GTD using online applications – Part 2

In part 1 of this series I had an intro about my use of GTD. In part 2 I want to talk about using Google Calendar (GCal) in my GTD system. Part 1 discussed the why around using Google Calendar. This part will discuss the how.

Multiple Calendars/Categories

One of the things I really love about Microsoft Outlook, especially the 2007 edition, is the ability to categorize your calendar items and assign colors (the color functionality was expanded in 2007). This gives you a nice visual cue as to what items belong where. This functionality can be easily duplicated within Google Calendar by using multiple calendars and their associated colors. Since Google “fixed” the calendar application to allow all calendars (not just the primary one) to allow reminders, etc. to be set and transmitted via email (or whichever option you choose) there is no reason not to do this.

Marking things complete

Part of my old workflow in Outlook was to use red for completed items. This gave me an instant visual cue as to which items I had already dealt with. You might ask why I’d do that and for some people it may not be necessary. David Allen says that the calendar should be sacred ground and that if something makes it’s way in there that it should be dealt with and not moved (of course there are exceptions…but in general that should be the case). The simple fact that an item is in the past indicates that it has been completed. Me? I’m paranoid. If I look back a month I want to know that I completed things (usually revolving around paying bills). The red indicator was great for that. Unfortunately I can’t do that in Google Calendar.

OK so I can sorta do it in Google Calendar. If an item isn’t part of a recurring series you can move the item to the Completed calendar/category to change the color to red (or whatever color means “complete” to you and stands out). However if an item you want to mark complete is part of a recurring series doing this will move every instance of the event to the Completed calendar/category. In most cases when you edit one instance of a series the calendar application will ask you if you want to apply changes to that one instance or the whole series but not in the case of changing which calendar something belongs too.

OK so you can’t use a Completed category…now what?

Glad you asked. Instead of changing the calendar to Completed I now just put an indicator at the beginning of the item “What” field. My indicator is (C). C for complete…get it? 🙂 Easy as that and its a pretty obvious indicator. I plan on using that in other situations as well such as recording when I put gas in my car so I know how often I’ve been having to fill up, when I last had auto maintenance, etc.

The GCal Tickle

Ah yes. The infamous 43 Folders (the actual folders mind you…not the website). I use my calendar as my tickler file. I generally don’t have to store any paper so a note in my calendar on a specific date is good enough. Any required notes for an entry go into the description field. “Tickler file” entries get categorized into the very few major categories I use (like Financial for bills) and entered as “all day” events so they’re always at the top of the calendar. These items generally don’t require a certain time to get done, just some time that day. The nice thing about these entries is that GCal (Outlook does the same thing) defaults your availability status to ‘available’ for these entries so you don’t show up as busy. If I am going to be truly busy all day I create a real appointment that marks out my time for that whole day. That is a better visual indicator to me that I need to be doing something.


I hope this was helpful. It really isn’t that difficult but sometimes just reading how someone else does something is a great motivator for tweaking your own system. In part 3 of this short series of articles I’ll talk about using Remember the Milk and Toodledo for list management. I’ve still been using both of them simultaneously and they both work equally well for me as list managers. More in part 3.

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