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Getting Things Done For Hackers (branchable.com)
140 points by vgnet on April 8, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

Very helpful advice there.

Here's the GTD approach I've been following lately, which I'm very happy about. It's based in the tool Trello.

I have several boards (for personal stuff, for my main side-project, for work, for another project, and long-term goals). They all have four lists: Backlog, To Do, Doing, Done. Every Sunday, "Done" is archived into "Done (2012.04.08)" and I create a new, empty "Done" list. Then I bring tasks from the Backlog into To Do, in a way that everything in this list is what I plan to get done during the one-week sprint.

For projects I do with other people, we follow a similar approach, it's working great.

I wrote a toy script that parses the Trello JSON output into text format that I use for the weekly progress reports at my day job.

My productivity has overall improved. But, even more importantly, I feel less overwhelmed by all the different tasks I have in the pipeline.

This sounds like what I'm doing, without the text dump. But I like that, I like that a lot. I'm not a dev, any chance I could get the script from you? ;)

Here's the super basic tool/script I wrote for it: http://pablop.github.com/trello-weekly-report/

I'm planning to improve this over time, purely as an exercise to get more fluent in Python and Git.

This was actually a good excuse to get started with GitHub :)

You're the man (woman?)! Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I've been playing with the sample JSON... mind if I bother you with some questions?

Dunno if you accept Bitcoin, but I'd be happy to spare a few coins :)

Well written & no-BS GTD summary. Thanks for sharing.

I just stopped using GTD after 5 years on the system, including 3 years on OmniFocus. I respect David Allen and GTD a lot. But I found a better solution: daily outcomes.

Say you are building a social network startup called FaceSpace. Here's what your daily outcome list may look like:

Help people communicate more quickly -> Launch beta of FaceSpace -> Call Jason for programmer recommendations

We're going after the "why" -- instead of just doing tasks.

You'll have maybe 5-8 of these for the day.

How is this different than GTD?

1) No long queues of things to do. Start fresh every day. What persists is the outcomes we're after 2) Aware of the "why" behind a task gives you feelings of motivation and purpose 3) Focusing on the "why" forces you to do 100% necessary tasks 4) If life throws you a curve ball and you change the task, it's okay... We're focused on achieving outcomes, not tasks

I think GTD is great but I feel it focuses on tasks at the expense of focusing on the big picture. You shouldn't be waiting for a weekly review to see the big picture -- that's just way too long. For me, staying focused on realizing my outcomes all day has led to more directed and forward-driving tasks. As many great men have said, it's not about which tasks you do it's about which tasks you don't do. Focusing on the outcome helps you choose the best tasks.

Outcome lists FTW.

Would you care to elaborate on this a bit? In your example the daily outcome is:

Help people communicate more quickly -> Launch beta of FaceSpace -> Call Jason for programmer recommendations

But the actual outcome (task) for that day would be "Call Jason for programmer recommendations", right? I mean the "Launch beta of FaceSpace" seems more of a long term or strategic goal, and the "Help people communicate more quickly" more of a purpose, or like they say nowadays, a mantra.

So if you repeat this every day, isn't this overwhelming?

And there are a lot of intermediate steps between the "Call Jason" and the "Launch website", so how do you keep track of these?

Finally, how do you see this as a substitute for GTD? (Since GTD is a practical approach to keep track of everyday's bits of todos, that appear from everywhere.)

Some very good hints in here. I think the part where I differ most is that I'm a huge proponent of OmniFocus. It's quite a complex piece of software, but it is also very well designed, so you can put together a lot of different workflows and be mostly keyboard driven.

Being able to cross-reference projects/contexts with easy filters for next action or ticklers is invaluable. Repeating events and automatic review scheduling are the icing on the cake. I believe in GTD enough that I would still do it in pure paper format if I needed to, but OmniFocus can remove most of the overhead which makes it all the more attractive.

It's a good enough program that I'm contemplating switching from Android to iPhone just to have it on my mobile.

Agreed, they put a lot of thought into small conveniences that most other apps ignore. It's nice to have it grab e-mails as task items, and to just type "taskname<tab>1w<tab>1m" to create a task that won't be addressed for a week, but is due in a month.

