dcb_oz
For those who are interested I now have a working integration of PersonalBrain and David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology. In truth I don't know where to begin explaining how it works - it's all in my brain! However I'm happy to answer any questions from fellow GTD'rs.

The basic components are:
  1. Next Actions and contexts are tracked in Outlook
  2. Projects and Someday/Maybe items are tracked in PersonalBrain. This allows me to get much better context for a Project. Projects get linked to a concept, GTD Horizons of Focus and other goal related items as appropriate.
Cheers,

David

Note: The first four pages of this thread describe a strategy for managing contexts with thoughts or thought types. With the improved tag functionality of PersonalBrain 5, tags become a workable option as well so the reader is encouraged to read the whole thread before deciding which method to use.

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mbaas
Hi David,

I would certainly like to hear (and see?!) more of your approach.
How do you find yourself using it - does it work to split the data across 2 apps? What I like about your approach is that I would get a chance to get all next actions and contexts mobile again (by syncing with pda/phone), but at the same time it would mean that some key-things were no longer in my brain...and I fear that might also have consequences. (And certainly I wouldn't want to edit that data twice).

Michael 



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dcb_oz
mbaas wrote:
Hi David,

I would certainly like to hear (and see?!) more of your approach.
How do you find yourself using it - does it work to split the data across 2 apps? What I like about your approach is that I would get a chance to get all next actions and contexts mobile again (by syncing with pda/phone), but at the same time it would mean that some key-things were no longer in my brain...and I fear that might also have consequences. (And certainly I wouldn't want to edit that data twice).

Michael


By split the data I assume you mean Next Actions (NA) and Projects? Let me start with a statement that PersonalBrain wasn't fully and usefully available to me until I installed it on a fast USB stick (Sandisk Cruzer Contour 8mb - writes at about 20mb/sec). It was tied to my work laptop and not available at home. Running off USB (brain and PB executable) now lets me walk around.

I have tracked NAs and Projects as Outlook Tasks. NA have their @ context as an Outlook category, typically @computer, @home etc. Projects were an Outlook category inventively named "Projects" and the same for Someday/Maybe. The problem with Projects was that Outlook couldn't store any related information. The very stuff that PB is perfect for.

After getting comfortable with not linking NAs and Projects (a tough call but the right one to make) it facilitated the split.

NAs remain in Outlook and sync to my PDA.

Projects are in PB with a Project thought type and icon. Someday/Maybe are in PB with a Someday/Maybe thought type and icon. The typing lets me quickly see what is what and allows me to get a list from the Reports tab (not printable but I can't have it all).

These (Projects and Someday/Maybe) are linked in many places. This, I believe, is the strength.

A non-PB system needed me to track each horizon of focus and what projects were under each. Now I just link wherever I see them most appropriate. And I can sub-categorise as well (this is one to be seen to be understood). Projects are projects no matter what horizon they are linked to. They then naturally group which helps evaluation of coverage and importance.

As I gather research on an active project, it appears below the project.. Makes sense and value of all the tools to me. The connections made whilst putting things into the brain initially have helped me understand my goals are right for me because of the natural link to my knowledge.

Cheers,

David
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mbaas
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The connections made whilst putting things into the brain initially have helped me understand my goals are right for me because of the natural link to my knowledge.

Absolutely, that's what I love, too. And I guess that is what makes me so afraid ot tearing NAs/Contexts out of PB - the link to the knowledge is lost. (It might help if PB already had the ability to link to individual thoughts from the outside, not sure. On the other hand, good naming conventions, uniform across both systems, should help as well.)

I guess most of all it is a matter of becoming comfortable with it, more a "mental" thing than anything else.

You've made me curious - how do you sub-categories? Any chance to post a screenshot?

