Superior Overview and Selection

One whole area of functionality that is largely unexploited by most GTD app developers is dealing with the often perceived problem of overwhelm - of “drowning” in seemingly endless lists, feeling anxious about not finding things or overlooking things etc.

Non-GTD apps do not have this exact problem, not the same flavor of it, anyway, because these apps (and methodologies) are based on stringing up all the actions on a timeline (scheduling), which gives the users an illusion of full control. It also provides for a colorful, graphical interface. But scheduling has many serious disadvantages, as we all know, and GTD is firmly against it (except for objective calendar actions such as appointments etc; and objective “impossible before” dates, called Ticklers). The end result is that GTD apps often leave us with long “impenetrable” lists of actions; important and unimportant, large and small, related and unrelated, which many users of GTD apps voice concerns over.

I think it is perfectly viable (and not necessarily difficult) to create a set of related functionalities that tackle this problem area. Some or all of these features have been mentioned in other threads:

  • a colored “review attention” (or “priority”) indicator can help us see those actions that need special consideration during the particular type of visit to a list that we are now doing, e.g. the weekly review, the morning scan, recurrent during-the-day task selection checks etc.

  • elimination filtering (NOT filtering) can help us create one single list of good choices (with no false positives; and nothing missing) and will also enable us to use more specific context tags without increasing the overall amount of tagging work.

  • grouping of lists (by context, project, priority etc) can eliminate the initial feeling of overwhelm and guide our eyes to what we need to see even without having to filter

  • color coding of particularly significant contexts etc can further help guide our eyes regardless of what grouping/sorting we have in place at the moment.

  • a “since date” (historic start date) can help us use dates objectively and thereby reduce the counterproductive urge to schedule tasks to “arbitrary” dates in the future (that make no sense to us when we get there).

The combination of these little tools should not be underestimated. For example, Since dates would work perfectly in combination with “review attention” above (if during a review we discover that a dangerously long period of time has elapsed we can simply increase the review attention level). And color coding are a natural complement to grouping/sorting and to attention - combined, they can give us the essentials in a glance. And effective tagging and filtering would seem to be absolutely key to the whole GTD concept of selecting tasks on the go rather than scheduling them - amazing that developers have not exploited this, and no wonder at all then that so many users have concluded from these primitive apps that they have no use for contexts.

For any app it is essential to be strong in some area where other apps are not strong. Overwhelm is a general problem, especially in GTD and GTD apps. All apps are very weak and unimaginative there. GTDNext would have the ability to be the first one out to offer a reasonably comprehensive set of simple-to-use features that really help tackle this problem. And I am sure there is room for many new creative ideas that could further boost GTDNext’s position in this area. (And this would go well with the other potentially strong area of functionality with hierarchies and sequential control as a means to have overview of what is on our plate overall and how it relates to each other).


It would be great if ALL of mentioned features would be implemented exactly as @Folke suggested. One of the best article I read in this forum!

Yes, great post @Folke - I’m happy to report that most, if not all of these suggestions are all ready in our backlog of features to tackle.

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To be honest, as a newbie I only half understand Folke’s suggestions.

But in the meantime I am having a serious problem with feeling ‘overwhelm’ when I faced with about 60+ Next Actions on the screen at once. Yes, filtering by context helps slightly, but most of my work has a Context of (in effect) “at my PC” and even if I break that up into different types of thought or perhaps using different types of application, when looking at Actions and/or Projects, I then I still keep being overwhelmed with screenfuls of low priority stuff(!)

So far, to keep sanity I keep finding myself chucking the lower priority items into a few days into the future, just to clear the decks (not good GTD, I know… but other people call it “planning” which isn’t always such a bid idea… no?)

One alternative would be to use colour (so the eye can jump to higher priority item) but I know that is rather frowned upon by GTD purists due to priorities shifting too fast in the real world for one’s system to keep up.

