This is where you open your laptop on an airline seat-back tray, and because there’s so little room, the top of your display has to go under the ledge where the tray table normally stows. Now, if the person in front of you suddenly leans their seat back, it could potentially crush or snap your display in half. Not only that, you’re basically screwed as far as getting work done goes at that point. This is a problem even with my 13″ MacBook.

The Foleo is the perfect size. It’s just as big as it needs to be to accommodate the (supposedly?) full-size keyboard. I still want to know whether it’s possible to check email with it over wifi — the press stuff they’re putting out is obsessively tied to syncing with a Treo. However, I saw something today that got me really excited. this article says you can get to a BASH terminal on the Linux-based Foleo.

This has potential!

My solution to multi-outcome project tracking in iCal / Palm OS / Wiki(s)

Getting Things Done is generally platform agnostic, with perhaps a slight bias toward paper. As such, people have implemented it any number of ways. I doubt any two people have the same methods. This leaves some gray areas, one of which is how to associate Next Actions with projects. It has plagued me since I started. Yesterday, after I sat down to brainstorm, I finally put the last piece in the puzzle and got the whole picture.

As a quick review, in GTD, a Next Action is the very next physical thing that needs to be done to accomplish a desired outcome. If one, and ONLY one action is required, then the action can stand on its own. However, if the action requires two or more physical actions to complete, it becomes a project.

Project is a loaded word. It can mean a vast number of things, and the differences have a big impact on how the next actions are associated and recorded. I’ve been re-reading GTD, and it’s a good thing, as it reminded me of a very useful detail: Next actions should advance toward desired outcomes.

My solution involves these three key things. I have slightly re-defined projects to make this all sane and self-consistent:

  1. Desired outcome – Something that needs to Get Done. It can require one or more Next Actions, but it should not require parallel next actions. It may only require sequential Next Actions. Should be past or present tense.
  2. Next Actions – these are the atoms of the system, in that they are the smallest singular and cohesive component. Again, these must be physical or pseudo-physical (i.e. Search for X on google). Given a desired outcome, a Next Action is the next physical action that you would do to pursue that outcome.
  3. Projects – Projects are collections of desired outcomes that must occur either serially or in parallel. Typically for me a project will be an experiment, where say, there are a few Desired Outcomes involved in experiment set-up, which can be worked on in parallel, and Desired Outcomes such as “Parameter Foo experiments run” and “Parameter bar experiments run”, but the experiments can’t be started until the set-up outcomes have been accomplished.

This begs for an example, because it’s a little complex in words. I’m working on setting my old desktop linux box up as a new MythTV DVR for recording shows and cutting out commercials. I’ll use that project. It’s a “Project” as defined above. Here’s the list of desired outcomes I’ve outlined so far, as I have it on my wiki project page:

Snapshot of wiki page with outcomes listed

The first Desired Outcome, “Needed software listed” has been completed. I couldn’t do the rest until it had been completed. Once I finished it, I moved on to two items that can be done in parallel: “Software installed” and “TV recording works”. TV recording does depend somewhat on the software being installed, but first I have to splice the cable from the modem so that it goes to both my computer and the modem. I could also order and set up a remote, but I haven’t started that yet. The last desired outcome, “Jason notified I’m paying for cable” won’t happen until I actually get the box working — why pay for something I’m not using?

Wikis are too cumbersome to update continually with next actions, especially if it means you later have to copy each next action out and keep it in sync with iCal manually. I tried that for a while, and it really bogged me down. Wikis are, however, useful for tracking the higher-level, slower-changing aspects of a project, such as its Desired Outcomes.

So, now we have parallel outcomes, and you can see how that would occur, as well as how a multi-outcome project is organized. How does this go in the system? I have synthesized the PigPog method, which only works for serial-action or serial-outcome projects, with a suggestion based on one of David Allen’s clients does.

Any outcome that requires more than one step is listed with its associated project. If it’s not part of a project, it goes:

Some next action >> Desired outcome

However, if it’s part of a multi-outcome project, it becomes:

Project Name – Some next action >> Desired outcome

Basically, this should be all you need. Think about the desired outcome: when you finish the current next action, will you automatically know what comes next? If so, you’re done. If not, you might want to add notes on future next actions to the “notes” section of the task.

Despite some of its other issues, iCal has a very nice search feature. The little search bar is always at the bottom. If you want to check on the current outcomes/next actions associated with a project, you can just type the project name in:

Screenshot of search for project-related outcomes and next actions
Note the “mythtv” in the search box in the lower right.

This is a lot of writing, and I feel like this still might be unclear. Is there anything that seems particularly confusing?

How to make iCal display time zones on events

Apple’s iCal has the ability to use timezone-aware scheduling. This comes in handy because I sync it with my Treo, which changes time zones automatically. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s easy to forget which time zone you’re looking at, and become confused.

Yesterday I accidentally discovered that if you change your date/time format preferences to include time zone (even for the “short” format) in System Preferences, the time zone will be included in iCal events as well:

Screenshot from iCal

Daily Work Log 2006-07-12

In an effort to increase my blogging, I’m going to start making daily logs before I leave work.

I spent most of today reading journal articles to prep for writing the discussion and introduction of my paper. The methods and results have been coalescing for a while, and I think are nearing completion. I received some helpful comments from my coauthor via trans-Atlantic fax this morning, and addressing those comments is next on the agenda for that project.

In other news, I’ve begun work on my prospectus. It needs to be defended before I leave for Baltimore, and that doesn’t give me very long. Luckily a lot of the groundwork has already been done for other reasons, so it should be mostly synthesis. The department does require that I write it up in NIH format in addition to the standard format required by the Dean’s office, so I get to join the wonderful world of people who’ve filled out all of that stuff. I hope it’s simpler than my AHA fellowship application was.

Tomorrow I have to take the day off to go to Mandeville, so I’ll follow my first day of daily posts with a day of no posting. My apologies!

One last note before I go home. Last night I found a great meditation timer for Palm OS, PocketDoan. It’s good for much, much more than meditation, though. People have siezed on it for use in work “dashes” particularly the (10+2)*5 method discussed at 43 Folders. I used it for that today and it was fantastic! I only got 3 dashes in today, and I only managed to finish one of the three without an interruption (though pausing is easy). I’m going to keep trying this and try to squeeze more 1-hour periods in per day. My ideal goal would be 7-8 per day.