Thanks

Michael 
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steve625
Hope you don't mind me jumping in, I used to use Outlook for NA's just as you described and PB for everything else, but now I use PB for everything.  I now add NA's into my brain which are LINKED to my projects!  I have created thought types  for @Office, @Call, @Home etc, and simply set the NA to the appropriate thought type.  To sync with my phone (Moto Q) I create a report of say... @Call, add report results to selection, copy as text and paste.  Simple to take the data I need on the go, and keep everything in one place.

Best of all, as you have been describing, is the ability to use PB for the higher 30k+ areas for someday/maybe, projects etc, but now if I have a random thought of an action that will or might need to be done, I just add it, link it, so I don't loose it, and move on.

Steve



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dcb_oz
steve625 wrote:
Hope you don't mind me jumping in,


Not at all Steve.

steve625 wrote:
To sync with my phone (Moto Q) I create a report of say... @Call, add report results to selection, copy as text and paste.  Simple to take the data I need on the go, and keep everything in one place.


Ahhh. Another piece of the puzzle. I hadn't ever picked up on how get a report's results out of PB. That will be very useful. I just tried pasting into ListPro which I use to sync to my Windows Mobile PC and it works perfectly. With the Windows desktop version I may be able to drop some NAs from Outlook. It's quite a manual step though. How do you manage the synchronisation back into PB if something is checked off when about on your phone? (Note that I rarely find myself working off my PDA when I'm out of the office).

I'm curious how you manage completed NAs. Do you delete them or flag them in some way?

David
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dcb_oz
mbaas wrote:
(It might help if PB already had the ability to link to individual thoughts from the outside, not sure. On the other hand, good naming conventions, uniform across both systems, should help as well.)


It does, but the other way in. A task dragged into a thought from Outlook retains a link to the task in Properties/Attachements.

mbaas wrote:
You've made me curious - how do you sub-categories? Any chance to post a screenshot?




This shows a "Wellness" category below the 20,000 horizon of focus - an area of responsibility for me. "Practise meditation daily" is a Someday/Maybe task directly related to wellness.



Then, if we delve down into "Play" there is much richness. Question marks are Someday/Maybe and at the moment there are no projects at this level. They are in the other levels below this. Outside of PB this would possibly be seen as arbitrary categorisation and another thing to manage. Here, by looking at the related links on the right, you can see the richness of this approach.

David
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mbaas
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It does, but the other way in. A task dragged into a thought from Outlook retains a link to the task in Properties/Attachements.

Well, my main-concern is opening an NA in a list and getting the context for it (project, links to ppl, brained thoughts etc.), is that not something you are struggling with in your setup? Or is my GTD-approach perhaps wrong?

Thanks also for the screenies - very nice. BTW, I can sympathize with many of our items, such as chess / weight / photography
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dcb_oz
mbaas wrote:
Well, my main-concern is opening an NA in a list and getting the context for it (project, links to ppl, brained thoughts etc.), is that not something you are struggling with in your setup? Or is my GTD-approach perhaps wrong?


An oft-asked question of GTD is how do I link Next Actions to Projects. There are two schools of thought. The first school is the one asking the question. There is a belief, possibly because of the way we've been taught project management and process decomposition, that we need to link the two in a system. The other school, made up of the more proficient GTD users says you don't need the link. The connection is retained by a weekly review. I was in the first school and am now in the second. Through trust I've found that after reviewing actions taken and not taken during the week, I can work through my project list and the brain in my head fills in the gaps. It is a more elegant and less time consuming way to work.

In a paper based system, of which Outlook is just an electronic version, the lack of an explicit link between NAs and Projects is necessary.

PersonalBrain is different. It introduces context. Across knowledge areas and more importantly time. I've been thinking about this over the weekend and must confess I don't have an answer. That's not to say what you're doing is wrong. There is never a right way to GTD. If it works for you it works.

