What is the best iPhone To-do list app that uses GTD methodology?

Review of the Walker iPhone Productivity App (with GTD methodology).

Walker is a productivity app that differs from others  because it walks you through your task management and with a  clear guidance system. It implements ‘Getting Things’ Done by David Allen, which is a life/task management system that, I believe, this app makes easier to implement and maintain. Walker’s Kickstarter project was published on july 2012 and reached its goal in the first 16 days. Check out the project’s website.

I have been interested in the GTD method since 2008 when I started using a notebook to keep track of things I was thinking whilst cycle touring to capture creative notes. The paper notebooks quickly filled up, pages feel out, they lacked visual coherence and generally became difficult to manage.

I dreamt of finding software that allowed me to remember, evaluate and prioritise ideas that I had, keep track of things to do and keep a record of anecdotes and facts. (three different categories).

With Walker I was excited about its use of the GTD methodology that rests on the idea of moving planned tasks and projects out of the mind by recording them externally and then breaking them into actionable work items. This allows one to focus attention on taking action on tasks, instead of on recalling them.

Capturing is the starting point of GTD and consequently of the Walker app. You are presented with a screen which encourages you to collect your ideas. They appear in an ‘inbox’. You are then invited to ‘process’ these.

When you process a task you can either ‘do it in 2 minutes’ and you are presented with a timer, or you can put it in a project for tackling as a ‘next action’. Alternatively you can ‘delegate via email’ or ‘add to calendar’.


If the task is not ‘actionable’ then you can send it to a ‘waiting for’ list, to a ‘reference’ list, a ‘someday/ maybe’ list or send to calendar. These lists are ways of categorising tasks so you know their status. You can find plenty of information about the GTD definitions by Googling them.

Walker also includes GTD ‘Horizons of Focus’. In timemanagement, task priorities play a central role. Allen’s approach uses two key elements — control and perspective. He proposes a workflow process to control all the tasks and commitments that one needs or wants to get done. There are six “horizons of focus” to provide a useful perspective.

Allen creates analogies between the six levels of focus and an airplane taking off, going to higher altitudes:

  1. Runway
  2. 10,000 feet level
  3. 20,000 feet level
  4. 30,000 feet level
  5. 40,000 feet level
  6. 50,000 feet level

These are ‘levels’ of timescale or focus. In the Walker app they are translated to the following: highest is ‘Life’s / Work’s purpose, followed by ‘Visions/Objectives 3-5 years’, ‘Goals/Objectives 6-18 months’ and finally current ‘Areas of Responsibility’.

These levels of focus are key to the power of the app. It is possible to start from the highest level of focus and then connect that down through the other levels and finally to your everyday tasks. The idea is that you connect the ‘highest level’, ‘lofty’, ‘life mission’ right down to the nitty gritty everyday stuff.

When I used the app, I didn’t start from this angle. I think that this isn’t emphasised enough from the off. I just started collecting and processing stuff. Its not possible to then put existing tasks into a horizon of focus, which I think must either be a flaw in the design or deliberate to make sure that you start from the high level mission and work your way down to the everyday task.

Since there is no way to export all the tasks or mass reorganise them I found that I got stuck in a deadlock where what I needed was to start from scratch, which is what I did, and this involved laboriously copying out all my tasks with pen and paper.

Strengths

  • All of the GTD stuff is in there – so it gives you an education on the methods
  • Your priority projects do bubble to the surface after a couple of months using the app

Weaknesses

  • In Agile you categorise units of work by theme, epic, story, or task. I found that after a while I desired to do this with Walker – e.g. a kanban board would be useful.
  • Without going through all of your projects and tasks its quite easy to forget items – I found that copying out tasks with pen and paper caused me to reevaluate them (and often throw out a lot of tasks) – this process doesn’t make sense until you do it.
  • The UI needs updating for IO7
  • Filtering of tasks in-app could have more options
  • Needs an export to Evernote / Google Drive / Trello (insert your app here)

In conclusion I think that Walker is a fantastic concept and considering its a first go at this kind of thing, its a well executed product. It really makes you think differently and its incredibly efficient at capturing your ideas.

However, its a shame to see that the project doesn’t seem to be being actively developed. There isn’t even an IOS 7 version out yet. I would like to see a desktop / iPad accompanying app with a kanban board. This app has the potential to be huge and incredible powerful.

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