But what’s actually wrong with doing priority by sort order of project?
(I think that in addition to GTDNext’s priority using the blunt instrument of “Focus”, it also does sort order of Next Actions by rather clunky drag and drop, but as far as I can see the sort order of Projects does not affect the sort order of Next Project - nor vice versa). Frankly, if I had my way I’d have hotkeys to shift an entire Project up or down the list of Projects. e.g. something like Control/Alt/U, U, U, U and it goes up 4. (etc), and I would have this reflected in the sort order of Next Actions view too :slight_smile:

I have to say this principle worked very well for me on MindManager (using Control/Alt/Up or Down arrows). i.e. It’s extremely easy to just keep the really important stuff is near the top of the page using hotkeys. Yes, I reviewed the whole list occasionally per day, and the rest of the time I’m focusing on the most stuff near the top of the page (i.e. less to low priority crud keep re-reading!) And as priorities change I just whiz the relevant things past each other up and down the list.

Fwiw, another way to do it might be using a right-click and then select from how many up or down you’d like to move: e.g. 1, 3, 5, 10 or Top/Bottom. [Btw, I keep right-clicking in GTDNext - is there a good reason why there are no useful menus there?]

And for completeness, if it was up to me, if the user changed the sort order of Next Actions, that would in turn change the sort order of Projects! Now the difficulty might be what to do about Projects with no visible Next Actions. Personally I would just ‘vault’ them. i.e. I would leave the Projects list order broadly in place but if Project A was dragged past Project D, in the Next Actions view, then I would have Project A jump past Projects B and Project C in the Projects view (if that makes sense?!).

But to repeat my central question - if the position of each item in a sort order can be speedily changed, what’s actually wrong with using it to control priority?

Nothing, really. Some may argue (wrongly) that DA is against priority in all of its forms, but this misconception is based only on the fact that DA has expressed and emphasized that two particular kinds of prioritizations are “bad”:

  • it is “bad” (pointless and ineffective) to use fixed priority coding for what I what would call “task selection”, in other words what most people use the handy and “fluid” focus toggle for. DA correctly says that you cannot code in advance what you are going to want to focus later, because your life is too fluid for that. And I think no one can argue with that. But some people make something bigger of his statement than what he actually said. They seem to believe that he is against priority as such, and these people have made the very word “priority” into a dirty word, despite the fact that DA indeed does have priority as one of his four task selection criteria, and also strongly emphasizes its importance from the top horizons and down.

  • ABC prioritization is “bad” (counterproductive), in both of its common flavors, in other words it is unwise to “stage” your tasks such that you will not touch your B and C tasks until your A tasks are done, and/or to “artificially sequentialize” your A tasks into A1, A2 etc (even if there is no real sequential dependency between the tasks, and insist on doing them in that exact order regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in even though other tasks would also be perfectly possible). The second kind is more commonly called Franklin-Covey, especially if the letters A, B … Z represent projects etc. The spirit of GTD is the exact opposite: Make the best use of each moment. ALL your POSSIBLE tasks MUST be visible so that you are able to select among them all, because you never know what circumstances will come up. This is the reason why DA advises against artificial hiding such as ABC prioritization and non-objective date scheduling etc. He tries to teach that you should indeed record the “hard landscape” (which could be anything from an objectively agreed deadline to true task dependencies etc, whatever is outside your own unilateral control), but leave the rest up to situationally fluid decision making rather than try to “plan” or “schedule” or “arrange” all these unpredictable factors into some quasi-exact time plan etc.

But as for your question about sorting projects in priority order, although I do not see anything wrong with it, it is something I myself avoid doing. The reason in my case is I prefer them in a fixed position where I can easily find them. I tend to learn, slowly, how far down in the list each project is located. Also, I keep all my projects in top level “folders” (also for navigation and review purposes, and to shorten the project list) and I would therefore not be able to reshuffle the projects by priority without breaking this structure. Even in my Next list it is the same. I prefer to have them all grouped by something useful automatically (grouped by project or by context etc). I certainly do not have the energy to monitor the listing order manually (I initially tried that with Nirvana), and I want natural groups and barriers also for making the list easier to read and navigate. I prefer discreet colored priority indicators (like RTM and Doit) that are visible no matter how I have my list grouped and sorted.

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