I find this method works pretty well:

- Identify big problems

- Split big problems into small, manageable tasks

- Assign tasks to others if necessary

- Complete tasks -> solve problem

Yeah, it sounds simple, but it's an extremely effective and lightweight solution.

I do the first two as well, and since I don't have any other people working with me, my third is scheduling the task.

Agreed. Splitting down tasks into micro-steps is a HUGE help.

Amongst GTD software, what sticked in my use case is Emacs org-mode as described in http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html

Yep same here, if you are slinging code all day in emacs, it's nice to be able to bring up your agenda in another buffer when you need it so that you aren't switching too much out of context.

I use remember to add tasks as they come up so that I can quickly get back in to what I was working on. For me it all has to do with dealing with the little interruptions from people throughout the day.

Ideally this wouldn't happen at all, and I could focus 100% on what I'm supposed to be doing. But in the real world, people people interact, a phone call/email etc.... When I'm coding and someone arrives at my desk and says something like "Sorry to bother you this will only take a minute...", it triggers my fingers (C-R n) and once the conversation has ended I hopefully have notes of action items I need to address maybe even with a due date if i'm lucky.(C-c C-c) Or if it was pointless/not actionable (C-c C-k) and my cursor is right back where I was before being interrupted.

I also track time with org-mode. (C-c a n) to bring up the agenda view, cursor to task i'm going to work on (C-c C-x i) to clock in. When I mark the task complete it clocks me out. Over the week of doing this, you will see your tasks on the timeline in your agenda view which gives you an awesome sense of accomplishment.

If you stick with it you'll have enough data to generate some really nerdy reports on what you do all day, or if you are freelancing, a format that goes a long way towards a proper invoice. I've never had a client ask for more information about what I was doing by applying this technique.

Like with everything emacs, I've barely scratched the surface on what is possible.

emacs + org-mode + remember = a process that can scale from macro to micro and is very adaptable to your needs.

I use org-mode for project planning and time tracking. I do need to figure out agendas and remember mode, two things I've not been using.

One thing about org-mode is that it's a single-person tool. I'm not aware of any way it could really work with multiple updaters.

yeah I don't think "multiple people mode" would work. I'm not too inclined to let other people at the files in my home directory either. :)

Any reason not to just use org-capture?

Just curious. I switched from remember to the org-capture stuff recently, and haven't noticed any difference in my workflow.

um.... no there's no reason other than habit. I will put that in my todo list. :)

   ##     C-c C-c  "~/.org/tasks.org" -> "* "
   ## C-u C-c C-c  like C-c C-c, and immediately visit note at target location
   ## C-0 C-c C-c  "???" -> "* ???"
   ## C-1 C-c C-c  to select file and header location interactively.
   ## C-2 C-c C-c  as child (C-3: as sibling) of the currently clocked item
   ## To switch templates, use `M-x org-remember'.  To abort use `C-c C-k'.
* TODO switch to org-capture

I am going to second org-mode. If you don't like emacs, you still need to give it a try. It's a wonderful piece of work, and makes emacs a totally different product. I use it to keep track of project related stuff, and it works tremendously well. It can even include a link with regexp search to the source code. To me, this is a million dollar feature.

Go back to GTD, I do it mostly with pen and paper. Absolutely painless and make you focus on things. Basically I use one sheet of paper every week, it always lies on somewhere on my desk so I can see it and write on it immediately. And it is no more than 54 sheets per year. Not a bad news to forest.

I think the spirit of GTD can be summarized by a quote: "Every deletion is a triumph."

Good overview of the system.

Concise, logically divided, and refreshingly free of excessive hyperbole, witticism, and "insider" language that is all too common in pieces written "for hackers". Well done.

Any way to have this articles compiled, as an ebook or something?

I uploaded a PDF here: http://mario-kart.net/GTDForHackers.pdf

And the ePub: http://mario-kart.net/GTDForHackers.epub

(Sorry the formatting is a little weird)

Plain text: http://mario-kart.net/GTDForHackers.txt

Thank you, good sir.

Yeah I wanted to get it into Instapaper (an integral part of my GTD system).