PersonalBrain promotes school one thinking. Link the two together. It's easy to do. Does that mean it should be done? If one is disciplined about a NA being "the next physically possible thing" then it is highly transient in nature. Once done, it's done. Move onto the next NA. Or more precisely, take 2 minutes to think about and generate the next NA. Even in PB I wouldn't have a list of possible NAs. Only those which can be done in parallel are listed eg. Make Call and Fill in Form may be mutually exclusive but related to the same Project. I can't see how a transient NA would then gather other links in PB to make it worthwhile (note: this doesn't answer the relative merit of keeping it all in one tool). If the NA was "Research GTD use in PB" then the links gathered should be filed with the related Project, not the NA.

My jury is out. If you're able to explain further how you manage NAs and do a weekly review using PB it will help me understand further.

David
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mbaas
Unlinking NAs and projects is an interesting thought, I've never seen that challenge stated so clearly, thanks very much! Maybe I should consider changing schools


The screenie tries to show what I do (I usually don't use ExpView for it, that was just to get a screenshot which would show everything.)
So, to explain: "GTD" is actually my home-thought, I wanted to be able to use a keystroke to get to it, and that is only possible with home-thought. My "conceptual home-though" (my name) is its parent, so even when I want to get to that thought, it's not too many clicks away.
GTD has the contexts as children, the one I'm showing here is about visiting clients. So the children of that thought are the relevant clients (not all of them, only those that happened to have something happening in that category).
I then have an example of visiting client "Powerbar" at it's office in VOE - and there are two NAs assigned to that visit.

You see that the item "BACKUP-Verzeichnis in DATAD..." has a date attached to it - that is when I created the NA (Oct 07). I visit that company 2 or 3 times a yr, as you can see it's about 8 months now since I've been there last time. So it's nice that this NA doesn't get into my way when I don't need it (can't do anything about it).
That single NA then (sorry, I forgot to open that link) is linked also to the project I have with that client (as a reminder of outstanding tasks) and has child thoughts below with additional information . Which is helpful if the NAs stay alive over such an extended period of time - when I activate the thought, I see all prior activities and am sure about what to do and what has been done.
In such a way I usually (try to) link multiple NAs related to a project.

Another possibly interesting aspect is that thoughts like @ZuHause (At Home) link to "Privat" and then to me, also "@Gebetsanliegen" (Prayer requests) links to "Faith" and then to me. I think that demonstrates how my Brain evolved after I discovered GTD - I just linked the GTD-contexts to the original thoughts I had about those areas before using GTD. Which is nice, because it gives additional "points of contact" for all these areas.

Oh yes, and "Weekly Review" is a jump from GTD and reminds me of all items necessary. (#12 is a personal add-on there, #2 links to my 2Inbox"-thought, #7 to the "Waiting for"-thought).

So I mainly use thoughts and linking for the proper ordering of GTD-info, thought-types only come into play for NAs because of the possibility to see all NAs in a report.

I hope this helps to understand how I use it. Yet as much as I love this "integrated" approach, I am missing a "mobile" component for data-entry (and review) while "on the run" (I have a laptop, sure, I'm thinking about situations without laptop where PDA or mobile-phone would be used).

Michael 
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BSTD
Thanks, fellas,
for your discussion and screenshots. This is very insightful!
-Ben

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dcb_oz
Hi Michael,

It's not clear from the above if you type your NAs or understand their context by the parent link. My preference would be to type them and have the report function bring them all together.

The Weekly review list is a good one, especially if you park things there during the week that need specific reviewing because they've come to mind.

David

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steve625
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How do you manage the synchronisation back into PB if something is checked off when about on your phone? (Note that I rarely find myself working off my PDA when I'm out of the office)


I also rarely find the need to work off my PDA, I only copy my @Calls, @Errands & @Office reports to my PDA.  My home computer runs PB and is my main work horse for planning & GTD so my @Office is only to transfer some thought I had while at home or somewhere else.  Therefore I don't have a lot of stuff jumping on and off my PDA lists, so if I complete a call or pick up something on the Errand list, it's easy for me to remember and just update the PB thought.

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I'm curious how you manage completed NAs. Do you delete them or flag them in some way?  


