What Leopard Means For Getting Things Done
Apple’s Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was one of the most anticipated upgrades for Apple’s operating system ever. With many new features and improvements to old features (more than 300, Apple reports), combined with a renewed interest out of response to Microsoft’s Vista and a record 30-month interval since the last major upgrade, Leopard’s reception was a virtual lock. More than two million copies sold in the first weekend confirmed it: Mac users are excited about Leopard.
Now that it has been out for over a month, many of the features and improvements are becoming familiar. Yet, many people (especially those still deciding whether to upgrade) may be asking, What does Leopard offer me for better exercising my Getting Things Done (GTD) fu?
I had a column halfway finished when I bought my upgrade to Leopard; it was only a day or two before I realized the other column would have to wait. I’m going to take a break from working through the GTD principles and take a look at Leopard’s GTD-esque features. I’ll break them down by application or feature and try to reflect on what may be an advantage to some users. Let me first make these disclaimers: your GTD workflow may or may not receive any benefit from some or all of these; also, there may be GTD aspects that I’ve failed to consider or recognize. (I’d love to receive helpful feedback on this if you have any.)
Apple’s e-mail client, Mail, got a pretty substantial upgrade with Leopard, adding a number of features. GTD users will be especially interested in the addition of to-dos. Mail now allows the easy creation of a to-do or task, which automatically synchronizes with tasks in iCal. In short, you don’t have to change applications from Mail to iCal to create, edit, or check off tasks. Any field that appears in iCal can be viewed and edited in Mail (though by default some are hidden); choose View ‣ Columns to add or remove columns that you want to view in Mail. If the task-management list found in iCal is sufficient for your GTD needs, or if it co-operates in some way with your GTD application (through synchronization, for example), then Mail will extend your GTD workflow nicely.
Notes is another new feature in Mail, and while it is more limited in its GTD application, I can see how some might decide to make heavy use of it. The concept is pretty simple: think of Notes as a digital notepad built into Mail. The difference between Notes and, say, Stickies is that a Mail Note can be easily converted into an e-mail or a to-do with a single mouse click. And a Mail Note can have metadata appended to it (via Indev’s MailTags). Of course, another major difference is that they live in Mail; you don’t have to open another application to see or work with them.
Mail also can handle RSS feeds now and has a function called Data Detectors built in. The RSS feed handler is fairly bare bones, much like the one in Safari. Data Detectors recognize information within the body of e-mails such as addresses, phone numbers, and date or appointment references, and it allows you to easily create new entries in iCal or Address Book with that data. Neither of these is, by default, GTD-specific, but they can save you time and streamline your workflow.
I like Mail’s additions for better GTD implementation, because it’s consistent with David Allen’s own principle when it comes to collection tools: “Give me as many buckets as I need, and not one more.” It may well be that these tools expand the already existing features of iCal to make it entirely sufficient for your GTD needs. Or it might simply prevent you from needing to change applications as frequently to reference your task list, or streamline your data collection when using e-mail and RSS. Regardless, these are nice additions and point Mail in a direction that I like to see it going. Even if they aren’t enough for you as is, it may be that the tweak or adjustment that you miss will be added in a future update.
While iCal didn’t receive as much attention in terms of new features, it did get a number of nice additions. A few of these offer further streamlining for the GTD-minded user.
Events in iCal now have a drop box, where you can attach files for each event as needed. URLs, documents, photos, videos—attach them all and keep them readily accessible for the event. What is more, they will be distributed to attendees automatically as well. This will save many of us a lot of time and headaches keeping up with which docs are needed and who has received them.
A long-awaited feature for iCal is group calendaring, and iCal’s introduction of CalDAV calendar sharing opens this door wide. It’s easy to set up access to existing CalDAV server accounts, and CalDAV group calendars have access to a number of features for scheduling events, such as the Availability window and Auto-pick for discovering the best time for meeting, published office hours, and delegation of calendar control to other users. Of course, you’ll need a CalDAV server to utilize these tools, and getting access to one is not an easy endeavor. My guess, though, is that over time, more and more Web-hosting services will offer CalDAV as a part of their products.
Another feature that many users have longed for is the ability to automatically add alarms to new events, and the Leopard-updated iCal offers this as well.
It’s easy to focus on tasks and to-do lists as the primary function of GTD while forgetting that calendaring is a key part of the GTD equation. The improvements to iCal offer some strong changes to an already great calendaring application.
Outside of Mail, iCal, and GTD-specific apps, most of us spend a lot of time in Finder. Naturally, any improvements to navigating or organizing Finder are welcomed because they save time and attention—or both.
Quick Look and Cover Flow are two such improvements, and they are both nice features. The upgrades for Spotlight are also great. If you follow Steve Jobs’s recommendations (back from when he introduced Spotlight as a forthcoming feature for OS X 10.4 Tiger), you throw all of your files into one big folder and archive that way. Both Quick Look and Cover Flow offer new ways to find the particular files you’re seeking, and they do it in very different ways: Cover Flow allows you to skim through many files quickly, while Quick Look gives you a way to peek into a specific file.
What makes these especially powerful is using them together. Use the improved Spotlight to find a set of documents that file a particular keyword or search term, then view them in Cover Flow to narrow your search more quickly, finally utilizing Quick Look to verify that you’ve found the file you want.
Two other Finder improvements make a difference for productivity: Stacks and Spaces. If you like Exposé, or if you’re frustrated by the lack of screen real estate that you have (and who isn’t?), then Spaces may offer you a solution to organize your workspace(s) more efficiently. Stacks jump out of the Dock to give you fast access to the contents of certain folders very quickly.
Many of the features and improvements in Finder are subtle, but in combination they offer a collective boost in efficiency.
Other Areas of GTD Interest
There are a handful of other Leopard tools and features that may contribute to your GTD productivity. If you use more than one Mac—and you’re a .Mac subscriber—then Back to My Mac will surely be a welcome feature. Automator’s new capacities make scripting (and—duh—automating) your Mac easier than ever. Time Machine will all but remove the hassle of backup routines for a lot of us. Even Dashcode and Dashboard Web clips will be very useful.
The bottom line: Leopard doesn’t simply bring enhancements to the appearance of the OS, easier backups, and Boot Camp as standard. It offers system-wide advances that will serve as lubrication to the fine machine that is your Mac. If you’re considering the upgrade, think of Leopard as a small investment that will pay for itself many times over in hours saved, thanks to the many refinements it offers to a productive worker.
Ah, the list. So much has happened since my last updated list in the June issue. As I mentioned in my last column, I’ve been working on a new, easier-to-read, and more attractive version of my list. I’ve also been moving and starting a new job, so unfortunately the list has gotten short shrift in my priorities.
As of now, the new and improved list is about two-thirds complete, and I anticipate finishing it up in December. (Once it is finished, by the way, it will also be much easier for me to keep it updated—another benefit of the new and improved version.) Assuming I stay on track for this, I’ll post it in the January issue, even though I won’t publish my next full Next Actions column until February. Thanks for your patience.
Meanwhile, if you know of any GTD-oriented applications that aren’t on the June list (and weren’t mentioned in the comments then), please let me know!
Also in This Series
- The Last Action · May 2012
- Master List, April 2011 · April 2011
- GTD for iOS/iPad · February 2011
- E-mail Tricks and Tools · August 2010
- Master List, May 2010 · May 2010
- Inbox Overload · April 2010
- Master List, February 2010 · February 2010
- Getting Back on the GTD Wagon · December 2009
- Master List, June 2009 · June 2009
- Complete Archive