I've mentioned Taskwarrior previously (command line task management, GTDable), but it's worth noting that it recently hit 2.0 and has an upcoming server component (in alpha):


I'm copying this from a previous comment of mine because I always end up writing about the great features of Taskwarrior:

Seconding taskwarrior for being a great todo handler. It has a minimalistic interface, but doesn't lack any features that you (might) find yourself wanting after a while of use. The IRC channel (#taskwarrior on Freenode) is active too. The command-line tools are perfect and let you make your system as minimal or as complex as you want. Over time, I've:

1) Set up a cron job that pumps my current list out to a text file behind an .htaccess'd directory. This way, I can see my list without needing SSH access.

2) I've also got a little Dashboard widget that pulls that text down, so I can swipe to the top-left hot corner and see them at a glance.

3) I'm using Alfred (http://www.alfredapp.com/) on my Mac, so I wrote a simple trigger called "task add" that connects to my box and adds it there. There's also a few posts out there for DropBox integration if you use that.

4) I didn't write this, but if you use oh-my-zsh, there's a plugin for Taskwarrior. I've learned about a couple options by pressing tab.

Nice tips. I'm using Alfred on OS X and Xmonad.Prompt on Arch but the cron to web view is a new clever idea.

Why does the words 'hacker' and 'hacking' getting so much abused? Being a 'hacker' once meant something, one had to work hard to gain the respect from people, nowadays it's just about getting something done with in a few hours that bearly works. Also calling yourself a hacker doesn't really make you hacker, because it's all about the respect you get from the people admiring your work. Better stay with the words like 'programmer', 'developer', 'artist', etc...

Perhaps it's a bit like calling yourself exploiter.

In something unrelated: Holy crap does that site load fast.

That's one reason why I like pure HTML pages with no database backend. They load so much faster than your average Wordpress site.

This site does seem to be dynamic though. Maybe a custom engine, or simply cached correctly.

Edit: He's using http://ikiwiki.info/

The original author has also split the content up into small chunks of a few kilobytes each. I personally would have preferred an 'all in one page' approach with the table of contents linking down the page.

It might be worth mentioning that the only Javascript in the page is on the same domain and appears to consist of some style/folding features

On a side note, how hard would it be to write a WordPress extension that generates static HTML every time you write a new post or a new comment gets approved/submitted?

There's already a couple popular ones, like W3 Total Cache: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/w3-total-cache/

i figure everyone writes their own. i wrote http://planhack.com

Wow. I really like the concept but I'm missing some more features for my own use.

Is it open source? That would be great to hack on it. Or does it atleast have an API? That way I could script some more functionality.

FYI: I got a link to /v3 after registering, which 503s. The login link at the top links to v6 though and seems to work.

This is cool. For me, I've found that getting into good daily habits makes the biggest difference in my life. I use JoesGoals.com to track them. I set it as my home page. 42goals.com is also good.

This is a great summary. Thanks for sharing.

I think if you care about the GTD stuff itself too much, you are no getting things done at all.

Maybe you just doing fake work, getting some fake motivation from a list of GTD advice which you will lose while you continue reading HN, twitter, etc.

In my opinion, getting things done is just 3 simple step.

get thing!

do it!


This is very true. These GTD methods and everything is to "getting things done" what mac Donalds is to eating: it's quick; it's cheap but it's also a lot of crap.

This read is part of the big family of "self-motivation" seminars and "find your inner strength "bullshit. I hate to break it this way but drive is something you cultivate yourself, no generic "method" will do it for you. The irony is in those lists and methodology is most of the time people are motivated to do the setup for it: buy the books, the special furnitures, plan on organizing their time and in the end, when it's supposed to start the method falls flat and you realize that you aren't changed. Slacking is still a big part of your life, losing time on the internet, looking at Facebook etc... still eats a large portion of the time you get everyday.

Oh and please can we cut down on the term "hacker" ? I know it's called hacker news but it's a bit presumptuous to name it that way for almost everything that is posted here.

And many people make money from it. They blog about it, write book about it, and there are even some GTD group, meetup etc... They profit!

But the whole thing is a paradox. The things those people are getting done is write/talk/think about the "getting things done" stuff. But if they do, they are no getting things done.

It's fun to think this way XD.

>Oh and please can we cut down on the term "hacker" ? I know it's called hacker news but it's a bit presumptuous to name it that way for almost everything that is posted here.

Indeed. It cheapens the term. (And it's already diluted enough.)

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