Getting Things Done (GTD) with Ultra Recall (part 2)

Posted April 12th, 2006 by kevin

Since my first post about using the Getting Things Done system with Ultra Recall, we have been very busy working on the next Ultra Recall release, but I have also been spending some time working on actually using the GTD system with Ultra Recall to better organize my life. I had intended to implement the GTD methodology immediately after I read the book and initially blogged on the topic, but I must confess that this did not occur.

While the concepts in the GTD book seem logical and straightforward, they do require significant change for people who have not previously explicitly organized and documented their life to the described level (this certainly includes me!). More than ever I believe the GTD “system” has merit and will be very helpful when adhered to, and I now better understand that it does require a significant investment of time and energy as new habits must be formed and time must be planned into one’s schedule to review and maintain the “system.” Essentially for me it is requiring a shift from reactive to proactive, which is certainly a good thing!

Enough theory and lame excuses–let’s look at my first GTD implementation using Ultra Recall. Note: You can download my template GTD.urd file here, and follow along in Ultra Recall (if you don’t yet own an Ultra Recall license, you can use the free evaluation version available here).

Researching the Alternatives:
As I have pondered how to best implement GTD with Ultra Recall, my research has uncovered quite wide range of GTD solutions, ranging from paper-based systems to the use of various PC and Palm applications. All of the paper solutions and many of the digital ones do little or nothing to maintain the “linkage” between individual Next Actions and the underlying project, which just seems wrong to me. Therefore, one goal I set was to keep Next Actions linked to the bigger picture (for me, this is the “owning” project).

It seems that quite a few people believe that Notepad, Microsoft Word, or some other essentially free-form application is well-suited to GTD systems, which surprised me. Given the structure that the GTD methodology requires, this seems completely counter-intuitive. The other end of the spectrum are a few applications that claim to be designed with GTD in mind, but none stood out to me as being overly useful for that purpose (although I had admit to having being somewhat biased!). With that in mind, I considered the various suggestions and systems I had observed and began experimenting with Ultra Recall as a GTD platform.

Preliminary Ultra Recall GTD design:
I initially considered using templates (with some custom attributes) to identify whether an item was a Next Action or a Project, which seemed to work well when my input was mostly theoretical (manual entry of fictional entries). As I began using this prototype for some real world data, I began to see some limitations with external data being brought into the database–I really needed the template to reflect the actual data being imported, rather than the augmenting GTD information.

My Ultra Recall GTD implementation:
This led me to leverage some custom attributes and related saved searches to document the GTD aspects of the GTD entries, which is what I have settled on in my current solution. Since I am mainly using the default templates, I have assigned some of these custom attributes to them for ease of use. To make any item a Next Action, I simply ensure that the @Next Action attribute is assigned, with a value of Yes. This is very searchable, and combined with the @Category and @Priority attributes, allows me to quickly view Next Actions in a variety of ways.

Of course the system stores Next Actions under their related projects, as described above, but I locate the projects/Next Actions under one of several main “folders:” Active, Maybe, Someday, and Completed. Limited Saved Searches assist in finding Project/Next Actions that reside under each of these main folders–which broadly group my “actionable” items based on their relevance to the “here and how.”

For me the main GTD entry types include: Projects, Next Actions, Appointments (really just scheduled Next Actions), and Reference entries (this includes basically everything else). When defining new Projects, I typically use the Project template, but really under the four main folders described above that isn’t a Next Action is considered a project (a future outcome I want to achieve that contains more than one step). I may be oversimplifying the GTD “system,” but this best represents what I have taken from my reading and research at this point…

I will concede that Ultra Recall is not a perfect GTD application (which probably doesn’t exist anyway), but Ultra Recall can be used to implement a very workable and functional GTD solution for a wide range of users, which is a testament to its flexibility. If you are interested in organizing your life (with or without the GTD “system”), you owe it to yourself to at least evaluate Ultra Recall–once you put it to use with real data you’ll be hooked!

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Gettings_Things_Done Yahoo group
New GTD template file
GTD Flash demo

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7 Comments on “Getting Things Done (GTD) with Ultra Recall (part 2)”

  1. Ronald Stockfleth Says:

    I am a licensed user of Ultra Recall, but have been using another application, MyLifeOrganized (MLO), for GTD purposes. The primary reason for this is MLO’s ability to synchronize its data with the Pocket PC platform.

    How would you propose to execute your GTD methodology when away from your computer and the desktop application of Ultra Recall?

    I think highly of Ultra Recall but the lack of portability limits my use of it.

    Ron Stockfleth

  2. UM Says:

    Well, one approach is to access it the way you would do any desktop app when you’re not at your desk: Cygwin + sshd + putty + remotedesktop = free, secure access to your desk from anywhere.

  3. kyle Says:

    Ultra Recall now supports full two-way sync with Outlook, allowing you to use its PDA sync capability (ActiveSync) to sync UR data to your Pocket PC or other mobile device.

  4. Kevin White Says:

    Someone at my office pointed out Ultra Recall for me – I’ve been trying various programs to see how they work for GTD things, and I think Ultra Recall’s a winner.

    MyLife Organized, for example, seems to do quite a nice job, but has a lot of advanced ‘auto calculation’ features I don’t need. It does, however, have the super extra awesome feature of letting you map a keystroke to a ‘quick add’ window, which has to be a completely awesome feature.

    The company I work for also makes a product that basically lets you make lists of stuff (it’s called ListPro)… which also can be used for GTD, but really is better suited for reference stuff, shopping lists, packing checklists, etc. At least in my opinion.

    Neither of the above really gives me a place to throw ‘junk’, like web research, notes, etc. – I use a Mac application at home called Yojimbo and it’s basically a bucket for stuff like UR, and I love that functionality.

    Ultra Recall seems to fit the bill though – it’s totally cool. I can manage all my project tracking stuff, webpages, testing documents, everything from one place. I’m still evaluating it, but this is a winner.

    Oh, and it lets me do GTD stuff including the all-important ‘show me my next actions’ thing (using Kevin’s cool new GTD template). Kudos!

    One minor complaint – when i first launched Ultra Recall, it was like someone dumped a bucket of inspectors and toolbars all over my screen. :) Definitely a little overwhelming, but if you have features, you have to use them somehow…

  5. Chris Says:

    Ultra Recall looks great for web snips and GTD. I want to move away from using Getting Things Done in Outlook using the Jello plugin to Ultra Recall.

  6. Marty Says:

    I have been searching for tips on using UR for GTD and noticed that all the activity occurred in 2006 and 2007. I can’t believe that the topic is passé. What are you folks using for digital GTD now? I’m hoping that with the new UR, that someone has some fresh ideas and sample .urd files to share. Is the topic dead? By the way, I live in UR everyday and I love it!

  7. kyle Says:

    I don’t believe GTD has changed much in the last couple of years.