I have a thought type "completed next action" which color is a dark gray, I will usually delete them (again report>completed next action>add to selection> edit>delete) the entire group when I finish the project.  If it is a large multi step project, with lots of actions to be completed, I often create a "Project, History" thought and link them all to that thought.

Your comments about "two camps" was really good.  I'm in both camps, because my work computer has Outlook and I can't add PB, and my home computer has PB.  I have to use the two different camps and find both equally easy to use.  I have come to the conclusion that the camps are only separated by technology and if Outlook was as multi-dimensional as PB then everyone would link their NA's to projects.  There are times I link a NA to a project, put it in a context, only to find out it's not really the next step.  PB makes it easy to change that from a context (@Call) to @Office for example, and change the thought or add another thought, that says "Look up phone number"  This for me is the power of PB, the ability to hit F2, add the "Look up phone number:" to my existing NA "Call: Bob re: camping trip" change the thought type to @Office from @Call in a matter of seconds and back again once I find the phone number.  The speed and efficiency is the best I have ever used.

The advantage for me and my disjointed thoughts and dreams, is I can link NA's to thoughts and projects, ideas, and reports and do so long enough until I can see some kind of pattern emerge so I can group, then do.  PB & GTD really, really work well together.

P.S.  I don't link any of my thought type's to any main context.  For example I don't have a main @Call to which all of my thought type "@Call" are linked to.  That would be redundant.  I use reports to gather the thought types.  So my thoughts run wild, and are linked to anything anywhere in my brain, but when a thought shows up that is the next physical action on a project, you can be sure it gets a thought type and a context.


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dcb_oz
steve625 wrote:
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I'm curious how you manage completed NAs. Do you delete them or flag them in some way?  


I have a thought type "completed next action" which color is a dark gray, I will usually delete them (again report>completed next action>add to selection> edit>delete) the entire group when I finish the project.  If it is a large multi step project, with lots of actions to be completed, I often create a "Project, History" thought and link them all to that thought.


Good idea.

steve625 wrote:
Your comments about "two camps" was really good.  I'm in both camps, because my work computer has Outlook and I can't add PB, and my home computer has PB.  I have to use the two different camps and find both equally easy to use.  I have come to the conclusion that the camps are only separated by technology and if Outlook was as multi-dimensional as PB then everyone would link their NA's to projects.  There are times I link a NA to a project, put it in a context, only to find out it's not really the next step.  PB makes it easy to change that from a context (@Call) to @Office for example, and change the thought or add another thought, that says "Look up phone number"  This for me is the power of PB, the ability to hit F2, add the "Look up phone number:" to my existing NA "Call: Bob re: camping trip" change the thought type to @Office from @Call in a matter of seconds and back again once I find the phone number.  The speed and efficiency is the best I have ever used.


Thank you. Appreciate hearing I had a good idea!  Are you able to run PB off a USB stick. I've got mine setup to run under the USB U3 system. PB is installed to the stick. All that's needed on the PC is Java.

steve625 wrote:
P.S.  I don't link any of my thought type's to any main context.  For example I don't have a main @Call to which all of my thought type "@Call" are linked to.  That would be redundant.  I use reports to gather the thought types.  So my thoughts run wild, and are linked to anything anywhere in my brain, but when a thought shows up that is the next physical action on a project, you can be sure it gets a thought type and a context.


That's how my someday and project thoughts are organised - unlinked. I would have NAs the same.
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mbaas
David, I thought that I had already answered your question, but it seems Firefox was playing games with me...

It just so happened that I had an active NA and a resolved one in front of me in PB, so I took a screenie to show how they are distinguished by thought-type. They both were linked to the day on which they occured, I often do this to track phone-calls etc., and usually NAs are linked to the project to which they belong, and possible any additional info relevant for it.
Generally speaking, I'm not a 'deleter', I would usually change the thought-type and possibly the linking for these (also have an archive for projects etc.).

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